Sunday, September 5, 2021
I see you
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy TX 77493
September 5, 2021
Have you ever been invisible? I am talking about that situation where you are physically present, but nobody seems to notice you? Have you ever felt like saying, “Hey look at me, pay attention to me, don’t you see me?” My guess is some of you may not know what I am talking about, but that’s the point. Both the passage from Proverbs, James and the story of the Syrophoenician women in Mark are about invisible people or at best people we may not want to see or choose not to see.
The problem of invisible people is nothing new. Our gospel passage from Mark is a great example of someone who should have been invisible but makes themselves visible in this rather dramatic story. In the story of the Syrophoenician woman, Jesus in not in Jewish territory rather he is among a predominately Gentile population. He is in a house where he did not want to be noticed.
Yet this Syrophoenician woman has the audacity to start a conversation with Jesus. A woman would never speak first in that culture to a man who was not a relative. She is an outsider in many ways and violates customs of the time. She is other, someone Jesus should not have contact with according to Jewish law. She would have been invisible to Jesus’ world. Here the one who is normally invisible becomes visible. The one we would like to ignore gets in our face and says listen to me. I am a child of God too. You must pay attention to me.
I have a story that illustrates the problem of invisibility for our time. The Church of the Holy Spirit on Cape Cod where I was a curate was one of several churches that participated in a program known as Overnights of Hospitality. One night a month a parish or church provides food, a shower and a safe warm place to sleep for homeless men on Cape Cod. One of the gifts of that ministry was that it allowed those who were invisible to be visible. I had the chance on several occasions to spend time with the men while I was the assistant there.
One year the Tuesday that they were staying happened to be Shrove Tuesday, the night before Ash Wednesday. Holy Spirit like St. Paul’s had a pancake supper. Those involved came to me and said, “Mark what are we going to do about the homeless men that night. Should we feed them first and then keep them downstairs while the parish has dinner or should we just feed them downstairs in the sleeping area?” I looked at the person who had asked the question and I think my look gave them their answer. I did say, “Why would we do either of those. They need to be fed and we are having a dinner that is open to everyone in the community. They will eat with us.”
The answer was automatic because earlier in the year I had sat down to dinner with one of the men and heard his story. He had a job, but because of the high cost of living especially in the summer he could not afford a place to live. He asked me, “Do you know how hard it is to be invisible? I sit on a bench in the evenings with all my belongings beside me and people walk by. Not only do they walk by they seem to look through me, like I am not even there.” After dinner he looked at me and said, “Father, it was wonderful to talk with you tonight. Thank you for seeing me.” I almost broke down in tears.
One of the things I’m really happy that happened this past summer is the ability to get back down to the Beacon. The Beacon is a ministry on the grounds of our Cathedral. They provide Breakfast and Lunch 4 days a week to the homeless in downtown. While there, the people can get their laundry washed and sometimes we help with that. There is also job counseling and a small medical clinic there. Often you see the people in the dining room with scrubs on that say Beacon because everything they own is in the laundry. It’s a mix of ages, races, and genders and yes we do see some mom’s with kids.
I usually end up doing one of two things. Either serving the food or doing dishes after they are done. One of the great things, the respectful things that the Beacon does is give people a choice. A choice of entrée, of vegetable and salad. This isn’t a here this is what you get you poor person type of operation. Giving a person a choice of what they eat makes them seen, heard and respected. We get to interact with them as they make their choice. If I’m doing dishes I often ask what did they have and I often hear a thank you, have a blessed day with a smile. We are able to connect with the clients. This really allows me to see the people we serve. This is also why I choose to take a full day every month to be part of this ministry. It reminds me of some of why we exist as a church. Remember Jesus said, “Whatever you do for the least of these you do for me.”
Is there a time when you found yourself treating someone as invisible? We all pass by the men and women by I-10 with their signs out. Do you look the other way. Do you feel that I should do something, but I don’t want to give them money. One thing I used to do and we talked about this at bible study one morning is keep a ziplock bag in my car. In it I place a pair of socks, granola bar, water, cheese and crackers that I get at Costco. Then I have something to give to that street person. Now I’ll warn you many will accept it gratefully, but some will look at you like, “what’s this?” However this is still a way to say to that person on the side of the road I see you. You exist, you matter.
CS Lewis wrote in a sermon he gave in Oxford in 1942 that illustrates what I am trying to say. Lewis stated, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit…. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.“
Lewis clearly teaches that everyone is our neighbor. We are reminded that not only is this a teaching of Jesus, but it comes from the Hebrew Scriptures as well.
I reminded of a word that is often said at the end of yoga session and most people do not know what it means; namaste. What it means is the sacred in me, sees the sacred in you. Let me say that again. The sacred in me sees the sacred in you. This is what CS Lewis means and it is what Jesus sees in everyone. It is what God sees in all humanity.
This morning, I ask you to consider, who is the invisible person or people in your life? Who needs you to see them? Whom does God want you to see, to take notice of and to care for? I am sure that there is a Syrophoenician woman in each of our lives.
Today’s message is to think about who that is and how you can see them, really see them as the beloved child of God that we all are and then go and act in response to your faith.