I want to tell you a story about a college student attending one of the most prestigious institutions in the country, where I first studied biblical interpretation and church history in my journey toward serving as a pastor in the United Methodist Church. The student’s name is Sam Gardner, and he writes about just how privileged he is, walking along “elegant brick pathway[s],” entering through “grand glass doors, framed in a dark walnut,” and being served “organic acorn squash, kale, and heirloom tomatoes from the local farm.”
He recently reflected on a morning when he had to rush his customarily exquisite breakfast in order to arrive at a cemetery in time for a funeral, a funeral for someone he did not know.
In fact nobody knew the deceased.
The drive to the cemetery was 56 miles away. His commitment to the practice was derived, in his words, from a sense of duty to honor human dignity, both for the most marginalized in our world and for ourselves. He believes that no one should leave this place unacknowledged and unmourned.
We all have a duty to honor the sacred worth in everyone we encounter. We have a duty to see in them the image of their Creator, our common Creator, who made each one of us out of love and an abundance of hope and grace – believing the best of each of us, looking forward to seeing what good we will do in the world we have been given.
To see in each other the very face of God is not just to see that other people are worthy of love and care, compassion and respect. It is also to realize that – if we are to live full and complete lives – we have to care about our neighbors, no matter who they are, in order to be what God created us to be, in order to be healthy, in order to be more truly ourselves, in order to act as if we have a soul.
We need to feel the effects of loss and grief; we need to be overcome with pity at those who struggle and fail to get clean; we need to be affected by the death of a stranger on the sidewalk; we need to be outraged when our taxes are funneled away from teaching our children (and all children) how to succeed in tomorrow’s markets; we need to be the opposite of complacent.
The story from the reading in the Book of Acts (10:44-48) is one of disbelief by the first followers of Jesus. They could not comprehend how God would impart the gift of the Holy Spirit on Gentiles, on the unclean, the unwashed, the uncircumcised, the religiously unobservant, the untrained and unschooled, the hoards of hopeless cases. The first followers of Jesus could not understand how God would pour out God’s spirit of new life and new possibility on people who had never known God before, never worshiped the Lord, never entered the Temple, never learned a prayer.
And Peter has to order the followers to bring water. He has to order the Early Church to embrace newcomers and strangers. He has to order the people of God to welcome into their fold the children of God who have by all accounts received the Spirit of God. He has to order them, because none of them were compelled by the Spirit to bring water to baptize the Gentiles. None of them could hear the Spirit driving them to welcome newcomers into the fold.
None of them could hear what was plainly heard by Peter, that these people – these people – these people living in their unclean and unholy ways, these people spending all their time and money everywhere else but near the Temple, these people who had shown little interest in participating in the Church community before, these people were beloved children of God, each born with sacred worth, each ready to be transformed even more into who they were becoming by God’s grace. God chose them, just as God chose each of us (John 15:16).
None of us chose God. God’s grace shaped us from the very beginning and brought us to a point where we might accept God’s love and redemption for ourselves. But it was not our goodness and inherent righteousness that made us choose to follow Christ. Have you not heard the expression: ‘there, but for the grace of God, go I?’ We are no better than anyone; we can look down on no one; not one of us can guarantee our fate will be unlike that of another, not even the homeless dead who are buried in potter’s fields with no one to mark their passing.
We owe to everyone dignity. We owe to everyone kindness and mercy. We owe to everyone hospitality and welcome. We owe to everyone the warmth of a heart that knows it has been chosen by God, by God’s grace, and has found the kind of peace we all long for and deserve. We owe love to one another, just as Christ loved us and loves us still. Following the example of Christ, may we so order our lives.
 Maureen Downey, “Emory student helps bury the dead no one else mourns,” in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 2, 2018: https://www.myajc.com/blog/get-schooled/emory-student-helps-bury-the-dead-for-whom-else-mourns/14GLdTtvTUpkqn8UcxEvpL/