Dear friends in Christ,
How is your life unfolding in this no-longer-strange pandemic world? I’m noticing that we are still exercising caution regarding the highly transmissible Delta variant while also exploring ways to re-engage and gather safely. As has been the advice from the very beginning, gathering outdoors while being at safe distances is a good way to see one another in person. It has been a joy to be able to drive around the diocese to visit congregations in worship as well as in ministry.
Two weekends ago, I spent four days visiting Coos Bay, Brookings, and Roseburg. The drive was beautiful no matter what the weather was doing. Even more, the spirit of our congregations was a beautiful reflection of Christ’s hands and feet in the world. I spent Saturday at St. Timothy’s, Brookings, and want to share with you some reflections from my time with the Rev. Bernie Lindley, Deacon Linda Lee, and their incredibly talented and energetic team of lay ministers.
As many of you know, the Brookings City Planning Commission has voted to recommend that the City Council pass an ordinance requiring churches to obtain a “benevolent meal” permit in order to continue serving meals to the hungry and homeless. The diocese has been focused on supporting St. Timothy’s in their ministry, and I needed to see for myself the ministries that have become so vital to the city’s hungry.
Beyond being highly organized, well-staffed, and attentive to detail, the folks at St. Timothy are serving with a heartfelt commitment to those in need. From the nurses giving vaccines, to the folks cooking in the kitchen (it was calzone during my visit!), to volunteers swabbing for covid tests each and every person is clearly serving because they want to participate in the way in which Christ’s body is being made known to the community. They care about helping others because, for many of the volunteers, they were once on the receiving end of these same services. Their gratitude is an endless source of fuel to become part of the love extended in feeding, vaccinating, and testing.
The contrast between the love and generosity of St. Timothy’s ministries and the intentions of the City to control or even close down their gospel work drew me into a reflection on Mark 13: 9-11.
“As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.”
It seems that the good work of embodying Christ’s love for the world is threatening to those who do not recognize the compassion that is alive at St. Timothy’s. Perhaps it is not even the compassion that goes unrecognized, perhaps it is the children of God serving other children of God that is unrecognized.
Proclaiming the good news in body, heart, and mind is dangerous business. Jesus knew this. And this is why he instructs the disciples to proclaim the good news first. Before self-defense before arguing or justifying, proclaim the good news first. The good news is revealed through loving sacrifice that is grounded in compassion for the other. Systems organized around “othering” those who are not like us are the same systems that persecute the Body of Christ – especially when that glorious liberating and loving body shines a light on the humanity of everyone – the hungry and the fed alike.
On October 25th, the Brookings City Council will meet to vote on this ordinance. I call our diocese into prayer on that day. Those of you who can be with the congregation of St. Timothy’s on that day, or during the meeting, I hope you will be there to lift hearts and spirits. Let’s all remind St. Timothy’s, the city of Brookings, and each other of the wondrous work that is revealed when we awaken to the truth that what we “do to the least of these, you do to me.”
Look with pity, O heavenly Father, upon the people in this land who live with injustice, terror, disease, and death as their constant companions. Have mercy upon us. Help us to eliminate our cruelty to these our neighbors. Strengthen those who spend their lives establishing equal protection of the law and equal opportunities for all. And grant that every one of us may enjoy a fair portion of the riches of this land; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.