September 10, 2017

Pentecost – Proper 18

Ezekiel 33:7-11; Psalm 119: 33-40; Romans 13: 8-14; Matthew 18: 15-20

The Rev. James M.L. Grace

In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  AMEN.

            “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” 

Two days ago, my good friend and Episcopal Priest Bill Miller walked onto the campus of Gallery Furniture looking for Jim McIngvale, or Mattress Mac as he is know to many of us.  How many us have seen his commercials - with him enthusiastically jumping up and down proclaiming “Gallery Furniture will save you money!”

            When we found Mac, he was standing in his parking lot, directing traffic, as thousands of people were there because his store is set up as a major distribution point in the city of Houston for cleaning supplies, toiletry items, water, etc.  I asked Mac if Bill and I could join with Taco Bell and Papa John’s pizza to help serve food we had brought - enough jambalaya to feed hundreds of people.

            Mac looked at me, and was then quickly distracted by a car blocking traffic in his parking lot, and walked away to tell the driver of the car to move.  We approached Mac a second time, this time saying we were priests, to see if that could potentially grab his attention.  It didn’t.  He said something like “it’s about time the church showed up to do something.”   And then he walked away a second time, to address another traffic issue is his densely populated parking lot. 

            Like the persistent widow who keeps pleading before the judge for justice in Jesus’ parable, Bill and I approached Mac a third time, then a fourth.  The fourth time, Mac was agitated, not by our persistence, but by another car driver blocking traffic in his parking lot.  This Mac let out some pretty colorful language, and looked back at us and said “Dominicans taught me those words!” 

            And finally, after a fifth attempt, Mac relented, and said “There’s enough chaos here already, why not more - bring your food!”  So we did, and people ate.  Mattress Mac, opening his store as a place for first responders and evacuees, is loving his neighbor.  Love is the highest law, and as remind us today, love does no wrong to a neighbor.

            There have been so many examples of self giving love on display in this city, and at this parish.  Since we announced that we would be collecting cleaning supplies, the contributions of these to the church has been nothing short of miraculous.  So many of you have stepped up, helped to clean houses devastated by flooding, you have written checks, you have volunteered your time. 

            Last Thursday, St. Andrew’s received a shipment of $50,000 in cleaning supplies, food, water, and other items.  We had no place to store it all, so your Vestry member Pj Arendt-Ford reached out to another parishioner, Ben Esquivel, who owns a warehouse across the street from Gallery Furniture, where these items were received.  Many of you have helped distribute them to Lord of the Streets, San Pablo Episcopal Church, and San Pedro Episcopal Church. 

            This is a long-term recovery, we all know that, and we are committed to doing everything we can.  We have an additional 1,000 cases of water coming to our distribution site, and we need your help to get water and supplies out to the people who need it most.  IF you can spare your car or truck, either tell Pj or Carissa.  If you want to tell me fine, but please do it in email, because I will forget.

            But there is also this matter of Hurricane Irma.  And as we have seen on the news, Irma’s path has left devastation in its wake across the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, the state of Florida.  The people who live in those places are also our neighbor.  And our responsibility is to show love.  So this is what we are going to do.

            In your announcements, it says that all loose plate collections will go toward Hurricane Harvey relief.  I’m changing that to all loose plate collections will go to Hurricane Irma relief.  That means any cash or coins you put in the plate will not go to St. Andrew’s, but will go toward relief efforts for Irma.

            If you want to make a designated gift for Hurricane Harvey relief, you may do so in the form of a check, and just write “Hurricane Harvey Relief” on the memo line.  A closing story.

Last week I went to the NRG center to volunteer at the shelter started there by Baker Ripley.  I was assigned “guard duty” next to a gate, and while standing at my post, I was approached by a pastor. 

            Full disclosure - I hadn’t showered, I looked kind of disheveled.  Probably looked tired.  I wasn’t dressed as a priest, I was in a t shirt and jeans.  The pastor approached me, started up a conversation, and perhaps thinking I was a person staying at the shelter said, “Can I pray for you?”  And I said, “yes.”  And he put his arm on my shoulder, and began to pray.  I felt so loved by this complete stranger.  I saw love in his eyes.  I felt God’s presence.  And I was reminded, yet again, of Paul’s words: “love does no wrong to a neighbor.”  AMEN.