Monday, August 24, 2015

A Call to Boldness

Text: Ephesians 6:10-20

“I am questioning my courage.”

A fellow pastor, who just opened up her church to Aberdeen’s tent city, told me that this week. To be honest, all I could do was say: “I question my courage a lot too.”

The author of Ephesians writes: “Pray that I can proclaim the gospel boldly.” “Pray that I can continue to be faithful, even as I suffer in prison.” “Pray for me, that I have courage.”

The early Christian community—a community of mostly poor, mostly forgotten people who kept ending up in jail—faced down an entire empire. They were up against powers and principalities, against rulers who condemned them and an empire that oppressed them.

The call of the gospel for that early community was a call to boldness.

You all know at least a little about the ministry that we do out in Aberdeen and Westport, on the streets and in the middle of deep poverty. I work as a priest in both places, serving alongside about 250 people, open 5 days a week, eating together, worshipping together, studying the Bible together, and dealing with crisis constantly.

To be perfectly honest, I resonate deeply with the author of Ephesians. I feel the need for courage and faithfulness all the time. I feel the need for prayer all the time.

We face powers and principalities all the time in our work.

The powers and principalities that tell the poor and struggling folks of Grays Harbor county that they are worthless, that they do not deserve good housing, that they do not deserve to survive. The powers and principalities that leave people to die without hope for a better future. 

Courage can be hard to find. We face a lot of opposition in our work. I’ve been called a lot of names as people struggle to understand why I stand with people living in poverty and on the street. Our folks on the street face ordinances that criminalize homelessness and they face repression. People get arrested often, and often simply for sleeping outside or charging their phone in a park, and are faced with fines and fees they cannot pay. They also face the constant scorn of their neighbors. As our tent city is getting ready to move to another church, the mudslinging is beginning again.

When my pastor friend says; “I question my own courage,” I get it. When the author of Ephesians says; “Pray for boldness,” I get it.

And so we in Aberdeen and Westport ask you, as fellow gospel proclaimers, for your prayers.

It can feel like we face powers beyond our imagination.

I know many veterans on the streets, many of them relatively young. They share with me how proud they once were of being trusted to operate millions of dollars of equipment and of being part of something bigger than themselves. They share stories of the horrors of war and their own trauma. And they sometimes talk about the biggest trauma of all: coming back home and being utterly abandoned. Now no one trusts them with a job. Now they can’t take care of those they love. Now they are plagued with nightmares on the streets. Now they can barely get medical care. Now they are routinely arrested by the governments they once served, in and out of jail for minor infractions or for being homeless.

How do you find courage then?

“Pray that I might have boldness,” says the imprisoned apostle. “I doubt my courage.”

And then I take my lead from the prophets among us.

The young women on the streets of Aberdeen who come to community meetings and say; “The city is all of us. Its not just pretty streets and tourists. Its all of us.”

The folks who risk arrest to be visible and to speak truth to power in meetings with city officials or public fundraisers.

The veterans who tell their stories and ask why they can’t get housing or work.

The cannery workers who try to support their Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters when there is an immigration raid.

The courage that I witness every day in the most desperate circumstances gives me courage.

I watch young men and women who are called names every day stand up and put on the belt of truth and speak truths that are hard to hear.

I watch the forgotten of the world put on the shoes of the gospel of peace in Westport, and open up space for food and hospitality in a place where so many are hungry.

I watch folks on the street put up a shield of faith, as they try to organize a tent city in Aberdeen and find a way to live in community and seek for a better future.

I watch the poor of the earth open up the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, and find their own stories there.

I watch my people fasten on the armor of God to struggle for their own liberation. To stand up for themselves. To forge a better life for themselves.

That gives me courage.

All over the world and all over our country, we have young men and women taking hard stands and speaking hard truths. Young undocumented immigrants who dare to dream. Young black folks, in the face of so many murders, saying “Black Lives Matter.” Young men and women on the streets daring to dream of a better life. Fighting for the soul of our country. That takes great courage.

Its that courage that hold up my own as I do the work I am called to do. It’s my people who give me courage.

And we ask for you to join us in this work, by praying for us and with us. Pray for Aberdeen and Westport. Pray for our ministry. Pray for the leaders of our group that are fighting for a better life in a place that is struggling. Pray for our veterans who are abandoned on the streets. Pray for boldness, that we might live and proclaim the gospel. The gospel that says to each of us, in the face of the powers and principalities of the world:
You are beloved.
You are worthy.
You are a child of God.
You are able.
You are the leaders of your own liberation and healing.