Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Taking our faith beyond the four walls of our sanctuaries

Oscar Romero memorial
Yesterday the Lord’s Prayer. Today the social gospel. The one flows to the other like “on earth as it is in heaven.”

The readings in the Daily Office lectionary this morning underpin the Jewish and Christian imperatives toward mercy and justice to the poor.

If we take these biblical readings seriously, they compel us to think of our religion as going beyond the four walls of our synagogues and church sanctuaries.

They compel us to get our hands dirty in the world.

In Psalm 72 comes this command to rulers:
“Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.”
And in Leviticus 19:1-18 comes the law given to Moses including uncomfortable items like this:
“You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard: you shall leave them for the poor and the aliens.”
And Moses goes on: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

There are no loopholes there.

We move onto the Apostle Paul in  1 Thessalonians 5:12-28. Paul loads the letter with advice about how to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Then we come to Jesus who puts it quite plainly in Matthew 6:19-24: “You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Greed, selfishness, exploitation, hatred of the alien, oppression of the poor and the outcasts – none of those things are of God.

Yet how do we, in the world as we find it, live out these commandments? It is not always so easy to see.

At St. Paul’s we have a steady stream of people who live hand-to-mouth coming through our doors. We do our best to assist them, or at least we think we do. But it never feels enough.

We support organizations like The Haven, a homeless shelter, and local food closets, but it never seems enough.

We are part of IMPACT, a coalition of 31 congregations working on structural change in the community, and yet, it never seems enough.

Our regional diocesan organization has built several houses with Habitat for Humanity, yet it never seems enough.

We support development work overseas through the African Development Project and Episcopal Relief and Development, yet it never seems enough.

We don’t always get it right. We don’t always succeed. We make mistakes. But we don’t give up. The gospel won’t let us.

I take solace in the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who was murdered by a death squad in 1980. He never gave up. He put it this way, and this is enough:
“This is what we are about: We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”
By James Richardson, Fiat Lux

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