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Hopeful Ones,

What a privilege it has been for us to learn new ways to be neighbor right in the heart of Stillwater. Under the leadership of John Hodler, Jeff Anderson and Roger Funk, over 100 volunteers showed up to receive training and participate in creating a safe, warm and welcoming space for our neighbors to find, shelter, nourishment and community; and access necessary services through Washington County. Right in our building.

The advocacy of our intrepid trio ignited our imaginations for new ways of responding to God’s call to love our neighbor. It was overwhelming to see the unrestrained support of the entire congregation and beyond for this holy work. What a privilege it has been to represent you at gatherings across the community and further afield. Conversations about next year are already underway…

…because we will continue to have neighbors experiencing homelessness until broader issues are addressed in our community.

When the February women’s retreat ended early due to impending snow, I had the unexpected opportunity to do a little worship tourism and attended worship at St. Mark’s in North St. Paul and Our Savior’s right here in Stillwater. It was a gift to be able to worship with our partners and learn from their worship practices.

Like we did that Sunday, St. Mark’s read the passage from Matthew about being salt and light. And they read Isaiah 58:1-12. In this powerful passage, the prophet speaks to the once-exiled Israelites, teaching them what true worship of God looks like: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them….”

The closing hymn for the morning came from another familiar book, our ELCA hymnal. Hymn #546 “To Be Your Presence” includes these two passages: “To be your presence is our mission bold, to feed the poor and shelter the homeless cold, to be your hand of justice, right uphold. To be your presence is our mission blest, to speak for all the broken and oppressed, to be your voice of hope, your love expressed.”

As we imagine being salt and light in the world, the reading from Isaiah and the words of the hymn ring out God’s call that to be salt and light means our faith be lived publicly for the sake of the neighbor. While we work hard at feeding, clothing and sheltering our neighbors, we are equally called to the work underlined above: to take our faith into the world, into the halls of power, and to the polls to do the work that breaks the yoke of oppression and brings justice and equity. We are called to take our faith out into public to work on systems and policies that contribute to hunger and homelessness.

We are tempted to shrug it off by saying that faith and politics have nothing to do with each other. But our Scripture says differently.

Faith is a gift given by God so that God’s dreams can become reality through our participation with God. One of the ways we participate with God is to be people of faith active in the public life we share.

For those of you ready for this conversation we are offering a deeper dive into this part of the call of faith: My Neighbor 2020. On Wednesday evenings in Lent, we will explore how to live as people of faith within the realities of our political system. How do we participate in the political process in ways that love our neighbor as we love ourselves? How does God’s command to love our neighbor call us into our shared public life?

Each Wednesday evening there will be a speaker from 6-7 p.m. addressing one aspect of this call. That speaker will then also bring a brief sermon to our Lenten worship, which is 7-7:30 p.m.

Please join us as we discover how to participate in building God’s dream by responding to God’s command to “loose the bonds of injustice, undo the thongs of the yoke, let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke.”

As we give thanks for the deep privilege of journeying alongside our neighbors experiencing homelessness, we pray for the courage, wisdom and clarity to work just as hard to prevent homelessness and to amend the systems that contribute to it.

Blessings, peace and good courage, Friends.

Pastor Chris

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