loren Eric Swanson: Jack Jezreel--Day 1

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Jack Jezreel--Day 1

During our Leadership Community in Omaha we heard from Jack Jezreel. Jack has a passionate and prophetic message for followers of Jesus. The following is a rough transcript by Rich Lotterhos on his fist message...

Jack started Just Faith (http://www.justfaith.org/) in 1989 while he was the minister of social responsibility at the Church of the Epiphany in Louisville, Kentucky. JustFaithJustfaith is a program designed to empower and expand parish and church commitment to social ministry. This year, almost 300 parishes and churches and 3000 people across the country are participating in this rapidly expanding program.

JustFaith provides an opportunity for members of ayour parish to study the Church's commitment to the poor and vulnerable in a lively, challenging, multi-faceted process that is experienced in the context of a small community of faith. In less than three years, JustFaith has established itself as a highly respected and successful model of justice formation, evangelization and conversion.

Jack Jezreel
Preface: The hope is to encounter stuff that puts you off balance or makes you think, or that puts you off balance. My work is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. I want people to feel provoked rather than anesthetized. Even in my own tradition people scratch their heads. I am here to stir up the pot. I want to talk about what it means to do the work of social mission in the world. I will be using the language of charity and justice, which may be unfamiliar in the vocabulary of today’s Christian people. I want to speak about what I feel is at the core of being a disciple of Jesus. This may be like preaching to the choir. I am not here to change your mind or turn you into Catholics. I am notMy hope is to be helpful. Not interested in engaging in a theological debate. My hope is to be helpful.
Start with a story because it seems to me that it so helpfully names the challenge that is in front ofbefore us. I first heard the name as the parable of the “parish,” but it could easily be named the parable of the “church.”

On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude life saving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but a few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves, they went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Many lives were saved by this wonderful and little station, so that it became famous. Some of those who were saved and various others in the surrounding area wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought, and new crews were trained. The little life saving station grew.
Some of the new members of the life saving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and so poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. So they replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in an enlarged building. Now the life saving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they redecorated it beautifully and furnished it exquisitely because they used it as a sort of club. Less of the members were interested in going to sea on life saving missions, so they hired life-boat crews to do this work. The life saving motif still prevailed in the club decorations, however, and there was a liturgical life-boat in the room where club initiations were held.
About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast and the hired crews brought in boat loads of cold, wet, half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick and some of them had black skin and some had yellow skin. The beautiful new club was considerably messed up, so the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwrecks could be cleaned up before coming inside.
At the next meeting there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club's life saving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted on life saving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a "life saving station." But they were finally voted down and told that if thy wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own life saving station down on the coast. They did.
As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another life saving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that seacoast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along the shore. Shipwrecks are still frequent in those waters, but today must of the people drown.

Any kind of movement, organization, or institution that has at it’s founding some kind of original generosity, service, sacrifice or mission can over time find itself at some distance from that original mission that they found so compelling. The author of the parable speaks to the possibility of good movements with a great original mission of compassion and love can find themselves so cold and indifferent years down the road.

(There is a restoration happening in churches today. People are for each other. They are for the common good, and everybody matters. In Catholic liturgy we have a very sublime word, “Go in peace to love and serve the world.” Go to a world of family, neighborhoods, economics and enormous suffering. Unfortunately there is such a propensity to just go to church and stay there. There is too much time and energy focused on the church itself.)
The stuff we are talking about – social ministry is a non-optional component of what it means to be baptized. It is not peripheral. Social mission needs to be at the core “constitutional” of what we do as a church. If someone were to show up at the door of your church and ask, “What time is worship start this morning?” and you were to respond, “We don’t do that here.” It would seem odd to that person. It ought to be just as odd if someone were to ask, “How can I meet some basic human needs of the poor in the community?” Many churches would in fact respond by saying, “We don’t do that around here.” What then makes you Christian? Social ministry needs to be at the core of what we do.

(Many years ago I worked in a parish that was located near a homeless shelter. The shelter was finding that 6 of 10 of the homeless there were women and children. Not having adequate facilities to accommodate them, our parish was asked if we could take on some of the overflow. I took it before the parish council, and they weren’t very excited at all about this. One of the women even asked, “How do you know that they even want to be indoors at night?” What she was really saying was “I don’t want these people in our church.” This is a very common response of people in our churches. They are either oblivious to the problem or totally disinterested in doing any thing about it.

Our job is about moving people from disinterest to excited involvement. Just Faith has developed a strategy for empowering and expanding the work of social ministry. We use the term, “work of social mission” in Dioceses all over the country. We have a catholic teaching that we call solidarity, which means basically that we, the human race are all connected to each other.

I worked for 6 years in a soup kitchen. Let me tell you a story about two Catholics who were working together in a soup kitchen. One had done it for a while, the other was pretty new. The new guy turned one day to the other and asked him, “How do you know that all these people are Catholics?” The point of this story is that we don’t feed these people because they are Catholics, we feed these people because we are Catholics.)

I want to share from a couple of texts today. The first text is a single paragraph - Matthew 5:43. This text is practical and easy to understand and challenging and potent. I used to be a farmer. Farmers don’t like flowery language, like someone from Missouri,. “Show me.” ” This text is potent in that regard.

Jack read the text: (Tax collectorscollector’s were hated. Pagans were not familiar with the covenant.) What is going on in this text? The English word love here in the Greek is “Agape”. The word means unconditional love. God’s love is “not discriminating.” It is a love that needs no preceding context. It is love that goes out freely to the just and the unjust, to the good and to the bad. God’s love is unbounded.

There is another Greek word that is translated love. It is the word, “Philia” (Like the city Philadelphia) which means a love of your own. It is the love of your own group, gang, and tribe. It is often called the love of family and friends. Jesus had a very low regard for this kind of love. He said that even the tax gatherers loved others in this way. The mafia and even terrorists love each other in this way. Richard Roar – He has no unpublished thoughts – “Love is one piece. You either love the whole or you just prefer.” We are all trained in this tradition. We all know where the rich live, where the middle class live, and where the poor and marginalized live. We tell our kids “Don’t go to that neighborhood.” We define who our people are and who they are not.

I grew up in Natchez, Mississippi. In school I played football with African Americans. Though I was from a wealthy home and didn’t live around any, I found myself on the same football team with some who became very close friends. That is what happens when just put yourself close to people who are different than you. You begin to love them. I remember the day when I thought my daddy was wrong.

A journey of faith involves a movement from a small love that is called “Philia” to the great love “Agape”. When we talk about a spiritual journey we are talking about how we move toward greater intimacy with God? It is all about communion with God. This is the great love. God is the great love. The journey is a movement from conditional love to unconditional love. John uses this language, “God is love.” What kind of love was he talking about? Agape love. Our journey is to a “BIG LOVE.” It is the kind of love that is expansive, big, and all inclusive. It recognizes that every human being is precious, and is worthy of our love.
A third Greek word for kind of love is “Eros” which is sensual love. This is best described by youth ministers know about. There is no suggestion in the gospels that love of family and friends is a sin. When you have Philia without Agape is the love of the Hatfields for the Hatfields, and the love of the McCoys for the McCoys. Philia without Agape This kind of love creates a context for war. Thus you have the story of the Hatfields and the McCoys.
Similarly, Eros without Agape is a kind of objectification of the other. It turns a person into “body parts” into a thing. Not unbridled love loved it is utterly bridled love. It is so narrow. But in context of Agape both Philia and Eros are wonderful – they come alive. Our church is the world. Who are our people? Who is the church for? – Everyone. – everyone. The churches work is to move members into a step by step journey from a small love to a great love. How do we make it happen?

Translation issue - These are three words in the Greek but they are translated into English as one word. So what happens when I hearhere God’s love, I can think it means I can simply love my family and friends better. Then I did not get it. Agape blasts through boundaries and transforms. . Holiness means different. How are they different? Agape sets us apart. (My daughter….he just goes to churches and he yells.)
The second text – When love gets big, where does that great love go? What does it do? Matthew 25:31ff. This is the longest clearest description of who is with God and who is not with God in the great hereafter. (Read the text)
A couple of summaries: Whatever our relationship is with our brothers and sisters who are in harm’s way that it is descriptive of our relationship with God… with those who are on the margins, with those who are wounded Which means that is descriptive of our relationship with God. Every everyone of us all have two spiritual journals. One is the “Day timer” - our calendar. How we use up our time. Conversely and a lot of activities but none with those in need that vacuum is also with those who are on the margins, wounded is descriptive of our relationship with God.

The other spiritual journal is our checkbook ledger - a description. A journal of where our treasure is. It is revealing for those who have enough to eat that tells the world what is dear to us. We don’t share them with others, unless we have nothing to hide. These two journals tell the world what’s really important to us.
The second summary as a “tendency could well be based on this passage to tell people, Cliff” note version, “Feed the hungry or go to hell.” Jesus serves the role of a prophet “grab people by the shirt collar and shake them out of their spiritual coma, the coma of me, my and mine. You are so preoccupied with your stuff that you don’t see the call of God to meet the needs of others. Time magazine recently about three years ago tracked the charitable giving of the 50 top CEO’s in the country over a ten year period. On average as As their incomessalaries increased ten timestenfold, the actual amount of money they gave dropped in real dollars. It is so easy to get preoccupied with the world’s stuff.

In Hebrew one word that describes sin is blindness. He wanted them to recognize the importance of loving the vulnerable, the hurting, and the poor. He wasn’t painting a picture of where heaven and hell are, but he was trying to get them to see what they needed to see. Best definition of hell – we come face to face with God and find we have nothing in common….There can’t be communion or intimacy.

The reason I brought up this text is to share a phrase . Phrase “the option for the poor.” The phrase observes this, God keeps showing up in the same place.
Have you noticed throughout the Bible that God’s love always shows up and flourish in the midst of very desperate situations? Through Moses, God shows up in a flourish in the midst of slavery. God intervenes. Where does Jesus show up? Jesus shows up under Roman occupation. Jesus spent an inordinate amount of time in broken and wounded places. There is very little drama taking place with Jesus in the country clubs. (Mary)Jesus spent an inordinate amount of time in broken and wounded places. We need to craft our economics and our politics personally so that all humans can live a dignified life. That’s precisely what Jesus did. God inclines to those who are poor?

I speak about “Catholic social teaching” which is basically our way of understanding – What is our the church’s response to----? This teaching tries to create touchstones, one of which is called “the“The option for the poor.” Does God love poor people more than rich people? God’s love is Agape and unconditional how can you saycould God inclines to those who are poor? How do you get these two concepts together? Here’s how. (Example of a . (Examples of dad and three daughtersdaughter’s going to the Zoo. One daughter is sick. Dad’s attention is immediately drawn to the sick. Does he love his other two daughters any less?) The shepherd has 100 sheep and one which is lost. Where does the shepherd turn his attention? How does God respond when He finds one of his own in distress?
Another experience I had was to be present when each daughter was born. Hold a-holding tiny little girl at her birth, and pull her to my chest, and in that moment experience the – power of connection. Here is the good news..) God loves each one of us a million times this. Part of our spiritual journeyThat is accepting God’s love. Here is another part of thatthe good news. What is God’s response when one of us for example, a 14 year girl in Haiti wanders through a garbage dump to find her breakfast, a homeless elderly man wonders streets of Omaha, a young mother with children at her side wondering if a bomb will fall? Sudan? What would I do? If that was my daughter, parent, sister, I would do anything I could to help the one in need. What is God’s response? God is especially attentive to those broken places. That’s what we believe.
The question is, “So so what’s the proof?” The bombs are still falling, elderly men in large cities in this country die of neglect, and 14 year old girls in Haiti die of hunger or preventable diseases. “So what’s the proof?” We don’t presume to know it all, but this we do know -it all but this we do know every single day there are men and women are working to meet these needs. The evidence that God is attentive is the body of Christ, it’s us, it’s the Holy Spirit that fills the church to demonstrate the presence of God. The body of Christ – the community is working to meet these needs. When love gets big, it inclines in the direction of those at the bottom.the greatest need. Like water seeking out the very lowest level, when love is big, it will seek out those in the greatest need, the . The widows, the orphans, etc. When we are made new in Christ, Chirst that love expresses itself to those inbe inclined to the need.
Aristotle and Aquinas agreed on three components to enduring friendships:
1. You justJust like each other
2. Utility
3. The real glue – “a shoulder to shoulder common gaze beyond each other ourselves to the greater good. “

One of the best ways to To prepare for marriage is to send them to the soup kitchen. Can we love when there is no payback? The true test of the capacity to stay married. My wife and I met in the context of serving the homeless. My(Story – wife got a job not as an art teacher, but as a tutor for a little boy with Lesch-Nyhan syndrome. A striking feature of LNS is self-mutilating behaviors – characterized by lip and finger biting. Maggie decided to be his“less neians? Needed a tutor. I feel so deeply in love with my wife again..) Some one who loves bigis a Great lover makes a good friend.

As love gets big we will find ourselves drawn to broken places. In the book of In all situations we are to recognize the primacy of justice. Distributive justice is given by God to all. God didn’t intend for anybody to starve to death. God has written his law in the hearts of men and women. All the great saints of Catholicism - one in One thing you will notice is that they all hung out in the broken places. None of them were upwardly mobile. They had a common lack of interest in accumulating things. It is an invitation into the Great Love; of God it is just where love goes, it’s just where the Spirit leads us.

Conclusion: The reason weWe are drawn to the poor is not to prove we are holy. It is to put ourselves in grace’s way where God can teach us.anything. I have come to build a relationship. In the context of relationships I can be changed, and this so the world can be changed and we can do it together as friends side by side.

Comment - Prayer of Mother Teresa’s: “May God break my heart so completely that the whole world follows you. The object of this life is to . To die with your heart too big for your body.
My experience houses that raise kids for this are very strong houses.Not substitute one for another. The most powerful religious education happens at the home not by what the parents say but throughis in the actions of the parents.
The needs are so great how do we deal with that? The writer of the book. Writer, The Holy Longing, Ronald R,, wrote One of the ways we protect ourselves from utter deal with the despair you have to have community, community, we enjoy their company. Gandhi said, Ghandi “Whatever we do will seem small but it is very important that we have to do it.” There is no such thing as love lost in the universe. What is eternal is love.


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