Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Spirit of Solidarity

Philippians 2:1-11
Matthew 23:1-12

I want you to imagine for a minute where God is.  When you pray, where do you sense that God is—at how much of a distance?  Is God in heaven?  Is God in space or beyond space?  Is God generally “up there”—the man upstairs?  When our children were young, we had a 4 year-old neighbor who knew exactly where God was.  When something went missing at his house, he would pray, “God, when you’re looking down here, if you see my brother’s bike, would you tell him where it is?”  I have a friend whose prayers always ask God to look down on us.  My mother, who was a church musician, once told me that she didn’t pray because God has so many more important things to attend to than her needs.  
But for Jesus, God was not the white haired old man on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  Jesus taught his disciples to call God “Father” and “Abba, Daddy.”  It is unfortunate that the English translation of the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, starts “Our Father, who are in heaven.”  Those words solidly place God in another dimension, away from us, and away from earth.  A better translation of the original Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, is far more intimate and also cosmic, “O Breathing Life, your Name shines everywhere!”  We don’t get closer to God by moving up a hierarchical ladder, by being wealthier, more powerful, more important, or even more religious.  For Jesus, God was immanent, permanently pervading and sustaining the universe, as close as our breath.  God’s Spirit reveals God working from within, being an inherent part not just of us, but of all of creation.  We draw nearer to God not by looking up and beyond, but when we serve those in need.  
However, I get uncomfortable when we talk about serving those in need because our desire to serve so easily turns into charity.  I appreciate the quote on the front of your bulletin by Eduardo Galeano who said, “I don’t believe in charity; I believe in solidarity.  Charity is vertical, so it’s humiliating.  It goes from top to bottom.  Solidarity is horizontal.  It respects the other and learns from the other.  I have a lot to learn from other people.”  When our image of God is hierarchical or vertical, our way of seeing human relationships becomes hierarchical.  I believe that God’s Spirit allows us to see God in one another in such a way that our relationships become mutual.  Instead of reaching a hand down, we can be in this, whatever it is, together.  We can have each other’s backs.
So why don’t we?  On this 4th of July weekend when we are celebrating American independence, why are we just waking up to the racism and violence that permeate our culture?  Why is a country that has been populated by immigrants from the very beginning, not able to solve immigration issues?   Why are we allowing the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer?  Why have we shredded the social safety net so that our veterans, and mentally ill citizens, and women and children have become homeless?  I believe it is because we are so enamored as a society with rising above and getting ahead.  We have little sense of solidarity with our neighbors, unless we can gather with those who are most like us in gated communities.  
Honestly, I don’t have an answer and it makes me sad.  I know how different our country could be if we believed in each other and cared about each other.  I also know that I’m talking to the choir.  I see how you take care of each other.  I tell other people how generous you are.  I know you do everything you can to make a difference in the part of the world in which you have influence.  I wonder if there is something in Galeano’s quote that might help us to be more loving, and perhaps even more effective in our ministry.  The idea of solidarity instead of charity holds so much promise.  
Let me tell you little ways that I see solidarity.  I don’t mean to embarrass anyone, but I want to share what I’ve noticed and hope that it will spread:
  • When Clay Gleb serves communion to children, he squats down to their eye level.
  • Some of you always buy a copy of the paper, Real Change, which homeless people sell.  Dick Vanderpool learned the man’s name who sells on Dick’s route to the Museum where he volunteers and Dick calls him by name and asks how he is.
  • Claire Hallowell will ask you how you’re doing after an illness long after everyone else has forgotten you were ever sick.  
  • When Faye couldn’t attend the Wednesday night study because she was in the community care center, the study came to her.
Jesus taught his disciples to serve one another by getting down on his hands and knees and washing their feet.  He told us that when we do something for the least of these, we do it for him.  God’s Spirit leads us into mutual relationship of respect and service in which we listen for what people need and respond with generosity—and we receive that same care and generosity when we are in need.  In solidarity, we have each other’s backs and treat each other with extraordinary respect.   How can we make that part of our cultural heritage?  How do we get that kind of mutual care and respect back in our public discourse and legislation?  Really, we do have choices and we can make a difference if we pay attention to the leading of God’s Spirit.

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