This Wednesday, many gathered for Ash Wednesday to begin this season of Lent. With 59 in worship between the noon and 7pm services, I was moved. Moved by the ashen mark of God’s love of foreheads. Moved by familiar faces and neighbor faces we are learning. Moved by those who brought their confessions to the cross to be shredded and then embrace the assurance that God offers unconditional love for each of us. Moved by a commitment to enter this Lenten season together with action to live out God’s love for others.
I invited all of those for this Lenten journey to take on love. Love is more than a warm and pleasant emotion. Love is lived out in practical and concrete ways. This has always been challenging for God’s people. How do you do this?
There are times in which THE CHURCH and even this church and maybe even you and maybe even me, have focused so much on survival that we have forgotten that our mission – our purpose, the reason that we ARE is to share God’s love for others!
In our reading today from the prophet Micah, the people of Israel are in the middle of lawsuit from God. They have broken covenant with God. They have not remembered who they are as God’s people and how to treat one another. In the middle of this courtroom, even the mountains and the hills are witness to their actions. What should the people of God do when they have forgotten how to care for one another and gone so far astray?
They have grown complacent and settled into inactive faith without action. Micah, an 8th century prophet, speaking on behalf of God, gathered all of his chutzpah. Micah, a small-town guy, spoke for the poor farm workers who were suffering at the hands of the powerful landlords. As the voice of workers, he saw the injustice that was going on in society, was quite willing to name them, address those in power and speak against evils that were no longer tolerable. Micah did not remove himself from the suffering of the day. Will God be satisfied with sacrifices as an appeasement?
NO! God calls us to Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly with God.
Doing justice is hands on and not abstract. It is detail oriented and requires the feet and minds of all God’s people for the dignity and empowerment of God’s children. Justice calls us to critique and revise systems that have oppressed and held back others. Like Micah called to the Israelites, we must disrupt, dismantle, break down, disarm, and transform systems and people when we dare to see what is really happening here and around the world without growing cynical and closed off.
Our Give Serve Restore emphasis this Lenten season seeks justice for our neighbors who currently live in poverty and seeks another way. Getting Ahead moves beyond a band-aid program. It is a 16-week participatory workshop in which learning, and transformation happens through round-table discussions and activities led by a trained facilitator. Getting Ahead takes those living in poverty beyond the day-to-day struggle for survival and guides them through a process of exploring the roots of poverty in their lives and in their communities, opening the door to a new way of thinking and renewed hope in their ability to create change. It focuses on poverty as a lack of resources needed to thrive and the instability that goes with that – including not just financial but also spiritual, mental, emotional, and social resources – and on building up those resources for a better life.
Getting Ahead is part of a model called Bridges Out of Poverty, which was launched in our area in 2015 and has been used by communities across the country to change the way we understand and address poverty. In Southern Chester County, it is now part of a collaborative effort called the Southern Chester County Opportunity Network, a growing collective of people committed to finding more comprehensive ways to tackle poverty across our region. Doing justice is about changing oppressive systems and bringing change that reflects more of God’s kingdom into our communities. Eight workshops have either been completed or are currently in process – facilitated by staff at several area nonprofits, including Kennett Area Community Service, The Constellation Network, Good Samaritan Services, and The Garage Community & Youth Center. Our offerings for GSR this Lenten season are doing justice to transform the lives of those in our community. Ask, and it shall be given onto you.
Loving kindness can often aspirational and exceptional rather than common. It takes a risk that we might be wounded and excluded. Another person’s suffering might become a part of our life. We might be called to change!
When we hear the stories and meet God’s children, we learn that each one is God’s beloved. We can watch the news, read the blogpost and hear the podcasts. It is our action that brings change. This is why loving our neighbor comes from doing, loving, and walking. This is why loving our neighbor comes from asking, seeking, and knocking.
Rudy Rasmus, the pastor of St. John’s in Houston, writes of the challenge in his book, Touch: Pressing Against the Wounds of a Broken World. He was called to care for a dying church in the center of Houston. But more than the church, he was called to bring life to the community. He began to preach and reach out to the community. It was no surprise that the community began to creep into the sanctuary. From families to homeless, professionals to addicts, the community pushed the edge of how to live loving kindness. It was uncomfortable as those who were addicted and homeless brought their whole selves in worship. Pastor Rudy tells story after story of more than once a wild man came barreling down the aisle storming the chancel stage with something shiny under his arm. Police in pursuit. Ultimately, there was no weapon. There was a CD flash in the spotlight under his arm and a need for human connection. A loving hug, someone to look them in the eye, being fed and cared for over time made all the difference.
He is honest that this kind of loving kindness is challenging for those who are not interested in investing in the lives of others. “We’ve had dozens, maybe hundred, of well-dressed people come to St. John’s, but most of them came only one time. They look around and feel uncomfortable with the needy people they see sitting next to them in the pew. At that moment, they have a decision to make. The question may not be formulated in a crystal-clear way in their thinking, but it’s instructive: Do I want to stay here and be part of a gut-level, caring community, or do I want to go down the street where people look, small, and sound more like me?” (1) Seek and ye will find.
To walk humbly is to know one another intimately. To walk humbly is to wake up to the needs of our neighbors. To walk humbly is not to philosophically respond to an issue or a theory, but rather to depend on God in the messy, gritty, mundane, dirty details. It is not turning away when someone else is hurting or being too busy or apathetic. To walk humbly is learn about our neighbors.
For so many of us, Mister Rogers formatively shaped the a modern and yet biblical concept of loving our neighborhood. Whether we watched Mister Rogers ourselves or showed it to our children, he shaped our understanding humbly learning and meeting our neighbors. From racial integration to national tragedy, the land of make believe to special needs children, each neighbor received the invitation of to be and to love in return.
As I watched the documentary, “Won’t You be My Neighbor,” cultural icon and ordained Presbyterian minister reminded us: “The only thing that ever really changes the world is when someone gets the idea that love can abound and can be shared.” Mr. Rogers (2). Like Micah, we hear the stories of our neighbors and respond. With justice, kindness, and humility. How is God calling you to take on love this Lent? I invite you to join me to take on love with Praying Hands and Acting Feet. Each week, I will share a prayer for us to pray together and an action for congregation to share in together.
Consider your action for this week to be picking up a bag to fill to feed those in our community who we serve in our emergency food pantry. This supplements programs like Getting Ahead as well as our neighbors who struggle from month or month.
Let us close in this Prayer for Hands: Gracious and Giving Lord, You invite us to your table and into the journey of these 40 days of Lent. You call us to taste your goodness and be fed. For those of us who are hungry, O God, give us bread. For those who have enough, move us to share with others as well as to hunger and thirst for justice. Through Jesus, the Bread of Life, we pray, Amen.
(1) Rasmus, Rudy. Touch: Pressing Against the Wounds of A Broken World, 2007.
(2) “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” movie 2018
Old Testament Lesson: Micah 6:6-8
With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 7:7-12
“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”
Meditations For Your Week
Sunday, March 10 ~ Saturday, March 16
Sunday: “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’” Micah 6:6-7. Receive God’s mercy. The punishment does not fit the crime. God calls us to a different way. Let that mercy wash over you today.
Monday: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8. Consider how today you might walk humbly with God in this messy world.
Tuesday: “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” Matthew 7:7. Where are you boldly praying for God’s kingdom and justice to come on earth as it is in heaven?
Wednesday: “For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:8. Today, consider praying with others: Gracious and Giving Lord, You invite us to your table and into the journey of these 40 days of Lent. You call us to taste your goodness and be fed. For those of us who are hungry, O God, give us bread. For those who have enough, move us to share with others as well as to hunger and thirst for justice. Through Jesus, the Bread of Life, we pray, Amen.
Thursday: “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake?” Matthew 7:9-10. Consider how you might have feet of action by giving to our emergency food pantry or your local food pantry.
Friday: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:11. Where can you celebrate God’s generosity?
Saturday: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” Matthew 7:12. Pray that you might do unto others as you would have them do to you each time you look at an electronic device today.