September 29, 2019: Jesus, Asperger's, Simon & Garfunkel and Confession From a Pastor Who Cares Too Little
Jesus, Asperger’s, Simon & Garfunkel
and Confessions from a Pastor Who Cares Too Little
Good morning, children! I want to teach you a new word: stewardship. Stewardship is the idea that everything we have is from God, and that we are to take care of everything that God has given us. Today at church, we’re focusing on stewardship of our planet. Stewardship. So with that, I have a book I want to share with you entitled, What Matters written by Alison Hughes and illustrated by Holly Hatam.
A crumpled soda can lay in the grass, glinting in the sunshine.
A boy ran down the path.
He saw the can, picked it up and tossed it into a nearby recycling bin.
It was only a little thing. A small, small thing. The boy didn’t know it mattered at all.
But it did.
It mattered to an ant carrying breakfast to his family.
And to a snail spared a long and tiring detour.
It mattered to a spider who had worked all morning spinning an intricate web.
And to a worm whose wormhole might have been plugged.
And to a curious dog with a very delicate snuffler.
It mattered to a hungry, nibbly mouse who might have gotten sick.
And to two baby birds with sensitive new eyes.
It mattered to seventy-three blades of grass and to a dandelion that would have wilted.
It kept a drain from clogging, which stopped a garden from flooding,
which saved the flowers that danced in the breeze.
The boy didn’t know it, but he helped.
He helped a tiny stream flow more freely to a river and the river flow more smoothly to the ocean.
He helped a tiny crab to scuttle in a clear tide pool and a big ocean fish to swim in cleaner water.
He helped the vast ocean throw one less piece of garbage onto the beach.
He made the earth just a little more blue, a smidgen more green.
Picking up that crumpled can was only a little thing. A small, small thing.
But it mattered.
More than the boy ever knew.
Boys and girls, as Christians we are called to care for our planet. What’s that called? (Stewardship). And if each of us do at least one small, small thing every day, think what a big difference that will make over time! That’s stewardship! Let us pray:
Dear God, help us do our small, small part to care for this amazing planet
you have given us to enjoy and to tend. Amen.
Jesus, Asperger’s, Simon & Garfunkel
and Confessions from a Pastor Who Cares Too Little
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
It’s just a small, small thing. Going to the grocery store, forgetting to bring along my reusable grocery bags. It’s just a small, small thing. How much harm can it do? Surely not much. (Dump huge bag full of single-use plastic bags all over the chancel.) Just a small, small thing, right? (Leave bags on chancel, kicking them throughout the sermon.)
It was just a small, small thing for the rich man to “feast sumptuously” every day. No harm, no foul. He could afford it. It was just a small, small thing for the rich man to dress in purple and fine linen, with little to no thought of the garment worker—the woman, or perhaps even the small child—working in slave-like conditions to make his sweet threads. It was just a small, small thing for the rich man to ignore the poor man sitting by his gate hoping for the scraps from the rich man’s table. Besides, what was the rich man supposed to do? Give the poor man a bedroom in his house? Just a small, small thing, right?
The problem is, those small, small things added up as day after day as the poor man grew invisible in the eyes of the rich man in this story—this parable with which Jesus taunted the Pharisees.
To set the story in context, this story Jesus tells the Pharisees is a continuation of the dialogue with them in which he challenges the Pharisees regarding their love of money. Jesus is not endearing himself to the Pharisees. And in this story he tells the Pharisees, juxtaposing the rich man who lives quite lavishly against the poor man with dogs licking his sores, Jesus is aware that his listeners identify with the rich man. And who wouldn’t? I think most of us would rather be the purple-wearing rich man rather than the canker-laden poor man, at least . . . until the plot twist. Jesus imagines a role-reversal in the afterlife in which the rich man is tormented in flames and the poor man relaxes in luxury, watching Monday Night Football on Father Abraham’s 98” plasma screen. The poor man may not experience justice in this life, but that all changes in the afterlife in this story with which Jesus rips his “frien-emies,” the Pharisees.
I’m going to take a wild guess here that the Pharisees didn’t like this story too much. Truth be told, I don’t care for it myself.
When the rich man begs Father Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers about their fate in the afterlife if they don’t change their ways, Abraham shuts him down saying, “They have Moses and the prophets, if they won’t listen to the prophets, sorry, but there’s no hope for your brothers.”
And that’s where Jesus’ story ends. And that’s where Luke’s chapter sixteen ends. No hope. Nothing but the sound of silence.
As I thought this week about how this passage ends in complete and awkward silence, I was reminded of the song by Simon and Garfunkel, “The Sound of Silence.” Paul Simon wrote the song when he was only 21, but it struck a chord with people, hitting number one on the Billboard charts in 1966. The lyrics find the singer awakened from a dream, a vision, that draws him out of the shadowy world of ignorance, prompting him to try to awaken others as well. The song ends with these lyrics:
“Fools," said I, “You do not know—
Silence, like a cancer, grows.
Hear my words that I might teach you.
Take my arms that I might reach you.”
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells, of silence.
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made.
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, "The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence.”
“The words of the prophets . . .”
What does the word “prophet” mean in this context? Their words written on the subway walls and tenement halls? Quite simply, a prophet is one who rises from the shadows of apathy and ignorance and speaks truth. And if it is truth, it is from God. St. Augustine said this even more strongly: “If there is something more excellent than the truth, then that is God; if not, then truth itself is God.”
The problem with being a prophet, however, is that the truth often falls on deaf ears. Sometimes the truth is so hard to hear that the prophet is executed. Jesus was hung on a cross because he was the Living Truth. We couldn’t handle the truth then. We can’t handle the truth now.
Just this week it’s been fascinating to watch grown men and women respond to a 16-year-old Swedish girl speaking her truth to the world. Her name is Greta Thunberg, and she’s made headlines worldwide for her impassioned plea that world leaders take climate change seriously and do something. If we can think about Greta apart from the partisan spin—the left glorifying her and the right demonizing her—we see Greta as a 16-year-old fearful for her future and the future of the planet, and angry at us grown-ups for our lackadaisical attitude toward the alarms sounded by the vast majority of the world’s climate scientists. But there’s a human-interest aspect to Greta’s story that caught my attention. Greta has Asperger’s Syndrome. I know a little something about Asperger’s. Because I love and live with an “Aspie,” it is no surprise to me that it is an Aspie who is sounding the alarm—telling the truth in a compelling, powerful way that makes us grown-ups squirm. Lies and nuance aren’t in the repertoire for most Aspies. They are innate truth-tellers. And what did I tell you about truth? If it is truth, it is from God. Say what you will about young Greta—but I know she is naming her truth. Her truth is that she is scared, and she is angry. And she’s telling us to wake up. We ignore the truth-tellers to our peril.
So let’s see . . . we’ve covered Jesus, Asperger’s, Simon & Garfunkel . . . but let’s go back to Jesus for a moment.
With this difficult teaching from Jesus, we might ask, “Where’s the love? Where’s the hope?” The rich man (with whom we might identify) suffers in eternal torment and the story ends in stone cold silence. Where’s the hope? The hope is right there in the silence. The hope is between the lines of the text. The hope is in the fact that even though the rich man in the story is doomed, you and I are not. You and I are on this side of the divide between life and afterlife. You and I still have time to heed the warnings of the prophets! We still have time to change! That’s what we hear from Jesus within the Sound of Silence. We can, we must change.
So on this Creation Care Sunday, we may think about what a huge problem climate change is and throw up our hands and say, “What difference can I make? I’m just one person.” Or we might look at the problem of plastics in our oceans, including our beautiful Gulf, and the fact that each year we humans allow 8 million metric tons of plastic into our oceans each year—and we shrug and say, “Oh well, what can I do?”
Here’s the answer: one small, small thing. How do you eat an elephant? (One bite at a time.) How do you heal a planet? One small, small thing at a time.
I’m proud of you, Chapel by the Sea—for doing one small, small thing by becoming Ocean Allies certified. Alongside local businesses here on the beach, we are reducing our consumption of single-use plastics. One little church taking this step doesn’t seem like much. But when we link arms with roughly 50 organizations and businesses here on Clearwater Beach, then we’re beginning to make a dent. And if what the organizers’ dream comes true, and we (Ocean Allies) become a leader regionally, across Florida, nationally, even internationally—it adds up. Small, small things add up.
Children of God, we are called to be good stewards of the garden in which we were planted. My confession is this: I have cared too little about this amazing planet God has given us to enjoy and to tend. But thanks be to God, I still can change, if I choose to. So can you.
One small, small thing—one little lifestyle change at a time—we can find the hope in Jesus’ dire message to the Pharisees. We have time to change. The question is, will we?
Now, who’s going to help me clean up this mess I’ve made? (Invite a volunteer or two to come help pick up the plastic bag mess I made at the beginning of the sermon—in silence.)
 McManus, Tracey, “Plastic pollution in Tampa Bay is bigger than straws. Here’s what local advocates are doing,
Tampa Bay Times, 7/6/18.