Scripture: Psalm 1 and Mark 9:30-37
The Economy of Care
Rev. Leanne Walt
Obedience takes many shapes. The precise contours of Christian living vary from age to age, circumstance to circumstance, making it impossible to consider a set of directives to span the eras and generations. Joining the church on this day takes on a different meaning than it did in 1707 or 1807 or 1977 or 1997. Context changes, culture changes, community changes.
Yet, so often Scripture, as is the case for us this morning in the 1st Psalm and 9th chapter of Mark, leads us down a path of sharp choices, toward a distinct fork in the road – “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood/ and sorry I could not travel both.” In Psalm 1 we can either take the path of the wicked or the righteous and in Mark we see Jesus place a small child in the midst of the disciples, a symbol of society’s last and least, and declare that the notion of greatness is conceived in terms of our ability to care for the lowly among us. The economy of care that Jesus sets forth is one in which power is derived from our ability to care for the powerless and greatness is made manifest by our ability to respond to those in need.
The economy of care guides and structures our days and obedience to it takes many shapes. I think of the economy of care that ministry has afforded me the opportunity to witness, like a film reel viewed slide by slide…
It wasn’t so long ago when I frequented the sixth floor of the North End Rehab and Nursing Home, taking in the ripe smell of freshly gutted fish on the outskirts of Quincy Market as I passed by in order to make my way to Alice and Leo’s room overlooking the brick streets of the North End. I’d usually find Leo sitting beside Alice’s bed playing solitaire and listening to the Sox game on his small transistor radio. “There’s nothing like catching a ball game on the radio,” Leo would tell me as he recalled Saturdays spent washing his car in the driveway with the game playing in the background or when he and Alice would end their day with a walk at dusk, radio in hand, listening to the play by play at Fenway.
Alice had a rare diseased that was eating away at her bones, preventing her from walking and had progressed to her brain. Against his children’s wishes, Leo decided to sell their home and stay with her in the nursing home, even though as he approached 90 he was fully able to live independently. There he kept with her regular company, through presence and voice, baseball and playing cards, walking with her in the lane of memory and love/hand in hand/ the powerful and the powerless.
The economy of care guides and structures our days and obedience to it takes many shapes reminds the woman who took in her formerly incarcerated son, ever aware of that thin line between love and enablement, yet standing firm in that assured promise of our faith, “that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
And those for whom getting loved ones dressed in the morning after a restless night of accompanied bathroom trips is the biggest feat of the day.
Years before my own inauguration into motherhood, I will forever recall the parishioner and mother of five telling me that love happens at 3 a.m. when you’ve been up all night with your sick child standing over the toilet…I have yet to discover this truth for myself…it’s to come, I’m sure.
Much of asked of us in this life – by dependent children and aging parents, troubled siblings and failing spouses. When I consider this congregation and the heart and soul that beats within it, I’m struck by the level of compassion that emanates out from within this very community – by the amount of care you offer others in your lives.
Obedience takes many shapes ~ ministering to the children of our day and time, to the last and the least in our society can come by way of feeding the hungry and clothing the poor, but and it can also come by way of tending to our very own – opening the doors of our hearts and pocketbooks and even homes to family and friends and neighbors who are not strong enough to open doors for themselves.
Much is asked of us in this life and much is asked of us in the church, it seems, and here in this church, much is given in return. For our size we offer a tremendous depth of ministry engaging in our call to stewardship and service, faith and discipleship. Yet, we are not only called here to offer our care to others but to allow ourselves to be cared for, to receive prayers and visits, handwritten notes and casseroles.
Indeed our faith – our worship, prayer, and practice - is active and not passive and we regularly work to heed that call to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Yet, in order to love our neighbor we must first love ourselves and to love ourselves is to know ourselves. Calvin reflected that “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” To know God and to know ourselves is to know when we need care, to be attune to our bodies and minds and our needs versus desires, and to recognize those times and occasions when we need to receive rather than give. When we gain this sense of self, then we can come to this place and allow ourselves to soak in the nourishment of the Spirit in hymns sung, prayers spoken, Word broken open.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” Matthew 11:28. It’s ok to come, rest in the Lord.
Last week I sat at a corner table in Kristin’s restaurant with a pastor from Nashville. He and his wife made the bold decision to uproot their family of five to come to Braintree with the call on their hearts to start a new church. When the bill came at the end of the meal he quickly reached for it and I said, “No, no, no, let’s split it.” He said, “No, I got it.” I said, “No, no, I insist…”
And before I could make my typical plea to pick up the tab, he asked,
“What, you haven’t learned to accept grace?”
It is ok to receive/to allow ourselves to be cared for.
Obedience takes many shapes and we’re called to celebrate our place in God’s economy of care, at once servant of all and the one in need of being served. There’s a depth of compassion operative in this economy that even those who know it fully cannot understand. When our actions are compelled by motivations greater than word or explanation and by a love beyond our comprehension.
When Jesus places the least among us, we are taken to a place where need permeates, and yet care responds;
where helplessness overwhelms, and yet hope abounds;
where hurt lingers, and yet grace prevails.
When we have truly allowed God into our experience of care – we will allow ourselves to be on both ends of it – as the recipient and the giver, knowing that we have God’s permission to accept grace as well as impart it.
 Frost, Robert, “The Road Not Taken”
 Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion
Scripture: John 21:15-25
Rev. Leanne Walt
7th in our series on Naked Spirituality: a life with God in 12 Simple Words
We venture on this morning, we venture onto the final leg of our summer sermon series and journey through Brian McLaren’s book, Naked Spirituality: a life with God in 12 simple words, but the end is just the beginning. We especially affirm this today as we take up the last movement of his book with a consideration of the word “yes.” Months ago we gathered under the large oak tree on the side lawn to begin with the word “here,” that was our starting point: “Here. Now? Who? You. We.” “Here I am” was the call to communion with one another and with God, but now we have the call to commission, we say “Yes”: “Yes! we’ll go. Yes! We’ll prune. Yes, We’ll pluck. Yes! we’ll follow.” So that the end is just the beginning. As the passing of some months and days has brought us to Labor Day weekend that threshold, that relic of mainline New England Protestantism, that summons us into the new year, we duly sense that the end is just the beginning ~ that this exploration and consideration of the spiritual life is but a prelude to the coming year for our congregation.
We begin at the end this morning, the end of the Gospel of John, that is. Beside the Sea of Galilee, here we meet with Jesus’ questioning and commissioning/inquiry and invitation. A scene featuring beloved Peter – precious Peter - denier and disciple, rebuked and regretful, fisher of fish and men. In the last notes of John’s Gospel, in the final act of Jesus’ ministry, from the tomb to the beach, he has breakfast with the disciples around a bonfire just after dawn and he invites Peter to walk with him. Just some steps away from the fire, Jesus asks this man who denied and betrayed him: “Peter, do you love me?”
Peter responds, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”
Jesus says, “Feed my lambs.”
A second time he asks him, “Peter, do you love me?
Peter responds, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”
Jesus says to him, “Tend my sheep.”
A third time he asks him, “Do you love me?”
Hurt now that Jesus has asked him three times,
Peter responds, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”
Jesus says to him, “Follow me.”
The other gospels, the brotherly synoptics, Matthew, Mark and Luke, begin with Jesus saying, “Follow me,” but John’s gospel ends with this invitation. The end is just the beginning.
We discover in this scriptural moment, in this divine proposal that love precedes call. Love precedes commission. Love precedes vocation. Theologian Frederick Buechner has written that, “Vocation is where our greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need.” Where is your greatest passion? Have you married that with vocation?
As a minister, I receive all kinds of email forwards, as you can imagine. They really run the gamut – some quite serious, tear-jerking stories, usually involving a terminal illness and miraculous healing or a child and a dead pet frog. Others are funny, tongue and cheek Bible jokes, like “What do they call pastors in Germany? German Shepherds.” Or, “Who was the greatest financer in the Bible? Noah. He was floating his stock while everyone else was in liquidation.” And, I do enjoy these so please keep them coming.
Someone recently forwarded me an article from the Boston Globe entitled, “The Latest Trend in Dying.” Now, I didn’t realize there were trends in dying. I wondered what this trend might be. Hand painted caskets? Eulogies given by way of interpretive dance? Or, in anticipation of the open casket, are people starting to request nose jobs or hair transplants upon death in addition to the standard embalming service? But no, as it turns out, the latest, hottest trend in dying is the self-written obituary. Have you heard this? There are, in case you are interested, workshops on how to write your own obituary available both online and in your area. Many book clubs and other groups are hosting informal obituary-writing sessions. You can even purchase your very own “obit-kit” online.
Although I wanted to, I resisted purchasing an obit-kit and convincing Bill to join me in writing our obituaries now that we have a child, given that just before James was born he was a little taken aback when I told him that I’d planned my own funeral service and would have that available for him. Should the day or time come sooner than expected, I want to be sure that he knows the hymns I want and in what order. The scripture I would like read, and of course where the service would be and who would preside. Plus, with James now in the world, we’re in the midst of preparing our wills. So, I thought it may not be the right time to bring an obit-kit into the equation.
But you know; there is something about encountering to new life that orients us toward our death – not in a morbid or depressing way - but in a wholly hope-filled way, thankful for the reminder that the end is just the beginning. In bringing about or bearing witness to new life, we become grounded in our humanity unlike ever before. We begin to consider our legacy – financial and professional; our legacy of story and memory, character and disposition, faith and community, vocation and call – and if not on paper, perhaps in our hearts we begin writing those words that will remain in this world after we no longer do.
In the process, we discover that our lives hinge on those moments of questioning and commissioning/inquiry and invitation/call and response. Will you go? Will you feed? Will you tend? Will you plant? Will you pluck? Will you prune? Will you stand? Will you speak? Will you stay? Will you lead? Will you follow?
There are many reasons to say “no” given the state of our nation and realities of our world. 12 million Americans out of work, the dramatic decline of communities of faith, underachieving public school systems and insurmountable costs of higher education, engagement in wars abroad with vague purpose, shrinking coastlines. There are many reasons to say “no.” No, I will not go, I will not feed, I will not tend, I will not follow.
Yet, the invitation remains. A precious offering, a sacred window into the Way, the Truth, and the Life – into the love that fearfully and wonderfully formed and fashioned each one of us, our partners, parents, grandparents, children, and great grandchildren, generations of old and those to yet to come. We are asked to say yes to the love that invites us into the composition of life, the love that calls us into the cadence of our faith, to the rhythms of friendship, to the dance of partnership, to the note of vocation.
Love precedes call. Love precedes commission. Love precedes vocation.
In our tradition, nowhere is this reality more pronounced than in the sacrament – the sacred moment - of baptism, where we are visibly marked by the love that calls us into being. And that love, should we choose to accept it, overrides all worldly reasons to say “no.”
For the Christian life is a yes life - it whispers yes to what has been, to what is, and to what is to come ~ as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end ~ in our living and our dying, from the waters of our baptism to the ashes of our departing, we affirm that, “Yes, the end is just the beginning.”
Yet we know that this morning James isn’t the only one saying yes – in fact, he can’t say yes. He has yet to make that determination of faith. But we say, “Yes.” We say yes to God’s invitation into this life, this world, this communion, this community, this day, this hour, this minute – into the common hope that there is an achievable common good and that we can leave this world a better place than when we came into it.
And we say “Yes!” Yes, we will offer James this same invitation into the Christian life. And by accepting, we pray that he will lead a life worthy of the calling to which he has been called.
One in which he allows love to precede call. Love to precede commission. Love to precede vocation.
And if we listen closely in this old, holy place, we hear the faint echoes of Jesus in our hearts calling out to us on this sacred occasion. We sense the whisper of his questioning and commissioning/inquiry and invitation: “Do you love me?”
“Then, tend my sheep.” He calls out, take this one, this beloved, precious child of God, into the fold.
“Tend my sheep.”
May it be so.