Do Good

Do Good
Sermon by
The Rev. Keely Franke
September 25, 2010

A couple weeks ago it was my birthday.  It was on a Thursday this year and so I was at church setting up my newly finished office.  I had baked cookies to share as a sort of unofficial celebration and open house.

A homeless man came by that morning and I greeted him outside my office.  He was looking for items to take to his family and asked if we had any bus tokens.  I said no but offered what we did have.  We said our goodbyes and I went back to arranging things in my office.

Well, a few minutes later the man showed up at my door.  Persistent.  Again, he asked, are you sure you don’t have any bus tokens, money for gas, anything else?  I shook my head and said I was sure we didn’t, but introduced myself and asked for his name.  Now that we knew each other, he said, “well Keely, can I have one of those cookies?” The cookies.  I had forgotten all about the cookies.  Of course, you can have a cookie, I said.

These weren’t just any cookies, though, I told him.  It was my birthday and so I had made my favorite cookies from my childhood.  These cookies were cookies on a stick.  And no this was not a state fair inspiration, it was a Montessori one.

As he took the cookie on a stick his face lit up.  We both laughed at the idea that anyone would ever think of putting a cookie on a stick.  I took one myself and we both stood there laughing and eating our cookies for one perfect moment.  Upon reflection it was the best birthday gift I received this year.  Sharing the cookie and being reminded of the joy I found in them as a kid.

Several homeless men came by the following days and I offered all of them a cookie or rice crispy treat that Jean, our youth director, had also made for my birthday.  They all came with a sweaty brow from walking up the hill from downtown and carrying their lives in a couple of bags.  I didn’t realize before but we are one of the first churches up the hill it seems from the Dorothy Day Center.

The Dorothy Day Center in downtown St. Paul provides shelter from night to night for some of our cities worst cases of homelessness.  Every day hundreds line up at the door wondering if this night they will have a place to sleep.  Or if they will be out on the streets again.  Hoping maybe to find something more permanent before the winter sets in.

Dorothy Day herself lived during the great depression.  She was a devout Catholic convert in the day and came up with the idea that even despite the depression, despite her own lack of resources, God wanted her to see to it that all of God’s children had a place to sleep, a meal to eat.  And so she started the Catholic Worker movement.

The parable in the Gospel of Luke today tells a story quite different from hers.   The rich man dressed in his finery did not even see Lazarus, the poor man, at his gate, and did not even think to give him a scrap of his food.  As a result he is banished to Hades while Lazarus now resides in Abraham’s bosom.  This is a strange, strange parable, but if we get sidetracked by its strangeness we might miss the point.

This parable is the last in a long line of parables in Luke which talk about wealth and money.  We started with these parables on wealth the Sunday after my ordination seven weeks ago and they have been interspersed on certain Sundays until now.  You might have noticed that we’ve preached on the Old Testament quite a bit in this time.   Preachers oftentimes don’t go there.  I was after all raised not to talk about religion, politics, or money.  These are personal matters and you just don’t go there.

But Jesus does.  Actually aside from the Kingdom of God, money or wealth is the thing Jesus talks about the most.  No wonder he makes people uncomfortable.  But Timothy goes there, too, today in our readings.  While Jesus leaves us with a great chasm fixed between the rich and the poor as a warning, Timothy gives us the solution to this chasm.  Tells us what to do.  He says, “As for those who are rich in the present age…They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous and ready to share.”

This past week many were speaking to the fact that the church as we know it is dying.  Everyone from the house of bishops, which is a gathering of all Episcopal bishops.  To Brian McClaren, pastor and author on the emergent church who was here speaking.  To a small group of Minnesota Episcopal clergy I’ve been invited to be a part of called the resurgent church.  All of these words, “emergent” and “resurgent” are ways of saying that out of the dust of the church that is failing us new ways of doing church are rising.

In this resurgent church group, though, we are being encouraged to look back in scripture and church history to see the major trends of the church dying and rising to something new.  So as I read my history this week, I was struck by a few common trends.

First, when the fall of the Roman Empire happened ending the era of the early church, many religious and spiritual people headed to the hills to find solace.  It was there that a man named Benedict set up the first monastery founding the monastic life.  This was a place, he said, which was to equip spiritual people with the “tools for doing good works.”  Monasteries still to this day are known as places of respite for all, but especially for doing good works for the sake of the sick, the hungry, and the poor.

Likewise, around the time of the reformation John Wesley was another important voice critiquing his own Anglican tradition and  its use of wealth.  Wesley’s problem was not with being wealthy for he said, “Make all the money you can” as long as you “do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”   This was his rule of life for which he became known.

So here we find ourselves again today in the history of the church asking ourselves what do we do now?  And it would seem the answer would be what it always has been, do all the good you can now.

It might be hard for places like St. John’s to realize the church is in crisis because we are so stable and have much wealth.  But there are not many places like St. John’s left I will tell you.  Most of the churches I know are struggling to pay one clergy person much less a whole staff and then there is little money left for the church building itself.  So when we ask ourselves how we are best able to prepare for our future here at St. John’s and elsewhere we do well to look to Timothy’s words in scripture where he says, we are “to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for ourselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future.”

St John’s is rich with good works and in a moment you will install me officially as your assistant priest at this church and will provide me with some of your tools in
doing good works so that I might assist you in these things.  These tools include liturgical ones such as water, a Bible, and a stole.  But also tools of bread for welcoming new members, a dress which will clothe a child in Uganda, and a conversation ball which has lead to a rich relationship with the youth.  I will leave these tools at the foot of the steps for you to look at as you go up to the altar for communion.  My question then for you as you pass by is this:  what is your cookie on a stick, what are your tools for doing good works?

The rich man in the gospel did not see Lazarus at the foot of his gate, but if he had Lazarus might have shown the man what he had to give.

Mother Theresa was another woman who understood that doing good was not always the popular solution, but she is said to have written this prayer on her bedroom wall in Calcutta anyway:

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.

Amen.

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