Moving the Fence

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The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 7
June 12, 2016
The Rev. Glenn Chalmers
St. Paul’s Within the Walls


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  AMEN

It’s a real pleasure to be with you this summer.

I am just learning what it is to live in retirement.  For many of you, this season will be a time of relaxation and refreshment.  And for your Rector, Austin, it is a time of sabbatical.

We all share a common desire to step aside from everyday routine.  To appreciate life from a different perspective.

Sometimes that can be more than just a yearning.  Sometimes it can be downright necessary.

I am reminded of the couple that awoke one Sunday morning to the harsh sound of an alarm clock.  The man – snuggled under his blanket- slammed the alarm off.  Drifting off to sleep again, his wife gave him a little nudge.  “Honey,” she said, “you have to get up.  We need to go to church!”

“Why?” he said, “it’s the same thing week in and week out. I am just so tired of it.  Give me one good reason why I should get up out of this bed and go.”

“Dear,” she said, “you’re the Rector.”

Wherever we find ourselves, may we all find this summer a time of rest, reflection and – with God’s grace – renewal.

It’s also wonderful being here knowing that St. Paul’s Within the Walls and New York City have shared an especially close history since the parish began.  I was surprised to learn that one of my predecessors as Rector of the Church of the Holy Apostles in New York also served as Rector here in the 1930’s.  So I feel we already share something in common.

But what is most important is that we share something that today’s Gospel makes very, very clear this morning.

Luke’s Gospel continues along with its unmistakable theme.  As we follow his narrative, we may wonder whom the next glutton or the next drunkard, tax-collector or notorious sinner will be the latest person whom Jesus calls to be a friend.

In today’s reading, we have the answer.  Another unlikely person.  An unnamed woman with an unnamed sin.

Whoever she is and whatever she has done, one thing is certain.  She was not on the ‘invite list.’

This was at the home of the Pharisee – Simon – who asked Jesus to dine with him.  So no doubt it was a respectable home. A very respectable home.

This women not wanted, not welcomed; showed up anyway.  And she lavishes Jesus with attention.

Rather than shunning her, Jesus shocks the other guests by proclaiming that this woman’s sins are forgiven.  That her faith, her devotion, has demonstrated that she is one the list that matters most – she is a full fledged citizen of the Kingdom of God.

As we can imagine, that did not go over very well.  Some no doubt grumbled. Others within hearing distance who also felt themselves outsiders no doubt rejoiced.

The message here and elsewhere is clear.  All are welcome at the table.  There are no insiders or outsiders.  No one is beyond God’s embrace.

It is a message Jesus teaches again and again and again. Because we need to be reminded again and again and again.

There is a story told about a village nestled in the heart of Eastern Europe.  There lived a woman named Olga. When someone needed bread, she offered it.  When someone was in need of shelter, they only had to ask.  If someone needed a sympathetic ear, Olga never turned anyone away.

Among her fellow villagers, she was the very salt and light of that small community.

So when she died at 92, the entire town was grief stricken.  But that grief turned to anger when the local parish priest would not bury her within consecrated ground.  This ground, defined by a wooden fence, was for those of the Orthodox faith and Olga was of a different persuasion.

Despite protest and pleas, the priest refused to relent.  She would be buried beyond the fence, just past the wooden boundary that marked holy ground.

As her body was lowered deep into the earth, the entire town gathered to weep at her graveside and to mark the passing of someone who had come to mean so much to all of them.

Later than night, some villagers snuck into the graveyard.  They came to make their own theological statement.  They moved the fence.

Moving the fence is one way of describing the ministry of the refugee center here at St. Paul’s Within the Walls.  A way of capturing the work of the soup kitchen at Holy Apostles in New York which serves over a 1000 meals every weekday to hungry and homeless men and women.

These ministries are about more than addressing critical human need.  They are iconic – bringing to life, making tangible, the Gospel we have heard this morning.  That all people, especially those on the margins, are welcome to the table.

So it was for that unnamed woman with the unnamed sin.  So it is with those we welcome here.  And so it is with you and with me. AMEN.

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