Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or set foot on the path of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the Law of the LORD, and on His law he meditates day and night. Psalm 1:1-2

One of the things I enjoy about going down to Titlow is seeing how many people have their phones out to take pictures. It’s so cool to me that just down the street from my apartment, the scenery is so beautiful that people constantly want to freeze it in time and save it for later, or share it with someone else. I like that even without all the strangers describing the feeling to each other, and even though an image can never do the place justice, all the photo-snapping reveals our shared feeling of amazement. I feel so fortunate to live in a place where amazement is so common.

There was one time that the photo snapping had a different effect, however. While sitting at a picnic table near the water, I saw someone snickering and taking pictures of an obviously distressed woman sitting on a bench. Something was clearly wrong – the woman would doze off, wake up, then doze off again in another uncomfortable position, and the person at the picnic table would take more pictures.

Seeing the photographer’s blatant disregard for the dignity of the woman made me angry, and eventually I went over to check on her. We talked for a long while and shared a meal, and it was clear that she had needed to take an emotional load off her shoulders for a long, long time.

When the interaction ended, I was filled with a jarring sense of conviction, and as I mulled over the situation, the verse at the top of the article came to mind. I just knew it as the verse with which my siblings and I were chided when we picked on each other too much as kids, but as an adult, I realize that the verse holds a lesson I still haven’t learned.

Initially, I thought about the verse and pointed my finger at the photographer, thinking that she was the mocker. But what about me? Who have I ridiculed for thinking or living differently than I do? If I had seen the picture or video that she took online, might I have snickered at it too? Even without being the person behind the camera, I’m still guilty of indulging in the same self- righteous attitude I perceived in the photographer who’d made me so angry in that moment.

My own hypocrisy aside, my motivation for doing the “right thing” violated the intent of the second verse as well. The deciding factor that made me go and talk to the woman on the bench wasn’t a rush of godly love for my neighbor. If that was the case, I would have talked to the woman before I noticed someone sneaking pictures of her. No, my delight was in seeming like I was a better person than the photographer.

In a moment like that one, it’s easy to look at the distressed woman on the bench and acknowledge that she deserves to be treated with dignity and compassion. But how much more difficult does it feel to look at the photographer in that moment and acknowledge the same thing? How easy is it to recognize the evil in my own behavior and start thinking of myself as irreparably shameful and impure?

One of the most incredible and freeing things about the grace that Jesus won for us is that these questions and comparisons of merit have been made irrelevant. God isn’t tallying up anyone’s points in a good column and a bad column to decide later whether or not to love them. When the Holy Spirit exposes something I’m doing wrong, it’s not to remind me how close I am to being cut out of God’s love, but an opportunity to become closer to God and God’s plan for who I should be.

Just like no one’s Titlow sunset picture ever looks as good as the real thing, I know that what I’ve written doesn’t communicate everything I’ve thought or been shown through the interaction I described. Still, I value the opportunity I have at St. Andrew’s to commune with other people taking their own snapshots, working to celebrate and share the beauty in the freedom and security we all have in God’s love. Thank you all for being here, and I look forward to seeing you soon.

Reflections on a Titlow encounter by Kendall Burch, Vestry