Lectionary: Acts 16:9-15, Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; John 14:23-29
I want to begin by mentioning that today is Rogation Sunday – a day we ask God’s blessing on agriculture and industry, those who work in those areas, and those of us who benefit from them. Is this familiar to you?
While I do mention it, we won’t pray the Great Litany, as is the Episcopal custom on this day, but I do commend it to you to read on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week – which are the rogation days. These are always the three days before the Ascension, which falls on Thursday. As a principal feast in the church, however, we will transfer the feast of the Ascension and celebrate it on the following Sunday.
Why am I mentioning all of this? Well, aside from the fact that we are Episcopalian, and this is part of our tradition, it is also germane to today’s Collect in which we ask God to pour such love into us that we love God in all things and above all things…
Seeking to love God in all things connects us directly to the Episcopal focus on the stewardship of creation. All that God has created, all whom God has created, are to be tended to reverently, and God’s gifts are to be shared by us who have access to them as generously as God has shared them with us.
Seeking to love God above all things keeps our focus on God’s plan for us and for the world, reminding us to subjugate our desires, knowing they are too small; that the good things God has prepared for us exceed our ability even to ask or imagine. It also means that we don’t have to take what we need first and hope the other guy gets theirs too. Our selfishness, our mistrust of God’s abundance, leads to so much division, sadness, and unfair distribution of labor and product.
Then, in order to ensure I keep getting my share, which bloats over time to anything I want, not just what I need, I have to separate myself from those others and demonize them, and the projections begin: “They want what belongs to me. I worked for it. I earned it. They haven’t. They’re lazy. They’re selfish. They deserve their lot in life. If they want better, they should work for it like I did.”
This is the fallacy of the principle of meritocracy and it is in direct contradiction to the way of Jesus. According to Yale Law professor, Daniel Markovits, “We typically think of meritocracy as a system that rewards the best and brightest. [But he says,] “it is merely ‘a pretense, constructed to rationalize an unjust distribution of advantage… The problem, of course, is that elites cheat… they game the system and… engage in all kinds of self-dealing in order to get ahead.” (Source)
In other words, they raise themselves and their desires above those of others. The recent college admissions scandal, where rich people paid elite colleges to admit their children, is an example of gaming the system for their own benefit.
Markovits calls meritocracy a “moral insult… because it frames what is in fact structural inequality and structural exclusion as an individual failure to measure up, and then tells you…[that] the reason you can’t get the… high-paying job is because you’re not good enough and the reason that your kids can’t get into Harvard is that they’re not good enough.” (Source)
Pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, a hallmark of meritocracy, implies we have boots, which people of color, who are disproportionately poor in our country and in the world, don’t – metaphorically. And if they somehow get boots, the elites, who are gaming the system impede their rise - except for the rare few, who are used to point to the validity of the system. See, we had a black president, we had a woman Presiding Bishop, we have a Latina Supreme Court justice. If they can do it, anyone can. The problem is… anyone can’t. The system is rigged against them and meant to not only keep them down but also to blame for it. Meritocracy and racism are a malignant combo.
That is why I say this contradicts the way of Jesus. Jesus showed us how to love and asked us to love others as he has loved us. He asked us to love God and neighbor with a love that puts them above and before ourselves – as he did for us.
In today’s gospel, Jesus tells Judas, the son of James, his brother: “those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” This is a very dense, and important statement, so let’s unpack it a little.
The word “love” being used here is agape love, the self-sacrificing love Jesus modeled for us. Jesus, who is the word, the logos of God, is the divine reality spoken into human form. When we love Jesus we are holding fast to the reality of him, prioritizing him over ourselves. We say in our creed that Jesus is the one through whom all things are made. To love him, then, is to love God in all things, as we prayed in our Collect.
The outcome of choosing to love in this way is that God makes God’s home in us. We become the temple of the Holy Spirit, the incarnate, living, dwelling place of God.
This is the lesson Jesus is giving his disciples as he prepares to leave the worldly realm. I’m telling you this now while I’m with you, he says, but soon, the Holy Spirit, the one who helps, will come to you and remind you of all I’ve been saying.
What Jesus didn’t say was that things were about to get really rough for the disciples. So, ahead of that, he gave him his peace, saying: I give you my peace, a peace the world can’t give. My peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of eternal wholeness, well-being, harmony, and completeness. Jesus’ peace ensures our safety and our welfare as individuals and as a community.
When sin and conflict happen, Jesus says, and they will continue to happen, remember that I am with you, my peace is with you. So, fear not, and don’t let your hearts be troubled. I am eternally present with you. Love as I love, go where I send you, listen when I speak in your dreams or give you visions, open your eyes to see the truth around you, then work with me to transform the systems of the world that harm my beloved ones and my creation.
Let us pray… Loving God, on this Rogation Sunday, we ask your blessing on those who work in agriculture, knowing that most of them are Latinx or other people of color who can’t afford to eat what they are growing, picking, and sending to us.
Creator God, we ask your blessing on the earth, the womb of our sustenance from which we get our food, water, and air, remembering that her gifts are often exploited to profit a few rather than stewarded for the welfare of all.
Generous God, we ask you to bless the industries that drive the world’s economies, praying that all who work are fairly treated, fairly paid, and free to rise to whatever heights their gifts and abilities lead them. We pray for those who don’t or can’t work, asking you to remove all barriers in their way, including the shame and blame they may carry from unjust systems they can neither control nor avoid.
Gracious God, we give you thanks for your love that continually creates goodness in us and in the world, and we pledge, as followers of your son, Jesus, to be faithful stewards of your abundance through our various gifts and occupations until the whole world obtains your promises and the fullness of the peace of Christ. Amen.