Growing in Love of God and Neighbor

Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone

The Rev. Leslie Mazzacano
Trinity Episcopal Church
Moorestown, New Jersey
January 27, 2018

The law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to the innocent.  AMEN

Immediately following his Baptism, Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness before he began preaching and teaching in Galilee. As reports of his ministry spread throughout the region, he “was praised by everyone” (Lk 4:15). Arriving in his hometown of Nazareth, Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, as was his usual practice.

The local synagogues were the central focus of Jewish community life and worship and were important in the early Christian movement as well. Here we see Jesus honoring his Jewish heritage by participating in the liturgical life of the community. A typical worship service would have included prayers, the reading of Scripture and commentary on the readings.

As the synagogues typically did not have professional rabbis, members of the congregation read Scripture passages. Thus, Jesus stood up to read the scroll from the Prophet Isaiah that began with the words, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon, me, because he has anointed me…” The Gospel of Luke has already established that Jesus is filled with God’s Spirit (3:22; 4:1,14), and now the purpose of this gift is to be disclosed.

The passage, woven from Isaiah (61:1-2a and 58:6d), describes the mission of Jesus; he comes to bring good news to the poor; to proclaim release to the captives and the oppressed; to restore sight to the blind; and to “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” The poor included not only the economically deprived, but also those oppressed and marginalized by society. The Lord compelled his followers to abolish oppression, affirming the absolute worth of ALL PEOPLE to God.

In the reading from Nehemiah, Nehemiah reminds his hearers that we must share what we have with those who have none. We hear this through Scripture, beginning to end. The prophets constantly share God’s word that all must be fed, and the widow, the orphan, and the poor cared for by those who are more fortunate. These sentiments, God’s law to love your neighbor as yourself, are constantly on Jesus’ lips and in his actions.

In doing their best to live these words, many individuals and groups engage in wonderful generous charitable works—and it is good. But as activist Dorothy Day reminds us, that our giving is only the beginning. She says, “whatever I had read as a child about the saints had thrilled me. I could see the nobility of giving one’s life for the sick, the maimed, the leper. But there was another question in my mind. Why was so much done in remedying the evil instead of avoiding it in the first place? Where were the saints to try to change the social order, not just to minister to the slaves, but to do away with slavery?”

As I have shared before, I am involved in a “Friends of Jesus” group. Our current study is Seeking Justice and Peace for ALL People, personal involvement with others to facilitate justice and reconciliation where you live and beyond.  As I also stated this study is making me step out of my comfort zone, to stop thinking about all the injustices and change that is needed but acting on those feelings and do something about it. The study is asking us to work to address the underlying systemic problems that cause injustice. In other words, our goal is to provide food for the food pantries and to address the systemic problems that cause the need for food pantries in the first place.

So, what do I do now?  How do I get personally involved to help make changes in my community and beyond?  Last year I had joined a faith-based group, Lutheran Episcopal Advocacy Ministry in New Jersey. They send out notices and information on various social and justice issues and provide links to vote, contact legislators, attend rallies and more.  This group has given me the opportunity to send my concerns and wishes to government leaders who were voted into office.  I have sent requests about raising the minimum wage, that would help struggling families who must decide whether to pay the rent or put food on the table.

I also signed up for the Episcopal Public Policy Network. Through this group I have acted on our country’s infrastructure, supporting refugee resettlement and our environment.  Episcopal Public Policy Network is a grassroots network of Episcopalians across the country dedicated to carrying out the Baptismal Covenant call to “strive for justice and peace” through the active ministry of public policy advocacy. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry invites us to learn about the Office of Government Relations and to join the Episcopal Public Policy Network in the ministry of speaking out for and with the vulnerable through public policy advocacy.

By joining these groups and sending letters to my senators and other elected officials, I am learning their stand on government policies through the correspondence that is sent back to me.  It has been enlightening and will be helpful in my future voting decisions. I feel that through this study God is asking me to make informed, heartfelt decisions as an active citizen. I must confess in the past I would breeze over information that was sent to me.  I would have discussions with friends but not address with any real commitment what was being decided on my behalf in our government.

I always have taken my vows to the deaconate very seriously, and for the most part I feel that I have followed them.  Last weekend I attended the ordination of deacons in our diocese. I reflected on the Examination of the ordination of a deacon.  The Bishop states what a deacon is called to do.  It reads in part; “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick and the lonely.”  I got that covered!!!!

It goes on to state; “You are to make Christ and his redemptive love known, by your word and example, to those among whom you live and work, and worship. You are to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world!”   This is where I might have to reexamine what concerns of the world I am bringing to the Church.  I feel that the concerns of the world are more than just feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and the lonely.

I read a quote by Pope Francis that says,” I would like to point out that the issue of migration is not simply one of numbers, but of persons, each with his or her own history, culture, feelings and aspirations. These persons, our brothers and sisters, need ongoing protection, independently of whatever migrant status they may have.”

We are inundated with information, some true, some false and some in between about what is going on with immigration, but it is not just here. It is a Global crisis.  I have learned. Our world is currently experiencing an unprecedented migration and displacement crisis. The United Nations reported that, at the end of 2017, 68.5 million people around the world were displaced from their homes as a result of persecution, conflict, or human rights violations. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, on average, 44,000 people were driven from their homes every day last year, or 31 people per minute. While many such people remain within the borders of their countries as internally displaced people, last year 25.4 million people fled across international borders for safety as refugees, the highest number since the aftermath of World War II.

This is just one concern of the world…

I’ve thought about this a lot lately. Dorothy Day puts it right out there for us. Where are those saints today? What are we doing to change the lives of the poor and oppressed? How will we courageously live out Dorothy Day’s vision today, tomorrow and the next day…AMEN

Resources: Synthesis, Office of Senator Cory Booker, 12/7/2018


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