Let’s just take care of each other

A Sermon for Epiphany 3; Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a, Luke 4:14-21

It has been a strange week. Not so much my schedule, which did include 2 most all-day trips to Jonesboro; more than the trips the news seemed strange. I’d expected it to be all about the shutdown, instead the news was all about the revised, revised, revised version of the Confrontation on the Mall. You know the ever-changing story of the confrontation between a group of Black Hebrew Israelites, white teenage boys, and a Native American Elder. The learning bit for me was an opinion piece exploring the role of social media in inflaming a complex social interaction. David Brooks notes how social media:

  • rewards spreading the viral soap operas that are supposed to reveal the dark hearts of those who are in the opposite social type from your own
  • reduces the complexities of human life into one viral moment and
  • confirms our negative stereotypes of people we don’t even know

Brooks sees the danger in social media being the tail wags the mainstream media dog (Brooks, Destroy Lives). More than the event itself I was concerned about the seemingly reckless race to be first on social media, accuracy and the people involved don’t matter, just the clicks produced matter. But my concern didn’t stay there long

There was a story on NPR about the resurgence of Black Lung disease. Black Lung affects coal miners and is caused by breathing in the ever-present coal dust. It is debilitating, men who work for decades in the mines can no longer cut their own yards, or water their gardens. It is always a horrible death. It is the results of the mining companies’ not caring about the miners; as one said, They don’t care if you live or die, that’s the truth of it (NPR). This is just another example of our emphasis on the value of the commodity, and I’m sure it is coal and not human labor that is the commodity of concern. And since coal still produces about 30% of electricity in the US we bear some responsibility as we gain some benefit (TOXMAP FAQ).

Of course, the never-ending story of the shutdown of the Federal Government was never far behind. 800,000 thousand were either furloughed or forced to work without pay. As these worker citizens approach missing their 2nd paycheck, pressures mount. There is no money for house notes or rent, food, medication, daycare, children’s birthday presents, or the gas to drive to work. The President and cabinet members appear clueless, saying they don’t understand the problem. At the same time, the lack of services, these citizens workers provide, are impacting people. Flights are being delayed as air-port controllers, and TSA agents can no longer work without pay. In NW Arkansas the Federal Grand Jury meeting was canceled. Home sales are not closing because USDA and FHA offices are closed. Investors are less informed of the economic conditions because the usual and customary reports are not being produced. Projects cannot get started because permits are not available. Families living in assisted housing are at risk of eviction because Housing Authority and related funds are not available. It is pretty safe bet the lives of these worker citizens, or the everyday consequences isn’t a fundamental concern.

After I thought I was done, there was another surprise, a deal to open the government for 3 weeks (until Fed 15) was signed late Friday. It includes provisions for employees to be paid. It makes no provision for contract employees. I could not find any mention of what happens if a border security bill is not agreed to or passed. I suspect the growing delays at US airports put mounting pressure on everyone to give a little, I am yet to be convinced the lives of all citizen workers, employees, and contractors, or the everyday consequences, was a determining factor, for the President, or Congress.

Now we all know the shutdown, and its consequences, is happening because of the disagreement of how to manage immigrants, legal and/or illegal, crossing the US southern border. No one is talking about the risk of illegal immigration across our Northern border with Canada. Illegal immigration from Canada is up 64% from last year. Now it is a different problem. Those entering the US from Canada usually enter the country legitimately and then just don’t go home. A lot of it comes down to ignorance, naivete or love, Canadians lead all other nations in people who overstay their legal time here; 100,000 outstayed their legal welcome in one year. The Department of Homeland Security considers Canadian illegals to be a significant problem. Yes, it is true those who enter the US across our Southern border tend to sneak into the U.S. without any documentation. That may account for the significant difference in the political concern and media coverage. But there is the racial difference, those coming across our northern border tend to look like us; those who cross our southern border do not (Blackwell; Common).

And then Thursday it all came together. I read an article about Harvard classmates William James and Josiah Royce. James, as you might remember, is a philosopher whose ideas about a good life continues to be influential. Royce’s not so much. James grew up among the Boston elite; Royce was a child of 49ers who didn’t find gold and lived in squalor. James’ work was pragmatic in search of the empirical; Royce was an idealist, who sought the abstract and spiritual. James believed in tolerance; we live in a pluralistic society and should give each other the social space to thrive. Royce believed the good life is found in tightly bonding yourself to another, in giving yourself away, with others, for a noble cause. He acknowledges we are born into a world of causes, and he admired causes based on mutual affection. He saw that underneath different communities is an absolute unity to life, a spiritual unity, an Absolute knower, a moral truth (Brooks, Loyalties).

Royce’s philosophical world view aligns with today’s readings. Rediscovering Royce is a bit like the hearing the Law of Moses publicly read, after being lost for generations. It is an opportunity for people to rediscover their own center. That center is relationships. The relationship, between ourselves; between us and those who are not us; between all humanity and God. Strangely enough, relationship as our center is hard for us to understand; mostly because we prefer the simplicity of uniformity, rather than the complexity of diversity; even though diversity increases the probability of our thriving (Epperly; Blasdell). Through Royce, we rediscover the wisdom of the Jubilee tradition in Isaiah 61 that Jesus quotes, even as we realize it will not simply thrive, it will require graceful nurturing; and hard work (Jacobsen). In gleaning the vision of Isaiah’s transformative prophecy, we hear the depths of Paul’s radical teaching that our community needs every person and every person needs everyone in our community. We begin to understand that we need each other to know shalom and the community needs all of us for the community to be whole, to be complete, and to be at peace. And now we understand the silence in the room as Jesus sits down. We share their visceral sense of

Really, Jesus?
Here? ~ How? ~ Where? (Hoezee).

And then I received a final gift; a shared Facebook post. It’s from General Colin Powell. He was on his way to Walter Reed when the left front tire blew. It was cold, but he started changing the tire; the lug nuts were tight making it even more difficult. A car pulls over and stops; a man with an artificial leg got out. The driver had recognized Gen Powell, from his service in Afghanistan, where he lost his leg in civilian service. After introductions, he took the wrench and finished changing the tire. When it was all done, he took a selfie with Gen. Powell. Later that night he sent a message

Gen. Powell, I hope I never forget today because I’ll never forget reading your books. You were always an inspiration, a leader and statesman. After 33 years in the military, you were the giant whose shoulders, we stood upon to carry the torch to light the way and now it is tomorrow’s generation that must do the same.

Anthony Maggert

Gen. Powell replied

Thanks, Anthony. You touched my soul and reminded me about what this country is all about and why it is so great.

Let’s stop screaming at each other. Let’s just take care of each other. You made my day. (Powell)

Today and every day, is our opportunity to continue to fulfill scripture, to be one of the diverse members of one divine body, doing our best, with everyone else, in giving ourselves to a noble cause in mutual affection, taking care of each other, in the amazing variety of our reflections of God’s image, helping everyone, everywhere to know shalom: stability, safety, belonging, self-esteem, and transcendence (Maslow).


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Blasdell, Machrina L. Indispensable, Epiphany 3. 27 1 2019. <episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon/indispensable-epiphany-3-c-january-27-2019>.

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Brooks, David. How We Destroy Lives Today. 21 1 2019. <https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/21/opinion/covington-march-for-life.html&gt;.

—. “Your Loyalties Are Your Life.” 24 1 2019. nytimes.com. <nytimes.com/2019/01/24/opinion/josiah-royce-loyalty.html>.

Common, David. “U.S. on guard against rise in illegal border crossings as Canada rejects asylum claims.” CBC News (2018). <cbc.ca/news/world/national-illegal-border-crossing-us-from-canada-1.4863636>.

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Jacobsen, David Schnasa. Commentary on Luke 4:14-21. 27 1 2019.

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NPR. I figured-it-was-going-to-be-a-horrible-death-and-it-probably-will-be. Prod. National Public Radio. 23 1 2019. <https://www.npr.org/2019/01/23/686000458/i-figured-it-was-going-to-be-a-horrible-death-and-it-probably-will-be&gt;.

Powell, General Colin L. Facebook Posting. Facebook. 24 1 2019. 25 1 2019.

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TOXMAP FAQ. How much of the US electricity generation is attributed to coal? n.d. Web. <https://toxmap.nlm.nih.gov/toxmap/faq/2009/08/how-much-of-the-us-electricity-generation-is-attributed-to-coal.html&gt;.

Wikipedia. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. n.d. 25 1 2019. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs&gt;.