One of my favorite programs the YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City offers is called Getting Ahead. Getting Ahead is a program that fights poverty head on by offering a free 16-week program that works with individuals to help them set their goals, build a network of support, and discover resources to create a more stable environment for themselves and their families. For me, this program uses the sacred imagination of the Sermon on the Mount by sharing resources many of us take for granted.
I am going to lower my shield a bit and speak candidly. I grew up in poverty. My mom would make a game for my brother and I in which we would see who could collect the most cans out of the dumpsters. As a kid, I thought this was something we would do to earn money to buy the latest GI Joe or Transformer. I did not realize at a young age that my mom and dad were fighting upstream to keep our lights on, to put food on the table, and care for their boys. I didn’t realize the clothes my mom was making for us was because we couldn’t afford new clothes. I thought it was because she liked to sew.
For me, as we grew as family, and slowly worked our way out of the situation we were in, I did not ever want to be in that situation again, and I wanted to be a part of something that would repair the systems that allow families that work long days and weekends for very little to just to have the basic necessities of life.
Throughout the scriptures, there are over 2000 references to caring for the poor. In Deuteronomy, the Israelites are commanded to cancel debts every seven years and release those in slavery. In Leviticus, every 50 years, they were commanded to have a year of Jubilee, in which a release was proclaimed, and an emancipation took place of both the land and the people. Jesus himself announces the year of the Lord’s favor, a jubilee, proclaiming good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed.
Our Getting Ahead program is just that: it is an announcement of good news, a jubilee, an opportunity to bring good news to the poor, set the captives free, recovery of sight to the blind, and release the oppressed. It is our way of breaking the chains of our unjust systems that bind people and shame people. It is how we as an organization participate as an agent in God’s mission to heal the world, to bring the kingdom of God on earth as it in heaven.
In the Christian church, the season of lent has begun. It is a season in which we journey with Jesus as ministers and preaches the good news of God’s jubilee throughout the land of Judea, and he is walks the road to Jerusalem and to the cross. It is a season of intentionally giving yourself over to God and allowing God’s Spirit to guide you so you can see the newness in the life and work of Jesus.
How then does one give themselves over to be an agent in God’s mission to heal the world?
Henri Nouwen said it best, “It is hard for me to say, ‘I shall gratefully accept everything, Lord, that pleases you. Let your will be done.” But I know when I truly believe God is pure love, it will become increasingly possible to say these words from the heart.”