The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. All the believers were united and shared everything.
As I ate my dinner in a hurry today, with a 6:00 pm meeting looming just ahead of me, I happened to scroll through the news on my smart phone. One of the first articles I came across was the disheartening news that U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kathy A. Surratt-States had approved Patriot Coal’s plan to reject the collective bargaining contracts of its retirees and to restructure (decrease) their benefits.
It just so happened to be that the meeting I was heading to was with the auxiliary of Local 1570 of the UMWA. I have recently been invited to serve as chaplain, and have accepted the honor… this would be the first meeting I would be attending in that capacity. As I read the story I lost my appetite…
I took an interest in the Patriot Coal bankruptcy proceedings for many reasons. Chief amongst them is that fact that many of my parishioners are directly affected by this decision. Because God’s justice, from the very beginning, has always been to protect the weak and the vulnerable (this includes the aged, such as retirees), I knew I was dealing with a faith issue. As a faith leader in my community, it seemed impossible not to take a stand for my brothers and sisters in Christ who stand to lose so much.
But today’s news hit home a little harder than I expected.
Over the past year I have gotten to know and love several of the retirees. They are members of my congregation. They are people I have joined with for dinners and lunches. I have set in their living rooms. I have played with their grandchildren. I have laughed with them, prayed with them, and worshipped with them.
Over the past couple of months I have gotten to know the extended family of retirees affected by the Patriot Coal plan. I have marched with them in Charleston and in St. Louis. I spent nearly 48 hours on a bus with them. Once again, I have dined with them. I have laughed with them and prayed with them. And I have learned to love them.
The intensity of my reaction to the news today is plain and simply because I stepped outside the box of my comfort zone.
I knew I couldn’t make the stand I knew God wanted me to make from my living room, my office, or even the pulpit. This was a stand that needed to be lived.
At some point, faith has to lead us out of our church and into the world… where we are expected to be instruments of God’s love, healing, and justice in a broken world.
When we do that… when our faith and our lives are morphed together into one, we find ourselves not just supporting people, but loving them. It changes the way we look at their struggles and their lives.
When we eat with them, share with them, live with them, we love them with more than our words, but with our hearts and souls.
Things become much more personal in those relationships. We are no longer looking at them as people who need our support, but as people with which we share a common goal. When they laugh, we laugh. When they feel joy, we feel joy. When they struggle, we struggle. And when they suffer, we suffer.
We can’t love the people in this world if we are living inside a box that isolates us from so many others. We have to step outside our comfort zones and share a common space and a common moment with them. We must be willing to have all things in common with them, so that we can love them with the same sort of devotion with which Jesus has loved us all.