You might remember. There was a Tuesday at the end of December when we had one of those meaningful snow storms. It started early in the day, and nobody was really ready for it, and already the ground was icy —one of those.
At about four o-clock, I went out to shovel, and you just knew, oh. This is going to be a project. We have a long sidewalk that goes around the corner, and every so often, the city plow comes along and generously seals up our driveway.
I was about twenty minutes in — and I was doing fine— when a van stopped in front of my house and three men got out. They had a bucket of salt and one of those ice-breaker-upper devices, and they charged right in.
One man came over to talk to me, and I mean this in the best way: All three men had a real Baptist kind of energy. You know what I mean — a hearty, in-your-face cheerfulness. So the man says: You look like you could use some help. We’ll take care of this for ya!
Instantly, I felt my defenses go up. Two things bothered me.
First, I felt indignant. I don’t know this, but I have to wonder if they would have stopped if it had been my husband Chris out there shoveling. All I’m saying is I can shovel my own sidewalk. I don’t need a man to come rescue me!
Second, I felt guilty. I appreciate the effort to help people who are in need, but Chris and I shouldn’t qualify for that. So many people are in much greater need; we don’t deserve this service.
I asked the man if I could give him some money or is there an organization where I could make a donation? And I’m thinking, please don’t let it be some church that espouses values that violate my deepest held beliefs. But the man said No. No money.
Within minutes, they were finishing up, and I was still trying to figure out something to offer them, but I had nothing. As they were leaving, the man said, We just wanted to help, you know. In the name of Jesus.
What the men didn’t know was they really did help me. A few days earlier, I had a serious pastoral emergency involving a member of the community. That day, I had a funeral for the Presbyterian church. I was getting ready for a funeral from our church two days later. I was wiped out. By showing up and whisking this project away, these men gave me a break that I didn’t realize how much I needed. I took a shower, and made coffee, and came back to myself.
These men showed me that sometimes people come along at exactly the right moment to offer exactly the help that we need. And yes, it really might be weird. It really might be God.
Something I believe is that we’re always saving each other’s lives. I don’t mean that flippantly. I don’t mean to suggest that every situation is life or death. But I do know that acts of kindness can be far more powerful than we realize. That’s one of the things I’ve learned from you.
I’ve also learned this. Given the choice, many of us would much rather be on the giving side of help instead of the receiving side. Receiving help can make us feel indignant— because I can do it myself! It can make us feel guilty —surely someone else is more deserving! It can make us feel vulnerable, or embarrassed, or just a little weird. But that’s not what I’ve learned from you. What Church of Peace has taught me is that giving versus receiving is actually a false choice. You need both.
They say if you want to become a better writer, pay close attention to what you’re choosing to read. Our reading influences our writing more than we realize. They say if you want to become a better musician, listen to better music. What you listen to goes and gets into your playing. Around here you’ll see, it’s the same with giving.
It makes sense when you think about it. The natural flow of the universe moves toward generosity. The more able we are to receive, the more we able we are to give. Both require the same openness of spirit; both take the same courage.
It’s just like, every time you say No to a request, you’re actually saying Yes to something else. And every time you say Yes to an invitation, you’re saying No to something else. Every Yes has a hidden No, every No has a hidden Yes. It makes sense when you think about it.
Here’s the part I can’t explain but I’ve seen it happen… When we begin to pay more attention to the choices we’re making, somehow, we become more and more courageous. By really noticing our giving, we become braver in our receiving.
Right now we’re entering a season during which our needs are rising. In the coming weeks and months, Church of Peace will need more help. You might get approached with the chance to serve on a committee or help with a project. At the same time, in your own life, you be might someone who is needing more and more help from the church. All of this is part of the same flow.
The good news is the more we notice and honor our rising needs, the braver we become in our giving.
Something Father Gregory Boyle says is: The opposite of clinging is cherishing. When I first read that, I had to go back and read it again. That doesn’t make sense! You would think, the opposite of clinging would be giving up or letting go, but no. Father Boyle is right.
In a relationship of cherishing, we can give and receive, we can say Yes when Yes is what’s right and we can say No when No is what’s right because what we’re doing is bringing loving, thoughtful attention to each choice. And what if this leads us to trust each other more deeply? What if this makes us more and more brave and more and more free?
See we’re always saving each other’s lives.
The scripture Karen read begins when Jesus is frustrated and exhausted. He had just come from teaching the crowd that there are rules, and there are rules, and what is in our hearts matters at least as much as the rules. Now the Pharisees were offended, and the crowd was perplexed, and Jesus had had it.
Here he is heading through Gentile country when a woman comes at him screaming. Her child is being tormented, and no one will help. And if it were our child, we would be every bit as distraught. We would absolutely accost Jesus too!
The disciples tell him that he’s got to send her away, but Jesus Can’t. Even. He tries to ignore her, hoping she’ll go away on her own, but her daughter is suffering, so of course she doesn’t!
And look, it would be one thing if all Jesus did was tell her No. It would be one thing if this is one of the stories about Jesus where he goes up the mountain to pray, or he goes off by himself to get away from the crowd, where he takes a nap in the middle of the storm. I could preach you a whole sermon on the Gospel of Jesus Saying No to clamoring demands so that he can say Yes to healthy self-care. Holding boundaries is an act of love. And it would be one thing if that’s the story Karen read for us. But it’s not.
Here this mother falls on her knees and says to Jesus: Lord, help me. And Jesus does not just tell her No. Our Lord and Savior doesn’t even look her in the eye. He says: I don’t have enough. My food is for the children, and you Gentiles are dogs, and I can’t help you… (breath)
Thank God this mother does not put up with that nonsense for one second. I’m pretty sure, when Jesus said that to her, she stood up, folded her arms, and gave him her best mom look. (You know the one that goes: Oh… I know you didn’t mean to do that.)
It’s like she’s telling him: Not only are you lying, but you don’t even believe the lie you’re telling. I know you! For one thing, you’re not afraid of running out of food. You’re the guy who shares the loaves and the fishes with baskets left over! Since when are you afraid of scarcity?! And another thing. What are you trying to prove by calling me a dog? Even the dogs are entitled to food. And you know very well that in the eyes of God, Gentile lives matter too.
Now if the second best part of the story is how this mother refuses to let Jesus off the hook, the best part of the story is he quickly realizes—she’s exactly right. She just called him out in front of the disciples, and he does not get defensive, he does not double down. Jesus instantly repents. He pronounces her daughter healed.
Then Jesus goes along the sea and begins sharing food with everyone he can find. He sits down and heals the people who come to him, and in the next scene, he launches another mass feeding. Loaves and fishes all around! There are baskets left over.
There’s no missing what this mother did. By asking for help, she brought Jesus back to himself. By seeing his truth and not buying his nonsense, this mother restored something in Christ’s own soul. She saved our Lord, and thank God, he let her.
Thank God for all the ones who stop us and ask for help, for all the snow angels who come along at exactly the right moment and finish the shoveling. Thank God for all the casseroles, and rides home from the doctor, and handwritten cards, for all the ones who refuse to believe us when we’re being jerks and who absolutely do believe us when we’re asking for help.
See we’re always saving each other’s lives. Thank God.