August 7, 2016
12th Sunday After Pentecost, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling
The top story in the “Star Tribune” on Wednesday began this way: Angela Martin knew something was dangerously wrong Monday evening when she saw the stranger climb onto a concrete wall and scale a chainlink fence high above busy Interstate 94 in St. Paul.
“Honey, don’t do this.”
“My mom don’t love me. My mom don’t care for me.
Angela said to herself, “Lord, help me, I looked at her as one of my own.” And she said again and again, “No, we love you.”
It didn’t take long for others to stop, each reaching through the fence to grab a part of the woman’s t-shirt. The woman did let go of the fence, but a community of strangers were holding on to her. They stopped traffic on I-94. They called the police, who came with bolt cutters and were able to cut through the fence to grab the woman. (Star Tribune, “Strangers pull together to rescue I-94 jumper,” August 3, 2016, page 1, http://www.startribune.com/shoulder-to-shoulder-strangers-came-to-the-rescue-of-a-suicidal-woman-in-st-paul/389017491/)
Be dressed for action. Have your lamps lit. You must be ready for the Messiah to come at an unexpected hour.
We hear this gospel text, and we assume that it is a text about some last judgment day. To me, they are not pointing us far into the future to the day when we’re going to have to prove that we were good enough. I think they’re telling us that at any minute we may suddenly find ourselves face to face with the reign of God. Will you be ready for it?
That day came when Angela Martin was driving across that bridge and noticed the woman. That day came for the woman when Angela arrived, almost like a thief breaking in to steal her life back from death.
I don’t know what kind of person Angela Martin is. But I know that heroic moments usually occur after a lifetime of smaller acts of courage and hospitality. You don’t stop, unless you have some practice being willing to be interrupted. You don’t say, “Lord, she’s one of my own,” unless you’ve thought about webs of responsibility that are wider than most of us are taught to feel. You don’t quickly say, “I love you,” unless you’ve been saying it most days.
Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about micro-aggressions, those little moments that, on their own don’t amount to much, but taken in over a lifetime, demean us, make us afraid, and believe less about ourselves—critical words, stereotypical assumptions, denigrating judgments that end with words like, “You’re being too sensitive.”
When Jesus tells us to be ready for the arrival of God, I wonder if he is urging us to engage in a life of micro-kindness, micro-hospitality, micro-affirmation, little acts that on their own may not amount to much, but practiced over a lifetime, heal spirits and transform community. Jesus compares the Christian life to the preparation for a wedding: cleaning up the environment, making sure everyone is invited, making enough food, unlocking the door, receiving guests. Each little thing, nothing on its own really, create a context in which a door can be opened and God welcomed.
If we are able to stop for a small interruption, we may be able to save a life if that’s demanded of us.
If we’re able to forgive little things, we may be able to forgive the big thing should it become necessary.
If we are able to show up when a neighbor that we know, maybe we’ll be able to show up for a stranger that needs justice.
If we are able to be patient in an irritating situation, we may be able to face great suffering with courage.
If we can put one step in front of the other on a difficult day, we may be able to run the full race that is set before us.
If we are able to give along the way, maybe we’ll be able to sell all our possessions when they are needed.
If we spend every day practicing being a friend of Jesus, perhaps we will be one when that surprising day arrives.
I’m not sure the coming of God is supposed to feel like the arrival of the wedding party or the breaking in by the thief.
Maybe it matters what side of the fence you’re on. On any given day, are you the one who is able to meet life with an open heart, ready to enter it and transform it? To this one, Jesus says, “Open the door. Live as God’s partner. Be the one who has arrives at the scene to save.”
Or are you the one that’s about to let go, convinced there is no hope? To that one, Jesus says that the reign of God will break in to get to you. It will cut through the chain links that have separated you from full, authentic, meaningful life, and will hold on to you. In fact, the love of God will send a community to grab you by the belt, by the shirt, by the heart, to say, “Oh dearest child, we love you. You are one of our very own.”
To those on both sides of the fence the ones practicing and the ones about to fall, Jesus says, “Have no fear little flock. It is God’s good pleasure to give you everything you need to be loved and to love, to be healed and to heal, to be saved and to save.