Growing in God's Love as an Open, Caring Community

St. Patrick’s Deacon gives homily at Ecumenical Lenten Service

As part of the Ecumenical Lenten Services held at the Lighthouse
Apostolic Church in Orrington, Maine on Tuesday, March 6,  The
Rev. Deacon Peggy Day did the Episcopalkind proud! Amen.

St. Patrick’s Deacon, the Rev. Peggy Day gives sermon at Lenten Ecumenical Service

Sermon preached at Ecumenical Lenten series-Tuesday March 6, 2018

         Lighthouse Apostolic Church—Mark 4:1-13

Opening Prayer:  Please pray with me:  As we gather this week during this season of Lent, may we journey closer to our knowledge of your love for all your people and in the knowledge that we are all your children, your beloved.  May we open up to how you would have us spread these seeds of love beyond the walls of our buildings and beyond ourselves into your world.  AMEN.

It is a real pleasure and honor to be with you during this Lenten series.  What a gift to experience one another’s worship space and hear about our different traditions. Don’t you agree? Although we are all from the Christian faith, we do have our little/or big…, depending on your view, differences. 

For instance, I am a deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, and work directly under the Bishop of our diocese.  I am assigned to St. Patrick’s Church.  Deacons in the Episcopal tradition are ordained.  They are not always in other Christian traditions.  We attend a two-year Deacon’s program and do an internship during that time.  We are symbols of servant ministry.  The stole I am wearing is a deacon’s stole.  It is different from a priest’s stole in that it is draped over the left shoulder to the right hip.  It is a symbol of servant ministry.   I am not paid by the church, but rather, I earn my living in the world.  I have one foot in the church and the other in the world.  I am a bridge of sorts.

Deacons aren’t always welcome, because we can stir things up a bit.  People don’t always like to hear what we have to say, what we are about.  You see, part of our charge, our vows, during our ordination, speak of bringing the needs and concerns of the world to the church.  How is the church helpful and in what ways does the church, unintentionally, contribute to the suffering of our neighbor?  We do this so that we can examine how the behavior, the traditions, may be helpful OR…harmful to the rest of God’s people.

The Gospel passage from Mark that we heard a few moments ago, is one of my favorite passages.  However, I did not choose it for today.  The Episcopal Church uses the Book of Common Prayer for its worship.  In the back of the Prayer Book can be found the Lectionary for Sundays and Readings for the Daily Office or services.  The lessons chosen for tonight’s service come from the Daily Office.  It did please me that Mark’s gospel was the one for the day, however.  Mark is not the only Gospel with this story of Jesus sending out the twelve.  Matthew and Luke also tell this story.  AND…they all tell of Jesus charge to those who would follow him.

In Matthew chapter 9 verses 9-11 it says, “Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, not two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff; for a laborer deserves his food”.  Luke 9 verse 3 says, “And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money: and do not have two tunics”.  Mark’s version allows for a staff.  They are to be totally dependent on God for the journey.

Just imagine being one of the disciples.  I can imagine the looks that fly from one to another.  And the thoughts…can’t you just hear them in your head?  They may have gone something like this.  “What?  We need all these things to survive.  How will we pay for our way?  How will we stay warm?  What will we eat?”     With each thought, I can almost feel the anxiety, can’t you?  It is not that much different from today.  We can get comfortable with our traditions, our ways of doing things.  Someone new comes along, like a new clergy.  He or she might say, “Let’s try this” or “let’s try that”.  They might just ask a question, like, “Have you ever thought about…?” You fill in the blank. Here comes the anxiety.  Can’t you feel it?  We think, or maybe even say, “That’s not how we have always done it”.    We are creatures of habit.  Most of us don’t like change very much.  We would rather do what we’re doing, the way we are doing it, because it is comfortable.  Let’s figure out a way to get more people to come to us… Right?  Isn’t that the way we think?  See, I told you we deacons can stir things up.

Ok…now I am going to do my deacon thing.  As I said earlier, I earn my living in the world.  I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and I work as a therapist for a company that serves families in need of home health or behavioral health support.  Most that I work with receive Maine Care services and they feel a lot of shame around that.  I am privileged to be able to hear their stories.  Many of the stories touch me deeply.  I work a lot with single moms, who have left abusive situations and are trying to find a way off the governmental help that they receive.  Most that I encounter have been told and have come to believe that they are not lovable, they are not worth having adequate housing.  They tell me things like, “If I could only find a job that would pay me enough, so I could afford my rent and childcare for my son, my daughter”. 

I hear a lot of stories about people feeling unloved, unlovable.  “No one wants to give me a chance because I have to have a flexible schedule to be able to provide care for my kids”.  We see the people I meet in soup kitchens and food pantries.  How do we treat them?  Often, we interact with the neighbors we meet in the soup kitchens and food pantries as the other.  We let our anxiety get in the way and it becomes a we vs them mentality.   We are afraid to listen to the stories of our neighbors and to become involved when they are hurting, or we haven’t seen them around for a while.  It is none of our business.  But, “there but for the Grace of God, go I”. That is what is behind the fear, I think.  The world is full of anxiety, full of anger, full of hurt and many are hungry, hungry for the Love that only God can fill.  They try to fill the empty hole in the heart with other things, like material goods, drugs, alcohol, unhealthy relationships, to name just a few. We can let the world know that God loves us, unconditionally.  We can do this one person, one neighborhood at a time. Take nothing with you…no bag…no agenda…

Part of this journey, this following Christ, is going where I might not really wish to go.  “Take nothing for your journey…”  That is scary to think about.  When we travel into our neighborhoods, we can’t go thinking that we are going to bring in more parishioners to our churches or we know what they need.  “If they would just get a job, if they would just finish school?  Why doesn’t she just leave?  Can be some of the things we take with us.  We need to go with no motivation, except to bring the love of God with us.  Where do we find that love?  We find it in the stories of others.  We find it in just being with others, in just listening.  Is it easy?  Absolutely not.  No part of this journey is.  But, this is what Jesus is calling us to do.  It is about the love of God…for the love of God… and Jesus is our leader, our guide.

Last year, St. Patrick’s became part of a new process called Living Local Seeking God.  Some of us were excited as we had already been engaged in the action asked for in this process through Faith Linking in Action.  Some of you may be familiar with it.  It is a group of different faith traditions who work together with our neighbors to help change policies and or services that benefit ALL in the community.  A good example is the Transportation for All program that has been effective in changing the way the Bus system is run.  For example, the buses are cleaner than they used to be and are better taken care of, so they are more pleasant to use.

So, St. Patrick’s continues this journey that has no end, no expected result.  It has not been easy for everyone at St. Patrick’s to change our thinking, our behavior.  The anxiety kicks in.  It is easier for us to do for another than to work with another for the benefit of the whole community. 

One small example of how we have been in and about our neighborhood happened around Christmas time.  We have gone caroling for a few years now.  We used to hop in cars and go to safe places, where our parishioners live.  These were places like Boyd Place and or Winterberry Heights.  They were warm and comfortable places.  Some of us began to wonder what it would be like to go caroling as we walk the neighborhood where St. Patrick’s is located, the Holyoke Street neighborhood.  We have now done that for, I think about three years, and while it has been cold, and sometimes slippery, those who participate have enjoyed caroling in our neighborhood.  Some of our neighbors come to the doors and listen, others might watch through the window. This year we heard from one woman who contacted the church after we went caroling to let us know that we had brightened the family’s day because they were going through a hard time after a death in the family that day. (Pause) We went singing with no agenda, no idea of converting anyone to anything.  We went out to just spread joy and love through singing.

That is what Jesus is talking about.  We are to go out with no agenda.  We are to show by our actions, how we behave in the neighborhood, God’s love.  AND, we are to listen, look, and feel the love of God from the people and places around us.   The Spirit of Jesus is everywhere, if we are open to it.  So, go, take nothing with you, no bag, no agenda, only rely on the love of God to lead you into where you are to go, what conversation you are to have.  That’s what this journey to Jerusalem is about.  We know how it ends.  Many do not and are hungry for that Love, the love that only comes from the one who goes ahead of us…Jesus.   So, keep going, stay on the journey.  You might just be surprised what God is doing and how the Spirit pops in.    AMEN