By El Nealson

“Lord, may the word that goes out from my mouth not return to me empty.”

Often these past months I have found myself praying something similar to this:

May I say words. May I say the right words. May they bring abundance, may they bring joy and peace. May they bring equality and justice.

Honestly, I’ve probably asked a bit too much of my words these past weeks. Yet, the words of this prayer bring some strange comfort to me. If you don’t know, in one month and 6 days I will be starting classes in college. And I am excited. And terrified.

I will be leaving my Saint Luke’s community for months, with no clear time of goodbye. No final hugs or words of advice. For over a decade, St. Luke’s has been my spiritual home. I am endlessly grateful for this. St Luke’s has given me love, lifted me up, steadied my faith, fed my spirit, and taught me lessons about kindness and acceptance that nowhere else could have. Truthfully this reminds me of our first reading today. St. Luke’s has sent out their word to me. Filled me with its wisdom, love and compassion. And now I go out. I am the word now. And in the coming months or years I will go out, to share the harvest of faith and kindness and caring that St. Luke’s has nurtured within me. I will return this harvest to the world not empty but full and hearty. 

But this lesson seems to also resonate within humanity. I’m not sure if you have ever heard the phrase “are you picking up what I’m putting down,” but this sums up the passage fairly well. In these times we often find ourselves at a loss for what to do in regards to COVID, and in regards to the shocking inequality and injustice that plagues our nation. Yet, this passage keeps coming back to my mind. I know I’m not alone in feeling helpless. I am just one person. So I feel I cannot dismantle an entire system of hate. But we together are many. If we continue to send out our word, hopes, joy and strength into the world, educate ourselves, and others, to reach out to others, do whatever we can.

One way I’ve done this is through my work on the board of InsideOut, a local queer youth led nonprofit. From classes on how to better our futures as queer people, to how to fight systems of oppression. From our yearly queer prom, to workshops on how to create an anti-racist Pride club in your school. We work to break down barriers and systems if oppression in our world wherever they exist. And the returns are numerous. My harvest appears in the smiles of other youth as they experience a loving space, the shouts of my peers as we call for greater equity, and from the fact that we are all living. Pushing on. In a world where even that can be difficult for queer youth. I’ve also done this through my work at HUGS Camp, a camp put on by the Episcopal Diocese of NC, where people of all abilities are able to share in the Kingdom of God. 

There are so many ways to send out your word and answer God’s call. Attend a racial equity training here in Durham, go to a protest on a cause you believe in, donate to a local nonprofit like InsideOut or the Durham Crisis Response Center. Write to a politician, or write to a youth who you think needs some encouragement. Get involved in HUGS camp. And please, please vote. In summary, do something. 

If we wait, not in silence and stillness but in power action, then one day, after much persisting, our  word will get through, it will come back with harvest and bounty. “The mountains and the hills before us shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” The Lord will see it as a memorial to our love of God.  In such a broken world, we have no choice but to keep raining our power, our joy, our hopes, and our protests upon this Earth until we see the harvest.

So thank you, St. Luke’s, for teaching me and so many others how to be kinder, compassionate, loving people. For teaching us to be strong, and accept nothing less than radical welcome. To be determined knowing GOD is with us. You’ve taught me that if I keep putting down love and joy and hope, one day, it will be picked up.

Finally, as a recent high school graduate, I have one piece of homework to give you today. As you listen to the song my family sings in the service today, I entreat you to listen to the words. How has God called you? How will you answer? How will you return the harvest? And how will you send out your own gifts?

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