Sermon – 10-02-22 – Proper 22 – Cycle C
Scripture: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4; Psalm 37:1-9; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10
Sermon Title: “Neighbors In Need”
Today is world communion. If the communion table were set around the world on the equator, first, it would be a very warm table; second, it would not be big enough. Big enough for what? For all the people in the world to have a space at the table. But, surely, Jesus would want each person to have a place at the table but then again it is wishful thinking that everyone in the world would want to be at this communion table. The good thing is there would be no head place and foot place to cause a problem. You know how Jesus said, “Don’t sit at the head of the table but sit at the foot of the table in humility.” Another speech was “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” Surely, there would not be favored places at the table, would there?
Let’s picture this ring of people being “have” persons alternating with “not have” persons around this huge table which means that each “have” person would be sitting between two “not have” persons. If I am a “have” person, sitting between two “have not” people, what would I say? I might say to myself, “I am glad that communion is a short event because I feel very uneasy in this position.” Then Jesus says, “I am presiding over this holy communion experience. Before we get to the part of eating the bread and drinking the cup, we are going to get to know our neighbors!” “Ouch,” I think.
Even though I am rather small, I would like to shrink to be smaller. I furtively remove my jewelry and place it in my pocket not because I am afraid that it will be stolen but because I feel guilty owning it. “How is your day going?” I say to the person on my right. The reply comes quickly. “I am here, sitting in the presence of Jesus with you, my friend. That makes it a good day.” That reply startles me and my complacency quickly leaves me. I ask another question. “Was it challenging for you to get here?” This new friend replies, “Somewhat. It was a 50-mile walk. We came through parched land. We are tired and hungry and thirsty for clean water.” “My,” I find myself saying, “How can I help you?” Do I know what I am saying? On second thought, how will I ever begin to help even this one person?
“Why did you come to this table if it was so hard to get here?” I ask. My friend’s face breaks into a joyous smile. But, of course, I received this invitation in my heart. So did my wife and a few other people in our village. Never once did we think of not arriving at this table. The vision was always in front of us as we trudged along.
Obviously, I cannot be talking about my life with this person. The life that usually seems modest will seem like I am royalty compared to this person. So I continue to be nosy about my friend’s life to make conversation. After all, Jesus is watching us to make sure we are complying with his command for us to be talking with each other. You may have noticed that language is no barrier here. God has arranged for us to understand each other while we sit at this table.
I learn that my new friend lives in a dirt-floor hut with eleven other people. They walk ten miles for not-quite-clean water for drinking, washing the dishes they need to share, bathing, washing clothes. I cautiously ask about food. They had a good season says the person, but what he describes as their daily diet would have me malnourished in no time.
My new friend tells me of the joys in his life. “Joys,” I exclaim. “How can you have joys with so many challenges?” But yes, one child learns to read while another child is healed. One day a truck came to the village with good milk and even fresh beans from a place where irrigation was installed by a team of agriculture engineers. Joy for sure!
But, as I listen, my friend is explaining how that team came close to his village and is now installing irrigation pipes and pumps so that even they can grow crops and have fresh water. The pipes and pumps will bring water from underground but also from distant mountains. How could these villagers afford to do this? They can’t. That is what “Neighbors In Need” offerings do.
Of course, it seems that I always knew about this special offering called “Neighbors in Need.” It is not just a United Church of Christ offering. Those of us who are the “haves” dig deep to be part of the movement to rescue people from being “have nots.” You may be saying, “But I don’t have medical care.” Or you may be saying, I need to choose between paying the electric bill or buying groceries.” If this is you and you have not already connected with agencies that can help you here in the United States, we need to help you to find the agencies. Some of the “Neighbors In Need” funding happens here at home. Government agencies are sometimes staffed with very helpful people.
Eventually, the people at this Equator Communion Table are brought to silence while Jesus serves his body and then his blood which was shed for the forgiveness of the sins of all people who ask. Jesus assures us that gathering at the Equator was not an accident. Equal and Equator: the meeting of the north and the south; our conversations: the meeting of the east and the west. We shall no longer be “haves” and “have nots.” In the way of Jesus, justice shall prevail.
From our gospel lesson, I take this message. We shall all be servants, no matter our level of finances. Many wealthy “haves” are extravagant givers. Many poor “have nots’ are generous givers. Being a servant is about attitude. Are we willing to go out of our way to help our neighbor who lives next door or at the other end of the county or in a foreign country? A neighbor is anyone in need.
Let us put our trust in the Lord and do good. Let us commit our way to the Lord. Let us invite and make it possible for everyone to dwell in the land and find safe pastures. Let us put our trust in the Lord and see what God will do. From Psalm 37. Amen