My Dear One,
One thing I’ve learned in following The Way is that Jesus routinely leads me to places I wouldn’t expect to go.
Though my sermons have heavily leaned toward the pastoral rather than the prophetic, there have been a few times over the last 15 years when I have stepped into the pulpit to preach a sermon I thought might result in me getting fired. I refer to them as “pack your bags Sundays.” These are days when, because I have served three congregations in predominantly conservative communities, I’ve known that what I was about to say wasn’t going to go over well with some people.
But when the Spirit says speak, I’ve found it best to speak even if what you have to say might offend.
Last year, as we watched our government rip apart families at the U.S./Mexico border and lock up children in chainlink cages with instructions to those who guarded them to refuse to comfort them, I preached the mind boggling message that Jesus probably wouldn’t approve of such actions. When I was ordained I never imagined I would have to preach such a sermon - or that it would be controversial to do so.
Some people left my church over that sermon. It created a rift in my relationship with others who stayed. I was told I was preaching politics rather than the gospel.
But there is no way politics and faith cannot intersect. It seems the notion that they can remain in separate spheres comes from a really flawed understanding of the separation of church and state, or perhaps a strong reaction to the ways our faith uncomfortably challenges our political bias, be it conservative or liberal. Jesus’ message wasn’t merely one of personal morality or salvation. Again and again he spoke to us of “the Kingdom of God” and painted a vision of a world in which the oppressed shall be uplifted and the oppressors shall be brought to justice. He then called on those of us who would follow his Way to work towards a fulfillment of that vision. If I, or any of us, turn a blind eye to the heart of Jesus’ message “it would be better for [us] if a great millstone were fastened around [our] neck and [we] were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6)
Even if I weren’t moved to compassion towards others by Jesus, for my own sake I’d still rather not drown.
Justice for children has long been an issue I’ve found I cannot not be silent about. And so, this past Sunday, immediately after worship was over my 12 year old son and I hopped in the car, drove to Houston and got on a plane to Washington, DC. We went to attend Bread for the World’s annual two-day Advocacy Summit.
In case you aren’t familiar with Bread for the World, it is a non-partisan, ecumenical Christian advocacy organization focused on addressing hunger and malnutrition injustices both domestically and globally (www.bread.org). They equip Christians to put their faith into action through writing letters and urging elected officials to support legislation that increases aid to the hungry and poverty relief in the U.S. and abroad. This year, Bread is particularly advocating for House Resolution 189 to reaffirm U.S. commitments to global nutrition goals, especially for children in their first 1,000 days, and an increase in global nutrition aid from $145million to $250million.
In an unexpected email a few weeks ago from a Bread staff person, I was invited to be on hand to help present my congressman, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), ranking member on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, with an award for a bi-partisan bill he co-authored with Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), Committee Chairman. Their bill increases U.S. oversight of the “Northern Triangle” in Central America (full text of the bill here). In a nutshell, this bill would increase our monitoring of living conditions in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, three countries that have been a consistent source of people who immigrate to the United States and seek asylum, and put pressure on those who are perpetrating abuses against their citizens. People who are oppressed and under horrible living conditions are leaving their homes and families to come to the United States in hopes of a better life. Representatives McCaul and Engel are asking the question: How can the U.S. bring its power to bear on the improvement of life for people in these countries rather than merely trying to stop them from entering once they arrive at our border?
I am grateful for their actions and was happy to help recognize them for it, along with recognizing Rep. Julian Castro (D-TX) for other efforts of his own.
But the important work we did wasn’t in handing out awards for what has been done, but in advocating for justice that is yet to come. Along with my son and others from Texas, we visited the offices of Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and the offices of Representatives Michael McCaul and Kay Granger. This was my first time to speak so directly to people at the highest levels of power in our country. In each case we asked their staff for direct commitments to House and Senate legislation and an appropriations increase. In all cases we were told “we will consider it further.” And, with one disappointing exception, they actually seemed to mean it, engaging in a meaningful conversation with us and gratefully accepting the information we were leaving them for further review.
Despite everything that is wrong about the U.S. at this moment, I walked away from the experience with a profound appreciation for what is still right about our government. An average person, you or me, can still walk into any one of these office buildings, even without an appointment, and be greeted by a sign outside each representative’s door that says, “Welcome. Please come in.” There are people there whose job it is to speak with us, take our phone calls, and read our emails and letters. For all the ways Washington is broken (and they are many), this is one thing it still gets right. So very many other countries in the world do not allow for this. Many will imprison their own people for simply speaking words of dissent. Instead, our officials greeted us with warm welcomes, even though they didn’t fully know who we were, why we were there, or if they would agree with us.
Access to people in power, and the power to vote them in or out of office, is power itself. Sadly too few people claim the power they possess. Meanwhile, we follow Jesus who defined his ministry early on this way:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
- Luke 4:18-19
As followers of The Way, we are called as people with power to work for justice for those without such power. Jesus calls us in the Great Commandment to “love God with all our Heart.” Our Heart is the center of our actions, our external commitments to justice and peace, and the center of our vocational work.
I was honored to be invited to put my love for neighbors into action in such a concrete way this week. Will it change anything? I don’t know. I can’t know. But in the end, either way, it doesn’t affect our continuing call to work to build up the Kingdom of God. In a place like DC that seems on one level to be all about power and money, walking the halls of Congress opened my eyes to God’s presence in the world in a way I wasn’t expecting or entirely prepared for, planting seeds for the Kingdom.
At the final meeting of the day, as we were going around the room introducing ourselves and saying why this issue matters to us, my son had this to say:
“I care about hunger because at the end of the year one of our teachers asked us what we were going to miss most about school over the summer. Half the kids in my class said they were going to miss eating lunch because sometimes that’s the only meal they get all day.”
I’ve never been more proud of him. He used his quiet words to advocate for help for his friends. “Greater love has no one …”
following The Way,
P.S. - If you aren’t already a Bread for the World member, I encourage you to learn more and to join here. Additionally, I have decided to tithe 10% of all following The Way proceeds in 2019 to Bread. Thank you again for your support of my ministry.