On Climate, Farmworkers & New Americans
Earth Day and all the attention from the United Nations to the state of our island home were good opportunities to pause and see how we wish to steward this trust. Bishop Marc Andrus made a pitch for this stewardship at the UN on behalf of the Episcopal Church. I had the privilege of engaging the community at Hobart & William Smith Colleges around that time on the issue of climate action, which is one of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals signed on by 190 countries. An interfaith panel of three engaged Pope Francis’ Encyclical, Laudato Si, on caring for our Common Home, as he affectionately calls it. We were heightened in our conversation by how closely the Abrahamic faiths share a common commitment to preserve our planet. Our fifth mark of mission “to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth” continues to be an inspiration for us to take small and grand steps.
On May 2, 2016, we honored one of the living saints among us who embodies this influence of the heavenly in our temporal context. The Rev. Richard Witt is an Episcopal Priest who is canonically resident in the Diocese of New York, and he has been licensed to serve in our Diocese. About two hundred and fifty of Richard’s friends gathered in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to celebrate his twenty-five years of service with Rural & Migrant Ministry. His is an example of consistent devotion to heavenly citizenry striving to change the laws of our land to treat with fairness the invisible saints who work in our farms as God co-workers to bring food from the earth. Migrant workers embody every description of missional Christology described in Matthew 31 as the hungry, thirsty, naked, strangers, and in prison. Richard is a transformational leader who inspires us to keep working to bring the peace (Shalom) of God closer to earth as it is in heaven. He invites us to stand with those who are invisible, dispensable and don’t have the energy to be the squeaky wheels of our society. We have an opportunity to walk/march to Albany to continue righting this wrong. We give heartfelt thanks for the ongoing witness of Rev. Richard Witt! May God bless him, his family, and all who work for the equitable treatment of migrant workers in our midst!
Related to the earth and migrant farmworkers is yet another issue that is increasingly on our radar: the reality of refugees around the world. June 20 is World Refugee Day, when we celebrate the amazing courage of refugees who traveled great distances to find a new home among us. Recently we heard some such stories from new American women from Myanmar who are members of the Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Rochester. According to our Public Affairs media release, “this year, the Episcopal Church, in partnership with congregations, volunteers and our network of 30 local affiliate offices in 26 states will welcome more than 5,000 refugees to the United States from 32 countries, from places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burma, Afghanistan, and Syria.” Please continue to pray and support these bold initiatives.
On May Day, I also sensed a congruence of several disparate things. We have been engaging the issue of a living wage, and we have just come out of a tax season. I have been pondering the idea of good citizenship. Paying a living wage for those who work and paying our taxes are signs of the shared responsibility or social contract as citizens of this good country. Spiritually, we are reminded that we are Christ’s own forever. In Philippians chapter three we are told that we are citizens of heaven. It is out of this identity of belonging in heaven that we offer our gifts to God with the simple affirmation, “All things come of Thee O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.” If paying our taxes is an expression of our responsibility as citizens of this land, then offering our gifts for the glory of God is an expression of our responsibility as citizens of heaven where values like loving one another are paramount. Jesus summed this tension up when he said in Mark 12:17, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” It is my humble belief that the two are not exclusive, and that without the heavenly influence the earthly would be reduced to mere self-interest spurred by narcissism even in a democracy.
We continue to pray for our political process as we prepare with civility to elect the next President of the United States. While we have to show restraint in supporting a party or candidate in our pulpit rhetoric, let us engage this sacred right to the ballot and make sure all who are eligible are able to vote.
Your fellow servant in this pilgrimage to see the face of God in each other,