One of the things that I like to do in the summer is to catch up on my reading. This past week, I have been reading Richard Powers’ amazing book, The Overstory. In it, the author describes a seven-year-old boy as one who “knows that most of the world is a present for him.”
I consider it an amazing gift to spend summers on the Outer Cape. All those years of reading Henry Thoreau, Henry Beston, Marge Piercy, and Mary Oliver have come full circle. Their stories and imagery come to life for me here.
Every morning, I look out at the water and give thanks for this beautiful and fragile landscape. I also give thanks for my neighbors who work so hard as stewards and keepers of this place:
The shellfish men and women who harvest our oysters, clams, lobsters, and mussels
The deep sea fishermen and women who bring us bluefish, striper, tuna, and swordfish
The farmers who raise our fruits and vegetables and sell them in the local markets
The bakers who make our bread and blueberry muffins
The cooks, waiters, and dishwashers who work in our local restaurants
The shopkeepers and drivers who stock, sell, and deliver items to meet our every need
The women and men who clean up after us
The cashiers who ring up our groceries at the market
The yoga and exercise teachers who stretch our bodies
The doctors, nurses, and vets who take care of us when we’re sick
The painters, sculptors, musicians, and artists who feed our spirits
The lifeguards, police officers, firefighters, and EMTs who keep us safe
For this place and all these people, I offer thanks. But that’s not enough. As the prophet Micah says to the seeker who asks what is required of her, God has told us what is good and what is required: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God. “Do,” “love”, and “walk” are action verbs that demand we get off of our donkey and help our neighbors.
The New Testament writer of James reminds us that faith without works is dead. When we live out those baptismal promises, though, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” To paraphrase an old camp song, when we work with each other, when we work side by side, we will guard each one's dignity and save each one's pride.
Thus, in our baptismal covenant, we promise to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being. The Christian faith is not just a head thing; it involves the heart and hands in a call to action.
With so much facing our nation and our world--with climate change, gun violence, sex trafficking, detention and deportation, the growing gap between rich and poor, bigotry, and hatred all running rampant in the public square--it’s hard to figure out what action to take.
Being a Christian today is really about thinking globally and acting locally. We need to be informed about the big picture; we can’t remain blissfully ignorant. We also need to engage with others to solve those big, complicated issues. An important step is to take meaningful action in our own communities.
Matthew’s Jesus makes it really clear. When we feed, shelter, clothe, visit, and advocate for our brothers and sisters in need, we feed, shelter, clothe, visit and advocate for Christ himself.
The St. James Chapel here in Wellfleet commits to the practice of showing love for neighbors by supporting programs and services that benefit the lives of year-round residents and seasonal workers on the Cape. The aim every year is to donate 50% of the offerings directly to groups that support those in need on the Outer Cape.
Their generous donations support people and programs that serve those who live with physical, mental, and spiritual challenges: isolated and lonely seniors who need help and companionship; workers who can’t afford Cape housing costs; abused women who have nowhere else to turn; the sick and injured who require medical care on the outer Cape; the hungry who need food; local children and youth who can’t afford summer camp; year-round residents who need energy assistance in the middle of the winter; and those living with dementia.
Recently, we hosted our second “Outreach Sunday” at the chapel to learn more about the ongoing needs of local residents and seasonal workers, as well as the services provided by various social agencies to meet those needs. After listening to the sacred texts (Micah, James and Matthew 25), our community outreach partners stood in a sacred circle around God’s table and told us about the social service needs of year-round residents and seasonal workers on the Outer Cape and what the agencies are doing to address those changing needs. After they spoke, the chapel warden, Darcy Hackert, announced that fundraising had exceeded the budget and that the vestry had voted to award an additional $500 to each organization. It was a delightful surprise. Before and after worship, the patio bustled with agency exhibits and lively conversations.
Dorothy Bass has written that Christian practices are shared patterns of activity, in and through which life together takes shape over time in response to and in the light of God, as known in Jesus Christ. Woven together, they form a way of life.
I am blessed to serve at St. James Chapel and witness God’s presence among them.
Meeting the needs of our neighbors is one concrete way to practice our collective faith and to remind each and every one of us of our baptismal obligation to do the same.
Question for Reflection: How are you thinking globally and acting locally?