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  • Writer's pictureRev. Sara Lilja

Opening Up to God When Covid Restrictions are Shutting Us Down.

This time of year, my heart is yearning to be surrounded by loved ones and to worship with friends and family in the comfort of the familiar. My inner voice says, “Let’s just keep this simple, I don’t have the emotional energy to be stretched or creative right now.” But is it enough for the mission of the church to simply focus on keeping our members connected to each other, safe from illness and distanced from the divisions of national politics?

The parables we have been reading in the 25th Chapter of Matthew these past few Sundays describe a world of harsh business practices, unethical leaders, and cruel treatment of those who are already burdened by bitter social norms. These parables might stimulate our longing to cocoon from the world, to live in a pod away from the struggles of others; searching for God in recognizable inward places and claiming that social distancing is keeping us from engagement may be a comfortable retreat.

However, Dirk Lange, General Secretary for Ecumenical Relations at the Lutheran World Federation in Geneva reminds us, the Church’s mission is redefined when we consider a move outward as a move towards God! When we move beyond our own community into this disheveled world, where suffering is certain, there we will find God.

Our communities are sent out through our Baptismal promises to let our light shine as the Body of Christ, only to discover that the Body of Christ is already waiting for us. Greeting us are all those living in hard places with limited choices. We meet God outside of ourselves in our neighbors, in the midst of this anxious COVID world.

Thanksgiving is marked in many congregations by food drives and packing turkey dinners for those in need. This year the lines are longer. Food insecurity is rising in New Jersey. As COVID-19 surges, more and more children and families are struggling because of reduced wages, decreased access to school meals and limited choices.

As we begin a new church year, Advent is a time to repent from our hesitancy of outward engagement. We need to confess our fears; afraid and uncertain because we will be challenged and changed as we learn to love our neighbors.

It is true that COVID has made this outward living more challenging: safety precautions, restrictions on gatherings, and complicated daily schedules wear us down. And yet, God has promised to be with us in all circumstances of life, and now, perhaps more than ever, our neighbors need our love.

Through advocacy ministry we can move beyond ourselves. Encountering our neighbor’s need, addressing injustice, and speaking our faith commitments are some of the core values of Lutherans Engaging in Advocacy Ministry NJ. This can be done safely and within COVID guidelines.

Right now your advocacy efforts to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor of all ages is an opportunity to show up for our neighbors. The following bills have been introduced and need our efforts to get them passed into law:

A4944/S3059 – (Dancer, Thompson) - Expands eligibility under New Jersey Earned Income Tax Credit program to allow taxpayers who are 65 years of age or older, but without a qualifying child, to be eligible. This will support those seniors who are aging into poverty.

A4922/S3113 – (Downey/Gopal, Singleton, Pou) - Expands eligibility under New Jersey earned income tax credit program to allow taxpayers who are victims of domestic abuse to claim credit with a filing status of married filing separately. A839/S765 – (Reynolds Jackson, Wimberly, Burzichelli/Gopal) - Increases benefit amounts incrementally under New Jersey earned income tax credit program from 40 percent to 100 percent for resident individuals who cannot claim qualifying child.

A840/S764 – (Reynolds Jackson, Wimberly, Burzichelli/Gopal) - Enhances benefit provided under New Jersey earned income tax credit program by treating a qualifying relative who is living in the home as a qualifying child.

A841/S836 – (Reynolds Jackson, Wimberly, Burzichelli/Lagana, Ruiz) - Increases benefit amounts under New Jersey earned income tax credit program from 40 percent to 50 percent.

By reducing barriers to the EITC and increasing the credit amount, this could be a stronger tool for addressing economic insecurity and reducing poverty in our state.


What You Can Do:

Show our senators that you support EITC expansion!

• Email the Senate President’s office at

• Tweet Senator Sweeny at @NJSenatePres

These bills have budget implications and must be approved by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

• Email the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee Chairman, Paul Sarlo, at

• Tweet him at @PaulASarlo.

Let them know that you support EITC expansion! We must do more to support our neighbors who are working hard each day and still struggling economically. Loving our neighbor during hard times can mean advocating for economic security for all!

*The Rev. Dirk G. Lange published in Working Preacher


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