Saturday, January 28, 2017

God tells 'em outright

What does God require of you, but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. 

In 1862, at the age of 24, George W. Haigh responded to the call from Abraham Lincoln to shore up Union troops in the Civil War. He joined the 24th Michigan Infantry Company D, composed of men from Wayne County. The 24th Michigan Infantry participated in several key battles of the Civil War, most notably the battle at Gettysburg. Known as the bloodiest battle, all the troops, on both sides of the conflict, incurred a 73% casualty rate. George survived the war and went on to live another 58 years. He was on the very first Vestry of Christ Church along with his brother Richard. George died in 1920 and in 1923 two parishioners designed and made the stone baptismal font in his memory. When this church was built in 1949 a special nook was created in the entrance way to hold the font. Today it stands as a reminder of who we are as Christ Church, a people with a long history of responding to the needs of the world, living an active faith, grounded in our baptismal identity to do justice, love kindness, and be humble. 

Mary Jo Searles was born in 1936 and raised in Christ Church. She dedicated her life to a variety of social justice causes including education for women and girls in this country and abroad. She served on the Vestry multiple times. Her last tenure on the Vestry ended in 2012. During her life she was active in every aspect of parish life and her impact is still with us, whether we are aware of it or not. Mary Jo fought Non-Hodgkins lymphoma for years, but succumbed to a brain tumor in April of 2014. The funeral liturgy that she created for her service revealed her values: a reading from the Q’ran that honored our interfaith heritage in Dearborn and Christ Church; a pause in the liturgy while Sean played Widor’s Toccata on the organ, because she loved the organ; and a Eucharistic prayer that used expansive language to describe God and human beings revealed her passion for equality and justice. We have created a new baptismal font that lives in the sanctuary in her memory as one who was humble enough to do justice with loving kindness.

These two saints of the church hold up for us the values of our Christian faith and remind us of who are as Christ Church in Dearborn. One could look back through these past 150 years and find many others, then and now, who are just like these two, people who exemplify for us what it means to be the living body of Christ feeding people in mind, body, and spirit because we do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. 

Whether one lived in the years surrounded by the unrest of the Civil War and the role slavery played in defining faith, or the challenges to morale following WWW I or post WWW II and the struggles to unify and rebuild this country as well as this new church, or one lived in the 1960’s in the era of civil unrest over racism, or whether one lives now in an era focused on equality for all marginalized people regardless of religion, race, or gender, we here at Christ Church have played an active role in the lives of people of faith and in the Dearborn community. We have a long history of being involved, invested, fearless leaders who take on challenges and over come them. It’s a history we can be proud of. 

Our reading today from Micah supports this understanding of how we are to live as people of faith. This reading is set up as if it were a courtroom with God as the witness and the people are the jury. In this reading God asks a series of rhetorical questions of the people, all aimed at getting them to think about what it means to be a people of faith. In the end God simply tells them outright. God says that God is not expecting a particular type of sacrifice, God is expecting a particular type of person. God is interested in the integrity of one’s personhood. God is looking for people who will do justice, live with humility, and love kindness.

To be a people of justice and to live a life of integrity is defined for us in our baptismal covenant and by Jesus; we are to love God, love self, and love others by respecting the dignity of every human being. This is two-fold. It means we stand up and refute injustices and we work to enable greater justice. But we do this with humility. Humility does not mean being passive, nor does it mean being silent, it means being willing to learn, to grow, to deepen one’s understanding and to do so respectfully, all the while never diminishing the value of another human being.

This too is the heart of the Beatitudes in the Gospel reading. The beatitudes speak to what it means to live as a person of faith. The Beatitude’s describe how life is when one is faithful. 

Dearborn is a unique community. We’ve struggled through a history of deep racism to become a model interfaith community. We are not without our challenges, but we are facing those challenges. We dig deep, we strive to learn, to aim to be a people of faith. We are a community of many faiths. And each faith teaches us the same essentials: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. 

At 150 years old this faith community has risen to the occasion many times and overcome challenge after challenge. We are here today keeping alive the passion of our ancestors who worked to make the world a better place by loving God and one another. The soul of this parish is maturing, growing in wisdom from the lives of those who have come before us, sustained by the kind of humility that encourages wisdom and the ability  to continue to learn and grow, and fortified by an inherent sense of loving kindness. We are here today because of the tenacity and fortitude of our ancestors who never gave up. We are here today because of each of you. We are an amazingly creative vibrant committed community of people who care for one another and for the world around us. We are not just sustaining a church, we are building a future for our children and our children's children. This is the legacy we inherited and the legacy we handing on.

We are, and always have been a community centered church, feeding people in mind, body, and spirit. 

A reflection on Micah 6:1-8 and Matthew 5:1-12 for Epiphany 4A

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