By The Rev. Sherry Crompton

January 16, 2011
Read: John 1:29-42

I received one of those email forwards, you know those stories that get passed around on the internet, that was entitled, the Law of the Garbage Truck and it goes like this:

One day I hopped in a taxi and we took off for the airport. We were driving in the right lane when suddenly a black car jumped out of a parking space right in front of us. My taxi driver slammed on his brakes, skidded, and missed the other car by just inches! The driver of the other car whipped his head around and started yelling at us. My taxi driver just smiled and waved at the guy. And I mean, he was really friendly. So I asked, ‘Why did you just do that? This guy almost ruined your car and sent us to the hospital!’ This is when my taxi driver taught me what I now call, ‘The Law of the Garbage Truck.’

He explained that many people are like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger, and full of disappointment. As their garbage piles up, they need a place to dump it and sometimes they’ll dump it on you. Don’t take it personally. Just smile, wave, wish them well, and move on. Don’t take their garbage and spread it to other people at work, at home, or on the streets.

The bottom line is that successful people do not let garbage trucks take over their day.

Life is ten percent what you make it and ninety percent how you take it! Have a garbage-free day! “Faith is not believing God can, it is knowing that God will.”

It is a simplified example of what is a deep truth. However, we cannot always just smile, wave, wish them well and move on. For examples, we are still processing the tragedy that occurred in Arizona, when someone with a gun fired on, killed and injured, innocent people. And tomorrow is the national holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., someone who didn’t sit back, who strived to make changes in our world – he was truly a prophet – whose life was ended in a tragic way.

No, it is difficult to smile, wave and move on in situations like this – like Arizona. It is human nature to demand explanations, impose order on the chaos, makes sense out of what seems senseless.

I appreciate what President Obama had to say at the memorial speech in Arizona. That if this tragedy prompts reflection and debate let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost. That it is not about politics, pettiness, that the loss of these people should make us all strive to be better people. What matters is how well we have loved. What small part have we played in making the lives of other people better? How have we aligned our values with our actions.

Only a more civil and honest discourse will allow us to deal with the challenges of our nation in a way that would make them proud. That we question each other’s ideas without questioning each other’s love of country. We may not be able to stop evil in the world, but how we treat one another is entirely up to us. With all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness…the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite that unite us. Let’s live up to our children’s expectations.

Our President shared some wise words, words based on scripture. We find it easy to demonize the other side of any debate because we lack genuine connections with each other. A call for civility in political life is a start, but only a start. Cleaning up our language so we can have civil discourse is only wallpaper over a deep divide. What we need is the foundation on which Jesus built his community of servants: relationship. That means connections with people who think differently, and even express those differences passionately, but with the foundation of a shared life. That kind of service, to one another as neighbors, comes with discomfort, and is not easily done. Being with people like us, who think like we do, is much easier, at least in the short run. But we will never be well, until we hold onto the truth that we are all in this together. Left and right, Republican and Democrat, millionaire and homeless person, veteran and pacifist, meat-eater and vegan — we will always have our differences, but we can create and hold onto a genuine sense of community. Then we will know that winning isn’t winning when it comes at a cost to the greater whole. As Roxanna Green, the mother of Christina Green, the nine-year-old girl born on 9/11 and killed in the Arizona shooting eloquently summed up: “I think there’s been a lot of hatred going on, and it needs to stop”.

There is a Greek word in our gospel text for today that has an interesting translation. ‘Enblepo’ is most often translated as “looked”. WE see it translated at “watched” and “looked” today. Another translation is at “looked hard at”. So, it’s more than a casual glance. It’s an intent look. When John “looked hard at” Jesus, he recognized him as the Lamb of God. When Jesus “looked hard at” Simon, he recognized in him the rock, a solid foundation.

It occurs to me that Jesus spends a lot of time taking a hard look at us. Jesus sees in us things we don’t even see — and sometimes things we don’t want to see. We can also take a hard look at Jesus. And when we do, I believe we begin to recognize him all around us.

We begin to recognize him in the face of our neighbor.
We begin to recognize him in the laughter of children.
We begin to recognize him in the crisp, cold winter air.
We begin to recognize him in the mist and fog and rain.
We begin to recognize him in the children who have no food on their tables.
We begin to recognize him in the hands of people who work the soil.
We begin to recognize him in voices that speak languages other than English.
We begin to recognize him in the Nursing Home beds.
We begin to recognize him behind the counter at the bank, in the store, and at the library.

But we can only see him when we learn to take a hard look at another person. And perhaps the first person we need to take a hard look at is ourselves. Perhaps we need to begin looking at us the way that Jesus sees us.

Jesus “looked hard at” Simon. He saw what all of us would see, a fisherman. He probably smelled like the sea. He may have arrived in his work clothes. His skin had been darkened by the sun, and perhaps had a leathery appearance from the constant exposure to the weather.

But Jesus saw beyond that. He looked deep inside. When he looked at Simon, he saw a man of convictions. He saw a man of compassion. He saw a man of honor. Jesus determines that this is a rock-solid citizen, the kind of person that people depend upon, and decides to call him Peter, the rock.

None of these things had been seen by others. Simon may not have seen them himself. But as the story unfolds, first Jesus, then Simon, then the twelve, and then all of those around him begin to sense what Jesus had seen.

Whether his name change came first and he developed a sense of responsibility or his deep seated character was already present but not recognized until Jesus names it, I’m not sure. This story suggests to me that it was there all along, but no one else had ever seen it.

When Jesus looks inside of you, what does he see? Does he see the same thing you see? Or does he see much more? Perhaps more potential?

I can guarantee that the first thing Jesus sees in you is someone worthy of love. It’s the simple yet profound truth that God loves you. And it’s that knowledge, it’s that truth, that allows us to love others. They too have been seen by God as worthy, as lovable, as valuable. We can take a hard look at ourselves. We’ll find someone worthy of love. We can take a hard look at others. We’ll also find in each of them someone worthy of love. We can also take a hard look at God. And we begin to see God as if for the first time. We find a God of compassion, a God of justice, a God of love.

I’d like to close with a prayer by Martin Luther King, Jr. :

If I can help somebody as I pass along;
If I can cheer somebody with a word or song;
If I can show somebody he’s traveling wrong;
then my living will not be in vain.
If I can do my duty as a Christian ought;
If I can bring salvation to a world once wrought;
If I can spread the message as the Master taught;
then my living will not be in vain.

Yes, Jesus, I want to be on your right or your left side, not for any selfish reason. I want to be on your right or your left side, not in terms of some political kingdom or ambition. But I just want to be there in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to others, so that we can make of this old world a new world.


Copyright 2008-2012 Episcopal Church of the Trinity.

The text of this sermon is the property of the author and may not be duplicated or used without permission.