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preaching to the choir

Today, I was the preacher for common cathedral. A street church service is very much a liturgy–work of the people. The person appointed to preach does so, briefly; then anyone and everyone comments on the Gospel. The Prayers of the People are just that: people stepping forward with a prayer, a comment, a thanks, ending “Lord in your mercy”; everyone responds “Hear our prayer”. Remarkably, they tend to cover most of the items the rubrics say we need to include: the nation (especially its military overseas), the church, the sick and friendless and those in need. And the Celtics or Red Sox, whichever is playing next.

So today my text was the lectionary Gospel reading: Matthew 6:24-34. It’s from the Sermon on the Mount; it’s the lilies of the field passage. You cannot serve two masters, not both God and wealth; do not be concerned with what you eat, or drink, or with your clothing; worry cannot add an hour to your life; consider the birds who do not store up grain; the lilies who do not spin or weave. Your Father in heaven takes care of them; you are worth more, and he will surely take care of you. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you. And again, don’t worry about tomorrow; today has worry enough.

This is a very famous passage, and one I dreaded talking about to this group. How dare I tell the hungry and homeless not to worry about their next meal? How tell them that they are not to worry about tomorrow? And how do I tell myself any of that–brought up on the ant-and-the-grasshopper, on prudence, on saving and planning ahead?

But I’ve been here most of a month now, and spent a lot of time with Shaggy, and Peter, and Eddie, and Brenda, and Martha, and Amy, and Julie, and Batman, and Chris, and Billy–I could go on. I spent time this morning listening to Frank, telling me that he needed to go to Worcester, that he couldn’t go on like this, that he hadn’t slept for two nights–he walks the streets and keeps his friends safe, calls an ambulance if he has to. He’s a Navy veteran, a SEAL, is disabled, perhaps gets some pension, but doesn’t have housing and doesn’t seem to be on a list to get housing soon. As he told us during Prayers of the People, he started the day with a fifth. But yes, he has hope, always; he wakes up grateful to God to be alive every morning. He accepted a cross and a blessing; he stayed through the service. So I listened, and talked a little, and didn’t review my sermon again.

So Frank saved me from worrying about what I ended up giving to God. And realizing that this is not a hard text here: this congregation has taught me about living today, not worrying too much about tomorrow, getting meals or some clothing today when you can. So I told them that this, written [late 1st century] when the Romans were tearing down housing and pushing people around, told to a people on a hillside and poor, was about putting our deepest need, our relationship with God and therefore with each other as children of God, brothers and sisters, into the center of our lives. That it is about recognizing the kingdom of God on earth when we are in relationship with him and from that, with each other. And, I pointed out, there are no skinny pigeons on Boston Common.

Later, at the end of announcements before communion, Steve called me forward to thank me for the time with the community and asked everyone to come forward to bless me on my way. They all did–those I’ve named and others–held my hands, touched my arms and shoulders. At Steve’s request, Billy said a blessing on behalf of the community. I don’t remember what he said; I remember that it was the most moving blessing I have or may ever experience. The blessing of the community–it was transcendent. I am going to miss them all very much, but now I think I am ready to start building relationships in Iowa City.

I’ll be inviting you to join. And by the way, as I told them this morning, all the pigeons on Boston Common are fat. They assured me the pigeons always will be.

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