Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Proxy Server

Sermon Delivered on September 2, 2012
Psalm 146
James 2:1-10, 14-17
Mark 7:24-37

I met a guy the other day who is a computer programmer. He’s one of the parents on my son’s soccer team. When small talk led to the inevitable, “So, what do you do?”, he stated his occupation and followed it with a shrug, a smirk, and the moniker of pride and shame, “Geek.”

What a transformation that term has gone through, thanks to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs – the patron Saints of technology. [Owen Rachal interrupts, “Excuse me, Zach? Technically speaking – St. Isidore of Seville is the patron saint of the Internet, computers, computer users and computer technicians. He is the patron saint of technology.”]

Thanks, Owen. As I was saying, Geek used to be a term of derision and shame. Children’s songs were composed about the weak and pitiful creature known as the pencil-necked geek. But not anymore! Now they are our heroes and members of squadrons of deployable helpers for our technical needs.

I must say, I have a bit of geek envy sometimes. Computers are so accessible and the commercials tell us that technology is our slave. So, I should be able to figure out how to make it do most anything, right? I should at least know what all the options are. Do you ever feel like that? Do you ever get frustrated because you don’t even understand the question it is asking?

Take this for example – proxy server – how do I even know if I want to connect with a proxy server if I don’t know what that is. I think I know what that means, but I’m not entirely sure. I think I need a geek. Owen – can you please tell me what a proxy server is?

[Owen offers a description that is something like this: A server is a computer that holds and offers certain content – files, music, documents. A proxy server performs the function of a server on behalf of the server. He ends by asking me what this has to do with the gospel.]

Thanks, Owen. I’m not sure. Let’s see if we can figure that out. Psalm 146 speaks of God as the one who formed and maintains all of creation. It reminds us that God is the source of healing, reconciliation, and providence – especially for the poor. James reminds us that it is through the poor and the powerless that God has chosen to demonstrate God’s kingdom. Why?

James clearly seems to think that the rich take advantage of the poor, dragging them into court. So, it seems to me the issue is about power. If we have the power to help and we refuse to, have we become part of the problem? A person still has choices to make, but less power equals fewer choices.

[Owen interjects, “That’s great, but I still don’t see what this has to do with proxy servers.”]

OK – right. Maybe that is why James said, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

Still don’t get it? [Shakes head, “No.”] OK, then let’s look to Jesus. That always helps. Jesus has this odd encounter with this woman from Syrophenecia. He happens to be in her neighborhood. She asks him to cure her daughter of demons. He rejects her as a non-Jew, and not very politely I might add. So she reminds him of her value as a creature of the creator, and Jesus heals her daughter because of her action.

Then you have this blind guy who is shoved in front of Jesus by his friends. Jesus heals him by spitting in some mud, rubbing it in his eyes, and telling him not to tell anyone. Weird, huh?

But, here’s the thing. In both of these stories the person who is healed gets healed because of the action of someone else. I realize it is an oversimplification, but Jesus is the dedicated server – the one who came to disseminate love, justice, forgiveness, and redemption. The friends and the mother have been offered healing by proxy.

It’s kind of like the opposite of the question I recently heard about a gun. If I gave you a gun and you kill someone, who is to blame? Well, I would argue that there are no clean hands in that scenario. In converse – if you help someone in Jesus’ name, who is responsible for that person’s redemption? Obviously it would be Jesus.

Let’s back it out a little further. If the Syrophonecian Mama had not gone to Jesus about her baby, would Jesus have done anything about it? Let’s push that point deeper. If you had never heard of God – if you had never been loved in the name of God – would you be here?

[Owen interjects and suggests that some may be here because they are looking for the experience of being loved – having not experienced it elsewhere.]

True! How true that is. And if that is the case, it seems to me that our actions in response to God’s grace are even more crucial. Not only are they an expression of the love we have received, but our actions are not even our own. When we act on behalf of God, we offer salvation, hope, and redemption by proxy – and that is a reality that is just terrible.

I don’t mean bad. I mean formidably great. I mean that it is pregnant with the possibility for great faithfulness and equally great selfishness. Deciding that one’s actions are the actions of God is generally the hallmark of disaster. Realizing that one’s actions are in concert with God’s will is generally the hallmark of discernment.

And how do we know which is which? Well, according to scripture, we know that we are acting in concert with God’s will when we go to bat for someone who cannot stand up for themselves. According to scripture, we know that we are acting in concert with God’s will when we see our own healing and we can’t keep from telling others about it. And, according to scripture, we know that we are acting in concert with God’s will when we advocate for the poor.

You know, we get a lot of requests for help here. We are in a prominent location, and there are a lot of people who pass through the area – and a substantial homeless population. The expressed needs of those who come by are greater than the resources of this congregation – individually or collectively. That’s not uncommon, and it’s not because we are small. Perhaps we could shift our resources and priorities, but that would not address the need.

For those who become angry and say that we do not help, I say, “Yes we do – just not that way.” We have an emergency food bag surplus to offer. We have connections with other ministries and agencies. We visit the elderly and provide food. We have an amazing gift basket ministry that expresses a theology of abundance and stewardship.

In fact, just this week a member emailed me about a family of 13 that lost their home to a fire. The elves immediately put together baskets of toys, household goods, and stuffed animals to demonstrate the love of God. Another member mentioned the good works of some others in this congregation and said, “If I get to heaven it is on their coat tails!”

It was a very human reaction to the very divine reality that God came in flesh to dwell amongst us. And because of that – because of that man, Jesus – we have become children of God. In fact, we have become the hands and feet of God – not because of our worthiness but because of God’s willingness. God is willing to be vulnerable on our behalf. God is willing to let us make terrible choices.

In the end, it is not our works that prove our faith – for a light that is properly connected to its source cannot help but to shine. I would be remiss, on Rally Day, if I did not say that our opportunity to grow in faith is crucial to that connection. So, for Owen and for the rest of us, salvation by proxy is what creates that connection. Salvation by proxy is is the connection we offer.

We receive it – and we offer it – in every relationship and every chance encounter. It’s just that simple, and it’s just that hard, and to God be the glory, both now and always. Amen.
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