30th Anniversary of Jubilee Ministry
Well, Labor Day is behind us, and school has started in most places, and the usual reports are starting to roll in about “what I did on my summer vacation.” I remember a math teacher in junior high insisting that vacations were times to do what you don’t normally do. In his case, it meant, “do your algebra homework.” And as the summer sabbath time drew to a close a few days ago, I reflected on the fact that I spent most of it running around to visit people I don’t get to see very often.
We spent time with our daughter and son-in-law. Later we had a wonderful banquet of a meal and conversation with my father and his wife. We went to see a woman in her 90s who’s been a friend for more than 30 years, who wanted to talk openly about dying. My husband went to a high school reunion, and I tagged along for part of it, and got to meet some wonderful people. We visited the town in Alaska where he spent part of his childhood, looking for others who had been good friends then. We went to see a friend whom we’ve known as an airplane mechanic for ten years and is now in failing health. And we went to church in several communities that have been important in our lives together. It was an opportunity to put fleshy evidence to the love that has been shared with very important people in our lives. The bonds of love we’ve known in diverse times and places were renewed, embers were fanned and tended, and some surprising newness emerged in those relationships as well.
That’s part of what James is talking about when he says that faith has to find life in outward demonstrations – what he calls ‘works.’ Our faith, hope, and love don’t exist if they are simply internal or isolated dispositions – they have to take flesh in human relationships. Faith is brought to completion in outward acts, and we can find evidence of the working of the Spirit through seeing what people do and how they live. He notes the ironic story of Rahab, who took pity on other outsiders and let them use her house of ill-repute to gain entry, in something of an Old Testament illegal immigration narrative! The spirit of the Lord is always breaking down boundaries and reconciling the divided.
The work of Jubilee Ministry is all about putting flesh on what we claim about loving God and neighbors as ourselves. Isaiah and the other prophets insist that means living justly, caring for the poor and rejected, and working to change the world to look more like it’s God’s house and not the house of thieves and robbers. And that’s what Jesus claims as his vision and mission statement in his first public act when he reads – “the spirit has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to set captives free and let the blind see, and tell the world what God’s got in mind – and today you’ve seen it happen.” Jesus saw his purpose as putting flesh on God’s vision for healing and making justice in this world. We’re anointed in baptism for the same work, the same kind of putting flesh on what love looks like in the world around us.
Jubilee Ministry insists that that divine vision of wholeness, healing, and right relationships is the way we give evidence of the faith, hope, and love that is within us. Jubilee ministry is a sacrament of that vision – the outward and visible evidence of the inward and spiritual grace we receive at baptism. It is our life’s work as followers of Jesus. That’s what we’re giving thanks for here today – we’re making a public claim that this is what we do because this is who we are.
Not long ago, I came across a remarkable poem by Graham Kendrik, Beauty for Brokenness, Hope for Despair. It’s a repeated prayer that we might internalize that vision of jubilee and respond to the suffering around us. Listen to the ways in which he sees God’s healing and restoration of creation take flesh:
Beauty for brokenness, hope for despair
Lord, in our suff’ring world, this is our prayer.
Bread for the children, justice, joy, peace
Sunrise to sunset, your kingdom increase.
It continues through four more verses:
Shelter for fragile lives, cures for their ills,
Work for the craftsman, trade for their skills.
Land for the dispossessed, rights for the weak,
Voices to plead the cause, for those who can´t speak.
Refuge from cruel wars, havens from fear
Cities for sanctuary, freedom to share.
Peace to the killing fields, scorched earth to green,
Christ for the bitterness, his cross for the pain.
Rest for the ravaged earth, oceans and streams
Plundered and poisoned, our future, our dreams.
Lord, end our madness, carelessness, greed,
Make us content with the things that we need.
Lighten our darkness, breathe on this flame,
Until your justice burns brightly again;
Until the nations learn of your ways,
Seek your salvation and bring you their praise.
Each of those verses ends with the refrain,
God of the poor, friend of the weak, give us compassion we pray.
Melt our cold hearts, let tears fall like rain.
Come change our love from a spark to a flame.
Compassion is essential, but it has to be more than a feeling. In order to be effective it must take flesh. Compassion must make an outward response if it’s going to be sacramental – it has to become bread for the hungry, clothing for the naked, shelter for the homeless, companionship for the dying and imprisoned, healing for the sick, and solidarity with those the world has forgotten. It has to respond to the devastation of the body of God’s creation.
Jubilee ministry is sometimes simply showing up in physical presence, like the women who stood vigil at the foot of the cross. Jubilee has meant marching through the streets of Selma, and witnessing to Congress about injustice in our cities and on our borders, and in fields and factories here and around the world.
Jubilee ministry is a response to that ancient vision of a just and healed world – an outward and physical response of service. The servant ministry of St. Mark’s and this diocese led the way for Episcopalians. Thirty years on, thousands of people have seen evidence of the kingdom of God near at hand. Many, many lives have been transformed. Multitudes can say, “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” – and in your lives.
May God continue to bless and expand our hearts, nudge us to put our shoulders to the wheel and keep our feet on the path, open our hands and hearts and wallets, and prompt us to sit down with the dying and stand up to injustice. Put us to work, O Lord, so that your commonwealth of peace may come, and come speedily. Make us the sacrament of your justice, proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor, that the world may see and know your word fulfilled in flesh.