“Okay For Another Day”
When I moved into my house two years ago, I hung a bird feeder outside the windows of my back porch. It is an ideal spot – under an overhang, so it doesn’t get wet with rain or snow. And, so far anyway, it has been inaccessible to squirrels. I wasn’t sure if I would attract any birds in a neighborhood that already had lots of food sources. But, my feeder quickly got the attention of the neighborhood finches. I now keep a flock of about 25 birds fed throughout the year. In the summer, when the food sources are abundant, I only fill the feeder once a week or so. But, as the weather turns colder, I fill it every day. The birds and I have developed a bit of a routine. I see them waiting in the bushes near my home when I leave to take my dog for a walk in the morning. They are watching for me to return and as soon as I do, I fill their feeder. As soon as I step back inside the house, they gather, first just one or two, but soon all of them are flying around – jockeying for position, and hanging onto the screen window waiting for an opening. The feeder is usually emptied in a couple of hours. They fly off and return the next morning, waiting for me to fill the feeder again.
Despite the mess of the seed on the ground, the cost of buying bird feed in bulk, the need to be strategic when I shovel so I can still reach the feeder, and the fact that it can feel a bit like a scene from Hitchcock’s “The Birds” if you go outside at the wrong time – I really enjoy looking after this little flock of finches. I really enjoy it, so I spend a lot of time watching them, observing their behavior, especially now that I am home so much more. And there is something I have noticed – as the days get decidedly colder, or if it is raining or snowing, they seem to be a bit more impatient while waiting for me, and more eager when the feeder gets filled. This makes sense, of course, they have found a reliable food source and when the weather is bad, they want to make sure they will be okay for another day. So, even when it is incredibly cold and snowy, and I have no other reason to go outside – I still make sure to get the feeder filled. I want them to know they will be okay for another day.
It feels like that is all we can plan on right now – making sure we are okay for another day. The pandemic has taken a hold of our region, and what once felt like a more distant threat, is now right outside our doors. The discourse in our country has become hurtful and frightening, and we are all desperate for the election to be over and equally fearful about what it will bring. Here in the upper Midwest the relative safety of summer and our ability to gather outdoors with friends and family has faded – and we are all wondering what a MN winter in the midst of a pandemic will be like. Our desire to make to plans is muddied by the unpredictability of our world right now. So, again, it feels like all we can plan on right now is making sure we are okay for another day.
I have been thinking about this a lot this week as I have considered the scriptural lesson for today. It’s a familiar one – one of the most quoted, especially amongst progressive Christians. Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is, and his answer is a perfect summation of the entirety of the Gospels, “Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul; and love your neighbor as yourself.” If Christians remember nothing else about the lessons Jesus taught, we want them to remember this one.
I have preached on this lesson many times, and you have likely heard many sermons on it. Progressive Christians, like the United Church of Christ, love to point to this lesson and say this is why we must throw our bodies into the work of social justice. Loving our neighbor means saying Black Lives Matter and working to enact policies that make it real. Loving our neighbor means caring for the poor and vulnerable by creating safety nets and lifting up people from poverty like by abolishing medical debt. Loving our neighbor means caring for the environment, so we all have enough to eat and a safe place to live. I have preached more sermons on loving neighbors that talk about the big, systemic things that we must as faithful Christians do. And, you have heard more sermons about loving our neighbors as ourselves from preachers old and new that are broad and far-reaching. But, not this year.
I do believe that when Jesus said we must love our neighbors as ourselves he did mean that the world must be shaped in a way that removes barriers and recognizes the intrinsic value in each human life. I do believe loving our neighbors as ourselves means we must break down systems of inequality and create new ones focused on justice. I do believe that. But, when that is all we focus on, it can be too easy to forget that Jesus likely meant this lesson in an intimate way as well. Loving our neighbors as ourselves is not just about the big things – it is also about the small, everyday things we can do to make sure our neighbors are okay for another day.
Loving our neighbors as ourselves means sending a card to a friend, just because. Loving our neighbors as ourselves, means making a few extra helpings of our favorite soup and leaving it at the door of the family next door. Loving our neighbors as ourselves means picking up the phone when we think of an old friend and offering them a reminder that they are loved, even from afar. Loving our neighbors as ourselves means waving to the people in our neighborhood, and stepping out of our doors to chat from a safe distance. Loving our neighbors as ourselves is not just about the big things, more often than not, it is about the small things that make sure the people around us know they will be okay for another day.
I have no doubt that if Jesus were teaching this lesson today he would remind us that loving our neighbors means standing up to acts of injustice, breaking the systems that keep people in poverty, and voting for candidates who promise to enact policies that care for the vulnerable. Loving our neighbors means working for big things. But I also believe that Jesus would remind us that loving our neighbors means the small things to reassure them that they will be okay for another day. This year, a year like no other, it is not a failure to do only the small things. In fact, we should celebrate each and every act of kindness we experience.
So, how can you show your neighbors, your friends and family, the stranger down the street that you care? What can you do, from your home or at a safe distance, that will make sure the people around you are okay for another day? We have seen over and over again that one small act of kindness leads to another and another. So, when we do the small things of loving our neighbors, we receive that love right back.
Before moving into prayer, I want to read to you a short poem by Emily Dickinson:
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
My Beloved Community, we can all do small things to show the love of God to those around us, and make sure we will all be okay for another day. Let’s start today. Amen.
Let us pray…
God of All, you have so fashioned the world that is possess the potential to repair its imperfections. And, O Eternal One, you have fashioned humankind by endowing us, as your partners, with the creative ability to help the repairing.
You gave us the insight to transform the simple herb into a healing balm for the body. May we, as your servants, realize our responsibility to transform the herb of human caring into a healing balm for the aching soul.
Like ourselves, many are in need. We know the inner yearning for fulfillment, for purpose, for meaning in our lives. May we ever come to know that as we help others to feel fulfilled, so shall we.
And then, may we recognize the strength, the will, the dedication, and the commitment to do that for which we were created: to serve you by realizing your reign in our midst.
We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, our teach and guide along the way, who taught us to pray together by saying…Our Father…