Isaiah 58:1-9a, Matthew 5:13-20
In this season, we remember how Jesus is baptized and begins his ministry, and how he invites others into discipleship. We remember how we were baptized, many of us, and how Jesus invites us into discipleship. But what does this mean, discipleship? How could we really do it? What does it mean to follow Jesus, or to live a life faithful to God?
Our scriptures offer us two lovely answers today. Both of them are worth a longer examination, if you want to take home your bulletin and look them up. In the book of Isaiah, we find a God frustrated by their people. People pretend to care about me, God says, and they pretend to care about my ways. But at the same time, they are oppressing each other, and fighting with one another. (This may sound a bit familiar; you may have witnessed some of this in the news recently. Times haven’t changed so very much.)
God says, if these people who talk so much about me were really interested in my ways, they would be undoing injustice, and sharing their bounty with those who really need it, and recognizing everyone as kin. Only when they do these things will their light shine forth, and their healing spring up. Only then will they feel my presence, right there, alongside them.
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus, preaching what is known as the Sermon on the Mount, offers a similar message. He knows that his audience has heard the law of Moses, and the wisdom of the prophets. You have probably heard at least the basics of it, too: love God, and your neighbor as yourself. But too often even those who know these guidelines do not follow them; or at least, we do not follow them with our whole hearts. Jesus tells us: you already have everything you need to follow me. You know what you need to know, you are who God created you to be. So, be who you really are. Salt seasons all it touches. Light brightens all it touches. You were blessed to bless others, so be salty, be bright, be yourself, and bless everyone who comes near you.
This church has taken seriously our calling to love God and neighbor, to bless others – even those we don’t know. As part of our response, we give a portion of our budget — recently, 11% — to organizations we call Mission Partners. And along with our wealth, we share other things with them, too: time, labor, prayer.
I give thanks to all the folks who are leaders in this work of connection, several here among us today. Two of them will now offer us a glimpse into why they do what they do…
Barbara: This church has a long history with Open Table. Gordon Fraser was its faithful champion along with others when we first came to WCUC 16 years ago. When Jesus says, “feed the hungry” there is not a lot of confusion or spin around what he means. Community suppers in Maynard and Concord offer weekly healthy meals and the chance to socialize. The food pantry, operating in what was formerly the Aubuchon Hardware building on Main Street in Maynard, serves upwards of 80-100 families on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Our monthly food donations are part of providing that need. Local farms, businesses, and the Boston Food Bank fill in the rest, and the team of volunteers to pull off this feat is awesome. There are so many pieces to a community resource like this.
We all know about housing costs in this area. Many people who work even full time have trouble managing rent/mortgage, utilities, not to mention the possible need for child care or medical bills and paying back student loans. Helping families with food frees up money to meet some of these other bills. If you are like me, the emails, letters and phone calls keep coming—so many worthy causes, so many needs. I get overwhelmed.
I have needed to find my place of radical solidarity. I think this is what Jesus calls us to, to partner with the hungry, the homeless, the displaced, the refugees, with those who are struggling. When I worked in community mental health that was my place of radical solidarity. In retirement Open Table connects me again with people who are struggling, with job loss, illness, family problems, low wages—all of which impact their ability to provide basic needs for their family. It is also a place to welcome people new to this country, working to get settled. For my own spiritual health I have needed to get out of my bubble.
I am grateful to God for the presence of Open Table in our communities and for my opportunity to partner with Open Table.
Constance: Why I support Habitat for Humanity
- Habitat for Humanity is international, at one point present in more than 100 countries.
- Habitat for Humanity is a binding national network—across social, political, monetary, and religious lines.
- Habitat for Humanity is regional and local, sometimes at work in your own town.
- Habitat for Humanity is cooperative—“each one, teach one” is an unspoken motto.
- Habitat for Humanity is young people baking and selling their wares to raise money for a nearby project.
- Habitat for Humanity is a team of women bonding over a wide variety of tasks during “Women Build” Week.
- Habitat for Humanity is celebrating a 75th birthday in grand style, challenging friends and family to raise money at the time of the local affiliate’s annual gala.
- Habitat for Humanity is an agnostic Jew and a proud atheist (nephew of two Lutheran pastors) bonding as they dig foundation trenches.
- Habitat for Humanity is learning humility—being just one more team member when the team leader may be 1/3 of your age.
- Habitat for Humanity is being amazed by Jimmy Carter’s steadfast dedication to a cause he did not found but has supported more visibly than anyone for decades.
- Habitat for Humanity is climbing tall ladders to wash windows, getting up on a roof that turns out to be steeper (and higher) than it had seemed, wielding new tools.
- Habitat for Humanity is humbling—patiently washing paint brushes, picking up trash, sorting screws.
- Habitat for Humanity is moving 1000 concrete blocks across a London worksite because they had been delivered to the wrong spot and were in the way.
- Habitat for Humanity is replacing 1000 bolts in fencing because the wrong size had been delivered but everything had to be finished by the end of the Jimmy Carter Week in Vác, Hungary—and someone had to make the switch when the correct bolts arrived.
- Habitat for Humanity is, in the words of founder Millard Fuller: “Love in the Mortar Joints,” “A Simple, Decent Place to Live,” “The Theology of the Hammer, “More than Houses.”
- Habitat for Humanity speaks to me because it pulls me out of the isolating intellectual writer’s world where I spend too much time into physical partnership with people in need—and because Habitat for Humanity can use time and talent as well as dimes and dollars.
All of us can be part of this. Thanks be to God.