September 11: The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Susy Hessel is a lay preacher at St. Hilda St. Patrick and is a mental health counselor. 


Who are these people we call THEY? What do they look like? How do they speak? Where are they from? What do they believe? They aren’t like me.

They are the OTHER. Someone from a different culture or race or the reprobates we see from afar. They don’t live their life like us. Often they are referred to as their otherness….You remember the guy in the wheelchair….or by calling someone as their diagnosis..or their immigration status….or referring to someone as their family issues. By othering we strip away the humanity of our brothers and sisters.

Today’s Gospel on this Welcome back Sunday, describes the Pharisees as a people who saw themselves as the righteous, the virtuous whose beliefs were always justifiable. They saw themselves as following the Law to stay clean and even went to the extent to avoid certain people, places and situations. It was the norm to dehumanize the Other.

Jesus ignored the judgements made by the Pharisees and instead embraced those who were considered the Other. He, like his Father, saw all of creation as being “very good.” His reputation was not of concern to him as he kept company with sinners and the sick. He sought out those who were in need to offer them salvation.

Our world has become inundated with the judgments of Others. We have become a nation of vilifying one another for having different political views especially when focused on human rights and eventually we dissolve into the dehumanization of one another. With each party believing they are the righteous. But instead each is in need of salvation.

It was by telling stories that Jesus illustrated the dichotomy between the societal norms of the day and his embrace of those in need. He tells the Pharisees the story of the Lost Sheep and the shepherd’s tenacious search for one that was lost until it was found. This story was to illustrate that he always searches for us regardless of the circumstance or reason we denied the tenets of our beliefs.

The shepherd’s persistent search and subsequent rejoicing for finding his lost sheep is a manifestation of God’s persistent love and search for all those in need of him. There is the same rejoicing in heaven as there is in our worldly life when someone in need of care is saved. Once found the lost sheep is treated with care and concern and carried on the back of the shepherd to the flock because he doesn’t have the ability to return to the flock on his own. Jesus comes to us and carries each of us when we are unable to return on our own. Each of the 100 sheep are valuable just as each of us are valuable to God.

Recently, I met up with an old friend who I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic. As we were catching up on each other’s lives we started talking about church and how the pandemic had affected our participation in our usual activities in the church during the time it was virtual. She talked about having felt isolated and alone, feeling as though she had no one to reach out to. I sat with her in silence trying to hold a sacred space for her to talk and be vulnerable. She told me about her sister and their differing views of the pandemic and how they found themselves defining each other by their beliefs slowly disintegrating their relationship making it hard to remember they loved each other. She saw herself as being right in her convictions and that her sister was wrong and she could prove it with science. They fell into a period of estrangement and it was during this time her sister got sick with the virus and passed away. She was devastated. Not only had she felt distanced from God but now she was in crisis. She told me that she started to question everything she had previously believed and didn’t even know if she believed in God. She spent the past couple of years waiting and listening for God to find her and help her rebuild her life that had been centered around her christian beliefs. She did eventually begin to hear a calling to return to the church and to know there would be a place for her to serve and love again.

It might be controversial but we are all lost sheep, not just the Other. My friend became a lost sheep. She and her sister were guilty of Othering. When we have been lost, in the simplest of ways or losing our faith, Jesus doesn’t wait for us to come to him, he searches us out and returns us to our community of faith which exists alongside the community of the righteous and we are celebrated. The witnessing of this celebration by the pious sisters exposed them to the possibility of God’s salvation and highlighted their rejection of our common humanity.

Recognizing our common humanity gives us an opportunity to examine the ways we have lived into our faith, loving others as ourselves and ways in which we have denied or dehumanized our brothers and sisters. As Episcopalians it is this time of self examination that we fulfill what is required of us when we come to the Altar to be fed, to examine our lives, repent of our sins, and be in love and charity with All people. And no matter the discoveries found in our self reflection, we are not alone because Jesus is here to celebrate, comfort and forgive us our actions toward one another. We are no better or worse than our neighbor. We all sin and all are charged to pastor each other.

Providing pastoral care can be uncomfortable. But living in discomfort is a powerful gift of love to ourselves and the person in need. It was hard to sit and hear my friend’s story but it was a call from God to be with her and know her pain as she talked. She told me later that that was the first time she had ever told her story to another person and she had been a little scared and embarrassed to open up and admit how she had judged her sister and was afraid of how she might be seen. Although it was hard to listen, it was our love of each other that made it possible to hold hands and share our strength and hope. Our embodiment of the persistent love we are given by Christ gives us the opportunity to focus on our blessings rather than our sins and share our compassion.

It is our duty to love our neighbor as ourselves and in doing so, we provide Pastoral care that is inclusive of all peoples. Jesus is always present and like the apostles when they were given the Great Commission to go out and share the good news we are sent out to Pastor the lost and the found. It is not our job to agree or approve but to support and share the redemptive love of God.

In our Baptism we committed ourselves to Christ and to each other to live in God’s way. So now please join me in renewing our Baptismal Covenant found on page 304 of the Book of Common Prayer.

The Baptismal Covenant

Do you believe in God the Father?
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
I will, with God’s help.

Let’s continue on page 305 praying for all those who have renewed their vows.

Deliver them, O Lord, from the way of sin and death.
Lord, hear our prayer.

Open their hearts to your grace and truth.
Lord, hear our prayer.

Fill them with your holy and life-giving Spirit.
Lord, hear our prayer.

Keep them in the faith and communion of your holy Church.
Lord, hear our prayer.

Teach them to love others in the power of the Spirit.
Lord, hear our prayer.

Send them into the world in witness to your love.
Lord, hear our prayer.

Bring them to the fullness of your peace and glory.
Lord, hear our prayer.

As our service continues and we sit in the pews consciously acknowledge that returning means being with each other, not just sitting in the pew, not just meeting a commitment of doing a job, but SERVING, caring/listening and sharing the hope of salvation.

And when we leave this building today fed and renewed let’s remember we have all been led back to Christ and go out and love and serve the world.Today we have an opportunity to leave this place and be aware and listen to each other. Let’s leave this sanctuary hand in hand and go out into the world honoring, loving and caring for one another.

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