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Sunday 8 September 2024 Trinity 15, Twenty-Third in Ordinary time, Proper 18

Is it worth it?

Isaiah 35:4-7; James 2:1-10; Mk 7:24-37

By J Sergius Halvorsen

Priest of the Orthodox Church in America; he teaches preaching at St. Vladimir’s Seminary and works part time as a hospital chaplain

Context: for a small Orthodox Christian parish in New Haven, Connecticut, USA, comprised primarily of people in middle age or older, and a few families with young children

Aim: to help people see how a culture of wealth affects us, and to hear Jesus’ call to regard every person as precious and inherently valuable

Is it worth it? A nice food at the market looks healthy and delicious: but is it worth it? A trip for work or vacation, all the time and the money: is it worth it? A big opportunity like a new job, or a new relationship, or a new home; a big risk that might lead to something wonderful but yet … is it worth it? From small day to day purchases, all the way to major life decisions, we often ask, ‘Is it worth it?’

 

And sometimes, no, it is not worth it. So, I keep my wallet closed and don’t buy anything, or I don’t take the trip and just stay home, or instead of venturing out into the unknown I keep plodding along as usual. Time and money are valuable, and sometimes no, it is not worth it.

But what happens when I apply this economic approach to questions about other people? I might say to myself, ‘She’s always treated me really well, but that other person, she’s never been nice to me, and now she’s asking me for to forgive her. Is it worth it? He’s popular, and everyone listens to him, but that other guy, people are saying bad things about him, so should I reach out with a kind word. Is it worth it? That group of people have wealth and power, but these other folks, they have nothing, and they ask for my help. Even if they could, they probably wouldn’t ever repay me. So, is it worth it?’ These questions ask about the value of another person, ‘Is she worth it, is he worth it, are they worth it?’

When I say, ‘No,’ that person is not worth my forgiveness, my time, or my love; then, for a moment, I might feel like I have made a shrewd business decision. For a moment it might seem like I’m giving them what they deserve. But in truth, when I decide that another person is not worth it, I lock myself into a transactional dead-end; an economic worldview that leaves me impoverished.

Today St. James reminds us that if a poor person comes into the congregation, or into my life, and if I say, ‘That person is not worth it,’ then I have become a judge with evil thoughts. And these evil thoughts corrode the soul, because if I honestly think about my failings, my weaknesses, my powerlessness, I quickly start to wonder: Am I ‘worth it’? Am I worthy of forgiveness, or mercy, or love? And this can lead me to a place of profound loneliness and suffering. One of the greatest spiritual dangers we face is to think that we are worthless, and if we go down this dark road, it becomes impossible to hear the good news of God’s love for us. If I believe I am worthless, I become spiritually deaf.

Today we hear about Jesus healing a deaf man. Today the same Lord comes to us and offers to touch us and heal our spiritual deafness, to grant us spiritual hearing that allows us to hear the Good News of God’s love. With open ears and open hearts, we receive the Good News that the Son of God has come into this world, lived among us, endured the Cross and death, and in rising on the third day, Jesus reveals the infinite power of God’s love. In the mystery of Jesus’ Crucifixion, and Resurrection, God has declared that each and every human person is valuable. In Christ, you and I are worth it, we are worth God’s love, not because we have done anything to deserve God’s favour, rather we are worth God’s love because God has generously offered it.

Hearing the Good News of Jesus Christ, receiving this great gift of God’s love, God gives us a radical abundance. Just like the deaf man who was also given the ability to speak, our lips are opened and we are given the courage to boldly share God’s love. In Christ there is no limit to the forgiveness and mercy and love that we can receive. And this means that there is no limit to the forgiveness and mercy and love that we can show to others. Like waters breaking forth in wilderness, and streams in the desert; like the burning sand becoming a refreshing pool, and the thirsty ground a spring of water, God’s gracious love is poured out on each one of us, so that we might share that love with others. In Christ, whenever we ask if our neighbours are worth our time, our care, our attention, the answer is: ‘Yes, they are!’

With open ears and open hearts, we receive your Word O Lord. Grant us the strength and courage to share your Good News with every breath.

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