Barbara Brecht, St. David’s vestry member and William Temple House board member preached this fine sermon on Epiphany VI, February 12.
So, this could be part three of the homilies Sara has given the past two weeks. Kind of like a chapter series. So, when we ended last week, we were left with these questions:
What is our mission? Jesus message is a message on a mission, a message of liberty and abundant life, good news of healing and hope. How do we proclaim our message of liberty and abundant life? For what good news are we willing to be all things to all people, to get up and serve when we’d rather be on the couch? When are we willing to give our all, because we know God is working through us?
Well, No easy answers to any of those questions. But wonderful questions to help stir our curiosity about the unseen, and sometimes unrecognized opportunities, that really do exist around us if we are willing to see.
Today’s Gospel is very familiar to us. A leper is in need of healing and takes the risk of telling Jesus about it. The leper then states “If you choose, you can make me clean.” And Jesus response is pretty pure Jesus: an immediate sense of compassion, a desire to help and capacity to answer the request in a positive manner on the spot.
As I sat with this passage, thinking about what it may be calling me to be or do now, I was strongly reminded of a past experience that has been very formative in my life. And how it has contributed to my understanding about how, as a follower of Jesus, “mission” emerges or is discovered.
I dropped out of college after my second year and moved from the Midwest to Boulder, Co., one of the major destinations in the early 1970’s for young adults on their quest for what life was all about. The allure of the Rockies was irresistible. My dormant Christian faith became activated at that time and I found myself living with a group of women about the same age, some in college, some working, some pondering and all of us invested in following Jesus and allowing the Holy Spirit to guide and lead us. We were very naïve, but also truly engaged. Word was out that Christians lived in our house and folks came to hang out, crash for several nights, use our phone for long distance calls, have a meal, etc. It fit what we thought was our mission well.
Then, one day we had yet another knock at the door. The woman standing there was very tall, very slender, with long black, unkempt hair and had a blanket wrapped around her. Her name was Beverly. She swayed back and forth and then stated, “I want to be baptized. Will you help me?” We were somewhat taken aback and I know I was a bit anxious with her presentation. There was a moment of hesitation, but then we invited her in. In a halting manner she began to tell her story. She had suffered from mental illness for years and did not want to have to be hospitalized any more, if possible. She had a working relationship with a psychiatrist, religiously took her medication and described what situations could lead to her having psychotic symptoms. Beverly felt if she lived with people who would value her and help her if and when her psychotic symptoms emerged, she would be able to move toward longer term stability and healing. Beverly also had become a Christian and, having always felt unclean and like an outcast, she longed to belong somewhere and wanted to be baptized.
One person in the house, who is still one of my heroes, immediately embraced her and said we could all probably figure out how this could work. And it did over a three year period.
It was extremely complicated at times, fun at times, moving at times and frustrating at times. Beverly did have several psychotic episodes which lasted about five days each time and required 7/24 care. None of us had the training at the time for this sort of work, but we worked with her psychiatrist and were able to keep her safe in our community until the medication adjustments kicked in and she was able to function.
Beverly did get better over time. She procured a job. She was a very talented artist who later illustrated two children’s books which were published. She became such a source of wisdom in the house and helped us all to see the world in some wider ways than most of us had experienced. She truly wanted to follow Jesus and found some of the most creative and kind of quirky ways to allow his presence to be known. It was a privilege to have lived with her.
She also allowed the community to discover how important connection was for so many disconnected folks. We began to have more folks show up who needed a place to be seen, to connect and to be valued. Soon we needed a larger house for people who were coming, and we found one. We also were discovered by a whole group of older women (at least old to me at the time, in their fifties) who had long been marginalized due to mental health issues and some came to live in the community. It was extraordinary to see what it meant to them to have a place to be, to be seen, to be valued, and to have their contributions recognized and honored. It was an amazing place to be. And, although it has moved, it still is in existence as one of my heroes is still inviting folks who need a place to be to join this community.
Mission was discovered in that place. Through impulse, prayer, taking risks, messing up, laughter, tears, Jesus healing presence was evident in this community. Without focusing on it, we practiced courage, compassion, and connection. And without being consciously intentional, we tried to live into our call to be all things to all people. We had discovered a mission in response to the question, “I want to be baptized. Will you help me?”
I look back at that time now with great gratitude. I am currently reading a book wonderfully titled “The Gifts of Imperfection”. I can relate. It endorses that we are more able to live in a more wholehearted, congruent manner when we embrace our imperfections. As we acknowledge our imperfections and practice courage, compassion and connection, we are more able to be open to many possibilities in regard to mission. Discovering mission is so much about the willingness to stay curious, engaged, and willing to consider possibilities with a bias toward taking action.
And there is action in our diocese which we celebrate today. Our Bishop has declared today “William Temple House Day in the Diocese.” I serve as a Board member and have seen the excellent services being provided through the House. You have the brochure in your bulletins which gives information about the services offered. I chose to become involved as William Temple House is one of the last, if not the last, agencies in town that offers free counseling to those in need. Father Abbot, the founder of WTH, recognized the need for the working poor to have access to counseling services as they fell between the cracks of coverage: too poor to be able to afford health insurance, and too high of income to be eligible for Medicaid. Dr. Susan Bettis heads the counseling services and is recognized throughout the professional community as providing outstanding supervision and oversight to the interns who work there. I so appreciate her dedication for over the past 15 years in making these services increasingly professional and useful to the community.
As you can see from the brochure, the House also provides food and clothing to our friends in the community as well as some financial aid for very specific needs. WTH takes no government monies and is completely funded from donations as well as proceeds from the WTH Thrift Store. And if you have never shopped there, consider it. It will be worth your while.
You also see the many opportunities in which we can choose to participate in this mission by “paying it forward” as a volunteer. And volunteers are always needed and greatly appreciated. It is worth considering from a perspective of curiosity and a bias to act.
At St. David’s we also support WTH every week by giving the loose change that we receive in the offering plate to the House. (Baggie) It is a great idea to emulate some of our parishoners who frequently drop a baggie full of coins, like this, in the plate. We can all be grateful for the work of WTH.
As we continue to consider mission here at St. David’s, each of us can enlarge our capacity to practice courage, compassion and connection. Paul’s admonition in today’s reading encourages practice, practice, practice as we further develop skills in ministry. Through the hot meals program, Rahab’s Sister, UpStart PDX, Monday night Food not bombs, our community partners, and hopefully on and on, mission can be seen, embraced and enlarged. New opportunities may be seen through “Spirit Spotting”, a chance for all of us to intermittently meet together and consider and share where we think God’s spirit may specifically be moving in and through our congregation.
For example, This past week several of us noted an article in the editorial section of the Oregonian. It discussed community partnerships between “JOIN”, an organization that assists homeless families in staying in a home once one is found, and religious congregations. Through financial, social and other supports, this appears to be an opportunity for some congregations, perhaps ours?, to be part of a larger mission in supporting our community and saying “yes” to Jesus’ call to be attentive to those with little voice or resource. It is just one such possibility.
What is our mission? It is manifold. It is not a demand to get the right mission, or the only mission or the most hip new mission or, etc. It is the joy of open curiosity coupled with courage, compassion and connection that allow us to joyfully consider and act.
We are in a partnership with Jesus and hopefully we are developing his likely response to most requests: Yes, I am willing.