FOR NOW THERE ARE FAITH, HOPE AND LOVE. BUT OF THESE THREE, THE GREATEST IS LOVE. (1 Corinthians 13:13)
Before the LOVE month of February slips away, I wanted to share a reflection with you.
Love compels us. To see our neighbors. To respond to them. To get involved.
As long as I can remember, the Gospel of Luke, ch. 4 vs. 14-20 has guided Neighborhood Ministries mission:
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit and went to Nazareth where he had been brought up. On the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue and stood up to read; the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
No greater love than this. That a man lay down his life for his friends.
The scroll Jesus unrolled was the Isaiah 61 scroll, describing what God the Savior would look like when He came to earth. He would proclaim good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, the oppressed would be set free and the “year of the Lord’s favor” would come permanently. This favorable year is what the Old Testament called THE YEAR OF JUBILEE, a spectacular occurrence which was supposed to take place every 50 years. The gift of this year, granted by God, was to the most sorrowful and oppressed, it was specifically for them to get their lives back. This year demanded a physical, just response to societal oppression, where there would be three markers: debts forgiven, slaves freed, and families given back their ancestral land. A whole nation would get a “do over”. Isaiah 61 imagines that these lives would be called Oaks of Righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. (Isa. 61:3)
It is for this kingdom of God vision that love compels us.
The imagery of this important Luke passage and its connection to Isaiah 61 is love language to us here at Neighborhood Ministries. We see the portraits of the people that God has given us to love in this passage, people who have heard the good news, who heard freedom proclaimed, who have moved toward recovery, people whose lives challenged us to engage oppression and who invited us to participate with them to get their lives back.
Alex Canez is one of them. Alex was raised in our neighborhood during the days of deeply entrenched gang and drug activity. Quite a few years ago, after a depressing and traumatic season in prison, Alex reached out to our ministry, and to me, for a word of hope. Was rescue possible with God? I remember sitting in his living room hearing his heart and praying with him. All was not easy following this first prayer, but God began to give Alex his life back. He allowed others to invest in him. His story is a testimony of the ways in which the love of God wins. Miracles … transformation … hope …
Today Alex is investing in others, has worked here in one of our businesses, serves weekly as a teacher in our outreach program called Kids Life, takes care of our campus at night and has become a testimony for the next generation to follow. He is one of the oaks of righteousness in this neighborhood. You might also want to meet his wife Selena who runs our silk screening business, Opportunitees, sturdy and strong, growing and glowing with the love of God. When you come down to our shop ask her to share her story with you.
Together we see and together we love.
Caring for imprisoned people is a body-of-Christ concern. This past week, Neighborhood Ministries joined the SURGE network and the African American Clergy network to co-sponsor our first (and we hope annual) event at the state capitol. It was called “Locked in Solidarity”. It was an awareness and action week to engage criminal justice reform by increasing community awareness of the impact incarceration is having in poor communities. For Christ’s love compels us (2 Corinthians 5:14).
It is love which compels us to engage in the issues that our brothers and sisters, like Alex and Selena, have encountered; and today they are thriving because of Christ and in spite of the justice system. Our hope is that you stand with Neighborhood Ministries as we are obedient to this call of Loving the marginalized in our city. Are you willing to support us through prayer and giving as we continue on this path to Justice?