Miroslav Volf, a Yale professor, taught a class of inmates in a prison and asked them two questions:
What do you want?
What is worth wanting?
The second question has profound implications for us as people of faith. In the Sunday message, we hear the story of a woman who committed her life to share and live out the values of the reign of God in spite of difficult and dangerous situations. She showed compassion and brought hope.
What would you say is worth wanting, in our kind of world? To what could you commit your life?
What is Worth Wanting?
John 20: 19-22
A leading theologian of our times, Director of Faith and Culture at Yale,
Miroslav Volf (and originally from Croatia),
was teaching a class of inmates in Danbury prison, in NY State,
and he asked them the question,
What do you want. (Answers came easily: Freedom, out of here)
And then he asked them:
What is worth wanting? (And it gave them pause.)
For 120 years, you have had a church in this place,
to bring spiritual renewal,
and refreshment to the weary,
and offer a compelling sense of purpose,
and to help every one of you answer for yourself, the question,
“What is worth wanting?”
Jesus was clear about what was worth wanting,
what was key and important.
But our world is different from his,
but in many ways also the same.
There is need at a very human and personal level.
If you have seen the evocative movie, The Miracle Club,
here are a group of people who want to make it to Lourdes.
They are seeking a miracle in their lives.
One has a lump in her breast.
Another has a son who does not speak.
Others deal with deep personal loss,
grief, guilt and anger.
Those kinds of issues have never gone away.
Or at the larger corporate level, societal level,
the issues may be different, but there is alarm as in Roman times.
We are concerned with the rise of hate and violence.
Last week, we heard a lot about Emancipation Day.
And the question rises,
Is it a day of celebration or of protest,
with so many who are racialized living under the cloud,
that they are not treated as equals!
We have Anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, anti-immigration passions.
though we have been very generous with people from the Ukraine.
We wonder what kind of world our grandchildren,
or perhaps we ourselves will face with climate change:
extreme weather, floods and fire.
It was a unimaginable sauna like 51C in parts of Iran.
We have food and water shortage and famine in parts of our world.
What do we do as Christians?
Jesus says to us,
As the Father has sent me,
so send I you. John 17: 18 or again in John 20: 21
He was saying, The manner of my ministry,
should be the manner of yours.
Easy to say, but hard to put into practice,
but let me tell you about someone,
who lived it in an astonishing and awe-inspiring way.
This is how she answered the question,
What is worth wanting?
(When you figure out who she is,
you can shout out her name?)
Pretend you are on Jeopardy!
Said Dale Carnegie,
She is the most wonderful woman I have ever known
had a thousand men propose to her.
She has turned down offers from millionaires and from fisher¬men
and farmers and penniless men on the Bowery (Distillery district).
A prince from one of Europe’s most prominent royal fami¬lies
followed her for months and begged her to marry him.
She said, “It is not how many years we live,
but rather what we do with them,”
and when she died, or was promoted to glory
to use the Salvation Army term,
on July 17, 1950, in Hartsdale , New York,
she had put her own 85 years to good use.
She was born in London on Christmas Day in 1865
to a family that believed women and men could be used equally by God.
She was given the name Eva, but as an young adult,
changed it to Evangeline, declaring it sounded more dignified.
Who was she?
She was the youngest daughter of William and Catherine Booth
(Founders of the Salvation Army).
Her name was taken from the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin,
in which little Eva St. Claire was a Christian heroine.
She began preaching at the age of fifteen,
and by the time she was 17,
she was looking after the Marylebone district of London.
Sometimes, she wore the same tattered clothes as the girls,
selling flowers on the street corner, so she could connect with them.
She was full of tact and charm, inventiveness and good spirits.
Wherever trouble threatened, her father William Booth’s solution
was the same, “Send Eva!”
At the age of 23, she was put in charge of all Salvation Army work
in London and surrounding area.
In her early 30’s Evangeline Booth was the territorial commander
of the Salvation Army in Canada,
She criss-crossed the country.
from the poor fishing hamlets in Newfoundland,
to the rough frontiers of the Northwest.
Hordes of men were scrambling to strike it rich,
In joining the gold rush to the Yukon.
Evangeline Booth knew that the Salvation Army
would be needed there,
so, with a couple of trained nurses and three or four assistants,
she headed for the Yukon.
When she landed in Skagway, food was scarce and expensive.
Men were hungry and all of them carried guns.
And everywhere she heard them talking about “Soapy” Smith,
the killer of the Klondike, the Dillinger of the Yukon.
“Soapy” Smith and his gang
would wait for miners coming from the gold fields
and shoot them down and rob them of their gold dust.
The Government sent an armed posse to kill him;
but “Soapy” Smith shot all of them and escaped.
Skagway was a tough place.
Five men were killed there the day Evangeline Booth arrived.
That night, she held a meeting on the banks of the Yukon River;
and preached to twenty-five thousand lonely men
and got all of them singing songs
they had heard their mothers sing long ago
Jesus, Lover of My Soul,
Nearer My God To Thee.
The Arctic night was chilly and raw and cold.
While she was singing, with chattering teeth,
one man brought a blanket and threw it around her.
This vast crowd of men sang until one o’clock in the morning.
And then Evangeline Booth and her helpers went out in the forest,
to sleep on the ground under the pine trees.
They started a fire and were making a little cocoa.
when they saw five men approaching them with guns.
When they got within speaking distance,
the head man took off his hat,
“I’m ‘Soapy’ Smith; and I’ve come to tell you,
how much I enjoyed your sing¬ing.”
And he added, “I was the man that sent you the blanket
while you were singing. You can keep it, if you want to.”
It was a generous gift in a land where men were dying
from chills and the damp.
She asked him if she would be in any danger there in Skagway.
“No. Not while I’m here,” he said. “I’ll pro¬tect you.”
She talked with him in the white night of the mid-night sun.
She said, “I’m giving life and you’re taking it. That’s not right.
You can’t win. They’ll kill you sooner or later.”
He talked to her of his child¬hood and his mother;
and he told her that he used to at¬tend Gospel meetings
with his grandmother and sing and clap his hands.
And he confessed that when his grandmother lay dying,
she asked him to sing a song
they had learned together at church.
My heart is now whiter than snow,
For Jesus abides with me here.
They talked for almost 3 hours.
Evangeline Booth asked him to kneel with her;
and the young Sal¬vation Army woman and “Soapy” Smith,
the most notorious bandit that ever terrorized the North,
got down on their knees together,
and prayed and wept together under the northern pines.
With tears rolling down his cheeks,
“Soapy” promised her that he would stop killing people,
and would give himself up.
Evangeline Booth promised
she would use all her influence with the government
to get him a light sentence.
At four o’clock in the morning, he left her.
At nine o’clock, he sent one of his men to her with a present
of freshly baked bread and jam tartlets and a pound of butter
delicacies that were priceless up there.
He had stuck people up with a gun
and stolen the flour and the butter.
One of the shady women of Skagway
had requested the privilege of baking the bread and treats
for the good woman who had come to Alaska
to preach love and purity and forgiveness.
Two days later, somebody shot “Soapy” Smith
and Skagway erected a monument
to the honour of the man who killed him.
Stories like works of art, are a bit ambiguous.
There are many possible take-aways from that story.
One might ponder the limitations of a conversion experience.:
But what struck me, was Evangeline’s compassion,
and how she made time for every sort of individual,
even those we might consider to be losers.
Under her leadership, in Canada and later in the US, as Commander,
she established hospitals for unwed mothers, soup kitchens,
emergency shelters, services for the unemployed,
homes for aging adults, and a respected prison ministry.
Evangeline Homes were opened for working women.
In 1906, the SA won national recognition and respect and support,
in their emergency relief work
after he San Francisco earthquake and fire.
Evangeline Booth was one of the happiest persons you could meet.
She was happy because she was living for others.
She said once that the deepest passion of her life
was to make every person she met
even every waitress and Pullman porter
a little better because she had passed that way.
I love her story, because in her,
we see Christianity firing on all cylinders
She knew what it means to love.
There was this lawyer who ran up to Jesus,
and he was deeply earnest.
He declared he had kept all the laws.
He had led a circumspect life.
And Jesus said, love your neighbor as yourself.
And you remember the lawyer asked,
“Pray tell, who is my neighbor?”
And Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan.
Anyone who has a need, that person is your neighbor.
The directions of Scripture are very deeply laid.
and are easy to neglect,
or rationalize away, since they require so much of us.
Concern for Poverty relief and the poverty gap,
love for other races and ethnicities,
and justice which Jesus modeled and proclaimed.
To pay attention to these areas of deep concern,
is not due to some liberal agenda,
or trying to keep up with the times or being Woke
whatever that means.
It should not escape us that Jesus had a special care,
for the poor, the maimed, the blind and the lame.
They were at the centre of his care and attention.
And Jesus says to us,
As the Father has sent me, so send I you.
He was saying, The manner of my ministry,
should be the manner of yours.
The best and most authentic Christians,
live by the teachings of Jesus.
His teachings are summarized in the Law of Love.
Jesus says to us:
“My command is this:
Love each other as I have loved you.”
And who do we love in this fashion?
This month is emancipation month,
and I think of those of African descent,
who still want to be seen, looked in the eye and respected,
and not dismissed as inferior.
The LGBTQ community, and shady characters and sinners,
even the Soapy Smith’s of our area.
Christ makes no exceptions in the breadth
and dimensions of his love.
Neither can we.
Not long ago, at a conference on polarization at the U of W.
One of the speakers was Elizabeth May
and leader of the Green Party.
She is a committed Christian,
and whatever we may think of her or her politics,
she is a profound thinker and prophetic in her perspectives.
Newsweek named her,
one of the most influential women in the world.
She spoke of the spirit of our times, the prevailing ethos,
of hate and polarization and selfish individualism,
and at times very evident on Parliament Hill.
She spoke of the desperate need for a new kind of society,
a society marked by a web of caring.
Imagine our being connected to each other,
by a web of caring.
Everyone interconnected by love and caring,
and seeking after justice as an extension of love,
and walking with those who are forgotten.
May it be said of this church,
in your looking out for each other,
that there is present a web of caring, as in the last 120 years,
May it be said of you personally, in every area of your influence,
Here in cottage country, and wherever else you may live and work.
As the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes,
and our work on earth is just about done
it is important to be reflective:
What is worth wanting?
It is to walk in the way of Christ,
who looked out at the crowds,
and had compassion.