I had been scheduled to preach tomorrow at All Saints Lutheran Church in Eagan, MN, but a blizzard is in the forecast, prudence has ruled the day, and worship has been cancelled. But I am an old style preacher who writes out a manuscript, so I am left with a perfectly good sermon for tomorrow. I think of sermons as being like bananas: best consumed fresh. So here it is! Feel free to ignore!
Payne is a 34-year-old realtor from south Chicago. “Just a girl from the south side,” she calls
herself. When the polar vortex swept through the Midwest at the end of January,
Candice Payne saw a news report on the plight of Chicago’s homeless on a night
that would bring 50 below windchills.
Her boyfriend had once been homeless.
She couldn’t sit by and watch.
one motel—one—that was willing to accept the homeless if their rooms were
pre-paid. Candice went to that motel and
charged thirty rooms on her credit card, then put out an appeal on social media
and began rounding up people, and her friends started transporting people to
the motel, and the word got out, and other people caught on, and soon the
thirty rooms became sixty and then seventy as those other people chipped in,
while others brought toiletries and food and vitamins and snacks and
restaurants donated food, and then what started out as a one-night stay turned
into four nights.
then…and then Ellen DeGeneres heard about Candice, and the next thing you know
Candice was sitting on Ellen’s stage receiving a $50,000 check from Walmart for
her newly-formed Action for a Cause Foundation, created to relieve some of the
burdens of Chicago’s homeless. The
problem of homelessness in Chicago was not instantly solved by Candice’s
actions, but on the coldest nights of the year, over 100 people had a warm bed
and warm food and a roof over their heads.
of Candice Payne in relationship to the Golden Rule, part of today’s gospel
text. “Do to others as you would have
them do to you,” Jesus says. I’ll tell you this. If I were homeless, facing bone chilling cold
out on the street, I would certainly “have’ someone rent me a hotel room. That’s what Candice did.
more to Jesus’ sermon. “If you do good to
those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to
receive, what credit is that to you?
Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend,
expecting nothing in return.”
think Candice expected anything in return for renting those hotel rooms. After all, the people she was doing good for
didn’t have anything. She had no way of
anticipating what Walmart eventually did.
She saw cold people who needed a place to sleep, and, to the extent that
she was able, she met their need.
And look what
happened. One woman decided that she
couldn’t stand by any longer, that she needed to do something. When she did,
her actions inspired other people to step up and act. Other people who paid for rooms, who drove
the homeless to their warm beds, who brought food and toiletries and warm
clothes. Restaurants that donated meals.
The generosity of this one woman sparked corresponding generosity in many
others, and even in the corporate heart of Walmart.
think that represents what we as Christians are supposed to be in this
world. People who make a
difference. People who are always
changing the world. If you look seriously at what Jesus is saying in the gospel
lesson, it is pretty radical stuff. “Love your enemies and do good to those who
hate you.” That doesn’t make one bit of human sense. That isn’t the way the world works. But Jesus says it is what his followers will
do. “If anyone strikes you on the cheek,
offer the other also; and from anyone who takes your coat do not withhold even
your shirt.” Like—if somebody steals your cash, make sure to give them your
credit cards as well. “Give to everyone who begs from you.”
That dude on the off-ramp with his tattered sign might spend whatever you give
him on Thunderbird, but, Jesus says, give it to him anyway.
sensible, moderate people don’t act that way. It’s not a formula for how to get
ahead in the world. But Jesus calls his
followers to be that kind of holy crackpot, the kind who loves enemies and
hands everything over to the thief and never drives past the guy on the
off-ramp without emptying her purse.
I think, is that this blessed insanity will be a catalyst to spark the same
kind of insanity, the same brand of kindness, the same
love-acted-out-in-the-world in others. Once again, Candice Payne could have watched
the news and heard about the homeless people on that sub-zero night and turned
off the TV pledging them her thoughts and prayers—that’s what lots of people
pledge in hard times, thoughts and prayers—but she didn’t do that. She put her own credit card to work. And her insane behavior sparked the same kind
of insane behavior in other people, leading them to pull out their own credit
cards, not quitting with the glib, low-demand offering of thoughts and prayers
but taking tangible action to meet the needs of other human beings. Kindness
turned out to be contagious. Pretty
cool, if you ask me. Pretty cool, and
very much in the spirit of Jesus. As a
matter of fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that God was working through
Candice, for, after all, God’s hands are our hands.
followers have always had a thing for doing the ridiculous. Look at today’s first lesson. It’s easy for us to romanticize Joseph, the
little boy with his coat of many colors whose older brothers sold him into
slavery. It’s easy for us to forget that
he was the very poster child for obnoxious little brothers. When his older brothers were out in the
fields, sweating and stinking and working long hours, little Joe was strutting
around immaculate in that ridiculous coat reminding his older brothers that Dad
loved him more than Dad loved them. You can hardly blame them for disposing of
the little twerp.
is fair, and you also wouldn’t be inclined to blame Joseph if he took it out on
them years later when his brothers came to him looking for a handout during the
famine. Well, Joseph didn’t seek revenge
the way you or I might. In the course of
his stay in Egypt, Joseph had become a new man, a better man. He told his
brothers that there was plenty of food, that they should gather up the whole
clan and move in with him. Unreasonable
behavior embodied. What Jesus talks
about theoretically, Joseph practices.
as Christians we are not called to be “ordinary people.” We are called to be “extraordinary people,”
people who do unusual and unexpected things on the basis of grace, on the basis
of already being people God loves. Christians aren’t real good at fitting in,
at being average, at being like everybody else.
Christians stand out in the crowd, and that is all right. It’s what we
are supposed to do.
tempting to sit back and wait for the big moment, the chance to do something
really big and great, so big and great that Ellen will have us on and everybody
will know we did something big and great and someday some preacher somewhere
will tell a good story about us in a sermon.
But our lives as Christ followers, Christ imitators, don’t need to wait
for the big moment. We can follow
Christ, be the kind of people Christ calls us to be, in the humble little every
day moments we stumble onto, or that stumble onto us.
kid nobody talks to in the lunch room.
new Somali family down the street.
Matrix program, providing temporary housing for the homeless.
Sunday School’s community involvement program as it gathers gifts.
around. Look around. Look around you this week, and I’ll bet
you’ll see a place where you can do something loving and generous for some
other person who would have no reason to expect that from you.
we belong to states up-front that its intention is to be “unreasonably
generous.” This means that the
congregation intends to go the second mile to support worthy causes in the
community and the world-wide church.
Certainly some of the money could be used for projects within the
congregation, but the congregation chooses not to do that, preferring to give
money away whenever possible.
that is a wonderful model for us as individuals to follow as we attempt to be
faithful followers of Christ.
“Unreasonable Generosity.” Charge
those motel rooms for the homeless. Give
that extra gift. Or, as Jesus put it,
“Do to others as you would have
them do to you,”
they have done, paying off old gifts or old slights; but as you would have them
do to you. Paying it forward. Not bad.