Wednesday, October 31, 2007

First Sermon for a Grade

For my Christian Mysticism class we were assigned to write a short, no more than 7 minutes, sermon/homily on a topic of our choice and incorporate the writings of a mystic into the sermon. Here's my first shot at this:

One of John Wesley’s most famous sayings is:

“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

That sounds pretty ambitious doesn’t it?

What Wesley is talking about is compassion, being compassionate.

In Wesley’s time, that generally meant being compassionate towards the poor. He preached relentlessly and passionately about the conditions that factory workers in England were subjected to. He was a voice for social justice, for social change at a time when that wasn’t the most popular of topics.

For Wesley, it was about the works, doing good deeds, and actually living out Christ’s mission on earth.

Perhaps Wesley was influenced by the sermons of Meister Eckhart. We know he liked to read the writings of the Church fathers, but he makes no mention of Eckhart in any of his sermons. Still, he was greatly influenced by German theologians of his time. Meister Eckhart speaks about compassion being manifested in the deed as well (Sermon 30). Like Wesley, Eckhart speaks of compassion as being about relieving the misery of the poor. Interestingly enough, Eckhart doesn’t just preach about the poor as those lacking material wealth, he also notes that we should have compassion for those poor in Spirit. But we’ll save that topic for another time.

Both Wesley and Eckhart speak to issues of social justice. Eckhart says:

“It is a great crime to give the wages of the poor to the rich and for the livelihood of the poor to increase the luxuries of the powerful” (Sermon 30)

These are words spoken nearly 800 years ago but have powerful implications yet today. According to Meister Eckhart, compassion isn’t simply about justice but also requires one to work towards the removal of injustice.

This congregation is well known for its commitment to missions at all levels. For nearly 40 years we’ve supported Dr. Gess on his medical mission trips to Sierra Leone. Since the Minnesota Annual Conference has been keeping records on the subject – going back some 50 years, this congregation has never failed to fully meet your annual apportionment payment; very few congregations in the Conference can say that. Your apportionment payments fund agencies like the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and support regional mission projects like the Emma Norton House in St. Paul. You’ve become one of the most recognized supporters of Tree of Life mission on the Rosebud reservation, both through your financial support and the amount of work your VIM Teams complete when they’re on Rosebud. You’re one of the largest contributors to the Douglas County Food Shelf.

You do good things. That is certainly evident from your good deeds.

But is it enough? Is it enough to write a check, put it in the offering plate, and go to Sunday brunch?

We have the compassion but do we have the passion that Meister Eckhart warns is necessary to be truly compassionate? We supply food to the food shelf but there are still hungry people in this community. We’re about to send a second shipment of over 100 winter coats to Rosebud, but there are still people that will go without a jacket this winter. We pay our apportionments, but abused women and their children still seek refuge at Emma Norton.

Compassion isn’t just about doing just deeds, it requires one to work towards the removal of injustice – here in Alexandria, on Rosebud, in St. Paul and in Sierra Leone. It is about speaking out on environmental issues that disproportionately affect the poor. It is about your back aching and your shoulders sunburned from putting a roof on a 90 year-old elder’s dilapidated trailer house in Rosebud. Compassion is about looking into the eyes of a frightened child at the Emma Norton House, and letting her know things are going to be OK.

“Compassion is manifested in the deed.”
Meister Eckhart (Sermon 30)

Meister Eckhart speaks about compassion as being the “glorification of God on earth” (Sermon 35) and when we act compassionately (with passion!) we are imitating Christ (Sermon 30). Isn’t that what we as Christians are about? Imitating Christ, showing compassion to the poor, the hungry? Isn’t showing compassion to the poor and hungry, showing compassion to Christ, and ultimately to God? Indeed, in Matthew (New Living Translation 25:40) Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me.”

This isn’t to say this is easy. It is hard work. But to those who are truly compassionate comes compassion. According to Meister Eckhart, compassion pours from (the One) God to the compassionate, giving the compassionate one a true sense of heaven on earth (Sermon 30).

John Wesley says:
“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

When we look at that statement, we see “good”, “means”, “ways”, “places”, “times”, a lot of “all”, and “ever”.

What if we looked at it this way?

“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

Indeed, you can.


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