Proper 25A 2017: A Non-random Act of Kindness – Lower the Toilet Seat

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Link to Matthew:

The Liturgical Poem for This Week:

From “The Forms of Knowledge”
by Kenneth Patchen

Calling to each other across the graves,
the beautiful and strong whom
horror eats, whose bones are already
bleached in city deserts, whose stars
and moons bestride another world –
these, these few, these holy –
they are not drowned by the great white rains
of this winter; they are not trampled
by the horses of murder and death;
instead, they try to live above life,
as the birds above their flying,
as the dead beyond their dying.

Leviathan’s scales sparkle in the heavens
and the whole fist of the universe
turns on the enraptured spit of God.
Through the flames I can see the lowered faces
of creatures that watch us in amused love.
We live on only one side of the world.


There are hints today –
whispers up the sleeve if you can hear them,
of saints and stewardship to come.
We’ll just let those things roll in slowly and
mosey in with the tide of November.

As today’s poem by Kenneth Patchen concludes,
“we live on only one side of the world.”

We imagine,
or think unconsciously if we don’t imagine,
that everything we see and do
is all there is.
We imagine,
but not very imaginatively,
that what we are aware of
and what we can smell and taste,
and what we can think about and know,
is all there is.

“…Leviathan’s scales sparkle in the heavens
and the whole fist of the universe
turns on the enraptured spit of God.
Through the flames I can see the lowered faces
of creatures that watch us in amused love…”

Still, the distance between knowing and unknowing,
between the lustrous and luscious
heaven on earth, and the earth of daily bread,
is love.

Even a small love, as poet Ann Sexton mused.
According to her, a thin vein
is all God needs to cover that distance,
a thin vein with even a small amount of love in it.

That is the distance
between those creatures who watch us
with loving eyes and kindly smiles,
their faces smashed against of the glass of heaven.
Only a thin veil away;
only a thin vein with a small love in it.

As a preacher in a techno-world,
where religion is irrelevant at best,
and in which preachers are pie-in-the-sky schemers,
it is difficult for me to stand up here
and preach about “love” without feelig self-conscious.

From Billy Sunday to Elmer Gantry
every Christian bible-thumping crook
has tried to cash in on love.
Yet underneath
the muck of self-interested misuse and abuse of love;
and underneath
the fluffy clouds of yellow smiley-faces that trivialize love;
and underneath
the blackwater of despair and cynicism from those who have
given up on love;
underneath all of that detritus,
there is powerful and practical wisdom
in those two little sentences from Jesus.

While on this side of the glass,
in the cottoncandy Valentine’s Day world
of Disney and Wal-mart,
love is a noun.
But in that teaching of Jesus,
rooted in the rich moist soil of Moses,
love is a verb.

While we write, sing, and speak of love as a feeling,
an emotion to be consumed,
Jesus speaks of love as an action that embodies
one’s total posture toward another person.
Love is concrete
and muscular –
and as such,
sums up Torah from Jesus’ point of view.

To get persoal, even homely,
my mom taught me about love as a verb.
It caused me no small amount of consternation at the time,
but through the wisdom of years
I have found myself grateful more times than I can count.

My mom’s first commandment was be considerate.
She was fanatical about it.
She convinced me, slowly and over time,
that being considerate is a core requirement of being loving.
I will offer one, very humble and earthy example
I often inject into pre-marital conversations
with those who are about to be married.
To the husband-to-be I say,
if you leave the toilet seat up and don’t flush,
the message is clear:
You are not thinking of the person who comes after you,
and if you are, you expect them to clean up after you.
That is not loving.

It is only a small pithy example,
but it points to love as a verb –
love embodied in actions more than words.
Even small actions, even a thin vein.

In this sense, love is sacramental:
and outward and visible sign
of an inward and invisible reality.

In the end,
and from the beginning,
all we ever have is the opportunity to love.

We begin life as mostly hairless,
drueling, and utterly dependent.
All we have throughout those months and years
of infancy and beyond, is the opportunity to love
and to receive love.

In the end, as we drift toward death,
we are once again mostly hairless,
drueling, and utterly dependent.
And still, all we have is the opportunity to love
and receive love.

In betweeen, love is the best of what we have:
the opportunity to love
and accept the love that is offered us.

It is easy to conceptualize:
Let us imagine that the stock market crashes –
it is not so hard to imagine, is it?
The banks close – all of them.
ATM machines flash, “System Shut Down.”
There is no money, other than what is in your pocket
or squirreled away under your mattress.
When the money is gone,
your job, if you have one, is not far behind.
Or your pension,
or your social security, or your IRA.

When our job, the work or profession
through which our identity was nurutred;
and our money, the means
by which we purchase safety and security
and everything else big and little;
are gone, what we have left
is the opportunity to love and be loved.
It is so simple and true
that it seems ridiculous to say out loud.

Let’s take it an uncomfortable step closer
to that glass veil of heaven.

Imagine being in bed
during the last days of life.
Our muscles shriven,
unable to walk or even void by ourselves.
It is not a very pleasant thought, I realize,
because such dependency is the worst of all indignities.
And yet, as life fades from our body
like the thickening gray of the evening sky,
here come our family and friends.
Gathered around the bed,
they smile and make small jokes from time to time,
an effort to clear away the pain.

They fight back tears
and their eyes grow more swollen by the hour.

What is left then, at the end of our life?
The very same thing that was present at the beginning
when our eyes first opened
or we learned to walk and fall down again:
the opportunity to love and be loved.

To love God
withour whole life, and to love ourselves
and one another,
with the service of our body,
is not just the greatest thing, it is the only thing.

To love God with our life,
is measured by what we do with our relationships,
and by what we do with our money,
and by what we do with our labor,
and by what we do with the talent we have been given.
All of it reflects our love of God…or not.

To love God with our lives
and to love ourselves and one another,
is to be guided by the knowledge that our choices
are never just about us.

It should give us pause, as a church and religion,
that when Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment,
he did not answer:
To believe in God,
or believe in the Trinity,
or believe Jesus was the son of God,
or believe in any doctrine or creed.

Rather, Jesus said to love God
with our whole being, that is,
body, mind, and spirit.

We are to love our neighbor,
not for what he or she can do for us,
but as ourselves –
as if our neighbor is us.

Jesus said loving God is physical,
and that God loving us is mystical.

I am not saying anything new here.
We all know,
deep in the pit of our stomach,
that this religion of ours is about action –
about doing love, not believing in love;
about doing love, not defining love;
about doing love, not feeling love.

And right here, on this doorstep,
is where I am going to leave the baby today.

If you were to ask me
why I am a Christian, instead of one of the other
religions I studied, explored, and found compelling,
it would come down to this:
We are incarnational.

We know,
and we experience,
and we act out – with ritual and in our lives –
the improbable love of God
that requires only a thin vein,
and a small love
to bridge the distance
or lift the veil between us.

In the world of religious ideas,
the notion that God is embodied –
is present in human flesh,
probably seems nutty and ridiculous.
And I am not talking about Jesus,
I am talking about God embodied
in your flesh
and mine.

That our flesh and blood is good and wonderful,
precisely because we embody God,
is a unique idea.

That the earth and stars and oceans
are filled with gooness
rather than the source of suffering,
is a strange idea to millions of other people.

That food and sex and emotional intimacy,
and the sensual beauty of art and music
are meant for our joy
and not simply as a lesser reflection
of the joys of heaven,
would seem a peculiar idea to millions of other people.

But that is what we claim.

God is incarnate in human life, we say,
and not our life only,
but animate and inanimate substance,
seen and unseen,
throughout the entire Cosmos –
all of it infused with God.

We claim that and more
when we embrace the love of God with our whole selves,
including our woeful, imperfect
yet fantastic bodies.
We claim that and more
when we embrace the possibility and desireabilty
of loving our neighbor as if loving ourselves.

God’s love
and our love of God
are incarnational: in the body,
our body.

The Creation is an act of God’s love.
The presence of God among us,
even here and even now,
is an act of God’s love.

Likewise, how we spend and share our money;
and how we use and share our resources;
and how we live out our relationships;
and how we act toward others, even those we do not know;
and how we care for others, even those we do not see; and, how we care for the earth, even the air we do not breathe;
all of that is the measure of how we love…or not.

You see, our religion is mystical at its core.
But it is both mystical AND phsyical.
To love God with our whole self
is a mystical experience.
To pop open and suddenly know
that we are less than a sub-atomic particle of God,
and still feel loved sweetly and serenely by that same God,
is a mystical experience.

It can happen when we stand in the presence
of the awesome natural wonders around us,
and it can happen all of a sudden in the heart of worship,
and it can happen when least expected
in the darkness of despair,
or in the silence of prayer,
or at any time or place.

When suddenly we know,

know it in our bones
or in the soft tissue holding our heart,
that God loves us,
it is a mystical experience.
It need not be big and flashy.
Even a small love coursing through a thin vein
is enough to deliver such a mystical moment.

And that is the astounding physicality of our religion:
that the mystical presence of God,
everything bugeoning on the other side of that veil
between us and God,
is made known in our bodies.

And we embody it, make it known,
with our bodies
when we commit small acts of love.

It is astounding; it is
fantastical; it is an
amazing and a speechless