St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Proper 28/C: 11/17/13
May the words of my mouth .
and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight,
O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.
Sounds a lot like today, doesn't it?
That gospel reading about wars and natural disasters,
injustice and strife.
Especially if you've seen the anguished pictures coming out of
the Philippines this week since super-typhoon Haiyan.
Or if you follow the civil war in Syria.
Or even the powerplays in the halls of Congress.
"It sounds like today,"
was the verdict of our discussion group
at last Wednesday's noon service in the chapel.
But then we realized that today's gospel could sound like
it came from most any time in history.
After 9/11 during the anthrax scare.
Pearl Harbor, World War II, the Holocaust.
JFK's assassination which we remember this week.
These were some of the more obvious examples that came to mind.
And into this litany of gloom and doom,
there are of course the private crises.
A devastating diagnosis. The loss of a job. The loss of a loved one.
Things that feel like the end of the world.
Today's gospel takes place near the end of Jesus' life.
He's arrived in Jerusalem and the story of his betrayal and arrest
occurs in the next chapter.
Jesus had actually been dead a couple of generations
by the time Luke's gospel was written.
The Jerusalem temple had probably been destroyed by the Romans by then.
So Luke's original audience likely had an acute sense
that they were living in the dramatic end times Jesus describes.
Yet, here we are 2,000 years later.
Dare we wonder if Jesus' words are getting a bit, well, stale --
that we don't really need to trouble ourselves about all this after all?
The only issue is that as followers of Jesus
we don't really have the option of staying in our own little worlds.
We're members of the Body of Christ --
we're the hands and hearts of Jesus --
and so we do concern ourselves with the big world out there beyond ourselves.
We do care about the future -- not just our own, but all of creation's.
That's why, in light of this very serious gospel lesson,
I want to tell you about an important day
coming up this week on Tuesday, November 19th.
It's . . . World Toilet Day.
OK, go ahead and get your giggles out.
This subject lends itself to many jokes and bad puns
(few being suitable for the pulpit).
But the more I've learned I'm embarassed that I didn't know about this problem.
Did you know that more than a third of the world's population
doesn't have access to a clean, safe and private toilet?
This is more than a terrible inconvenience;
it's a serious health, safety and development issue.
Due to improper sanitation,
more than 750,000 children die annually of diarrhoea.
Lack of toilets can keep adolescent girls out of school several days a month.
It can put women looking for privacy into unsafe situations.
Cause malaria and typhus.
And decrease a society's overall productivity.
I have to admit that in seminary
they never taught us about sanitary conditions in Jesus' day,
and I bet they weren't great.
But these kinds of conditions in this day and age are just plain wrong.
For those of us who take toilets for granted,
it could feel like the end of the world.
So I'm making sure we know about World Toilet Day.
I adapted some prayers about the gift of water for today.
Maybe you'll take them home to inspire your prayers this week,
or come up with your own.
I just hope we keep praying,
and that our prayers continue as action.
It's tragically ironic, isn't it, that water caused
so much damage in that typhoon in the Philippines --
yet clean water is one of the greatest needs of the survivors.
Maybe we could give through ERD to help make this happen.
Closer to home, perhaps you've heard that we have
a parish service trip to Nicaragua coming up this July.
We're going with a water sanitation group,
and will be building hand-washing stations for a school.
Maybe you could consider going with us?
If so, please see Rob Page or myself.
Virtually everyone can pitch in with this ambitious effort
by throwing some change -- or paper money, even better --
into the big jars at both entrances.
We'll have other fundraisers and events between now and then,
but this is something we can do now.
And this week, in honor of World Toilet Day,
perhaps you could set aside a quarter -- or a buck --
every time you frequent the toilet.
Then bring it in next Sunday.
Be warned: We're going to empty the jars this week
in order to start off fresh next Sunday.
Maybe you'll come up with your own ideas.
The point is I don't want to take this basic need for granted ever again.
And that really does bring us all the way back to today's gospel,
where Jesus takes the very long view.
Jesus' words -- and most importantly his actions --
show that every day is precious.
By word and deed, Jesus shows there's nothing more urgent
than helping one another in need.
He promises to be with us through the worst this world can visit.
And, yes, Jesus says that there will come a day
when this life as we know it comes to an end.
A time when we will be held accountable
for what we've done and left undone.
When we'll be accountable
for what kind of stewards we've been of the time given us.
We don't know when this this will be and, frankly,
we shouldn't put much stock in those who claim they do.
All we can do is trust that these days matter,
and entrust ourselves to Christ Jesus,
who shows us how to live
throughout this life into the next.