Preacher: The Rev. Raisin Horn
2 Pentecost, Yr. C
May 29, 2016
In today’s lesson from the first Book of Kings, Solomon stands praying at the altar of the Lord and spreads out his hands to heaven.
As you have seen in celebrations of the Holy Eucharist, this is the same posture the celebrant assumes at the altar. In church speak, it’s known as the orans position (orans, the Latin word describing one who is praying). The orans is an opening of the self as an act of praise to God.
Ten years ago as a new deacon, I was serving in a church near Chicago on the day a visiting bishop was to be guest celebrant. Someone advised prior to his arrival that he had a very wide orans position. I had no idea what that meant until he began the Great Thanksgiving and his right arm nearly smacked me across the forehead. Since then I have tried to ensure that no deacons are harmed in the course of the liturgy.
Solomon’s prayer in the first lesson opens the people to the idea of a God who not only hears, but welcomes, foreigners who come to worship in Jerusalem, “so that all the peoples of the earth may know [God’s] name.”
Psalm 96 calls us today to sing to the Lord a new song – all the whole earth, not just Jews or Gentiles. The whole world is invited to join in praise and thanksgiving.
We see an openness to the “other” in the gospel passage from Luke as Jesus heals a non-Jew. The healing of the centurion’s slave, who built their synagogue, breaks barriers in order to do the work of healing. Luke’s recurring themes of Jesus as healer and the reconciliation that accompanies the act of healing are present here.
In this story, we encounter the humility of the centurion who sends his friends to speak his words to Jesus: “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.” Humility and reconciliation go hand in hand as the story unfolds.
Jesus tells the crowd of his amazement at the centurion’s great faith. That faith, that Jesus might heal even a Gentile, provided the grounding the centurion needed to hope for a bridge rather than a wall.
Luke’s story, as one writer in a recent issue of The Christian Century puts it, “shows divided people overcoming barriers in order to attend to human need. A Roman leader and the Jewish elders work together to bring healing for a person who is highly valued.”
The writer goes on to suggest that the gospel passage “is also about seeing the goodness in the other. The Jewish elders acknowledge the centurion’s love for their community, expressed in the synagogue he had built for them. The centurion acknowledges this need for the Jewish elders to mediate between him and Jesus. This mutual recognition of the goodness within the other allows for real encounters between those who are different.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu has written extensively on the nature of goodness and the human tendency to overlook that goodness in the other. Tutu’s book, Made for goodness, was the subject of a book study at Trinity a few years ago. Some of you will remember taking part in that six-week study.
Tutu writes that “we have this extraordinary capacity for good. Fundamentally, we are good; we are made for love, for compassion, for caring, for sharing, for peace and reconciliation, for transcendence, for the beautiful, for the true and the good.”
We might wonder, looking at daily news reports of incomprehensible acts done to humans by other humans how Bishop Tutu maintains his absolute conviction of our goodness and continues to project joy in the words he speaks.
His joy comes from a faith and trust in God that reside so deeply in Tutu that he knows that God has the last word over the sinful, imperfect world. When I hear Tutu speak, I am persuaded that nothing on this earth can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, and from the goodness for which we were made.
As followers of Christ, we were created to make more disciples, to welcome and serve the other, as uncomfortable as it can be to cross barriers before us. So many here could give examples of “the other” that we encounter in our daily lives. If we shared stories, we’d be in these pews for a long while.
Over the past nine years, my most authentic stories of serving the other come from the Agape Café, where we served some three thousand meals this year to our low-income and homeless neighbors in Iowa City. Last Wednesday, the café closed for the summer.
A few of the café’s guests are demanding, inebriated, ill, disheveled, and loud. But most are men, women, and children whose stories are like ours: they have families, have held jobs, lived in nice homes, and enjoyed self-respect. Then they had a reversal of fortune, and their lives took a plunge so deep that they lost everything.
Being trusted enough to hear their stories has been one of the privileges of my years in Iowa City. It took a few years for that trust to develop. Crossing barriers takes time.
What sort of barriers did I find serving at the café? For starters, I showed up to serve at 6:30 in the morning complaining about lack of sleep – then realized that most of the guests slept outside.
When I walked to the café in pouring rain and my shoes were soaked, I complained – then saw guests whose shoes were broken or many sizes too big; another had no shoes. What could I know about the lives of the women and men at these tables?
People take time. The work of forming relationships does not happen quickly.
One of the best ways I know to gain trust with those we serve is to be consistent – that is, to Show Up. You show up; the day goes smoothly or goes badly, but you show up again. Two men who months earlier had a fight outside after breakfast later nod to each other with plates of Howard Horan’s golden potatoes or John Cowan’s beautiful eggs in front of them, and they both are peaceful.
Showing up looking for the best in one another is what it takes when we want to be builders of bridges. That’s what it takes to love and serve others – not to judge, but to see goodness within them.
It takes the prayer of Solomon, the faith of the centurion, the joy of Desmond Tutu. It takes willingness to step out of our own comfortable habits to be true servants, and to invite others to join us.
Where is the place this week that you will show up? What are you willing to do to love and serve in the name of Christ?
 Safwat Marzouk, in The Christian Century, 5/11/16, p. 23.
 Desmond Tutu, Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation, FB 5.16.16.
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