Fr. Bill Carroll – The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, July 23, 2023

All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Good morning, everybody.  It so good to see you after a wonderful vacation.  It is good to be home.  Right before we left, I spoke to you about how several members of Trinity welcomed and served a neighbor of ours who was living on the streets.  And I am happy to report that, last I heard from Curtis, he had settled into housing he can afford.

I’m not naive.  Only time will tell.  But it is a great step for him in the right direction.  I encourage you to keep on praying for Curtis.

In that sermon, which concerned the words of Jesus, “Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me,” I mentioned that, for Christians, every neighbor is a kind of sacrament.  In other words, God wants us to receive Jesus into our hearts by how we treat other people.  Beloved, we are children of God.  We are joint heirs with Christ and members of his family.  And, if we wish to honor God, we must love the neighbors he gives us–even and especially those we find hardest to love.

Recently, I came upon a quotation from C. S. Lewis, the great Anglican author, and it confirms my conviction that our neighbor is a kind of sacrament.   “There are no ordinary people (Lewis writes).  You have never talked to a mere mortal…Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” 

This means all our neighbors (without exception), especially those who are suffering.  And it doesn’t just mean those who are from our tribe or race or nation.  It’s not restricted to those who speak the same language–or who look and think the ways we do.  Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan to expand our sense of who counts as our neighbor.  According to that parable, our neighbor includes even the hated Samaritans.  Anyone who shows God’s love to another in need is our neighbor for Jesus.

Beloved, week after week, we come to God’s Table, to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus–what Lewis calls the Blessed Sacrament.  But, more than that, he gathers us together to become his Body in the world. Each of us, in our frail and flawed humanity, is meant to continue the mission of Jesus.  We are children of God.  We gather together on the day when Jesus rose from the dead, so that we might be renewed in the gifts and promises of baptism.   So that he might show us his ways of love–and we might learn to live as God’s children.  The Eucharist is where we catch the vision of the Kingdom of God–the mission and movement of Jesus in the world.

And so, we receive Jesus into our hearts.  And we receive him ever anew (as little children).   We decide once more to follow where he leads. We recommit ourselves to be led by his Spirit in the ways of love.  For he has forgiven us and set us free  And he has given us grace and power to live as God’s children.

Beloved, we have never met an ordinary person.   Only God’s children, for whom Jesus lived and died and rose again.  

In the Gospel today, he reminds us of God’s boundless patience with us sinners.  We are a “mixed body,” made up of wheat and weeds–of good fish and bad.  And, only at the end of the age, will Jesus sort us out, with his perfect mercy and truth.

For the present, we must love each other.  And, as the Scriptures teach us, “God is love.” “Perfect love casts out all fear,” they say. “Love covers a multitude of sins.”  And so, we renounce the works of the flesh, even though sometimes we continue to fall into them.  And, by the works of the flesh, I mean anything that leads us to sin against love–anything that leads us to mistreat or show contempt for any human being whatsoever  

I was reminded of this on our vacation, as we traveled through the desert Southwest and then around San Diego, where my parents and sister live.   I saw homeless camps and individual people begging in the blistering heat.   I saw checkpoints along our border and various day laborers and migrants, documented and undocumented alike.   

In the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew, in the Great Judgment scene, Jesus makes his generalized comments on welcoming strangers more specific.   However we treat the least of these, he says—including hungry and thirsty people, prisoners, homeless people, refugees, and other strangers—is how we treat the Lord himself.   These people, especially, are God’s children, for whom Jesus lived and died.  For, often, they have God alone for their helper. 

None of this solves the complicated debates about immigration, about how to provide for our veterans, about mental health and affordable housing, as well as bread and butter economics.  The Church teaches us how to see as Jesus sees, and then we have the debate and decide what to do.  But these lessons from the Gospel should inform our thinking as followers of Jesus, and as citizens.   And they should lead us to a more urgent and more compassionate response to this humanitarian crisis.

“For we did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but we have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”   Everyone who comes to Jesus and follows in his steps is a child of God.

So come to him.  Come to his Table.  Come to his Cross.   Whoever you are and however you are frightened or hurting, come to him.  Let us leave behind ourselves the sinful ways of this world and be renewed in our adoption as God’s children. For that is what we are:  children of God.

Jesus is good and patient with us without measure.  And, at God’s right hand, he lives and reigns in love.

Come, Lord Jesus.  Come.