In 1970, Carol Hanisch wrote an article titled “The Personal is Political” which appeared in the anthology, Notes From the Second Year: Women's Liberation. This title was the rallying cry for women throughout the second-wave feminist movement of the 60s and 70s, and with the questions of equal pay, family leave, and women’s rights over their reproductive choices once again entering into the conversation, this phrase is making a comeback.
In women’s clergy circles, the phrase has morphed a bit though. Now our rallying cry is “the pastoral is political”. There is a sense of calling people’s attention to not only women’s issues, but also issues of racism and classism that have continued to polarize our communities. There is a return to the scriptures to find themes of liberation and freedom from oppression as a way of renewing our sense of care for women and children, the poor and oppressed, the marginalized and most vulnerable in our communities. And so for me, it is no surprise that daily within my Twitter and Facebook feeds I see links to essays about the church’s responses to movements such as “Black Lives Matter,” or to women’s reproductive health issues, or to women and children escaping domestic violence situations. Unfortunately, these issues are no longer “once in a while events”...but daily happenings in our cities and towns. And the church, as ministers of the Good News of God, as messengers of hope, healing, and reconciliation, can no longer be silent. The pastoral is indeed political.
But let me be clear...this is not a new phenomenon for the church to respond to the world. It’s all throughout our scriptures.
In the book of Joshua, we see the people of Israel being faced with a challenge. Do they follow the “false gods” and the gods of those with whom they’d been in battle with, or do they stay devoted to Yahweh. Their leader Joshua asks them to make a choice, and so in recalling their history--the people say, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods; for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.” In the midst of war and struggle, in the midst of liberation from oppression, in the midst of the wilderness and desert, God was there. And so they will continue to be faithful to God.
You see, as the psalmist reminds us, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted”. The Lord is near to those ravaged by warfare, dispossessed and exiled, who wander in the wilderness to escape slavery and persecution. The Lord is with those who have been marred, grief stricken, and down-trodden. The Lord was with those who marched for freedom across the desert, across the bridge in Selma, and now marches along with the mothers, sisters and wives who grieve the loss of their children, brothers and husbands to violence.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds those early Christians to be strong, stand firm, proclaim the gospel of peace and pray in the Spirit at all times. While Paul uses military armor images that don’t necessarily speak to me, I understand what he’s getting at. In the face of humiliation and persecution, in the face of the stress and strain brought on by the world around you, in the face of what seems like the end of the world, be strong, stand firm, pray, and proclaim the gospel of peace. On Wednesday, I stood in solidarity with women and men who choose peaceful protest over destruction of the environment. There were songs, laughter, and wisdom shared in our gathering and the presence of God was in our midst. You see, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted.”
And in this last of the bread of life readings from the gospel of John, when the people are beginning to grumble because “this teaching is difficult” and the call to discipleship challenged them to be different from the status quo, to see the world through a lens of love and forgiveness, to be willing to give up everything---EVERYTHING---to follow this Jesus, this bread of life, when those people walked away, Peter said, “We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” We have come to believe and to know.
Peter and the other disciples had started to experience first hand what the Lord could do. They had been present at the miracles and the healings. They had distributed the loaves and the fishes to those who were hungry. They had remembered their ancestors who had been given manna in the wilderness...and they believed. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted.”
We live in strange times my friends. We live in a world where we are inundated with the stories of fear and grief from war and oppression. We live in a world that is rapidly changing from the effects of climate change. We live in a world that still does not value everyone as a beloved child of God. And it would be easy to feel overwhelmed and tune out. It would be easy to feel overwhelmed and think you needed to single-handedly change the world, become discouraged and then drop out. But being the idealist that I am, I believe we have a better option, or as the ethicist, Walter Wink would say, a third option. We have the choice to complain that this is all too difficult, or we can be strong, stand firm, pray, and proclaim the gospel of peace, knowing and believing that God is near the broken hearted and choose to serve the Kingdom of God. We don’t have to be “the frozen chosen” anymore. We can be the ones who serve in whatever way God is calling us as individuals and as a church.
Last Sunday I met with the vestry to talk about what visions we have for this coming year. We did this in the framework of the 5 Marks of Mission, which call us back to our Baptismal Covenant. And when we talked about how we are currently proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom, I was proud of us! We talked about how important our little church is to the community of Hood River because of our ministries related to FISH, the Warming Shelter, Free Clothes for Kids, the Voucher Program, AA, and Little Feet. We talked about learning more about our Latino, Hispanic, and Native brothers and sisters. We talked about the need to understand better how the prison industrial complex works in our society and the role of the church in system. We talked about the importance of teaching and modeling compassion for those who are not like “us”. We talked about the importance of the ministry of presence to one another. And we talked about how we can be stewards of God’s good creation. Together we decided to be strong, stand firm, pray and proclaim the gospel of peace in our neighborhood and in the world.
Cody is going to be heading off to Whitman next week to start the next part of his journey to adulthood. This is an amazing moment in his life and the life of his family. And Cody, if there was one thing I’d want you to take with you to college, it would be this: know in your mind and believe in your heart that Jesus is with you. When things get tough, know and believe that God is there. When things are joyous and wonderful, know and believe that God is there. And when it’s your turn to help someone else in need, remember to be strong, stand firm, proclaim the gospel of peace, and pray in the Spirit at all times.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.