His name was John.
A member of this congregation.
And homeless for four decades.
Thanks to Kathy Burt,
her warm heart,
her conviction that the church is church at its best when we stand by people in need;
thanks to Kathy's foresight that John
would be a loyal caretaker of this place,
for about twenty of those forty years
John lived without a home of his own,
he could be found daily at home here.
At home here, in this great house of stone
at the base of a glistening corporate skyscraper
in the center of midtown Manhattan.
At home here, in the shadow of power.
At home here, beneath the weight of hunger.
At home here, lying at the foot of wealth.
It was cold and snowy that night Kathy invited him in.
A fact likely contributing to the myth
that he might really be Santa Claus.
His was a long, unkempt beard.
His clothes, hand-me-downs of hand-me-downs,
fit awkwardly â€” if they fit at all.
Few were his worldly possessions:
a dozen spiral bound notebooks,
a couple pens and pencils,
and a trusty hand-crank radio.
He was well-read,
his subscription to The New York Times
extracted daily from a recycling bin out on the Plaza.
At home here, John was surrounded mostly by people markedly different than him,
high-powered business people
working in offices high above street level,
all with expansive views of New York City.
A well-groomed crowd, immaculately attired.
They have their own Times subscriptions,
among all sorts of worldly possessions,
and make a considerable living
trading and managing the assets of others.
You could say there was a great chasm fixed between John and the community that surrounded him.
Society certainly carries on as though there is.
And carries on as though the chasm doesn't matter much.
I wonder if its that we have become so desensitized to the injustices of our world
that we no longer notice the sufferings and the needs of others,
or if it is that we simply do not care.
That chasm makes John
seem much more like Lazarus than Santa Claus.
And Lazarus much like another of Saint Luke's memorable characters:
that unnamed man who was robbed and beaten and left to die on the side of the road leading from Jerusalem to Jericho.
O, how many pass by
until an unlikely Samaritan takes notice.
That unnamed man wasn't asking for anything extravagant,
only someone to help him not die.
Lazarus wasn't asking for anything extravagant,
only to be satisfied by a few crumbs.
And, yet, society carries on in a way that
seems to hold the chasm too large to bridge.
Doesn't give these persons in need the time of day.
Just as in our own day we haven't given
Terence Crutcher, or Keith Scott, the time of day.
Otherwise we'd have stopped these shootings long ago.
this willful ignorance of the needs of others;
this colorblindness infecting much of society
is the point of the dialogue
between the rich man and father Abraham.
O, how easy it is to see the woes of life,
when we are going through it.
How easy it is to feel struggle,
when we are struggling too.
How easy it seems to cross over
when we are on the other side of the divide.
But seeing the other,
for the other alone,
especially so for
anyone with power,
anyone with privilege,
anyone with meansâ€”
anyone who what scripture calls death,
and chases after it.
God calls the church to see differently.
Calls the church to live differently.
"Take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called."
The writer of First Timothy declares.
Which is to say â€”
place not death.
And the ways of death.
Place not division.
And the ways of division.
Place not this chasm.
And the ways of this chasm.
â€” at the center, the powerful center of life.
No, place the resurrection.
The good news.
At the center of life â€” real life.
As the source and the summit of our life together in Christ.
The resurrected body of Christ.
Be the body of Christ.
Taste and see the living body of Christ,
and not death's ways of division and disregard.
Live as the whole body of Christ,
and not fractured by great chasms.
For the resurrected body of Christ
does not have people who sit at table
and others who sit at its foot.
body of Christ
is not made up of
some who are valued
and others who are not.
The church is called to proclaim everyone
an honored part of that one body.
Which is why the church sets one common table for all people.
And here's the most important thing:
the mission of the church
â€”Christ's charge to the whole churchâ€”
is to live as that resurrected body
not in some distant future,
but today in these times, right now.
For in living this way
we are all fed and nourished
by the same bit of bread and sip of wine,
all formed and re-formed
"as grains of wheatâ€¦gathered into one."
That's the mission and the conviction
Kathy Burt embodied for 15 years
as Director of Finance.
Her invitation to John,
was an invitation to the very body of Christ.
And she extended that invitation not only to John, but to the countless people who call this building home, rich and poor alike.
Extended that warmth to the people of Sion,
the body of Christ joining us in this place
Extended that warmth to every single member of this parish who called her up.
Asked her about their stewardship.
Or asked her to pick something up for their next event, at one of her many trips to Costco.
Owing to her profound faithfulness,
we often refer to her in the office
by her honorary title, Kathy, Queen of Costco.
Which makes Jim the loyal guardian of
all those she cared for.
Just to name a few.
People who probably don't mean much to you,
but people to whom Kathy extended her heart
as much as she extended it to John.
One day not so long ago,
John came into our Sanctuary,
and having no other place to die,
laid down and was carried to God.
It was Kathy who found him here.
Kathy who arranged for his burial.
Kathy who kept on looking for a next of kin.
A few days after John died,
we gathered to celebrate his life and faith
with a Mass of the Resurrection
and to inurn his remains in our Columbarium.
We expected some of
from the church community to be here
â€”and many of you were.
But unexpectedly so, too, were John's family
and many of the business people who, day in and day out, seemingly scurried by him.
Many of us were stunned to learn
that before leaving his home, John was skilled and well-regarded in his profession.
John's wife, children and grandchildren
rejoiced that a community would receive him,
help him along the road to sobriety,
and celebrate him with great love and affection.
Others talked about John
lining up chairs for twelve step meetings
in the church's lower levels,
setting tables for feeding programs,
conversing about articles in The New York Times.
The most often told story was of the 2003 power outage.
Pastor Derr recalled in his homily,
that when the lights went out two years after 9-11, especially people who worked in skyscrapers, worried that New York City
had suffered another terrorist attack.
It was John who calmed everyone's fears.
He simply turned his hand-crank radio
and proclaimed the good news to rich and poor alike: its only a blackout.
All the stories made us wonder if John was Lazarus,
or the rich man.
Which side of the world's chasm he was on.
No one was quite certain.
And to be honest,
if we think about it from the world's perspective,
its hard to decide even today.
But that night we inured John
â€”we all suddenly turned and saw what few, if anyone, expected to see, but precisely the thing we had come to celebrate:
the resurrected Christ.
Turned and saw it,
precisely as John had witnessed it for so many years.
Hands of all sorts.
Receiving the body of Christ.
Lips touch to Christ's life-giving blood.
Quite certain that everyone,
was finally at home
and at table,
That's the church.
That's the body of Christ and its witness to the world.
That's what we proclaim.
Because that is what, by God's grace, we all are.
With Saints who have gone before us.
And Saints who are with us still.
In thanksgiving for Kathy and Jim.
And for all who make up the body of Christ in this place.
Yes, God, says.
Yes, this is the kingdom.
A place for all to call home.
Jared R. Stahler
Saint Peter's Church
In the City of New York
19TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
September 25, 2016
Amos 6:1a, 4-7
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Saint Luke 16:19-31