For in your welfare I find mine

Jeremiah writes to the exiles in Babylon (modern day Iraq): But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. He has just told them to settle in to the place they have landed, in the place of their conquerors, their captors. He tells them to pray for these “other” people, the enemy. To let their daughters marry in, for their sons to seek wives there. Settle in, he says. Plant your gardens here. (Subtext: you’re going to be here a while…) This is not a recipe for surrender. It is a teaching about radical love and the wisdom of seeking the good of even those considered “enemy.” Why, because, “in their welfare you will find your welfare.”

Yesterday in Oakland, folks gathered at St. Columba Catholic Church to hear about the work of Jubilee USA: the organization to which our parish belongs, and which works on issues of poverty and justice around the world. This year’s focus for Jubilee Sunday is “Love Your Neighbor,” and there are two domestic foci: U.S. student debt, and payday loans. (They are also continuing to work on the national debt situation in Puerto Rico.)

Why? Why should we care if young adults are graduating with college debt in the 5- and 6-figure range? How does it affect us if others in our community take out loans against future paychecks at interest rates so high they may never be paid back?

Debt can be a kind of captivity, and like any other kind of enslavement, everyone it touches is affected. Our welfare is tied together. If young adults graduate with crippling student loan payments, they are heading out into the work world already stressed. Their debt, under current structures, can never be released. It is passed down like an unforgivable sin, visited from one generation upon the next. Payday loans are equally insidious, with interest rates so high it can be close to impossible to pay off the principal.

I was reading last night about the devastating path of Hurricane Matthew. As of the last numbers I saw, almost 900 people have died in Haiti, and many towns in the South of the island nation are close to 90% destroyed. We could look at things in our own communities that perhaps are dire for others, but don’t seem to touch us directly: maybe it’s housing, gun violence, poverty…the list goes on.

Jesus crosses boundaries in today’s gospel when he heals a group of people who are unclean:

10 lepers come pleading for the mercy of healing. Despite his complaining about the 9 who don’t return, I do not think that Jesus healed them so that they would come back with thank you notes. He healed them because he understood that mercy is always the way of God. This mandate from Jeremiah to the captives in Babylon is radical.

I was at the new Berkeley Art Museum this week, and spent some time sitting in a beautiful slightly darkened exhibit room there, full of gorgeous, peaceful images of Buddha from ages past, including one that was probably six feet tall. And that reminded me of a Buddhist prayer for Universal Loving-Kindness.

The prayer, which gets increasingly radical as it continues, goes like this. (I invite you to sit comfortably, and perhaps to close your eyes or at least let your focus relax):

  1. May I be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to me. May no difficulties come to me. May no problems come to me. May I always meet with success. May I also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.
  2. May my parents be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success. May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.
  3. May my teachers be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success.May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.
  4. May my relatives be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success.May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.
  5. May my friends be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success.May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.
  6. May all indifferent persons be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success.
    May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.
  7. May my enemies be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success.May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.
  8. May all living beings be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success.
    May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.

May it be so.

What was that like? Sometimes it’s easier to pray for people who are indifferent, or even “enemies” than for those closest to us by blood. But praying for enemies to be well is pretty hard, no? But that is exactly what Jeremiah is asking for. Because God is the God of all people, of all creation.

And, I find, praying in this way does get easier with practice. When I remind myself that unless all beings are well, none of us is truly well, none of us free while some are not free—then it is easier for me to wish good for all. So the people in Haiti, in Iraq, in debt, in stress—our wellbeing is connected to theirs. And, when we are the person in the eye of the storm,

in financial straights, in challenging times, how beautiful are the prayers and the love of others,

known and unknown to us, who wish us well, healed, and joyful!

In the narthex are three information sheets:

one from Episcopal Relief and Development about their hurricane relief fund;

and two fact sheets from Jubilee, about student debt and payday loans.

I encourage you to pick them up on your way out and, at the very least, use them as a prompt for your prayers. Barbara Metcalf was at the workshop yesterday in Oakland, and has said she’d be willing to sit at a table at coffee hour if folks have questions or want to know more.

This idea—showing mercy and loving kindness to others is for OUR good, as much as it is for the good of the “other” —is one of the most radical challenges in the life of faith.

May God so soften our hearts

and strengthen our resolve to be people who love with radical abandon,

that we may ourselves become people of love and mercy. Amen.

The Rev. Julie Wakelee-Lynch

Proper 23, Sunday, October 9, 2016

St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Albany, Calif.

Click here to download this sermon

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