May 17: Love, live, lead
Just when the disciples are most in need of pastoral care---on the eve of Jesus’ departure in today’s Gospel reading---Jesus promises the gift of the Advocate who will come and walk alongside them. This animating Spirit will companion them in their time of great need and fear and uncertainty, restoring life and hope and helping them to live into a new way. Because starting tomorrow for these disciples, their lives as they knew it will be all turned upside down---and there won’t be any going back. The cross lies just ahead.
And Beloved, at this time—as we continue to live in this time of pandemic, this time of moving toward re-opening, as some of us are afraid to go too fast and some are worried about the economic effects if we move too slowly, into our troubled hearts and our wrenching questions and anxieties, into the very real grief and loss that some of our Beloved have experienced firsthand and many of us are feeling at one level or another, the Spirit comes. She is here. Ready to re-animate us, inspiring us again with the Divine breath of the Creator, companioning us toward new life, new hope, new ways of being.
The Spirit is here as we gather—yes differently, but still united and bound together---as we gather to give thanks, to name our blessings, to share our burdens and loss, to speak and sing our story and our Truth. This gathering grounds and roots us in our truest identity as God’s people. People who vow to live lives of caring for one another and all others, lives of compassion and mercy and forgiveness, lives of seeking justice and an end to oppression for all of humanity—no matter their nation, their language, their orientation, their skin color, their faith, their mistakes, their failures, their political party, their socioeconomic status. For people of God know the Truth: that we are one human family, one clan of Creation. So as God’s people, our borders encapsulate all; we do not value one life as more important than another. Nor do we abdicate our responsibility to provide for one another. For we vow to live and move with the eyes and heart of the Christ who came to gather all things together, on heaven and on earth.
The Spirit reanimates and breathes life into us as we find ways to “keep in touch” and build relationship. Through the written words on note cards, the phone calls made more often, the online chats and posts and comments. As we live physically separated, we are renewed by these relationships---and our loneliness is eased, our fears are dampened, our joy is kindled.
And our prayer, Beloved, this ongoing stream of Spirit-breath that moves from us to God to others to us to the world to the need to the loss to the grief to our hearts, and minds, and spirits and bodies. This is the Advocate in action. For an advocate is: one who pleads the cause of another; one who defends or maintains a cause; one who supports or promotes the interests of a cause or a group. And Beloved, as God’s people: our Cause is Love. Our interest is Unity. Our Group is all of Creation.
Beloved, the Advocate’s presence in our lives, our receiving of the Spirit, moves us to then become Advocates for others. Through us, the Spirit is bringing hope as our ministers take Boys and Girls Club meals out to Junction City, to Rosholt and to Almond/Bancroft. She is breathing new life into the hard spaces caused by poverty, unemployment, and this pandemic as the gifts you provide go to help folks get food and meds and provide quarters and soap for clean laundry, with help from our Community Wellness Coordinator, Gracia. The generosity of your gifts inspire our Compassion Response Team to partner with others in our community, like CAP services, to help folks get through this pandemic by granting them funds to pay utilities, rent, filling gaps in their budget. And the Compassion team is working with Migration ministries to help those who so often do not have an Advocate for they are seen as aliens, strangers, and foreigners. But we, we who are God’s people, we have heard God tell us over and over: When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34).
God’s words and call to us are why our Leadership team has just voted to sign a resolution calling our legislators to stop the proposed deportation of our Hmong siblings, for no matter their nation of birth, or their parents’ nation of birth, their home is here. Their lives are here. We belong to one another. And these words of God are why our Social Justice Advocacy team are also inviting all members of the Beloved Community to join in a letter writing campaign to our legislators using your voice to enact God’s word.
Beloved, while we have been in this pandemic now for weeks, there is currently a shifting taking place---as we all long for it to be over, but we also desire to move back to communal life safely. As communities, as a state, as a nation, this is the time when we need guidance and leadership---helping us to discern the best ways for all---the smartest ways for the common good---to restore our economy and our life together.
Did you know the word economy comes from the Greek word for household, and it means the management of material resources for the household?
What household? Yours? Mine? Portage County’s? Wisconsin’s? America’s? Well, yes, sure. All of those things. But here’s the thing, Beloved, as God’s people---we don’t start or primarily move from the smallest economy (mine and yours), because we are first and foremost, stewards and safeguards for our largest economy---God’s household. God’s oikonomia---which is all of Creation. That’s why we who already know God see things differently, and hold things differently, and God hopes: respond and choose differently. Beloved: as God’s people our household is large---all of Creation. All nations, all races, all plants and animal-life, all languages, all people.
And our household is at a turning point. Right now, as we live on the cusp of trying to move out from the oppression of the pandemic into a new life, we are all---every nation, every state, every family, every individual---we are all going to have to decide: How shall we live now? Some may desire to simply return to our old ways. But those ways brought us to this day. We, Beloved, we can be the casters of a new vision, a new way. Right now the Spirit empowers us to weave a new dream, build a new path, lead creation into the greener pastures of God’s Kingdom.
Jesus warned in today’s Gospel that the world “cannot receive, because it neither sees God nor knows God.” Jesus knew the world would be estranged from God—and let’s not fool ourselves, we as Christians are often the estranged as well. But Jesus did not mean that someone who doesn’t know or believe or trust God will NEVER receive. Jesus was telling us that a shifting is required, an internal revolution, a change within so that what was once unknown can become known. This is what we hear Paul attempting to do for the listeners in the reading from Acts today. To make known what was once unknown---meeting people in their own spiritual landscapes, speaking differently than we would to folks of our own faith community---but speaking our Truth, our command, God’s cause of Love in such a way that it can grab hold in places that once knew it not.
Beloved, we know our highest Authority; we know the voice of our Shepherd. We know our Greatest Law, the Law of God’s land: and it is love.
So, then, Beloved: at this moment in history, how can we be advocates for love—this grand cause and proposal of God that we live as one Creation. That we care for all of Creation. That we share the abundance God provides because all are equally deserving? And Beloved, this includes those we consider fools and those we think are saviors. How can we be advocates for love as we have conversations with our government and our representatives---encouraging and, frankly, demanding that we have a new way forward that isn’t crippled by partisanship and division, but instead that our new way of governing will be to work together for the Common Good, the greater good—the gift of rebuilding a true democracy. Where every voice matters. Every voice counts. Where people mean more than profit. Every person is valued and no one is left outside our care and protection.
Beloved, can you feel it? The Spirit is re-animating us, inspiring us to advocate for the Way of Love. Now is the time. Now is the day of salvation. Let us use our voices, our consumer power, our choices and decisions to lead. Lead as God’s people and midwife a new world. Instead of waiting for our political leaders to forge a new way, let us take our cue from Scripture and cry out for a new commandment amongst us: Love one another. Love your neighbor. Through our words, through our actions, through our economy. As God’s people, we cannot be silent. As God’s people, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and take our places at the front of the crowd to take those first steps, at the sides of the crowd to make sure there’s protection for everyone, especially the weak and the vulnerable, and at the back of the crowd to make sure that we leave no one behind—leaving no one orphaned.
Resurrection is upon us. From the tomb steps forth new life. This is our Truth. Now, by God’s grace and strength and spirit, let us love, let us live, let us lead.
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Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.