Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly with God

A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Claire Nevin-Field on the Sixth Sunday in the Season of Creation

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I find myself this morning not preaching the sermon I had thought I was going to preach, but preaching the one that welled up inside me instead. I know that I am not alone in my experience of the events of the last week of the election. I am not alone in my grief, shock, anger, and my fear for this nation. In my sense that I am living in a county I don’t really know and don’t understand, and in my realization of just how divided this country is at this point in history. I am not alone in my fear for, my pain for, LGBTQ people, for Black and Brown people, for immigrants, for Muslims, for those who are poor and vulnerable. And, as I often do when I am grief stricken, confused, or anxious, I look to Scripture and to the church. I hear the lament of the psalmist crying out of the deep, asking God to show up and give me relief from my distress, give relief to God’s people from our distress. I sit with Job and wave a scabby fist at the heavens, angrily asking how this could happen. And I hear one of the most consistent voices in Scripture, beginning with God creating all that is, through Moses’ answering God’s call to lead the people out of slavery, to the prophets, to Jesus, and to Paul, I hear the consistent call to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God”. But how, exactly, do we do that now?

While there is no one answer, I think part of it is that we do what we are doing right now. We gather, we mourn, we pray, we get strength from each other and from the Eucharist- from taking the body of Christ into our being. We remember that we are the body of Christ. We remember that as Christians we have been given specific work to do; the work of feeding the hungry, caring for the lost, the stranger, the immigrant, the outcast, the vulnerable. The work of raising our voices and insisting that every single blessed person is a child of God, of raising our voices with Oscar Romero and all the liberation theologians insisting that, if God takes sides, God always sides with the poor, the weak, the oppressed and the vulnerable. The work of never making peace with evil, giving in to voices of hate. The work of following the One who was willing to die rather than meet hate with hate, violence with violence, or to capitulate to the power mad systems of the world. This is hard, hard work. It takes courage and strength- and remember that having courage does not mean not being scared, as Dorothy Bernard writes, courage is just fear that has said its prayers. In the coming days and years we will find ourselves tested in ways we may not have thought we would be, and called to do things we did not think we would have to do. And we will find the courage and strength to do this work together—grounded in God and leaning on each other.

This community, St. Peter’s Church, has done that, is doing that, and will continue to do it. One specific way we have remembered that we are bound in Christ to others throughout the world, that we are called to spend our life doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God, coming alongside others to listen and to serve, is through our ministry in Guatemala, our partnership with the Canterbury School. Early this fall we had set aside this Sunday to celebrate our ministry in Guatemala—and as I sat down to think about that in light of the events of Tuesday, it dawned on me that remembering, celebrating, and contemplating what we do next in our relationship with those who are of a different culture—those who could so easily be labeled “other” and “lesser” may be exactly what we need to be doing right now.

Over the last 10 years, 38 people from this parish and about 12 people from neighboring parishes, have traveled to this coed, Episcopal preK-6th grade school just outside Guatemala City. To spend time there, get to know the children and teachers, and to work with them to improve the facilities. Students come mostly from lower and lower middle income families—they receive an education that is of far higher quality than they would at the public schools. Back in 2005, when we first became partners, the school had 125 students and the head, Norma, told us that to really achieve sustainability they would need over 160 students. She indicated that one of the things holding them back from reaching that goal was inadequate facilities and she asked for our help. And so we rolled up our sleeves, and worked next to the students and teachers to do the following: outfit a computer library, equip a teacher’s break room, finish the second floor of a building—putting in doors, walls, windows, and electricity. We painted everything that didn’t move, and a few things that did. We drew murals. Planted 200 trees and a community garden. We bought a lawn tractor so the school’s maintenance guy didn’t have to spend 4 of his 5 days at work mowing the vast lawn with an old push mower. We renovated the playground, adding new equipment and making it safer. We gutted and renovated a bathroom—humanely evicting the lizard who lived in one of the toilets and whom we nicknamed toilettasaurus rex. We provided scholarship support to students. And, most importantly, we spent time with people—growing in bonds of relationship, experiencing the power of porous boundaries. Some of our kids who have journeyed to Guatemala are Facebook friends with some of our kids at the Canterbury School and communicate regularly. Since 2006 the school’s enrollment has steadily increased and is now about 180, well over the 160 student sustainability mark. We have had a vibrant and fruitful relationship and ministry. And, as happens with ministries, with life, there is a cycle. A ministry is born, thrives and grows, then dies. It appears that we may be at the end of this particular ministry—for the last few years we have not been able to get critical mass to go to the school or be involved in supporting activities. And that is likely telling us it is time to mourn a bit what we have lost, celebrate what we have done, and then discern where we are called to go now. Because this work, these relationships with people who are in vastly different cultures and countries than we are, are critically important for us to have. Not because we go in and do a lot of things, go in and help anyone. But because we are transformed. We understand more deeply our own situation, our perspective and we develop a glimmer of understanding of the experience of others. We enter into the reality of another. We understand more fully and deeply our call to sit with others a spell, hear them, see them and their intrinsic value.

So I invite you to express your thoughts to Sean or to me—your thoughts about our ministry with the school. In the near future, date tbd, we will hold a meeting to talk about next steps, recognizing that our diocese is still in a companion relationship with the Diocese of Guatemala, we will talk about where and how we might engage in international ministry.

I am not sure there has ever been a time in my life when I have been so clearly reminded that we live in a broken and hurting world. Nor has there been a time when it is so clear that we who follow Jesus need to remember and act on our call to serve the poor and the vulnerable, to loudly and clearly insist on justice, for all people. Nor a time more important to remember that as Christians, we believe in the sure and certain hope of resurrection. Of new life. We believe that Good Friday is unavoidable, and when we are sitting smack in the midst of the darkness of the tomb it it is exceedingly difficult to see any light creeping in. But there are spaces around the stone that seals the tomb, and light always seeps in, because we are an Easter people- a people who believe and who proclaim that evil and death do not have the last word, that the last word is always, always held by God. May God give us strength and courage, in the face of a world that deals in death, to practice resurrection.

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The Rev. Claire Nevin-Field

The Rev. Claire Nevin-Field is the rector of St. Peter's Church.

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