Guest Preacher: Rev. Eileen Eppersen. Eileen filled in for me when I was on vacation. Here is a copy of her sermon printed with her permission — Thanks Eileen!
September 3, 2017
1 Corinthians 8: 1-13 Luke 19: 1-10
I think it is helpful to know at the start where we are going, if possible. This reflection has a focus. I offer that our anxiety and self-consciousness can lift completely when we look through the other person’s eyes. When we step into their shoes. When we are genuinely curious about another person, our worries will lift, because within a moment, we can experience that we have a companion.
First, a word about Labor Day. This weekend did not begin as a beach and BBQ event. Labor Day has a very important history in this country. “The first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement in the late 1800s and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It was meant to be an annual national tribute to the contributions American workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” (internet)
It was the first time that the country which had been built on laborers and sweat factories actually looked through the laborers’ eyes and saw who they were and what they had provided. Physical labor developed our American standard of living. The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City but Oregon was the first state to make Labor Day a state holiday five years later. Over the next years, other states adopted it as a state holiday. There were street parades to show the public “the strength…of the trade and labor organizations” in the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families who worked long hours and had very little time to themselves. It is a small thing, but I always wave my thanks to the STOP and SLOW sign-holders on our roads. And I mean thank you.
Paul writes to Corinthians: your life has changed out of your baptism in the name of Jesus. Now, you must start to look out there, not just in here (pointing to my head). You need to practice looking through their eyes at you. I want you to pay attention, not to what you already know and what is familiar, but at what you don’t know. Who is nearby and watching how you live and what you do? Who is the community around you? How do people feel around you and what do they need?
Paul says, “True, you know that the idols are ‘nothing at all in the world’ and the food offered them isn’t tainted. ‘Food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.’ However, new believers are watching you and how you live. They may think you worship the idols if you eat the food dedicated to them, so don’t eat it so you don’t confuse others.
There are concerns that are automatic for us to have about ourselves – how’m I doing? How do I look? Do you like me? Having attention on others is not automatic, whether 2000 years ago, or 2 days ago. We don’t just wake up wondering how the day looks to someone else and wanting to make it look bright if we can. That does not make us bad people. That makes us human.
I am human. I had a car accident a week ago, and it was my fault. I rear-ended a car because I looked away for a second too long and didn’t see the car slowing down to make a turn. Talk about the automatic focus on oneself, one’s upset, one’s shock, whew! The car I hit was driven by a young girl who had had her license for one week. I guess decades of silent centering prayer and training paid off. I did not want her to think she had done this, and I told her while my heart was racing and my whole body was in minor shock, that this was not on her. This was on me and I am so sorry.
Now, Jesus was a soul-reader. We can practice that as well, you know. We can practice inquiring into how the world is for someone else. Jesus was looking and listening for soul-readiness in others and seems to have decided moment to moment what action he would take. Who is ready to change their life today? In this passage in Luke, he spots the short tax-collector, Zacchaeus, who has climbed a tree to spot Jesus walking by. Come down, I must eat at your house today. “He has gone to the house of a sinner,” people say. [read Luke 19: 7-10]
Scripture is full of crossing borders to go to the other side, the other culture, the other tribe: Elisha and Naaman in II Kings when Naaman, a Syrian general, crosses the border to an enemy country, Israel, to be cured of leprosy; Jesus and Samaritan woman at the well in John – why are you talking to me? People from Jerusalem have no dealings with people from Samaria; the Gentile centurion in the gospel of Matthew who proclaims that this must have been the Son of God as he watches the curtain in the temple rip apart; in Acts, Peter has his strange dream of 4-footed animals and God’s instruction to eat them because God has made all things clean. Not I, Lord, I will never eat unclean, forbidden food. He hears a word: everything is clean; I made it all. Then begins Peter’s ministry to non-Jews.
I have learned so much from my forgiveness work with others. The Forgiveness Process® walks people through a sequence of steps and leaves them choosing a new future without resentments. Someone I’ll call Judy forgave her sister and was able immediately to have a different conversation with her. Judy literally experienced her bad younger sister differently after Judy stopped rehashing the grievance story in her own head. Her sister looks different; not so terrible. People can change if we let go of the conviction that they cannot change. It’s hard to change when the people in your immediate circle think you cannot change. Judy started to see what her sister saw and that made all the difference.
Who is soul-ready in your life? Who wants to be your friend and you haven’t noticed? Who would like to share something but no one is asking? No one is listening. You could ask and listen. Who in your family have you not paid any authentic attention to in a while?
The gift is that the moment we take our attention off ourselves and how we are coming across and get over there where another person lives and moves, what is bothering us starts to lift, because it is shared. We are suddenly in this life together. I am no longer alone when I tell a friend about the car accident and she listens to my upset and then expresses her concern. Then I am able to listen to her and learn something she may never have said before, a loss or accident that happened that she’s never mentioned. Something is shared. We’re in this together.
Who is waiting for you to look at them, sitting perhaps not in a tree, but on a bench, or the beach, or in a committee meeting or at your dinner table? AMEN