I’ll Ride With You
Sometimes people ask me how long it takes to write a sermon. I start by looking at the lessons early in the week, sometimes the week before. Then, those lessons sit in the back of my mind, waiting for something to grab onto. Many times, Sue and I talk through what seems relevant.
The first thing that grabbed me was on Richard Helmer’s FB entry: We are never ready, but Christ is coming anyway.
I’m not ready! Are you ready? I think he’s right, we are never ready. There is always one more thing to take care of, one more thing to get ready. We are sitting here, but thinking about what is next. What would happen if we quieted our minds for just a few minutes. It will all wait. All of it will wait for a few minutes. We are not in the ICU, although sometimes we live our lives like we were. Jesus taught us how to live, and one of the things he did on a regular basis was to go away in quiet. That was in addition to keeping Sabbath. Now I ask you, if the savior of the world thinks it is important to take time out to connect with God, don’t you think it is even more important for us to build that into our schedules? What about starting with a few minutes here and a few minutes there? My son reminded me a few years ago that stopping to bless the food we eat was not just a simple ritual we go through. It changes things. It is critical that we stop, bless, and then eat. What would your day be like if you blessed people on the bus instead of looking at your phone? It can be the little things that make the difference.
Then we go to Br. Curtis Almquist, the head of the Society of St John the Evangelist monastery in the Boston area. He writes as part of the brothers’ offerings of daily “words” that I like to read for inspiration. Here is what he said: “Tonight is an answer to prayer, and the prayer is God’s own. We are an answer to God’s prayer. We are God’s messengers to bring about the peace and goodwill on earth, and with justice, and provision, and the dignity of love. We are the Christmas gift.”
Well, that’s a little intimidating, don’t you think? We are the answer to God’s prayer?!? We are the hands and feet, the messengers, to bring about peace, goodwill, justice, provision and dignity.
So I watched a very fine youtube video where a guy named Josh gave $100 to a homeless guy named Robert. Robert could not believe it, and told Josh it was too much. He tried to give some of it back. Then he cried. Josh had a friend video Robert to see what he would do with the $100. Robert took off and went right into a liquor store, was there for a short time, and came out with a bag. Then he went to a park. In the park, Robert started handing out the food he had bought to other homeless folks. Josh was so overcome that he went back up to Robert and gave him another $100 and told him that he had been on video the whole time. Then Robert told his story, and talked about the other homeless folks around, how they were victims of divorce, lost jobs, and so on. Then Josh took the next step as messenger of God, he set up a way for people to donate to help get Robert back on his feet. He established a relationship with Robert.
I come back to Br. Almquist who suggests that we rewrite the Lord’s Prayer. At the end of our Eucharistic prayer, I invite everyone to pray in the language of their hearts. For some, it is in Japanese, for some, in more traditional English, for others, the contemporary English version is more comfortable. What he suggests is that for those of us who have enough bread, that we ask God to give “them” our daily bread. Sometimes we are the ones who need to give them our daily bread. Little children automatically share when someone else need something. Can we be like that?
We are the answer to God’s prayer. How is it possible for us to bring about peace, goodwill, justice, provision and dignity?
In Australia, there was just a great outbreak of being an answer to God’s prayer. You probably heard about the hostage situation that ended in gunfire in Sydney. The gunmen holding the hostages were Muslim. What happened next was magic, and clearly being an answer to prayer. There was fear about whether Muslim people felt safe, especially riding on public transit, after this hostage situation. Non-Muslim people stepped up and started a tweet campaign called: “I’ll ride with you.” It went viral. I saw the picture of a woman’s purse; the black purse had a clear white sign on it that said: #I’ll ride with you – letting the whole world know that she was willing to stand with those who felt afraid. What a witness to peace, goodwill and dignity! And, the effect moved outward to other towns, people wrote how there was more contact between people, more people looking at each other instead of their phones, giving hugs, and talking about how anyone who was trying to scare them and shut them down had in fact done exactly the opposite. Do we have to wait for a hostage situation, or can we recognize that we are already in need of reaching out, giving and receiving hugs or even just smiles when we’re out in public? I had to laugh at the article I saw that said that researchers had shown that hugs keep you healthier. They encouraged giving and receiving lots of hugs.
This brings me to the final piece that grabbed me for this sermon, via Leslie Nipps, from Bert Hellinger, a psychiatrist who looked at how people interacted from a generational framework, and how that could be changed. Here’s what he said: “This is the meaning of Christmas: to find oneself, to redirect oneself anew and thus make a direct and indirect contribution to peace.” What I get out of this quote is that what we do, at any level, makes a difference. When we have the chance to make a big difference, then we need to do so. But most of us are not in that position. What Bert reminds us is that the smallest shift makes a difference. My sister has taken a young man under her wing, and she wrote on FB that for some reason the prison he is in has him in lockdown, so she cannot visit him over Christmas. She was grieving, and wrote out her grief in public. The response was stunning. As a result of her openness, several other mothers wrote of their grief about their children in trouble, and their willingness to pray for her son, and asking her prayers for their children. We tend to keep our trouble inside. But sometimes the willingness to say, yes, I am not all OK, my children are not perfect, my situation is not very good, please pray for us, sometimes that open heart is exactly what someone else needs to hear, to know that they are not alone. We are never alone, but sometimes we forget and need to be reminded.
So here’s my takeaway: In the birth of Jesus, God says I’ll ride with you. We do not have to go through life frightened and alone. God will be there, God is there, Immanuel means God with us. And when we are feeling a little stronger, we are to be God’s messengers, God’s stand-in, saying to others, I’ll ride with you. I wonder where you will ride this year!