O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek,
you will strengthen their hearts;
you will incline your ear
to do justice to the orphan and the oppressed
so tht people on earth may strike terror no more
Today I had the humbling and terrifying opportunity to see this scripture up close and personal. I had a meeting at State Avenue UMC, to discuss how to further be the presence of GOD in this crumbly and forsaken neighborhood in Lower Price Hill.
It is a harsh reality in these streets. Bounded by overpasses to major highways, roadways cut through the small neighborhood, dissecting and distancing the residents from the rest of the Cincinnati area.
Abandoned buildings sit along side the buildings that serve as shelter and homes for many. Litter and garbage are the landscape, along with the languid bodies of those who sit on stoops, sidewalks or linger on the sign posts. Dogs bark frantically, traffic noises from th overpasses drum their insistant, gotta get outta here, beat into the air, day and night.
Yet here are people, children, families, all creations of a loving and compassionate GOD. There is laughter, there is music. And there is pain. My heart simply was overwhelmed as I turned my car towards the "way out" and found myself face to face with a reality seldom seen by those outside these streets.
While some would be horrified (rightly so) at the amount of debris and despair on display.... I couldn't help but wonder about the lives and dreams of those I passed by.... as I looked around, the image of Christ broken and bleeding on the cross captured me at every glance, from every direction....
We had communion this week at State Avenue. Pastor Nilsa's communion liturgy did not come from the UM Hymnal or any other "scholarly" theological source. It came from the depth of her soul, as the pastor of this hurting and broken community; one condemned by society, abandoned and brutalized in the most heinous manner.... caught between the crosses of other thiefs who have stolen the dignity and sanctity of the people here. Crucified on the cross of poverty, race, culture and addiction- left by the "good people" of the day to die in shame and horror...
And yet Pastor Nilsa saw beyond all this, and re-membered this fractured tortured body as that of the beautiful body of Christ.... given so that ALL might have life, restored and renewed in hope and mercy. I wept my way through her words, as I held the hands of those at the table of mercy and grace,
a rag-tag band
of strugglers, survivors;
the addicted, afflicted,
rejected and neglected;
As we shared communion, one young girl barely two years old caught me eye. Pastor Nilsa offered communion wafers to her and her sister, they each grasped this special "cracker" with great delight, holding it up for their mom to see. As the cups of juice were offered, the older sister, confidently took her's in hand, while the younger sister, quickly disengaged her hand from Mom's and eagerly thrust her pudgy little hand up to receive this wonderful cup. On her face was the broadest, sweetest smile... pure and eager in its response to this next "action'
At that moment, I beheld GOD.... calling me, calling each of us, to receive this remarkable feast in this manner- with confidence, joy and eagerness. No matter how broken or stained or horrific our actions are before GOD, in this moment of communion, we are restored.
Accepted at the table of mercy and grace as a beloved child of the Good Creator.
It has been years since I have approached the table of grace with this kind of sheer eagerness, confidence and joy. God moved in my heart, reaching deep into the broken damaged places that I try to hide, and in the act of a child, reminded me to come as I am. To the Gospel Feast, to lay down my own self righteousness and need to be "holy" and simple reach out with confidence and love to receive the gift of GOD for the people of GOD.
I have mulled over this moment, and the message today from driving through the streets of despair and degradation call me to a new sense of communion. We see the suffering of Christ daily in our midst.... but all too often we simply hurry by- or avoid eye contact. Or think what a shame... there is no beauty, no hope there. There in lies our problem.... we do not SEE Christ- we see hopelessness and horror.... we see the Cross and we turn away.
In communion we are called to share the reconciliation and hope and peace of Christ.
Defend the needy and the poor, let justice and peace abound
This is what God is calling me to be and do and live for
in this community of my family in Lower Price Hill.
To accept them as they are, to love them as GOD created them,
and to work for a world, a community, a Church
where they will be welcomed at the table
and not left hanging on the cross.
May God grant me the wisdom to move with compassion as these days of wonder and discovery unfold.