Homily for Sunday, 2000 June 25
St. James the Less, Ashland, Virginia
In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer Ė "Let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer."
In the hands of two skilled and dedicated surgeons Ė Doctors Graham and Mendez - with an incredible and compassionate support team, I have been a first-hand witness to and participant in what would have been a true miracle only a few years ago. I have seen a friend who was very sick restored to health. Russ Shea, who once played football for West Point, was so sick that he could barely walk up a flight of stairs. He was sick, to the point that he could have died within a year or so. Russ Shea is rapidly returning to full strength and full health, and all either of us can think to say is "Alleluia!" Such events usually lend themselves better to third hand reports, so that someone more objective than the participants can tell us what they mean. Yet, John asked me to share with you, and so I shall.
First, I want to speak of community. We, who worship together here at St. James the Less, are a community of faith. The people of Ashland, in spite of our recent public disagreements over development and growth, are a community. Randolph-Macon College, where Russ and I teach, is a community. Today, I find that I have joined yet another community Ė the community of organ transplants. I feel that community with other donors, with recipients, with the families of the deceased who bravely donate organs of their loved ones that others may live, with the too many still waiting for a donated organ to restore them to health. My wife and family have joined it, too, for they were very much with me in this undertaking. Iíve long since checked off the box on my driversí license declaring myself an organ donor, and I trust that you will do the same Ė but itís different, very different, to know the person whose life depends on it.
What am I to use for a text? Sermons are supposed to have a text. Yet, organ transplants are nowhere referred to in the Scriptures. This morningís lessons are of some help, but not much. Job is basically asked by God, "What makes you think that youíre so smart? Who are you to question how the world is made?" OK Ė somebody explain to me why most of us are born with two kidneys, when we need only one. Somebody explain to me how, even though we know precisely what a kidney does, we cannot make a machine which functions nearly so well. God says, "Declare, if you know all this."
I thought, briefly, about taking my text from a country-western tune: "Oh, Lord, itís hard to be humble, Ö" Well, it is very hard to stay humble, when friends, acquaintances, former students, and total strangers tell me what a hero I am to have done this thing. The problem for me is that, I donít feel like a hero. I just feel like me. On the other hand, one of my EFM fellow-mentors wrote me, that "Jesus wants us to be heroes." Iím still thinking about that one. One thing which I think about this, is that Iím looking at a church of heroes. The ministries that you share in this place make you all heroes. You all feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit the sick Ö as you have done this to the least of Jesusí brothers, you do it to him. But, thatís not in this morningís lessons, either.
So, Iíve decided to take as my text some words written 2700 years ago. We read, in the 8th verse of the 6th chapter of Micah:
"And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?"
Do justice. What is justice, when you see a friend dying? Beyond first aid, what is one to do? One of the physicians at the transplant center, I think it was Dr. Mendez, observed that one measure of doing justice is being able to see the same person in the mirror that others see when they look at you. To me, donating a kidney seemed the just thing to do. I couldnít stand idly and watch Russ die, knowing I could do something to help. I canít begin to tell you how many people have told me that they werenít surprised to hear that I was doing this. My dear wife, Sylvia, who has noted that I tend be a bit like Don Quixote tilting at windmills, was probably thinking, "Oh, no. There he goes again."
Do justice. What is the just thing? Most of us would offer our sympathy and our prayers. We have offered our prayers for Russell for nearly 2 years. Prayer is a right thing, a just thing. But, I am convinced that prayer is not incantation. Itís not the words, but the connection with the Divine that makes a prayer. We can say a prayer; we can also walk it, dance it, sing it. Better still to live it. It was a prayer when I offered to be tested as a potential donor. It was a prayer when I repeated the offer several times over the next 2 years. It was a very powerful prayer, when Russís 9-year old daughter asked him to take me up on the offer. It was a prayer answered when he came to see me.
It was an act of prayer to be tested for compatibility, and an answered prayer to be found a good match. It was an act of prayer to go into the hospital, to undergo anesthesia and surgery on behalf of a friend. (After all, how often do we get to go into the hospital because thereís something right with us?) And it was a prayer answered to see and speak to Russ in the recovery room. It is a prayer answered that both kidneys are working just fine, thanks be to God.
Love mercy. I dare say, that our 20th Century version of mercy is a bit flawed. We are inclined to think too often, that mercy is equivalent to applying the Golden Rule to somebody who probably doesnít deserve it. You know, "there, but for the grace of God, go I Ė so Iíll let you off the hook this time."
In Scripture, we find a different sense of what mercy means. The publican in the Temple prays, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner." In the Temple, in the Holy of Holies, was the Mercy Seat, a part of the lid of the Ark of the Covenant. This is where God met his sinful people. Mercy is where God meets us. And, how does God meet us? Jesus ate, drank, and walked with sinners. Jesus healed the halt and lame. Jesus meets us in each other. He justifies us, makes us right. He has redeemed us. Thatís the message of our baptism. We are His Easter people. Thatís what we mean when we celebrate the Eucharist. Love mercy Ė love the meeting between God and human.
Walk humbly. This is the hard part. Youíve just told me how wonderful I am. Iíve just told you how wonderful you all are. "Lord, itís hard to be humble Ö" Again, I dare to say that the 20th Century is tripping us up on the words. Humility is not false modesty. Humility is knowing who you are, and knowing who God is. How do we do that? "Be still," He says, "and know that I am God." Be still. Be humble.
I gave a kidney. Iíve been told that I gave the gift of life. Not so. Life is from God. I am a recipient of that gift, not a donor. In stewardship, all I could do was share the gift. My friends, Iíve seen your stewardship in this place. I have seen your outreach from this place. You, too, have shared the gift of life.
God creates, and gives life: An act of justice. God redeems, and saves the life of my friend: An act of mercy. And God sustains us in that renewed life. And for that, I am truly humbled.
And so, again, in the name of God, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Amen.