Meditation

July 5, 2000

"The spirit of the Lord God is upon me," says the prophet, "he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed…to proclaim the year - not just any year but the year - of the Lord's favor." The same Spirit is lavished upon us in our baptism when we are sealed by the Spirit and marked as Christ's own forever.

And the same vocation is given to us: to bring good news - the good news of God in Christ in word and deed and the example of our lives to men and women who are bound and oppressed and cut off from the glorious freedom and abundant life God intends for all through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Such is the nature of the year of the Lord's favor: a season we dare to claim in which God - in the full force of God's unrelenting love - seeks to embrace, and bless and reorder the structures of our lives and relationships so they become transparent. So they reveal the way in which God looks upon us and all creation: the creation which surrounds and sustains us and of which we are a part in virtue of our having been formed from the earth.

The year of the Lord's favor is a season of unfoldment in which God's blessing, compassion and justice are unleashed - not from some remote heaven but from within the human heart - from within our own hearts - as we find ourselves stretched and cracked open by God's own joy and desire for our full flourishing. This flourishing includes not only us, but all others who are held captive by structures and systems, and by patterns of thought and self-perception which work against God's intent and desire.

Let us be reminded here that God's justice is larger and more expansive than our human concept of justice. Our human concept of justice is often reduced to what is considered fair by one group or another. In scripture, particularly in the psalms, God's justice is equated with God's righteousness. We see this in today's psalm: "Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the King's son." God's justice and righteousness consist of the ordering of all things according to God's imagination and desire. All things are conformed to God's way of seeing and acting toward and in this world.

What is justice then? It is to see as God sees and to act as God acts. Justice requires of us a transformation of consciousness, a conformation to the mind of Christ, worked into us over time by the Holy Spirit who draws from what is Christ's and weaves it into the fabric of our lives personally and as a community of faith. This isn't easy to grasp or to take into ourselves, but isn't this what we are about at this Convention, this assembly of God's people we call the Episcopal Church? Indeed, isn't this why we are here? As we gather, are we mindful that we run the risk of transformation? Are we aware that we are being conformed, day-by-day, to the mind of Christ? We are called to be the servants of God's favor for the sake of one another and our world. Here, together, as best we can, we are responding to that call.

The year of the Lord's favor has another and very specific meaning: the year of the Lord's favor is the Jubilee year described in the Book of Leviticus. The jubilee year has its roots in the notion of Sabbath, which is understood not simply as a day of rest but as a time of re-creation, reordering and release. All members of a household are released from productive work, along with the ox and donkey and other livestock. Release is also extended to those outside the community: to the resident alien within the town.

On the Sabbath, humankind as well as animals share in what the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel describes as an armistice. He writes: "The seventh day is an armistice in man's cruel struggle for existence, a truce in all conflicts personal and social, peace between man and man, man and nature, peace within…" He then goes further: "Sabbath is more than an armistice, more than an interlude; it is a profound conscious harmony of man and the world, a sympathy for all things and a participation in the spirit that unites what is below into what is above."

Shabat Shalom - Sabbath peace - to use the traditional Sabbath greeting, is all embracing, all transforming, all reconciling: it changes our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh and makes us capable of expressing mutuality and justness. It makes us able to see as God sees - with unbounded compassion and a love that burns within us for the whole creation. In the midst of life-denying circumstances this deep peace makes it possible for us to remain steadfast and reflect and reveal God's hopeful imagination.

The Sabbath, extended into a sabbatical year, a seventh year, then became a Jubilee year: seven times seven plus one - thereby representing fullness and completion, and fifty indicating a new beginning, the dawn of a new era.

Though never really achieved in the history of Israel, the Jubilee year represents for them, as it does for us at this very moment, a hope, a yearning, a desire, an invitation to enter more fully into God's project and to live in communion with the divine compassion as active agents of God's shalom, God's transforming peace.

Were we able to become persons who embody Jubilee we would find ourselves caught up into the work of repair. Those who embrace the year of the Lord's favor we are told "shall repair the ruined cities," as it says in our first reading. And again elsewhere in Isaiah we hear that one who lives as a person of compassion will be called a "repairer of the breach" and "restorer of the streets." This notion of repair gave rise in Jewish tradition to the understanding of Sabbath and Jubilee as Tikkum Olam: repair of the world, in which all who share the blessing of Jubilee are called to become actively involved.

We cannot, however, enter into the work of repair, of building up, of rebuilding, easily or lightly. We ourselves must undergo repair, not on our own terms but on God's terms, both personally and corporately, not once but again and again.

At my investiture as your Presiding Bishop in the Washington Cathedral, I referred to the words Christ spoke to St. Francis from the cross: "Go rebuild my church." These words apply to us all in every age. To undergo repair, to be rebuilt - both personally and as a church is costly and profoundly unsettling. It shatters and pierces our false sense of peace that allows us to reject or limit God's justness and righteousness. It obliges us to be stripped of our illusions and narrow and self-serving views. It involves the cross, our dying in order to enter into the new creation, the new consciousness which enables us, in union with Christ, to enter fully into God's project and become repairers of the world.

As we encounter Christ this morning in word and sacrament and one another around our tables, let us ask ourselves this: How is God inviting us - inviting me - into God's jubilee shalom? What in me - in us - needs to be repaired and transformed in order for me - for us - to enter wholeheartedly into God's work of repairing the world?