10/24/2010 -- Anne-Marie Jeffery, The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

posted Nov 10, 2010, 9:28 AM by Unknown user   [ updated Nov 10, 2010, 12:49 PM by Terry Brady ]

Where mercy abounds

Luke 18:9-14

Before I was a priest, I was a physicist and one of the challenging things about being a physicist was going to parties.  You see at parties there is always that inevitable question – oh and what do you do?  I hated that question because most times my answer of “I’m a physicist.” would bring a lively conversation to an end. There would be a pause – silence even. Some people would say “You must be smart,” and then they would quickly disappear and not return.  Things have not improved much since I became a priest. When I say what I do, the conversation again comes to a halt. People don’t quite know what to say. They definitely don’t say, “You must be smart.” Most of the time, they too, just as before, quickly disappear.  If they stay, often it is because they then feel the need to explain why they no longer go to church.  It is a confession of sorts – most of their reasons tending towards their need to get their lives in order before they come back to church.  I find this frustrating because I want to yell out – but we’ll take you as you are – at least the churches that I am a part of. We are all sinners. We take sinners. 

While I may have exaggerated a bit about my party experiences – it doesn’t happen all the time, I do think that quite a few people think that you have to be good and have your life in order to be accepted in a church. It is probably true in some churches. I find it interesting that this is the sort of view of a house of worship one might get if you encountered the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable who spends his prayer time telling God all the good things he has done.  It is a challenging portrayal for us who sit in church this morning. The Pharisee is a religious man – one who is faithful, who prays and who gives to the church – kind of like us. If the parable was written today it could have well said – There was a member of St. Margaret’s church who came into pray just before the Sunday service began and says – God, the One Holy and Undivided Trinity, I thank you that I am not like other people such as my next door neighbor who is playing a round of golf right now instead of going to church; like my friend who says she is spiritual and not religious and like all those people walking past the church headed to brunch. I am here every Sunday morning:  I have been through EFM – Education for Ministry.  I pledge faithfully and I serve on three important church committees.

While again this is a bit exaggerated, I think there is an element of truth in it for all of us.  We are here because we are searching for God and trying to live faithful lives.  Should that count for something? Shouldn’t we get extra points - something more than those who never think about seeking the Christ in others and trying to live with the love of God foremost in our heart? It is tempting to go down that path, and when we do we forget something essential. We forget that we are all in need of God’s mercy. And this is the main message I hear in our gospel – mercy. Two men come – both in need of God’s mercy, but only one realizes it and that one happens to be the crook.  We cannot forget that God’s mercy is for all and thank goodness because we are all sinners.  No matter how good our spiritual practices are and no matter how much we serve whether it be the church or the poor, we still go astray and are in need of God’s mercy. Just as God’s mercy is given to us, we in turn are to show mercy to others. This mercy is at the heart of our hospitality and welcome and that is something well known here at St. Margaret’s. 

            You have long been a church that has held up the idea of welcoming all.  It is in your DNA.   You hear that welcome in your mission statement in the line which says “Forgiven through the power of the Holy Spirit, we will create a diverse and inclusive community, through worship, prayer and love of neighbor.” Your patron saint St. Margaret’s was known for her concern for and ministry to the poor, the orphaned, the widowed, and the sick and that theme has been taken up by St Margaret’s.  On the timeline for History Day we have a picture of a bulletin for Sunday service from 1915 and at the bottom are the words – ALL WELCOME ALWAYS. During World War II, this parish opened its doors to provide shelter and food for the thousands of servicemen in transition through the nation's capital. In the late 80’s, you welcomed Dignity, the gay catholic group that       was no longer allowed to worship at Georgetown. They still worship here every Sunday afternoon.  We host Charlie’s Place, breakfast and other services during the week for those in need of help. In this place we have a history of welcoming, of hospitality, of living knowing that God’s mercy is for all. I believe that will continue.

However, welcome and hospitality must be attended to.  From time to time we need to do some reflecting and say who we welcoming and who are we forgetting? As we stand in thanksgiving for God’s mercy, we must ask ourselves - who is our tax collector?  Who do we have trouble showing mercy to? Extending that welcome to all is not easy. In the parable, the tax collector who the Pharisee looks down at was a crook.  He worked for Romans – the hated invaders. Tax collectors were seen to be unscrupulous and dishonest – not someone we would seek out. And yet this is the example that Jesus offers us.

Knowing God is merciful to us helps us to be merciful to others and enables us to offer that true welcome. We offer our welcome to come to God’s table where we are renewed. We offer our welcome to become part of our community. We offer a welcome to rest with us for awhile.  There are many folks outside these walls going up and down Connecticut Avenue who could use some mercy – who would love to find a place where they are truly welcomed. How do we offer our welcome to them? Sometimes it is a simple as looking around, seeing that new person at coffee hour and starting up a conversation.  Sometimes it is helping someone find the page in the prayer book when it looks like they are lost. Sometimes it means making sure we are present in the community outside these doors through events like the mini-walks and rummage sale. Sometimes it means taking a good look at ourselves and our community and looking for creative ways to share that welcome which is at the heart of St. Margaret’s.

In this place where God’s mercy abounds, let us continue to offer that welcome that so many talk about and that so many received when they first walked through the doors.  Let us work to have that welcome pour out from this place so we can continue our tradition of having a community where all are truly welcome always.