Readings: Isaiah 58:1-11 – Justice & Hospitality   Matthew 5:13-20 – Salt & Light

Story:  “Entertaining Royalty” Two young people were walking along a path in the Catskill Mountains. Their conversation had turned to a mutual acquaintance. The young man said, "She has what I call a radiant personality." "That's right," agreed the young woman. "How do you account for it?" They walked along for a few moments, and then, pointing across the river, he said: "See that wonderful old castle? You know, when I was a small boy, my playmates and I loved to sit on the bank and look across at it. We could tell what was going on there by the number of lights that were burning. If only the family were present, just a few lights would be seen. When guests were entertained, there would be many lights, and the palace became truly beautiful. Once a member of a royal family visited there, and you should have seen the lights! I have seldom seen such brilliance." The young couple's discussion wandered back to their acquaintance. "I think the only way her radiant personality can be explained is that she is constantly entertaining a Royal Guest," suggested the young lady. He agreed. — Secret Place

Sermon: Intro – Sadness of recent Quebec City massacre, political events in USA & growing fear-based  movements around the world, growing tribalism and suspicion of ‘the other.’ Even sadder is strong support this movement seems to be getting from so-called Christians … attitude and action that stands in direct contradiction of the teachings and example of Jesus and the scripture readings for today which describe the godly and Christ-like path that we are challenged to take.  So, today, in response to the evil and fearful hatred which is being unleashed upon our world by fear-mongers and other terrorists, and as an illustration of what it might mean to live as ‘salt and light for the world’, let me tell you another story – a true story, about someone who did just that.


 In 1877, in the town of Tewksbury, Massachusetts, an 11 year old girl huddled  in the corner of a padded cell known as a “cage” in the basement of an old building known as the State Poor House. “Little Annie”(as she was known) was a ward of the state, confined to the area known as "The Dungeon" because she was considered a danger to herself and the other residents and staff. Nothing the doctors had tried had worked; they were convinced that there was no hope that Annie would ever leave Tewskbury, probably never leave the Dungeon and her cage.  Annie had been born in 1866, the eldest child of a poor immigrant family from Ireland. At the age of 5 she had contracted “Trachoma”, a degenerative disease of the eyes, which, if left untreated leads to eventual blindness. In Annie’s case, there had been no money for treatment. Annie’s mother died when Annie was 8; and her younger brother and sister were sent to live with relatives, but Annie was kept home to keep house for her father, an abusive, alcoholic man who hardly ever was sober enough to do a day’s work. When Annie was 10 her eyesight was so bad that she could no longer keep house, and she and her sickly brother were sent to Tewksbury Poor House. Her brother soon died, and Annie, frightened, abandoned, and surrounded by people with mental and emotional disorders and severe social problems, retreated into her own world. She stopped talking or responding to outside influences, except to react violently and with an animal rage when anyone tried to force their way into her self-imposed isolation. She was a danger to other residents and to herself, and doctors finally conceded that there was no other solution than to put her into a small, padded cell (a “cage”) in the bowels of Tewksbury known as “The Dungeon.” But an elderly nurse, soon to retire, was not ready to give up on Annie! She began taking her lunch into the Dungeon area and eating it outside Annie’s cage. While she ate, she talked to Annie and sometimes quietly hummed songs. But Annie gave no indication that she even knew the nurse was there. One day, the nurse brought some cookies, which she left at the edge of Annie’s cage. There was no response from Annie, but the next day when the nurse returned the cookies were gone. From that time on the nurse brought cookies everyday. Soon, the doctors were aware of a remarkable change in Little Annie. She began to acknowledge their presence, and gradually, to respond to them. Eventually, although she was still defensive and rebellious, she was moved back up to the main part of the institution to be with the other residents. At the age of 14, still head-strong and rebellious, Annie convinced the authorities that she should be allowed her freedom and enrolled in the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston. It wasn’t easy for Annie to learn to trust, or to feel comfortable with her classmates, most of whom were much younger. At first, she was the object of ridicule, because of her lack of social skills, and her refusal to submit to authority. But Annie showed so much determination and revealed so much potential that she gradually won over some of her teachers who helped her learn how to relate better to her classmates. At the age of 20, Little Annie graduated from Perkins School of the Blind and was the class valedictorian. What a remarkable accomplishment for a young girl whom the world had given up as “hopeless” just 10 years before – that is, everyone except an elderly nurse who wouldn’t stop trying. Many years later, Queen Victoria was pinning England’s highest award on another remarkable woman, Helen Keller. As she spoke with her, the Queen asked Helen how she accounted for her remarkable achievements as a political activist, author, and advocate for human rights, even though she was blind and deaf. Helen responded that she could have done nothing except for the dedication and determination of her wonderful teacher and friend, Anne Sullivan…. And Anne Sullivan, the extraordinary teacher, was none other than “Little Annie.” You see, after graduating from Perkins School, Annie took a position as teacher and nanny for a young 7 year old deaf and blind girl named Helen, who was the wild and uncontrollable daughter of the well-to-do Keller family of Alabama. It didn’t take Annie long to recognize in Helen the same frightened, raging spirit that had been her own prison only ten years before back at Tewksbury. She set about the slow and deliberate task of gaining little Helen'’ trust, and finding whatever ways she could to break through the barriers which kept Helen cut off from the world of human relationships. Slowly and lovingly she helped Helen explore and learn about her world. Eventually, Helen Keller, blind and deaf, emerged from her confinement to become one of the most remarkable women of the twentieth century. To the end of her life in 1968, she gave the credit for her abilities and accomplishments to Anne Sullivan, the Teacher who wouldn’t give up on a hopeless case. And Anne Sullivan, “ Little Annie”, in her own autobiography, paid tribute to the care and encouragement of an elderly nurse whose care and encouragement saved her from a life of tragic oblivion – a nurse whose name we don’t even know!

Isaiah distinguishes between those who like to LOOK religious, but whose actions contradict the will of God. And Jesus challenge us in the Matthew passage to be “salt” that transforms the earth without calling attention to itself, and who shine a light on the world to help people see the path that leads to life in all its fullness.  And what is that path? Isaiah tells us: “to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?” And maybe, like that elderly and unknown nurse, we’ll react in surprise as we say, “Lord, when did we ever do any of these things for you?” And God will answer, “Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these, -- to the “Little Annies” and “Hopeless Helens,” and the refugees and those who are different than us -- you have done it to me.”


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Wesley is situated in the historic civic square in downtown Galt, adjacent to the Cambridge Farmer’s Market, the historic City Hall, and the new City Administration building.
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