Redeemer and Micah’s Threefold Mission- Clergy Report for Redeemer Annual Meeting 2017
When I first moved to Berkeley, I lived in an intentional community of young adults in a house by Tilden Park. We named our community after the Hebrew prophet Micah, whose words we read this morning. We called ourselves the “Micah House” and we chose Micah as our community’s patron saint and prophet for several reasons. We felt he embodied the charisms of both “study” and “hospitality.” Micah was believed to be a student of the great prophet Isaiah and we were all graduate students, being mentored by professors. Micah also prophesied about the place that would welcome Christ into the world: Bethlehem (“But you, O Bethlehem, are only a small village in Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past.” Micah 5:2); and we felt a particular call as a community to welcome and show hospitality to our many visitors and guests. But most importantly, beyond embodying the charisms of “study” and “hospitality,” we most appreciated Micah’s concise and poetic summary of God’s mission for God’s people. Micah explains that God does not require animal sacrifices or rivers of oil. Rather, the sacrifice that God desires from us is for us to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with Him. We actually found this to be fairly challenging amidst the many demands and deadlines of our graduate work. It wasn’t always easy to remain engaged in social justice, practice compassionate outreach and cultivate humility through communal prayer. In fact, towards the end, we had enough trouble just being compassionate towards one another, let alone engaging in outreach. Being in community is hard work.
Over the last few months, I have been deeply encouraged to witness how effectively this intentional community (the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer) has been fulfilling Micah’s threefold mission; how we have engaged in social justice, practiced compassionate outreach and cultivated humility through our communal prayer. Since today we are holding our Annual Meeting, I want to briefly highlight some of the ways that we have done justice, loved mercy and walked humbly with our God as well as ways that we are invited to keep moving forward in this mission.
It was only my second Sunday here when our Diocesan representative called our attention to the “Selma of our time”: the injustice at Standing Rock, North Dakota, where sacred land and water were being threatened by the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. When I read about the call for clergy to stand in solidarity with the water protectors at Standing Rock, I shared this call and its particular pull on me with the Bishop’s Committee through an email. Within hours, Roy had called up all the BC members on the phone and they had agreed that I should go and that this community would help support me. When another DioCal priest at Standing Rock heard about this, he said, “Wow, there are some really healthy churches in this diocese,” referring to us. In the words of my fellow Standing Rock camper and water protector, “we are small but mighty.” It was by supporting me at Standing Rock that this community helped halt the construction of the pipeline and helped protect the vulnerable land, water and people of Standing Rock. We have much to be proud of and we are called to remain engaged in this important social justice issue, especially now that the current administration has advanced approval of the pipeline’s construction. We are called to hold our president accountable and ensure that treaty rights are honored and that a construction process will be just and respectful of the people’s land and water. Also, we are also called to stand up for the dignity of all human beings and for peace and unity among all peoples (as we promised in our baptismal vows), regardless of gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, and immigrant status. As a community, we have been fulfilling and are called to continuing fulfilling God’s charge for us to do justice.
We have also been fulfilling God’s mission to love kindness. The Hebrew word here for “kindness” is chesed, which also means “compassion” or “mercy.” It is equivalent to the Greek word used by Jesus when he says “Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.” Within the few months that I have been here, I have witnessed how much this community practices chesed. In December, we helped gather over 200 warm coats for people in need. We helped provide toys for low-income families in the Canal through Billie’s work. We helped feed the hungry and homeless of San Rafael by supporting the ministry of the Marin Interfaith Street Chaplaincy. We have helped support guests of St. Vincent de Paul’s Dining Room as well as our friends at the Tamalpais retirement community through the wonderful ministry of our Franciscan brother Richard Atkinson. And just last Sunday, we teamed up with St. Paul’s and Nativity to “Stop Hunger Now” or “Rise Against Hunger” (as it is now called) by packing more than 10,000 meals for those who suffer from extreme hunger. These are all examples of chesed, of compassionate outreach. And considering our rather modest size as a church, this is impressive indeed.
As a church, our primary mission is to walk humbly with our God. We are about cultivating humility and deepening our relationships with each other and with the divine through communal prayer. This last Monday, I hung out with the preschoolers and asked them what they thought about church and what they thought people did in church. And their answer was spot on. They said church is where people pray. That is what we do each Sunday morning. We gather together and pray.
And every single act of participation in this service is a form of prayer. Every time the Altar Guild washes a linen or chalice, every time Justin (and Jim and John) pluck a string or sound a reed, every time we stand together to sing, or kneel at the altar, or prepare the bulletin (Ann), or bake the communion bread (Joan) or welcome guests, or serve as ushers and oblation bearers, or maintain the building and campus (Roy), we are praying, we are walking humbly with our God and being transformed in the process.
We also offer opportunities for others (outside of the church) to walk humbly with God by simply meditating on Monday nights or by praying with the Marin Episcopal Youth Group on Sunday nights or with families at our new Family Service, beginning next Sunday evening. And every month, at the full moon, we offer opportunities for people to literally walk humbly with God on our beautiful, outdoor prayer labyrinth.
We can certainly give thanks for the many creative ways that we have fulfilled Micah’s threefold mission to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God. Today’s Annual Meeting offers an opportunity for us to take stock and to celebrate all that we have accomplished. And of course, there is a lot more work to do. But even more importantly, we are called to remember that it is ultimately not about us. It is not about all the work we have done and will continue to do. It is about God and the work God is doing through us and among us; the ways in which God is healing us, growing us, expanding our hearts and minds, bringing us all closer to Him and His loving embrace and using us to bring Glenwood and San Rafael and all of the world closer to Him and His loving embrace. And what do you think that looks like? We are invited to rejoice and be glad not because we have done such amazing work (which we have done), but because God has done and will continue to do his good work through us and among us, even when we mess up, even when we struggle and feel like we fail. It is by accepting our humanity and our finitude that we move into a true humility that lets God flow and fulfill His mission through us. That’s what the Beatitudes are all about. So may we continue to humbly walk with our God, who desires to make his justice and chesed known among us and through us. May it be so.