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At St. Paul’s: “Our primary mission is to relate to, and minister to people who are living on the edge, who seek God’s will for their lives, struggling to find direction and purpose in a society that can be violent, insensitive and money-grabbing.”
I remember going to Wyoming with the St. Paul’s Youth Group and it was a great
trip because Terri Gelzer went along. We passed through Chicago, Minnesota,
South Dakota, you know all those states on the way. We saw Mt Rushmore and
the Crazy Horse memorial which they were carving out of a mountain. Wind River
is a beautiful, remote place, in the plains below the Yellowstone Mountains. Our
hosts had tee-pees set up for us, but we slept in our own tents; which collapsed
when the wind blew too hard. We were part of a group mixed with urban
Clevelanders and rural Indians from the Wind River Reservation, the Shoshones
and Arapaho tribes. We were up in the beautiful mountains, and well, the adults,
decided that a 2 mile hike was a great way to experience the natural habitat on
the reservation. Quite a procession left that parking lot, I had a couple of jugs of
water and snacks in my backpack, as we wandered along an easy trail through
the woods along a swift running stream. As the trail got steeper, people started
to sweat and get heated up as we headed up the side of a mountain. We figured
that the group could really gel and benefit from the experience of hiking to the
summit. But along the way, a few young people from Cleveland had to stop to
Well, actually, they turned around and started to go back down. And I had to jog
down to fetch them. I called out: wait. Stop. And they were mad at me. We
stopped and sat on a rock in the shade and talked for a moment. They said they
didn’t want to hike up the mountain. Why should we? They had some very good
reasons to turn around. Heat. Bugs. Fear of snakes and animals. But reaching the
destination is worth it, I said. They rolled their eyes. And I said that I believe we
can do this together, but you have to dig deeper. Let’s try something new. Let’s
walk it in small pieces, we can do it. They STILL did not believe me. So I waited a
moment. I gave them a granola bar and some cold water and a 5 minute rest.
I said. Ok. Let’s try something NEW . . . see that tree up there. It is not too far.
Lets walk to that. And stop there. See how that is. They said ok. We walked to
the tree and sat in the shade. Had some water . . . rested. I said: how do you
feel. “Tired and hot,” they said. “But you did it,” I said: “when you are ready, lets
walk to that big rock up there. You can do that, right?” They said yes. We walked.
Sat down. 5 minutes later, I said: let’s walk to that tree up there. We arrived.
Rested. And now to that rock . . . and after about 45 minutes of walking short
distances and stopping, we finally caught up to the rest of the group. In front of a
huge waterfall which was gushing out of the top of the mountain. At the summit
of the walk. It was awesome. The spray filled the air around us and cooled us.
They were very proud of their accomplishment. And I was too. Mediation at its
Thinking about the Exodus journey, Moses must have done some pretty
impressive mediating himself, and he must have been pretty convincing. Leading
the 1000s of Hebrew people out of their homes in Egypt must have been an
impossible task. Even though they were slaves, worn down and oppressed, still,
change does not come easily to human beings. There is always resistance. There
are always questions, complaints, sore feet, bugs, wild animals, hunger, thirst,
etc. there are always roadblocks to success. Especially, and even if, God calls us to
accomplish God’s will, the new path will not be easy to follow.
In our lives, most of us, all of us, I suppose, at one time or another, come up
against impossible tasks. Throughout our lives, there are new beginnings,
terminations, roadblocks, dead-ends, promotions, detours and sometimes we can
lose our drive. Or, more to the point, and I am thinking of Baptism now, we are
called to move out of one path to enter another path, another phase, a different
call. And here is the funny thing; well, I believe God is laughing anyway. . .
Change is always happening, God is always calling us to do something different.
Calling us to flex one more time. Like the reed that bends but does not break.
Here do this now. When my mother moved in with us, it changed our whole
lifestyle. She really has been great, adapting to the new life with us; and my kids
and Kathy, too, have been great through this transition. But it has been hard on
me. I think I was in denial about the transition myself, how much was going to be
required of me.
My life has changed. I am driving Lydia to school now. High school. Cross country
practice. My job has changed. New people, new ministries; new priorities; a new
vision of community together. And these new programs and people force me to
adapt and grow, and I suppose the entire community has to adapt to the new
reality. I am adaptable. I am the change I want to see in the world, right?
The outreach program is growing too. We will soon be rebuilding the outreach
ministry to people with HIV/AIDS, with a few new staff people joining us. The
Creating Communities of Peace community just added about 30 new people and
these folks bring with them a lot of new energy. New ideas. New programs.
We just had a meeting of the ID collaborative. There is no more funding
for IDs. The grant ran out. We need to raise $128,000 for the program. Plus
an administrator for another $40k; St Pauls, St Colemans, Cosgrove Center,
St Malachi, Care Alliance and others now have to dig a little deeper in their
own budgets for funds to purchase IDs, which are required for housing, for
employment, for voting, for just about anything. So now we have a new calling:
how to help more people with less $$. The homeless and poor that we could help
with birth certificates and state IDs will still receive help. We just have to adapt.
God may call us more often than we realize or want to admit. The calling may look
like a ministry like St. Paul is describing in the letter to the Romans we just read.
We are encouraged to get involved, to follow these gentle urgings. “Let love be
genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual
affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” In an unjust world, in a nation
with millions living in poverty, genuine love demands our involvement. Loving
our neighbors means standing with people on the margins who seek a better life for
themselves, the life that is God's intention for them.
In the U.S. today, 47 million people (nearly one in seven) live in poverty and over
one third of us (some 106 million people) live below twice the poverty line,[i]
the amount that many researchers think is a minimally adequate income level.
At the same time, there are 1,591 billionaires[ii] and 9.6 million[v]) millionaires,
depending on whose study you read. And yet, over one in seven people in the
U.S. is receiving food stamps that provide, on average, less than $1.50 per
meal, per person. The dire statistics go on and on. Some 9.5 million people are
unemployed.[vi] Millions more are jobless but have given up looking for work
and, therefore, are no longer counted among the unemployed.
Over one-quarter of all jobs in the U.S. (28%) pay poverty-level wages, so low that
a full-time worker cannot keep a family out of poverty.[vii] In 2013, 42% percent
of Hispanic workers, 36% percent of black workers, and 23% of white workers
earned poverty-level wages.
The federal minimum wage, $7.75/hour, needs to be raised. Corporate profits are
at record levels (more). Are these companies too big to share the wealth with their
workers? Corporate giants can well afford to raise their workers’ pay.
The United States is a wealthy country. There is no justification for poverty,
oppressive work conditions, or lack of opportunity. Things do not need to be this
way. The question is this: why do the wages, profits provide such huge disparity
between the rich and the poor? Doesn’t anyone who makes a good living care
about the common man/woman any more? Who is the Son of Man for us in this
culture of greed and selfies.
Our involvement could make a difference. Do we feel a gentle urging to get
involved? Are we called to support fast food workers, Wal-Mart employees,
and others who are marching and striking for living wages? Are we called to
stand with immigrant workers without papers who are easily abused? Can we
pressure Congress to raise the minimum wage? Is our congregation called to be an
Economic Justice Church? What else might God be calling us to do?
The world today is a very troubling place for anyone concerned with justice. To
follow Jesus, and walk with those on the margins, is to know that God walks with
us. But the call may rarely come in the life-changing, awesome moment, as in
when Paul fell off the horse, or when we see a burning bush that is not consumed.
God’s call might also (and maybe more often) come as a soft nudge, a gnawing
urge, a quiet whisper that maybe, just maybe, we ought to do something about a
particular problem. The quiet, more frequent, but much less dramatic calls are easy
to ignore. Is it God? Do I really need to? How can I fit more into my busy life?
How can I say yes? Does it help to remember that God will be with us, to see us
through, that God expects us to find time for God’s priorities?
More often than not, the call from God is a pain in the neck. There is the call to
love . . . to love as God loved. Since we are created in the image of God, we are
called not to seek divinity but to imitate the divine one. Justice takes root not in
our arguments but in our actions. When we confess the transcendence of God,
we claim the transforming power of the God who calls and do we immediately
say “no.” wait. I cant. I have to work. I have to pay the mortgage. Or we may
not have the courage to say “no” to Jesus, but we just try to do it all; and end up
failing, or walking away, or falling asleep. That’s what the disciples did. And Jesus
forgave them. and Jesus forgives us. And then he commissions us to carry that
forgiveness into the world. In forgiving them, he was preparing them for ministry,
Jesus’ ministry: which is always to take on the impossible.
what we are called to do is impossible, and beyond our imagination. A genuine
call is never something we are prepared to take on, says Gordon Cosby, founding
pastor of Church of the Savior. “it is never something that depends on our strength
and stability. It stretches us beyond our imaginations.
We are the ones we have been waiting for. We answer the call to do the
impossible but with God all things are possible. Sometimes the mountain looks
too big to conquer. Sometimes we want to give up. Sometimes we get to that
last straw and it breaks us. The task seems impossible to complete. And so we
make the move, prepare for the journey, take the necessary measures so that the
roadblock doesn’t defeat us. The mountain cannot defeat us.