The Rev. Canon Leonard L. Hamlin
Won’t you join me in a word of prayer. God Almighty, we come on this morning, grateful for your love towards us, your presence with us. Once again, we ask that you would hold us, that you would unite us, but most of all, fill us for the places you are preparing to send us. This we ask in your wonderful name. Amen.
Once again, it is a joy to be in this place to be in worship as we journey through life, and as we move through life. It is the moment of gathering, the moment of assembling, it is the moment of being in God’s presence, that makes a difference, not in just our thoughts, but in our actions. Certainly this morning, as we listen to the gospel of Luke, I’m often reminded that Luke stands alone among the four gospels of the new Testament in starting his gospel with an explanation of its purpose and his purpose for writing this account.
For just a moment, I call to those who are familiar to remember, and for those who might not be as familiar to listen, to Luke’s opening words as he stated, “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decide to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things that have been taught”. In that day, and continuing until this day, think for a moment how much has been said, how much has been written, how much has been considered and how much has even been concluded about this man named Jesus. How much has been said, written, considered and concluded about his life, his witness, about Calvary, the cross and of course, his resurrection. Luke’s desire for Theophilus as well as the others who might share in its reading, and hearing, was that they might know with some degree of certainty about the things that had been taught, had been heard, and had been said about this man named Jesus. Luke knew that if there was an uncertainty about who Jesus is, there would be an uncertainty in all that his followers would do, how they would act, what they would believe, not just individually, but collectively. There would be uncertainty in the person as well as in the Church. And both would be greatly compromised.
Today the questioning, the examining, the speculating, the assessing, the investigating is still taking place as a life of Jesus is evaluated. But perhaps in this day, it’s not just his life, as we see in this text, that’s being evaluated. We’ve come evaluating his life, and as the text says, watching closely, but perhaps in this day, it is the life of his followers, the committed, the convicted, the self-declared disciples who are being examined day by day. There are many who are not just looking at the life of Christ, they’re, let me make it plain, looking at us. Sooner or later, it is what we do that matters. It is what we do that will make the difference. Lessons learned, have their greatest witness in the actions that are done. I love God, but don’t speak to my neighbor. I want to be kind, but only to those who I know and am familiar with. I want to help those who are needy, but only the ones who I think are deserving of it.
Luke tells us in this 14th chapter of his gospel, that on a particular Sabbath, Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee. He, being Jesus, was being watched carefully. When he went in the door, I can imagine that there were many who were watching him, talking about him, gazing at him. They had all their eyes on him. Those who had been invited, and were in attendance, were most likely watching him and perhaps listening to the conversations and the words shared from Jesus, that are even not part of the record and beyond what Luke was capturing. But while they were watching him, what they failed to realize and what they failed to grasp, was that Jesus was watching them. There are many of us who have our eyes on someone else, but this morning, perhaps what we need to be aware of is that he has his eyes on us, watching to see how we entered the door, watching to see how we treated our families, watching to see how we jockeyed or positioned for places. Perhaps when we come in here, how we spoke to not those who are familiar to us, but those who are strangers to us, those who may have been dressed differently from us, those who sounded or had an accent that was not familiar to us. Perhaps we were watching around us, but he’s watching what’s taking place inside of us.
Troubling to think about for just a moment, because now we have to think about what we did when we walked in the door, which is a good thing. What we do when we’re sitting next to someone who we may not know, behind someone who we have not yet met, in front of someone who we have not even turned around to say good morning to. We’re watching him, but he’s watching us. Jesus was listening to what they may have been saying, but he was more concerned about what they were doing. I can sound good in my reading, but can I be good in my living? I might sound good in perhaps saying certain phrases that are familiar, but am I good to those who really need to know there’s good in this world? While we are in this place, those who are online, those who will be watching at a later moment, somewhere as you’re traversing the highways and byways of life, what I want to remind us all is while we are waiting on God, examining the life of Christ and hoping be filled and empowered with the spirit, while we’re sitting and moving, watching, and waiting, we should never forget that what we do is being watched. Let me put it this way.
Being a member of a family that was connected and routinely involved in church, I grew up in church. I spent a great amount of time at the church growing up. And I must say, I do not say that out of pain or problem or anything like that. I’m perhaps one of those that enjoyed going. One of those that enjoyed being in the company and in the community. And I don’t say it with any kind of remorse, but with great appreciation for that Brooklyn community of faith I was part of. I will never forget sitting in the church office one day, sitting with my aunt and God bless her, who is 98 years old this year, as I sat with her as she was one of the church administrators in the office on this hot and humid day, during the summer. Where the heat was filled and filled the atmosphere and the breeze was not so swift in its movement, we were sitting in the office and waiting for someone to show up. The pastor of the church was downstairs in the offices with us. He was in those operation offices as we waited, particularly, for the air conditioning repairmen to show up.
Many of you perhaps are more comfortable with central air, but there are still those many of us who recognize the standard was more of your window units that had to be in, and when they broke down, you needed the repair man to come fix it. So we were sitting in the hot office and talking in the hot office. He was making us all laugh and joke while he was waiting in the office for the repair man to arrive. And here the repair man arrived to restore and fix the malfunctioning window air conditioning unit. The unit that was not operating the way that it really needed to operate, the unit that here was not giving us the kind of atmosphere that we really wanted to get.
And so everyone is focused on, of course, his repair. As the repair man walked in, I distinctly remember to this day, the repair man coming in, looking around, trying to take note of who was in the place, who was around him. He looked, he took notice of, of perhaps this young man who was in there, my aunt at that particular time, he took notice of someone else who was moving around. But of course he recognized and knew that the pastor was there after all of the appropriate introductions.
As he quickly went to work, it was not long before the parts and pieces started to present him with a challenge. He pulled out tool after tool until he finally started hammering on the air conditioning As is often the case with hammering, he missed his intended target, sharply and directly hit one of his fingers. And as you can imagine in that moment, he let out a shout of one of those good four letter Sunday School words. I would repeat it, but I can’t in this moment, but he let out a shout that to this day, made us all look up, made us all focus in on the work that he was doing. The repairman shook his hand, quickly remembered the people in the room turned to my pastor and immediately he apologized for his outbursts. In that moment I also will never forget my pastor’s immediate response, when he said, “Don’t mind me. If you don’t mind God hearing you, you shouldn’t mind me hearing you”.
How many of us live in a day right now, where we’re more concerned about who’s watching on social media than who’s looking down from above? How many of us are more concerned with how we dress for the folk who we may meet in passing, but not the God who holds us in his hand? How many of us are more concerned about how we impress others rather than being good to others? It had not occurred to this repairman that while he was watching us in the office that God was watching him. He was in church, in a regal place, but it had not filled his mind that God was looking down. We’re in this place, paying attention to stone, paying attention to windows, looking at strangers, familiar faces, but are we yet reminded that God is watching us?
Luke shares with us how Jesus saw them rushing for prominent seats only to be called out as Jesus shared the parable with them. Their humility, their hospitality, and might I add, their honesty and sincerity was being exposed. Luke reminds us of this fact as Jesus speaks to the Pharisee that invited him and told him to look at how you have invited your friends. You invited your brothers, your sisters, your relatives, your rich neighbors, so that they may invite you back so that you will be repaid in some manner. Jesus told him plainly, but when you give a banquet, Jesus told him, you need to invite the poor, the cripple, the lame, and then you will be blessed. The religious leader’s invitation was guided by what he could get, not by what he could give. This leader was more concerned with being transactional rather than relational. What he and his guests were doing was vital to the claims that were being made in that day. The witness that was needed, and the lives that would be touched, the homes that would be in need of hope, that were need of help as well as transformation.
In these days we must ask ourselves, when did caring for the poor, caring for the needy, caring for the cripple, caring for the lame, caring for the hungry, caring for the sick, helping the stranger, become actions that were seen as lesser and minor priorities for those who claim to be disciples? When did it become budgetary discussions of who to help first? We have this opportunity and every day to follow Christ. We have this moment not just to be hearers, but to be doers. When everyone is talking about blessings, looking for a blessing, we should seek first to be a blessing to those who are struggling the most. All of our talk about God’s love is an empty mouthing of words, unless that strange and incomprehensible love of God, which was an actuality in Christ Jesus, becomes actuality in us and in our relations with those whom we have to work with, live with, day by day.
in just a few moments, we’ll be invited to the table. In just a few moments we’ll gather around, not so that we can be impressive to each other, but we’ve been invited because we are the ones who are needy. We’re the ones who in some ways are broken. We’re the ones who need to be invited, to be welcomed. We are the ones who have to love each other, maybe even more than we’ve loved ourselves. We’re the ones that have to get beyond here, the economic subjugation of others, the racism between each other. We’re the ones that are in need of help, but he’s inviting us to his table. And maybe we ought not think too much of ourselves, but to count ourselves as the needy, the broken, the hurting, and invite others to join us in every day, beyond this day. I’m thankful for the good news that God is watching us. I didn’t say it so it would disturb us in the wrong way, but disturb us and comfort us at the same time. He’s watching us. He’s looking down on us. He’s present with us. And while what we do will always not be perfect, we can do better than what we’ve done. While what we’re doing is not always exactly as it should be, we can strive to do better than what we have done. I’m thankful for his grace and his mercy. I’m thankful for his love and his joy. I’m thankful for his forgiveness and his welcome. I’m thankful that he’s looking down and watching those who are most in need.
I’m thankful and reminded when I think about those days of growing up, how we always found our hope. When I would hear in the midst of a struggling moment, “Why should I feel discouraged? Why should the shadows come? Why should my heart feel lonely and long for heaven and home? When Jesus is my portion, my constant friend is he,” that great songwriter said, “His eye is on the Sparrow. And I know he watches me. I sing because I’m happy. I sing because I’m free. His eye is on the Sparrow”. And one thing I know. “I know he watches me.” Amen.