Ubi Caritas

This week my lectionary friends sat down at a table to start a new phase of our studying life together. For the second week in a row, the lectionary left us flat, and since we are freewheeling members of the UCC, I asked the question: “What do we need to preach this week?”

Hurricane Katrina was much on our minds, of course. We had already discussed the ways our congregations are hoping to help with relief efforts. And we had mulled over the news about how inept some of the rescue efforts appear to have been. It seemed that we needed to preach about what it is that motivates us to live a certain kind of life, a life that means we care about what happens to others, a life that differentiates us from the extreme right wing of Christianity that has celebrated this “clean sweep” of New Orleans without stopping to think about the loss of life there and in Missisippi, the people whose loss is not yet being counted except by the family members who can’t find them and still hope they will. What exactly is it that makes us different, we asked, and how can we say that best?

After a trip to Isaiah and the Psalms, we determined that this message needed to come from the gospel, and we landed in Luke 6.

46 ‘Why do you call me “Lord, Lord”, and do not do what I tell you? 47I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. 48That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.’

Someone who comes to me–that’s the first step. For my non-Christian friends who might be reading this, I do believe there are many ways to God, but for the purposes of my own life and my congregation’s life and this particular sermon, the way is Jesus. To come to Jesus, then, is the first step. That’s not as straightforward as coming to church, although that can certainly be part of it. Here in New England, church attendance seems to drop off in the summer (except for those churches that have a lot of “summer members,” people who come to vacation and attend our churches then). September is the beginning of the New Year, in a sense. Committees meet again, Bible Study and Sunday School resume, church suppers are cooked and served; the summer sabbatical from activity is over. Some of us have been there all along, but for a large portion of the church family, their vacation from church is over and they are back to work.

Do they think about this return as coming to Jesus?

Coming is a start, but Jesus asks for more.

Come to me. Hear my words. Act on them.

I think there’s a strong argument to be made that people who take the Katrina aftermath lightly, who suggest that this will have advantages for the poor who have been displaced, as our former First Lady did, who continue to blame the folks who stayed behind or who insist that everything possible has been done (“What didn’t go right?”) have failed to hear the words of Jesus. We heard them at church last week, and they have been widely spoken and contemplated in the past ten days:

I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.37Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

You certainly don’t have to be a genius to get the point of that story. Take care of those who are most in need. When you show caring love to them, you are also showing it to “the king” or Christ or YHWH or whatever you perceive the higher power to be. Even if you don’t believe in God, you might envision Caritas, charity, as a high calling, as a value above all others. I know there are non-religious people who do. It seems obvious to them that taking care of those less fortunate, less advantaged is the highest moral imperative.

This morning I am reading again about people who just will not leave their animals behind, because they know it means death for their pets. Talk about caring for the least of these who are members of our family–if it’s clear people will not leave without their pets, why won’t FEMA let rescuers put them in the boats? There are places for the pets to go, including a shelter in Baton Rouge, and even a shelter for strays in Gonzales, LA.

Why is it that some people get the message so clearly and others do not? What is the imperative that operates so strongly in them?

The first piece of music from the Taize community I ever heard was this one:
Ubi caritas et amor
Ubi caritas deus ibi est.

Where there is charity and love,
Where there is charity, God is there.

Where we show caring, we are in the presence of the ultimate Good.