This morning I'm going to tell you about a conversation we all had in New Orleans. It has everything to do with today's Scripture readings, and after the service I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter, how you reconcile
it all in your minds and your hearts....
Here in Milton, we are quite protected. Almost all of us live in a bubble of safety, where we don't have to relate too closely to the desperately disadvantaged. True, some of us volunteer at the Food Pantry or the Monday Lunch Program, or even consider prison ministry, but that's for a few hours and then we are home again.
Then there's New Orleans, where the poor, the homeless, the permanently jobless, the mentally ill, are right in your face. You aren't going to get away . Even when you meet those who seem comfortably off, you are aware of the pain in their eyes. They have experienced a trauma they can't forget.
Most of you have heard that our group stayed in a large, very attractive parish hall belonging to St. Andrews Episcopal Church. It is in a very "nice" section of town. We had only been there a short while when we heard a knock on the door, and when we opened it, we found a couple on the doorstep asking for money. One of our group gave them some of their own money, and they went away.
The incident sparked an immediate debate. We all sat down together and talked. We were guests in someone else's place, after all. Perhaps it was not their custom to give money to people at the door. Maybe if we did that, there would be a never-ending stream of people coming to the parish hall asking for money. Maybe some of them weren't legitimate. Maybe they would spend the money on drugs and alcohol. Anyway, none of us could afford to just give and give and give to the poor. If we did that, we would soon be one of them ourselves! ---But wait a minute! what did Jesus tell us to do? Wasn't he always talking about giving to the needy, even to the point of having nothing left? Look at today's Gospel, one of the most powerful passages in the New Testament: "Jesus said, you cannot serve God and wealth. Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear". Aren't we mandated to give as much as we can---and then some--to someone in need?
This is of course one of the great Christian dilemmas. And in New Orleans we didn't come to any real decision at all. The rector of St. Andrews, Mother Susan, met with us and asked us not to give money to anyone at the door, but to offer food instead. My own inclination? I would give the money. But the problem is, I just can't be what Jesus asks me to be. I worry about my bank account and my food and my clothing. I worry about my health and my security. I just can't give it all away. I am serving two masters. I like to be comfortable. A lot.
Meanwhile, the need in New Orleans goes on. The only way I can I can even begin to address the dilemma in my mind is to keep thinking about it. It's certainly beyond us, in our human frailty, to make everything better. Even the beautiful, magical bayous are suffering on a gigantic scale, so that the marsh plants you all so generously paid for and we repotted, help, but aren't enough. But we have to do something. We have to try in our small way. That's about all we can do. That's about all I can think to do. And what would Jesus do? I think he would tell us never to stop trying.=