Sermon 17 Pentecost, Yr A
September 5, 2008 1 Comment
17 Pentecost Yr A, 7/09/2008
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
An anonymous person tells the following story: Twenty years ago, I drove a cab for a living. When I arrived at 2:30 a.m., the building was dark except for a single light in a ground floor window.
Under these circumstances, many drivers would just honk once or twice, wait a minute, then drive away. But I had seen too many impoverished people who depended on taxis as their only means of transportation. Unless a situation smelled of danger, I always went to the door. This passenger might be someone who needs my assistance, I reasoned to myself.
So I walked to the door and knocked. “Just a minute,” answered a frail, elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across the floor.
After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 80s stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940s movie.
By her side a small nylon suitcase. The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets.
“Would you carry my bag out to the car?” she said. I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman. She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the curb.
She kept thanking me for my kindness.
“It’s nothing,” I told her. “I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother treated.”
“Oh, you’re such a good boy,” she said.
When we got in the cab, she gave me an address, then asked, “Could you drive through downtown?”
“It’s not the shortest way,” I answered quickly.
“Oh, I don’t mind,” she said. “I’m in no hurry. I’m on my way to a hospice.”
I looked in the rear-view mirror. Her eyes were glistening.
“I don’t have any family left,” she continued. “The doctor says I don’t have very long.”
I quietly reached over and shut off the metre. “What route would you like me to take?” I asked.
For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. We drove through the neighbourhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds. She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl. Sometimes she’d ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.
As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, “I’m tired. Let’s go now.”
We drove in silence to the address she had given me.
It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico.
Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her.
I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair.
“How much do I owe you?” she asked, reaching into her purse.
“Nothing,” I said.
“You have to make a living,” she answered.
“There are other passengers,” I responded.
Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug. She held onto me tightly. “You gave an old woman a little moment of joy,” she said. “Thank you.”
I squeezed her hand, then walked into the dim morning light. Behind me, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life.
I didn’t pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly, lost in thought. For the rest of the day, I could hardly talk.
What if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to end his shift?
What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away?
On a quick review, I don’t think that I have done anything more important in my life.
We’re conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments.
But great moments often catch us unaware—beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one.
In today’s second lesson, the apostle Paul instructs the Roman Church and us to: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” Here Paul is following the teaching of Jesus and the Torah—namely, that love of one’s neighbour is fulfilling the law and involves keeping the second table of the Ten Commandments, the commandments dealing with our relationships with other human beings.
We may think or believe that we are debt free, that we owe no one anything—however that is not true. Even if our public taxes are faithfully paid and we are financially “debt free;” nonetheless we are, says the apostle Paul, indebted to our neighbours. No human being is an island—or “self-made.” It is thanks to the love of our parents who gave us life and looked after our basic needs when we were helpless and vulnerable that we are here today. It is also thanks to countless neighbours—people from all walks of life who contribute to society in so many ways that we can continue to live and enjoy our life. Most of us do not live on a farm or have vegetable gardens or fruit orchards—we depend on others for such food items and we depend on countless others for all of our goods and services. Many of these folks, who are our neighbours we shall not likely even know or meet. However, we are indebted to them for our basic necessities and, in our society all of the extra luxuries that improve the quality of our lives.
Professor W.A. Poovey tells the following story: A certain miserly man got tired of being asked to give for charitable purposes. So he demanded of his pastor: “Must I always keep giving to the church and to missions? Can’t I ever stop?”
“Oh yes,” replied the pastor. “You can stop. As soon as God stops giving to you, you are under no obligation to give any more.” That was the right answer. For God’s gifts to us are new each day. And he asks us to pay our obligations to him by showing love to his children in this world.1
So, if we are faithful followers of Jesus, we shall love our neighbour out of gratitude for all the many blessings that we receive from others. When we stop to think about all of the times that a neighbour has loved us; hopefully our hearts and lives shall respond by agreeing with the apostle Paul that we do indeed owe a life-long debt of love to our neighbours in appreciation for all that has been given to us. The apostle Paul writing elsewhere reminds us that love is the greatest gift. Moreover, it never ends and always finds ways to make itself real through generous giving. For that, thanks be to God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who continues to give us his unconditional love without end. Amen.
1 W.A. Poovey, Faith Is The Password: Meditations on Romans (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1979), p. 111.