Wow, what a week! A few of us here got to meet The Most Reverend Michael Curry and hear him speak. I got to shake his hand and was introduced but I have no picture. He is absolutely awesome and I have no idea where he gets his energy. Our bishop, Greg, told me he was worn out from just following him around the last few days.
We went down to the Chehalis riverbank with Michael and we listened to people speak about what it is like to live there and the sort of opportunities they would like so they could have a more regular home. Paul, in his letter to the church at Corinth, speaks of how the resurrection made everything new. And, yet, in the light of day, we can see there is much that isn’t right in the world. Like people living on the streets of Aberdeen. So, what IS made new?
A mustard seed can be the beginning of an infestation of weeds in a crop field. Yet, Jesus speaks of the mustard seed as a marvelous thing that can grow into something that can change the world for everyone. All the birds of the air can rest in this bush. He says the Kingdom of God is like that mustard seed. Bishop Michael, too, spoke of the mustard seed yesterday and it got me thinking. What IS made new?
He spoke of how The Reverend Dr. William Barber, II started this small movement of Moral Mondays where this small group of folks would show up at the NC state capitol and protest. Every Monday, every single Monday. And, eventually mainline denominations started getting involved. And interfaith groups and atheists and agnostics started showing up. And the movement grew into the Poor People’s Campaign that has spread across many states now. People are revitalized--well, made new!
And I think of Sarah, heading out with a backpack with a few sandwiches on the streets of Aberdeen. Saying hello. This is who I am, how are you doing? How can I help? Can you tell me your story? Just getting to know people, learning their stories, and loving them. And it is heartbreaking work. There is so much need and so much despair and it is overwhelming sometimes. But, there is laughter and joy and love there, too. A mustard seed. And, I have seen people transformed--made new!
There are at least 400 people who cherish Sarah these days. These people see her and her love for them as one of the bright lights in their lives. They know she cares. I, too, receive so much love from many of these people just because I was willing to go out and learn from Sarah and from them. Yesterday we were out on the streets with the two bishops and there were folks who hadn’t seen me for a couple of weeks and their faces lit up when they saw me and they asked for hugs. I hadn’t thought that I might be missed on Sunday evenings not going to the Chaplains dinners in Aberdeen; I knew I would miss seeing them.
I had the joy of speaking with an elder from the Hoh nation, of watching her give a blessing--a “brushing off”--to one of our speakers. When I met them at the gas station later, she made sure she expressed gratitude that they were able to participate and I thanked her for coming. I told her it is always good to have an elder visit. That it was good to get out and be among the people instead of staying at home. She was wonderful! The old made new!
These are the mustard seeds each of us brought to Aberdeen. We wanted to talk about the need for housing--affordable housing, good housing. No mold, no mushrooms growing in carpets, accessible apartments that are for real accessible, and no roaches and vermin.
So, I think about that mustard seed from back in 2013, when Sarah first started those conversations with people on the streets. Those few sandwiches in a backpack that have grown to dinners on Sunday evenings, a community center in Westport, and a table under the bridge in Aberdeen with coffee, sandwiches, fruit, and cookies--that mustard seed has grown into something unimaginable, at least by me. We have put people to work who needed jobs. People have realized their voices have power and have learned to use that power to speak up at city council meetings and gatherings like yesterday. People who have gone to Washington DC to speak to senators and congress people and others in power and tell their stories. People made new!
We want to be restorers of streets to live in. And, we do this, because we have been changed by the resurrection. We go out because Jesus sends us. We speak up because the Spirit leads us, compels us to speak. As Wil Gafney wrote in Sojourners this month, “This is a new thing in the world--prioritizing the needs of others over ourselves because we have been transformed by Christ…newly improved.” And most of the voices who spoke yesterday were the people directly impacted by homelessness, lack of living wages and any kind of work, and limited access to medical care. We see the problems and we can certainly speak to them but we won’t step in front of the folks directly affected and take their voices away. We will not silence them so we can speak for them. We are made new!
And, yet, we cannot be silent when opportunities present themselves. We must speak truth to power. We must tell what we know about the bad stuff that we see and ask others to join us in trying to alleviate it. In trying to plant mustard seeds that will produce a better world for us all. We are made new!
I saw this quote on the internet recently, “I feel now that the time is come when even a woman or a child who can speak a word for freedom and humanity is bound to speak…I hope every woman who can write will not be silent,” Harriet Beecher Stowe. This woman, a woman of some privilege, spoke truth to power. “Even a woman…is bound to speak.” Hers was a mustard seed that grew! And her words speak to today--they are made new again because they still apply.
There are still people who are struggling, there are people who are not free and people who are treated as though they are not fully human and those of us with voices, with privilege are bound to speak or write about what we see and hear. We, too, are transformed by the resurrection and we, too, can be like that mustard seed. We can make the world new!