A sermon preached at Altadena Community Church on August 13, 2017,
I have to say that it is difficult to breathe today let alone preach. While the KKK is marching openly in the streets. After they attacked a prayer meeting Friday night in Charlottesville, VA.
The text we heard this morning are the right words for today.
I want to tell you three short stories. If like me, you need a break from the headlines
Let these be today’s headlines of Good News.
Last week a chaplain colleague shared a podcast at a meeting of chaplains, social workers, and music therapists. The podcast was called The Hidden Brain, and the episode was called Dream Jobs. This episode, had a researcher was discussing her work looking at how people approached their jobs and job satisfaction. She interviewed people who cleaned hospitals and she found a profound differences between them. Some, when asked what they did, provided the list of duties in their job descriptions.
Then there were others who shared that while they cleaned, they would notice which patients had visitors and which didn’t and when they finished clean they would go back and visit the lonely. One janitor shared about the work she did in a unit where all the patients were comatose.
The staff expected these patients to awake. They provided all the medical interventions for this. In describing her work, on this unit, the janitor shared how she would periodically take down the art in the paitents rooms and rearrange it. No one asked her to do this, She simply felt any change might help the patients The janitors who did a bit extra in the shared one thing in common–they extra bit they did were things most of us would do for a loved one. They behaved like human beings, imagine that today. And these people, rather than describe their role as janitorial, were more likely to describe themselves as part of healing team.
As our group of chaplains, music therapists, and social workers discussed the podcast and the approach the janitors took to their work, one of our leaders, Yelana, coined the term “positive insubordination”. The janitors had gone beyond the written requirements of their jobs and worked for and towards others with their hearts.
The second story I must warn you is more difficult. In downtown San Diego, and elsewhere, the police do sweeps of homeless encampments.In San Diego, there is a group that films these and posts them on FB. While watching one of the videos, I found myself near tears. A homeless person had left the homeless encampment for a bit and was not there at the time of the sweep.
Not only did the police put all of this person’s belongings in the trash but the homeless individual had left their dog tied up in their tent. So the police called animal control who took the dog to the pound. In the video the dogs appeared well cared for.
I can not imagine being that homeless person who returns to find their home and their pet gone. Most homeless persons can not afford to retrieve a pet from the pound. To find a home and loved one–perhaps your only companion–gone is nothing short of a disaster. And then I look at the video again. There are human doings this to other human beings. Yes it is the law, that the streets need to be cleaned up, and for good reasons. And yes, laws are on place protect animals from harm. But how might such situations be different if we, as society, empowered law enforcement to be “positively insubordinate”? Empowered them to act from the heart as well as from a strict interpretation of law?
Lastly, I want to tell you the story of a man who delivered produce. He worked for a produce warehouse that delivered all types of produce to high end restaurants and farm to table establishments. In his work, he found fulfillment knowing that what he did keep people fed.
After sometime, he noticed the amount of food waste generated in restaurant kitchens. He also saw the amount of vegetable and dairy waste generated by the warehouse in which he worked. Now those of you have worked in food production, or even the food pantry, will know there are laws about giving food away. But as this man drove around town he also passed the homeless.
Soon this man quietly began to take action at work; he was “positively insubordinate”. If he saw leftover bread bagged for the trash or give aways in a kitchen e would offer to take it away for the kitchen. He would pick up a bag of baguettes, day old–but edible and often such bread would find a homeless person before the end of the of the driver’s route.
His warehouse, would often discard dairy days before its sell by date because no kitchen wanted to buy it with so little time to use it. The driver was able to take these discards and distribute them to people who were hungry… all unofficially. The warehouse also prepared various vegetables to be use by kitchens. One day this driver frantically called his wife; it seemed 150 pounds of peeled carrots were going to be trashed as they were a few days old. Would she please call local agencies to find someone to take them. He dropped the carrots off on the way to one of his paid deliveries. Eventually, the warehouse started diverting some its waste to Feeding America. But before the institutional shift could be made the delivery driver had a choice to make he could follow the laws strictly, protect his job and not become involved with what he saw or he could live from his heart and respond creatively to issues that stared him in the face.
So those are my stories today.
And what about our text for this morning?
I tell you these stories because they are in many ways illustrations of what the apostle Paul was writing about.
Paul was teaching the people of his time how to follow Christ….
Paul’s time was one in which people believed that following the law exactly would lead to salvation. Paul’s task was to teach Jews and Gentiles alike that following the law alone was not what God required. The good news according to Paul, was that the teachings of Jesus were to be lived out in daily life and that these teachings superseded the older law.
Paul was trying to convey that the role of Christians was to exceed the law and that the heart would need to be involved in their decisions of daily living.
At its heart, the text from Paul we heard today is a call to ethics. How do we go about in the world? Are we bringing God’s love and mercy into the world for all people, or are we shutting it out and pitting people against one another with walls and tiki torches?
In verse eight of our text for today Paul rhetorically asks those who would follow Christ, saying
“The word is near you, / on your lips and in your heart”
This is the essence of the law that followers of Christ are to live each day. It is a reminder that not only what we say but what we do shows the world what we believe. And how we live our faith teaches the world about God.
As followers of Christ, what are we teaching about God? Do we even know when the Holy Spirit may be calling us to be “positively insubordinate?”
For early the church, proclaiming that “Jesus is Lord” as this text says was not only about about personal salvation it was a pre-creedal idea that required the one who proclaimed it to first live it.
How are we, as followers of Christ, teaching our faith to the world?
This is very much a text for this day–August 13, 2017.
It calls us to ask and to answer. How we as Christians, and as members of Altadena Community Church, live out our faith…in the face of neo-fascist white supremacists hate? And while standing closer to the brink of nuclear war than we have been in decades?
How do we share our values with the world?
Church, listen to Paul; and then go forth to preach.