It has been a busy week for me. I have looked at a few sources, and one is from Sojourners magazine. Min-Ah Cho had some good commentary about the four Sundays in September. She wrote that there is a theme this month: A discipleship of equals. Min-Ah said this term was coined by Elisabeth S. Fiorenza who is a feminist theologian. The suggestion in calling a community a discipleship of equals is that a community of Jesus’ followers cannot tolerate an absolute, centralizing power that justifies a relationship of dominance and subordination.
I believe those of us in the Total Common Ministry community can identify well with this, since our goal is to identify and value all the gifts people bring to us. These September readings highlight the struggles in forming a community of God.
I also looked at Canon Lance Ousley’s notes on stewardship for this week and he wrote about God’s limitless grace and mercy and how we are called to share this abundance with others. Yesterday I went to a training Sarah led for Chaplain volunteers, and again I heard about a community of equals. The call that the volunteers have answered is to share God’s abundance of grace and mercy with the people who live on our streets while observing a discipleship of equals.
There is this call to consider what God would want us to do. How do we create a discipleship of equals? How do we do it here and how do we do it out there?
Our stories today give us some insight. Forgiveness is on the plate today. First, we have this rather wonderful/horrible story of the Israelites fleeing the Egyptians. Lance made the connection with forgiveness here because I couldn’t see it on my own. He noted that the Israelites were not concerned with vengeance. They were caught between an army and a body of water and it was dark. God took charge and told Moses what to do and Moses did it. The waters parted and the Israelites walked to the other side. None of them took up arms to fight. There is no apparent discussion of how horrible the Egyptians were or about what they had done. Moses trusted God would take care of them and God did. God judged the Egyptians and destroyed them. The Israelites trusted Moses and did what he told them to do. Part of forgiveness is recognizing that we do not personally need to attack or get into a tit for tat battle with someone who has harmed us. That often leads to escalation of bad feelings.
In the letter to the Romans passage, the overall theme is that God is the judge, so we should leave judging to God. Paul lays out that we should welcome those who are weak in their faith into our church. But, we should not allow them in so we can argue doctrine or belief with them. I think this is a perfect passage for the via media--the Episcopal Church--for it is what we SAY we believe. It is a good reminder to us that we don’t all have to be fed by the exact same food or spiritual practices to be part of the same community. Paul says the important thing is that each in our own minds is convinced in our beliefs and that when we observe a particular day as holy, then it is in honor of God. “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”
Each of us is accountable to God. I also believe this practice is good for working with people we encounter out in the world. Rather than making judgments about people because they don’t look clean or they choose to dress differently or they are overweight or thin or tattooed or drunk or pierced or whatever, we can take time to get to know them by listening to their stories.
Jesus’ response to Peter about forgiving endlessly is about God’s abundant grace and mercy and how we can share that with others. In fact, from the parable Jesus told, it is a requirement to act with mercy and grace.
Of course, as Min-Ah noted, forgiveness does not happen until a victim is ready to forgive and forgiveness does not wipe out an injury. The act of forgiving acknowledges both the victim and the offender, reflecting on the wrong committed, and deciding how and what to think about it. Using God to force forgiveness is wrong. Min-Ah further notes that forgiveness is not justice that justice includes proper apologies, compensation, punishment and restitution. Building justice builds hope.
In a just society, we have the opportunity to create a community of equals. I may not have as much money or education or opportunity as someone else, but a just community affords me the hope that if I am wronged, something will be done to make things right again. Somehow the wrong will be acknowledged and I will be compensated. I see all kinds of wrongs in the world--poverty, homelessness, toxins released into our environment, the destruction of the cultures of indigenous peoples, the incarceration of the brown and the poor, addictions, lack of care for mental health issues and the list goes on. I believe part of our call is to speak out when we see these things happening so vengeance can be left to God. If we help people obtain justice, they don’t need to get into a tit for tat battle with anyone.
Sarah’s suggestions for creating a space of equality is to honor a person’s dignity. Offering respect to someone by allowing them their personal space, by listening when they speak, by asking permission to join them, and acknowledging their humanity and their faith is a beginning of a discipleship of equals. And we can practice this here with one another so we can maintain what we have created. Let us no longer see people here or people out there as someone other than. Let us see that we are all part of the same humanity and each of us is a cherished child of God no matter which day we hold up as holy.