Monday, January 31, 2011

What does the Lord require?

Walking to the church, the dry sidewalk gives me a smile. Our work has made it an easy path for anyone coming to church. As I get to the door to open up, I’m greeted by a neighbor, one of Rudy’s most avid supporters. Shovel in hand,he tells me he’s off to dig out his daughter’s car. He asks what’s going on with the church. I tell him, stressing the boiler  issue. He’s shocked and surprised to hear we have no heat. I tell him to get the word out. 
Holly’s there first again. We’re slow gathering. A visitor from 87th has felt drawn to join us this morning. When I see Deacon James outside, I say, “Look at that walk, just look at that...” He smiles and says, “thing of beauty, thing of beauty.” When everyone has gathered, I tell everyone that he’s responsible for our dry walk, and everyone applauds. And he smiles.  
We share a letter on the uprising in Egypt and offer prayers for their people and others struggling for justice in the Middle East. During the time with children, Pat speaks of her  emotional connection with the Beatitudes. Shares her favorite, blessed are the peacemakers...because of what that meant in her family. For the second week in a row, I invite Shana to read. She’s a mature young girl who never misses a Sunday. Even when her mom and friends don’t come, she’s there. I have her read the climactic verse Micah 6: 8, my scripture for the day.  Paired with Matthew’s beatitudes, these passages almost preach themselves.
I explain that Micah is one of my favorites: it was the verse selected by the young  interfaith leaders group Andrea and i were in for three years. It’s the scripture  motto for the Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association that has meant so much to my life and ministry for over 30 years. And the inspiration for the name of the name for our oldest son. It was the text I used when I preached to General Assembly Mission Council, the governing body of our national church. And it was the passage I chose for my friend Melissa’s installation. It is for me the basic job description, for us as individuals and as a church.  

What does the Lord require?
First, do justice. It comes before anything else...before confessions of faith, evangelism, anything...It’s at the core of scripture,whether its the Torah or Matthew 25. It’s about right relationships, and is restorative, putting things back to where they should be. It’s not an extra credit assignment, it’s the basic requirement.And it’s in the social realm that justice is lived out. 
I told them I’d just come from New Orleans where five years later the struggle to bring some people home continues. We wrestle with issues in our own neighborhood: the fight for a living wage, the wave  of homeless shelters, the work of IAF on  debt and limits to legal interest charges. A way to  limit greed. Justice is about community. 
Then to love kindness. It’s more important than judging, in fact you cannot have justice unless you love kindness, love mercy, we need them both. It’s the principle of how we should relate to one another in church. It begins with our theological understanding of the nature of humanity, that we all fail, all come up short.Therefore we simply cannot judge.
This principle even needs to guide the  way the pastor relates  to church, and the church to pastor. And also to those around us. I told them about shoveling yesterday,just to make safer sidewalks, and people’s responses. Maybe two thankyous. But it’s love kindness. It’s got to become part of our personality,something we do by heart. 
And finally,walk humbly with God. The church above all must be humble. .Even this week,in another Presbytery,  a woman was tried for being happily married, to another  woman. The fact that we’re even still arguing about this just doesn’t make sense. Now the military is even ahead of us!
History is filled with examples, even now, people still are hurt by and alienated from the church. These are the voices we need to listen to. I want West-Park to listen to. But again, humility. Let those who wish to say they know better than us, about us, have humility. Let those of us who feel they are bigger, better, more successful have humility. and above all, let us have humility. We who should know better.
I concluded with the Beatitudes. They make clear where God’s special care and concern lie. They’re different than in  Luke, more nuanced. But if you look closely you’ll see that in Luke, Jesus is addressing the crowd and in Matthew, he is addressing the disciples and pointing to the gathering  crowd. Naming them. 
He only speaks directly to the disciples when he comes to these words:
“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
It’s clear that to live out the Micah life, there will be a price. People, even those in the church will look at you, at us, as if we are crazy. But it is to that ministry we are called. And in that we can rejoice and be exceedingly glad...
During the prayers, P____ kneels before the Christ Candle in prayer. Her case is reaching a crisis point. She prays for God’s will to be done. But we humans have to see what we can do as well.
Deacon James asks us to pray for his recently diagnosed multiple myloma. For us all to pray. And then has to leave because of the cold. I get frustrated, angry at how stuck this is. It isn’t right. We’ve got to find the key to unlock that door. To the boiler room. To heat. 
We sing “Lord, make us more Holy” and our day is done. 
On the steps outside, an overflow crowd from Barney Greengrass is sitting and waiting for brunch.
A quiet day. Sunny. Cold. Alternate side of the street and parking rules are suspended..The mini caterpillars are buzzing about moving the snow around. The first month of the year is over.

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