The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost: Year A

“Gladden the Hearts of Others”

A sermon by parishioner, Patrick Foster

Good morning! If no one has told you today that they love you, let me say it. I love you guys. You’ve been a big part of my life.

You know, when we sit down and think about the world, it sometimes can seem overwhelming. Crime, poverty, hatred, a complete lack of civil discourse in discussing politics, our crumbling infrastructure, a fear of open borders and who might be slipping into the country- the list of worries can go on for pages.

So, what’s a Christian to do?

I think that’s an important question because as Christian disciples we are called upon by Jesus to do things. We’re not supposed to sit back in leisure and complain endlessly about the world. We’re supposed to try to make it better.

But how? As Shakespeare might say “Ay, there’s the rub”.

So, I ask again, what’s a Christian to do?

One good thing, in my opinion, is to turn to what’s popularly known as the Serenity Prayer. And that prayer is ‘God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.’

You and I can do nothing about the border. We can do nothing about China. We can do little about the crumbling infrastructure except try to elect officials that will do something about it. So, we don’t need to waste our time complaining about those things or fretting over our lack of power to change them. I don’t think God likes complainers. I think he prefers doers.

Having gotten rid of our need to complain about things we cannot change, we can focus instead on things we can change.

Poverty has existed as long as mankind has existed, and for a variety of reasons.

As Christians, we can help- and we do. We donate food, clothing, socks, shoes, and money. But there’s more we can do- we can help support organizations that seek to lift up people. In Milford we have the Bridges organization, which now has a Wellness on Wheels vehicle, a mobile clinic that provides New Haven County residents accessible, street-side healthcare treatment including physical exams, screenings and tests, along with mental health services and addiction screenings, referrals, and follow-ups. Organizations like this are doing God’s work- and we can support them.

As far as political discourse, we can bring back politeness if we try. I learned this a few years ago when I was sitting in the lobby of a hotel in St Louis. A stranger sat down in a chair across from me, wished me a good morning and asked if he and I could have a polite talk about politics. He was from the Midwest and knew I was from the East. For the next 45 minutes we talked over coffee about our political leaders. He listened to me politely, didn’t interrupt, and when I was done, he told me his point of view. Taking my cue from him, I didn’t interrupt. It ended up we were completely on opposite sides of the fence, but he got a chance to hear my views and I got a chance to hear his and, in the end, we shook hands and agreed it led to a better understanding of each other. Civil discourse is possible, but it takes effort, and a commitment to listening and to showing patience and tolerance.

But you want to know one thing that we all can do that will change the world we live in, for the better? We can be kind to others. And by that, I mean really kind.

In my weekly travels I come across a great many opportunities to lift people’s spirits. In the grocery store I compliment the checkout clerk for being prompt and efficient. I compliment them on their work ethic or their attitude. It’s not phony- it’s genuine approval, but I voice it so that they know they’re appreciated. I do the same at the tailor shop, the library, the pharmacy, or when bringing donations to Goodwill. I thank the Goodwill workers for the work they do, and at Christmas time I tip them. At Dunkin Donuts I leave a nice tip and thank them for being there so early in the morning. I let people know I appreciate their efforts. Do you have any idea how much abuse Dunkin Donuts cashiers get from customers who are stressed out and late for work?

I try to be nice to everyone. One time Diane and I were standing in line for coffee in Grand Central Station. The young woman in front of me had a very unusual hair style,- almost weird- but it fit her so well that I was compelled to say to her “You know, I really like your hair. It’s very attractive and it fits you perfectly.” She thanked me profusely, and then brought her husband over to thank me again, saying I’d made her day. Over the years many strangers have told me I made their day. That gives me a great feeling.

And how much this has cost me? Nothing, really. It costs nothing to be nice to people, but you create good feelings.

I realize this sounds silly to some of you but let me tell you something I’ve learned over the years. Each and every person that we meet is fighting a daily battle against cares and worries that you and I know nothing about. Everyone is struggling with a load that sometimes feels overwhelming. Despite whatever face people show to the world, inside, everybody suffers from a certain amount of fear and loneliness at times. We have no idea the weight of the cross others have to bear. We don’t know what struggles people are dealing with or where they are in their daily battles: winning or losing. But a little kindness can often make the difference between someone giving up or deciding to continue on.

I know this from experience. Many people have been extraordinarily kind to me when I needed it most, even though they usually didn’t know it. In some ways they saved my life; they gave me the strength to carry on, they made me feel better about myself. I am eternally grateful to God for putting those people in my life just when I needed them.

So, if you want to know what you can do as a Christian, first, don’t worry about things you can’t control. Don’t fret and don’t complain. Let go of the things you have no control over, they’re just a burden and heaven knows, we all have enough burdens to deal with. Do the things that you can do to help people when you can do them. Remember that those in ill in health need our prayers, that the poor need a helping hand, and that all of us- every one of us- could use a little kindness.

Remember friends, that life is short. And we have too little time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us. So be swift to love and make haste to be kind.

God will bless you for it.