A lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10:25-28)
Love of God and neighbor is required of every Christian. Over and over, Jesus’s acts showed that responding effectively and with deepest respect to people in need takes priority over social or religious prohibitions. He touched lepers, ate with outcasts, and healed those who were suffering, even on the Sabbath.
Our liturgy calls us in multiple ways to open our eyes to the needs of others, and holds us accountable to God to do whatever we can about them. Several times a year, in public worship, Episcopalians of all ages re-affirm their Baptismal vows to “seek and serve Christ in all persons,” and “strive for justice and peace among all people, and [to] respect the dignity of every human being.” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 305) Acting on those vows is daily work, from overcoming racial discrimination to paying a living wage to your full-time employees.
In every Eucharist the instructions for the Prayers of the People specify that we are to pray for “the welfare of the world, the concerns of the local community, those who suffer and those in any trouble.” (p. 383) Think of the informing and galvanizing power those intercessions would have if you prayed not simply for “those in want” but for “the children in Evanston with fathers in jail, and the Bible Study members who will be taking the children bowling on Saturday.”
Street Church, the outdoor congregation of St. John’s Columbus: a taste of the holy mingling of Gospel and daily life in a shared witness to God’s love.
Each Eucharist includes readings from Old and New Testament. It is hard to find any set of Sunday readings that doesn’t challenge us to work for social justice. Jesus’ compassion is pragmatic, fact-based, and non-judgmental – frequently in stark contrast to the positions taken by people with great prestige in the community, among them religious leaders. (For a disconcerting exposé of community blind spots, read the 9th chapter of John.)
Following Jesus’ lead, Christians should strive to base their ministry on a rigorous attempt to see what’s really going on around us. How many children in our city are sleeping in cars tonight? Is that mentally-ill man about to be evicted? Where can the ex-offender turn for help to start a crime-free life when he is released with $75 and no job? The ECSF Ministry Toolkit offers issue summaries and links in the spirit of Jesus’ courageous focus on facts. We welcome any information you have that would help people in this diocese to be better informed of local problems and specific actions we can take to ameliorate them. Send your input (including references to supporting data) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In all four Gospels, we read how Jesus told his disciples to pool the scraps of food they had and start the impossible task of feeding 5,000 hungry people. What are the resources you can put into today’s big challenges? Examples abound: Ascension, Middletown installing a shower so the church can shelter the homeless. Parishioners of Trinity, Columbus, packing sack lunches for ex-offenders and giving them vouchers for a state ID. Members of St. Thomas, Terrace Park using their knowledge of tax law and property management to develop 100 units of affordable housing.
At the end of the Eucharist, we are blessed and charged to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” (p. 366) Like the lawyer, we know in our hearts that loving and serving God is embodied in actively responding to our neighbors in need. The example of Jesus will not let us forget.