“One person’s margin is another person’s neighborhood. We are called to go there.”
By The Rev. Patricia Downing
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Every Eucharist ends with this or similar directions. Having been renewed by the Spirit in worship, forgiven by an all loving God, connected to the divine by prayer and song, and fed at the table by Christ’s body and blood, we are told to go, love, serve. One of the questions that tumbles around in my heart is “Where are we called to go?”
The obvious answer is “out.” We go out of the church building or gathering place. Then what? Do we turn right or left? Do we go to our cars to drive home or do errands? Do we travel down the street to the homeless shelter, office, or park?
Jesus offers us some direction as to where to go if we explore where his journey took him. More often than not, Jesus went to the edges, to the margins. He goes to the edge of the shore line and calls Peter, Andrew, James, and John from their fishing boats. Jesus hangs out at the outskirts of town by the well and engages a woman in a conversation about who will be saved, and by doing so extends the kingdom to the gentiles. He enters into the Temple grounds and looks into the shadows to see and praise the poor woman giving two copper coins. Jesus goes to the profane areas of the city as well as the inner sanctums of power. Jesus eats with sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, and Pharisees. Jesus goes to wherever the need is for the gospel of love that he has come to preach.
The funny thing about margins and edges is that they are moveable. I think about kids who attend Delaware Futures, a program of support for high school students. Some of these young people have never been outside of Wilmington. Can you imagine that? They have lived their 15 or 16 years and never left the city limits. How small is their frame of reference for what is possible in the world? They have never seen Longwood Gardens, crossed the canal, been to the beach, or seen corn growing along the highway. Contrary to that, I know of some people in the suburbs who have never set foot back into the city since the riots in 1968. Their fear, real or imagined, has kept them from exploring the wonderful food and theater Wilmington offers, let alone encounter their brothers and sisters who live there. One person’s margin is another person’s neighborhood. We are called to go there.
We go to wherever we see our brothers’ and sisters’ lives falling short of the “full stature of Christ” to which they are entitled. If rhetoric stifles debate, that is a margin. If justice isn’t present, that is a margin. If fear rules the streets, that is a margin. If bigotry veils the image of God in the other, that is a margin. If addiction distorts the body and mind, that is a margin. If systemic poverty stunts possibility, that is a margin. If affluence provides blinders to what is being experienced by our neighbor, that is a margin. If the insecurity of loss freezes us into inaction, that is a margin. One person’s margin is another person’s reality, and the gospel needs to be proclaimed there.
The work of love and service is to move that margin. Christian faith expands the circle of inclusion so that more of God’s children are encompassed in a realm that offers what they need to live life abundantly. Expanding the edges takes us into the presence of the powerful and the poor — those in authority to change the systems and those weighed down by the oppression of current structures. Proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ is done with thought, words, and deeds. It is also done by crafting a space that honors each voice while demanding that each speaker acknowledge the dignity and worth of every human being.
Jesus talks with those whom he encounters; disciple and Pharisee, Pilot and peasant. He enters into dialogue with them about their lives, hopes, and fears. Jesus allows himself to be moved by their stories. He offers them glimpses of what God wishes for them, each living in peace under their own fig tree, with daily bread, safety, security, and hope for the future. He uses his power and ultimately gives up his life to widen the circle of the kingdom to make room for them around the table.
As we venture out of our churches, Jesus reminds us, “Be not afraid. I go before you always. Come follow me.” We go to where Jesus is. When we get to the margin, we encounter Christ. When we get to the margin, we discover the presence of God in those we meet. When we get to the margin, we see the horizon expand before us and hear the voice of Jesus calling us on.