A Friend I Can Do For —
January 12, 2014
Baptism of Jesus
Bonnie A. Perry
-with excerpts from Anne Ford's book
I propose to show that our community kitchen and food pantry is the sacrament that has enabled All Saints to create a community that attempts to get to what God hopes for in the world, so that those hearing this sermon will come and visit and listen and learn.
Each of the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John have somewhat different descriptions of Jesus' early life beginning of his public ministry. Luke's Gospel has a lovely set of stories of Jesus as a child before he steps onto center stage. In John's gospel one of his first public acts is to change water into wine at a wedding reception because his mother asks him to. In Matthew and in Mark his public ministry as an adult begins with his baptism in the river Jordan, by John the Baptist.
"When Jesus was baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."
A rumble in the sky, words from on high. And thus it all begins. His trip to the Jordan, being bathed in water, not really about forgiveness of sins, instead it is for him much more of a rite of passage: an outward visible sign that he is now doing a new thing, a different thing, a holy thing, a maybe— world-transforming thing.
For other people who came to John in the Jordan that day is was about having their sins metaphorically and literally washed away. For Jesus it was a outward visible sign that his time to challenge the world and create an oasis of hope, and a vision of change is beginning.
Baptism, in our tradition, is a one-time, public moment of making promises, vows and assertions about our faith, and the faith we hope to offer our children and signified by having water poured on their heads, their bodies, our head, our bodies: Water is the outward, visible sign of God's inward spiritual grace, water is the outward visible sign that God is acting in and through us.
As we will do at the 11:00 worship service for Finley.
Water in baptism is the sign that begins it all. In this passage Jesus rises from the water and those around hear and know that a new thing is upon them. They hear the thunder, the words and know the Holy is in their midst.
Baptism is wonderful, one of the activities I most enjoy as a priest. It is something we as a community do for an individual child, an individual family. And I love it. And as with all things, as with all things church, with all things, I realize I am wired to ask continually the question, "So what?" What does it mean, how does this lovely event, lovely snippet matter?
Christian Ethiscist, Stanley Hauerwas, says that Christians are called to create a community, "Capable of forming people with virtues sufficient to witness to God's truth in the world." (A Community of Character, 1982, p 3).
Let me say that again, 'Christians are called to create a community "capable of forming people with virtues sufficient to witness to God's truth in the world."'
What might be an outward visible sign of a community that is committed to witnessing to God's truth in the world? God's truth for our world—not a world where nearly 55% of Americans between the ages of 25 and 60 have experienced at least a year in poverty or near poverty, not a world where almost 50% of all American children have at some point in their childhood relied upon food stamps. Not our world as we know it—but our world as it could be.
What might be a sign of a community committed to witnessing to God's truth for our world?
I think, quite possibly, our community kitchen and food pantry, Ravenswood Community services, might be this Christian communities, outward visible sign of our belief that our world can be different, should be different, must be different.
I'm not saying our Tuesday nights are perfect, I am saying that they matter and that they may give us a glimpse of hope, a bit of truth, a portion of holiness.
Anne Ford's narrative and Charlie Simokaitis' photos portray that glimpse in their book, A Friend that I can Do For.
A Friend that I can Do For, is powerful piece simply because it is people's stories: about their lives. Neither the narrative nor the photos differentiate between the people who gather on Tuesday evening. It is a story of neighbors, "just neighbors" gathering, sharing, listening, talking, sitting and eating. What remains constant on a Tuesday evening: people come to our parish hall, come to our sanctuary and we are fed: literally, metaphorically, spiritually, physically.
Is it perfect? No. Is it Holy? Listen—you tell me.
Says, one Tuesday night regular: "It's one of the highlights of my week. It doesn't make me sad. Its sort of a social occasion. I see my friends, and I hang out for a couple of hours and have a meal. How often do you get to have a dinner party with your friends every week? [Where you don't have to cook and you don't have to clean up? If I were a good volunteer, I would clean up.]
The folks on Sunday morning, we look like we have our lives together. We can hide all of the things that are falling apart. Most of the folks on Tuesday night can't hide the fact that their lives are falling apart. They're much more forgiving. If you say something stupid or don't respond right, they don't judge. You're one of them." (P 3)
Another former regular says, "The last job I had I was working out of the YMCA that I live at. But I stopped doing that because I'm not ready to have all this extra money. I have to have a friend I can do for. If I'm by myself, depression will set in...I was house sitting for a guy who had to go to prison for two months. He came and dug me up from under the bridge to sit with this 80 year old lady till he gets back. The lady if she put anything on the stove to cook, she'd walk off and forget about it. I told her, "Don't cook nothing. I will cook for you."
I had money so I went to Aldi's. I cooked a duck. I had it on the table. I had candles lit. I ran to the liquor store and bought some Boone Farm Strawberry Hill. She tastes it—I made her a plate and everything—and she tells me in her 80 years of life, ain't no man in her life ever did what I just did." (P 5)
Another neighbor says, "I started coming here [to RCS] about a year ago. I like the way you have these ladies around that kind of hostess you. That just makes you feel more human. When you're homeless, you're most of the time by yourself, in your own thoughts. That's too much in the head. You go crazy and you don't even know you are crazy. But you have a nice pretty lady sitting by you talking all night, it reminds you that you're a worthwhile human being." (P 71-72)
And this, "I was a psychiatric nurse for a long time. [On Tuesdays] we set up a clinic and its fabulous. We started doing blood pressures and weights and a lot of health teaching. Then we began looking for places we could send people, because we don't prescribe medications.
These people are just a see of unmet health care needs. There are agencies that in theory provide care to them, but getting people connected is incredibly difficult. There's one agency that says you have to have an official note that you're homeless. Isn't that fabulous?
I have the luxury of treating people as whole human beings which is very nice."
One more snippet which may sum up our Tuesdays, "If you have an agenda here, you'll go crazy. If you have an agenda that you are going to transform lives or whatever the hell it is you're going to do—No. I get to say hi to some people. I get to hug 10 people. They're going to tell me some stories; they're going to catch me up, they're going to tell me crazy stuff, I'm going to tell them crazy stuff. And then we'll clean it all up, put the chairs away, put the tables up.
That is the powerful thing we can do, is just love people. I'm not here to teach people. I'm here to love them. And I think that loving people is what teaches them. Maybe that's fudging it. But that's my story. And I'm sticking to it." (P 32)
Christians are called to create a community, "Capable of forming people with virtues sufficient to witness to God's truth in the world."
That I believe is our calling here at All Saints' and Tuesday evenings for the last 20 is our attempt to create a glimpse and slice of God's hope for our world.
That's my story—and I'm sticking to it.