There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus -Galatians 3:28
The Feast Day of Jonathan Daniels was on Monday, and we will be celebrating his life in our service this Sunday, as St. James does each year. The events of last weekend in Charlottesville, VA, show that the work of Jonathan Daniels is nowhere near done. God is still wondering who to send. And as Jonathan Daniels' own church, we are called to stand up to say, "Here we are: send us!"
But how do we 'go' into the issues of hatred, prejudice and violence in 2017? In what way is God calling us to carry on God's work following our brother Jonathan's example? I am looking forward to our parish wide conversations this fall to help us discern our way. And I look to Paul's letter to the Galatians, as I'm sure Jonathan did, too, for some inspiration this week. When faced with our society's habitual tendency to put people into boxes with certain labels, to fear the things that make us different, and to suggest that it is a good idea to separate people on the basis of certain traits, Paul assures us that in Christ there are no such differences. We are all one.
When I was away on vacation, I read the Keene paper online, and I watched the controversy play out about the man on the park bench behind the UCC church who was slumped over, either high or drunk. I read comments by people who wanted so quickly to label him as one of "those people" who are addicted, homeless or who loiter. I read the comments implying that "those people" had made their own beds by making terrible choices in their lives, implying they no longer deserved benches to rest on, places to be, any kind of handouts or understanding from 'us.'
And I thought - there but by the grace of God go I. The fact that there is a homeless, addicted man with nowhere to go but a bench is on all of us. We, as a society, have allowed people to fall down and take on the role of being our our 'presenting patients' by not creating any meaningful safety nets for the poor and outcast. We choose not to see them with compassion, but rather as total losers. But "they" are not really separate from "us." It is not just "they" who have a problem. We all do. When that man on the bench is in pain, we are all in pain. Because we are one.
It is definitely a human tendency to separate into camps, circle the wagons, and try to stay safe within our own tribal comfort zones. That is why the teachings of Jesus are so challenging. They ask us to come out from behind walls, to be vulnerable and open and not only to welcome the stranger into our hearts but to see ourselves - and Christ - in the stranger. In days like these, Jesus' teachings are more challenging than ever - and also more important. Because all around us people are sinking into fear, anxiety and poor behavior. As people of faith, we need to be the ones who stand in witness to a better way of being than living in scarcity, fear and suspicion. We need to choose to live into our higher selves and BE the light that shines out in the darkness.
The Keene clergy and I are working on planning an evening to surround the city of Keene in candlelight and love in response to the events in Charlottesville last weekend. I hope you will grab some candles and come out and stand alongside your neighbors in proclaiming the deepest truth there is - that we are all one. Details are to come for this event, and I think it will be a wonderful way to pay tribute to the legacy of our own Jonathan Daniels, whom we will remember in our liturgy this Sunday. Hope to see you at the service.