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Call To Open-Heartedness

Updated: Jul 14, 2022

5th Sunday After Pentecost

Amos 7:7-17; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37

The Rev'd Margaret Dyer-Chamberlain

July 10, 2022

May the words of our mouths, the meditations of our hearts and the actions of our lives be acceptable in your sight, oh God our strength and our redeemer.

Good morning St. Aidan’s.

Ever since Cameron’s sermon last Sunday I’ve been thinking a certain phrase that he used. He talked about “the challenging ongoingness of our journey.” That description of our time struck me as so accurate, particularly during the week of July 4th, a holiday meant to be a joyful celebration of liberty in our country. This year, the 4th didn’t feel so joyful to me – anyone else feel that way? I found myself, particularly on the 4th, struggling to find hope and keep my footing. Instead of feeling proud of our country’s achievements, I felt off-balanced, disturbed, worried. And then there was news of another mass shooting – in Chicago at a July 4th parade.

And so I found myself, in the context of our time, particularly grateful for today’s readings. As I thought about how to preach on them, my first feeling was that I was working with an embarrassment of riches – and I struggled with which text to focus on – Amos’ description of the plumb line, Paul’s confidence about hope and strength, or Jesus’ wisdom about mercy to the neighbor. Then I realized that these readings, taken together, are really providing for us a pathway for the journey, a roadmap for our lives, a way to approach that “challenging ongoingness” that Cameron talked about.

I’ll walk through what I mean.

To begin with our Old Testament reading from Amos, we have the metaphor of the plumb line, with God actually standing beside a wall, demonstrating how important it is to frame walls carefully, so that they will be secure and provide a foundation for the building that they support. God uses the plumb line as a metaphor for what he is teaching the people of Israel – because they had lost their focus and needed to get re-grounded about what is foundational and important in life. They needed to be reminded, as Amos states, that “all the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness.” To me, this reading is all about the need to maintain our foundation of belief in God as the core of our lives. The center.

Next we have Paul. His message to the Colossian community is kind of a love letter describing what belief in God means for their lives and why it is so very important. The gospel has come to them, Paul says, and with it hope in the word of truth. This truth bears fruit and grows in the world, in a way similar to the peace that is passed onward from the disciples that we heard about in our gospel text last week. This is what makes the people able to live their lives with intention and focus – “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from God’s glorious power and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience” Paul writes. He mentions that he has been praying for the people and asking that they be reminded of God – so we have the sense that holding onto this belief is a process – a process that requires daily attention on the journey.

So – in these first two readings we have the beginnings of the roadmap – first, that we are to keep belief in God as our foundation, and second, that we are called to continually process why this foundation is important in our lives and what it brings to us.

The Gospel text, to me, all about the “what.” What will we do throughout our lives with this foundation, this strength of belief, this hope and truth? As we used to say when I was in an Education for Ministry (also known as EFM) – “What’s our action?”

Jesus provides a beautiful parable to illustrate this for us. This story is one of my favorites because it is both so simple and so complicated. Simple because of course we all know the right answer to respond to a neighbor in need – we are expected to help, as the Samaritan did. Complicated because there is of course the question of how are we to do this in day to day lives? How do we fight the impulse to walk past those in need? How can we have the most impact? What if, in trying to help, we make the situation worse? What if we’re afraid to reach out?

What I love about this parable is that Jesus never says “I want you to do exactly what the Samaritan did.” Instead, he says that the key to being neighbor is to show mercy. That’s it – show mercy. And then, he says “Go and do likewise.” Again, both simple and complicated. So in response to “what’s our action?” – we are left to ponder ----- How can I show mercy? What does going and doing likewise mean to me?

Coincidentally, like Cameron I have been reading children’s and young adult books by Kate DiCamillo. I wasn’t at St. Aidan’s when he preached about this before, so I didn’t know that we shared this reading passion! My favorite of these books so far is one called The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. It’s a charming story about a three foot tall china rabbit named Edward. Edward is rather imperious and privileged, and I don’t want to give the story away too much because I want you all to read it (!) but – long story short - Edward falls on hard times. Through a course of terrible circumstances that happen to him, he decides that he is done with hope and love. DiCamillo writes “Edward prided himself on keeping his heart silent, immobile, closed tight.” Toward the end of the book, Edward meets an elderly doll and shares with her his commitment to keeping his heart closed. The doll gives him advice that, to my mind, could have come straight from Jesus. “You disappoint me,” the doll said. “You disappoint me greatly. If you have no intention of loving or being loved, then the whole journey is pointless.”

This brings me back to our readings today. Because I think that keeping an open heart is really the first step to any of the things I’ve mentioned about these readings. The first step to foundational belief in God, to knowing what that belief means, to showing mercy to others. It all begins with having an open heart – open to loving or being loved as the old doll said to Edward. Open to believing that love truly matters. Open to noticing and grieving about what’s really hard in life. Open to hope - despite all that is so tragic in our world.

This seems so obvious, but in the challenging ongoingness of our complex lives, it’s frighteningly easy to lose focus on the basics. I think that one of the reasons I’m drawn to the wonderful children’s books of Kate DiCamillo is that she helps her characters find paths forward even when they are faced with circumstances beyond their locus of control or even beyond their understanding. She returns, again and again, to the core values of life and how to hang onto them. She gives us naïve and charming and deep examples of how to bring humanity and love and hope into our world. And she doesn’t sugar coat the tragedies of life – she faces them head on. All of those things – facing tragedy head on, holding onto our faith’s values, and charting some kind of path forward – they all feel important to me in this sad and confusing and disappointing world of ours. Like a way to ground myself. Like a way to take a breath and take things one bit at a time.

I have been coming back to one of Ana Hernandez’ beautiful chants this week, as I’ve been praying over these readings and thinking about how to keep an open heart. So, in closing this morning I’m going to channel a little of Amy Newell-Large’s spirit and ask us to get comfortably seated in our chairs, close our eyes, and clear our minds to live into this chant that we’ll play through the miracle of Zoom and YouTube, for a few minutes. Let’s be together, with these words and with this intention, as we listen.

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