This year on Thanksgiving, I give thanks today for many things, family and friends, the fact that I will eat, and for the joy of the gospel.
The Joy of the Gospel for me is this:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
More or less the words of Isaiah, Jesus reads from the prophet in a scene from Luke’s Gospel. God asks, anoints all of us, to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom to prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of God’s favor.
I have always heard this as my task, my assignment, my reason, my why. This has said and still says to me, “Go and be in relationship with the poor (not only the spiritually poor, but those without resources), do what you can to free people from what imprisons them. If people need help freeing themselves from themselves or from addiction, from lack of education and opportunity, or actual unjust imprisonment, do what you can to walk with them in gaining their freedom. Help those who are blind in any way learn to see and to see better. Make sure there is education and health care and housing for everyone. Be in solidarity with everyone who is oppressed economically, politically, religiously, socially or because of their gender, sexual identity or expression, race or ethnic background. Doing this proclaims God’s favor and blessing and presence because God loves everyone. No exceptions.
Ten years ago I left the Catholic Church – and this meant leaving my job – because I taught theology in a Catholic high school. What it came down to for me was the Catholic church didn’t seem to see the Gospel the way I did. I ended up not only a Unitarian Universalist, but a UU minister. There’s a good chance I may never make my living again as a minister in a congregation, but that’s okay because the time I did spend in congregations as a minister did not involve doing the work of Isaiah and Jesus all that much. There was little joy in the Gospel. So I have devoted myself to urging all people of faith, not just Unitarian Universalists, to focus on the work of Isaiah and Jesus. This is called a missional approach – to be about the mission of God in the world.
Today, I will give thanks for Pope Francis. I don’t say this lightly, but if someone like Pope Francis had been Pope ten years ago, I may have had enough hope in the Catholic Church to stick around. Perhaps it’s better Pope Francis comes along after the horror of child sexual abuse by priests was surfacing. Ten years ago no one would have heard or listened. Yes, today among the things I am grateful for is a religious leader with whom I still have many theological differences, but it certainly seems that we share in common a believe in what is the heart of the Gospel.
I love the audacity he has to name his first major work The Joy of the Gospel (Read the full text here). National Catholic Reporter is calling it the Pope’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Indeed, it is an entirely missional document that points out the sins and failures of capitalism.
“I dream of a ‘missionary option, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world, rather than for her self-preservation.”
I hope Pope Francis lives long enough to help sustain and inspire all of us working to build the beloved community. It is my fear that the powers and principalities of the world will find him a threat and end his ministry prematurely, the way they ended Mahatma’s and Martin’s and Oscar’s. Make no mistake, those powers and principalities are very aware of him (see Business Insider here). But while he is with us, I for one will continue to grab courage and inspiration for the struggle.
As Advent begins this Thanksgiving weekend, Christians will prepare for the return of Christ at Christmas and at the end of time. Perhaps Christ comes back again and again and we miss it because we are looking in the wrong places. There will be no supernatural cosmic Christ appearing in a cloudburst from Heaven. There is, however, the continuing resurrection of the spirit of Christ in those who do the work of God in the world. You can recognize them because they will lift up the lowly, call the mighty and powerful to task, take the side of the oppressed against their oppressors, and all the while proclaim the joy that is the good news of justice.