Dear People of Saint Peter’s,
In the seventeenth chapter of Matthew, Jesus takes with him Peter, James and John up a high mountain. While they are there, they see Jesus transfigured into dazzling white and his face shinning like the sun. The lawgiver Moses and the great prophet Elijah appear with him and the disciples are stunned and terrified. Jesus comforts them and Peter offers to build them three dwelling places. Peter wants to hold onto this mountain-top experience and make it go on forever. His eyes have shown him a wonder, a glimpse and revelation of the fullness of God…and he never wants this moment to end.
But end it does, for Jesus declines his offer and takes him back down the mountain. He shows Peter the work that he is doing, the work he invites him to take up. Jesus heals and responds to people’s needs. Rather than a mountain-top, he makes God’s love tangibly real by being present to everyone he meets, turning no one away. Jesus takes on their concerns and brokenness and shares with them the Kingdom of God. In so doing, he reveals to them a hidden truth; the Kingdom of God is not a far off and distant place. The Kingdom of God is here, now, with a God who is intimately connected with all that God has created. A God who is made manifest chiefly through love and compassion.
To be sure, this is not a new revelation, for God has been saying it to God’s people all along. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, the Love of God is revealed in acts of Mercy and Justice. These qualities are balanced together and form the “throne” of God with the two seats of mercy and justice. God invites those who love him to join him in this endeavor. The prophet Micah (6:8) tells the people of God, “God has showed you what is good, and what the Lord requires of you; to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.” This is included within the Catechism of the Episcopal Church, (BCP, page 847).
But the disciples have a hard time putting it together and so finally, after numerous object lessons and teachings, Jesus puts a fine point on his ministry just before his arrest and crucifixion. In the twenty-fifth chapter, Jesus speaks extensively about the true reality about the Kingdom of God, culminating in the judgement of the nations. Here, with the image of sheep and goats, Jesus expounds on those who live compassionately (sheep) and those who live selfishly (goats). All are surprised to find out that in serving the least, the lost and the lame they are actually serving God for they are in fact revealing the Kingdom of God. This revelation is more powerful than the Transfiguration because it spreads compassion, the love of God to those who are most in need. As followers of Jesus, WE are called to spread compassion, to step out and help those in need and on the margins. We do this by offering welcome to the stranger, water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, and care for those who are sick or in prison. While the world may reject these actions and encourage us to stick to our own business and look away, Jesus calls his sheep to follow him into humble service.
Every time we baptize a child in Church, we all repeat and reaffirm our Baptismal Covenant. We are asked if we will strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being? We promise to do so with God’s help. There are no qualifiers here: we do not make this promise on behalf of those who believe what we believe or who live where we live or look like what we look like. NO! Instead, we use the word ALL. All, in fact means all…even those who would challenge or dismiss us. ALL means those who disagree with us. All is in fact everyone for we all bear the Divine fingerprint.
This is the call for ALL Christians to Social Justice and it is no easy undertaking. It supersedes politics and partisanship because it means putting Jesus FIRST above all else, even self. It means looking at the world as Jesus does, with the eyes of compassion, not being distracted by the temptations of power and privilege. It actually means giving away power and privilege in service to the least, the lost and the lame. It means striving to spread only the pure compassion and grace that God has given us.
I write this column by no means as an expert. As Christians, we all struggle with the awesomeness of this task, and I know I have failed at times, miserably. I’ve had my days of being a goat in Matthew 25—but I keep trying to find my way into being a sheep. Letting go of ego is never easy, but it is an essential aspect of the life of faith. Just as Jesus came not to be served but to serve (Matthew 20:28), we are compelled to seek and serve all who are in need.
Yes, the enormity of need can be overwhelming, but we each have to start somewhere. Consider this story: Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions. Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?” The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.” The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.” The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”
I hope you will join me in “throwing back the starfish” we encounter. It is easy to let the distractions of this life and the news of the world to lead us into despair, yet we are all give this Call to service. As the Jewish Talmud says, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” We cannot stay on the mountain top for we are called to serve.
Please keep me in your prayers and know that you are daily in mine.