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After the resurrection, Jesus returns to His disciples. He calms their fears and then commissions them by saying, “As the father sent me, so I am sending you” (John 20:21). What has struck me recently about this passage is that just prior to commissioning the disciples, Jesus shows them the wounds in His hands and His side…the results of being sent into the world! Jesus was incarnated into the messiness of the world by being born in a stable, He ministered in the messiness of the world, and He died by the cruelty of the world. After all of that, Jesus says, “AS the Father sent me, so I am SENDING YOU.” We are sent into the messiness, and sometimes even the cruelty of the world, to show the tangible love and mercy of Jesus.
August was a month that was headlined by stories of messiness and even cruelty. We all continue to have Hurricane Harvey in Texas, as well as the continuing tensions related to race in places like Charlottesville, at the forefront of our minds. It is interesting to see how people respond to these types of situations.
We have had many calls and e-mails at the Synod office asking what people can do to help with Hurricane Harvey, including inquiries about how our churches in Houston are coping. We are directing people to our partner for disaster assistance, World Renew. We have also been contacting our churches in the region to assess their needs, and have set up a way to donate directly to the Texas presbytery on our website. We will continue to pray for Houston and the entire coastal region. We are seeking ways to respond, including things we might do during and in preparation for our National Gathering, which will take place in Houston in January.
Responding to the messiness of natural disasters is automatic for us, and somewhat easy. We don’t have to worry about saying the wrong thing, having our words misunderstood or misconstrued, or being partisan and political. Responding to situations like Charlottesville or other areas with continued racial tension and hostility is much more challenging. Frankly, it is easier to stay silent in these situations—we can’t be criticized for our words if we don’t speak and engage. But silence is not at all the example of our Savior. Jesus came into the messiness, and calls His followers to do the same!
When I preached at Christ Presbyterian Church in Edina, Minnesota a week ago, CPC’s pastor, John Crosby, began the service by responding to the situation in Charlottesville. He addressed our theological position that all people, regardless of any worldly distinctions, are created in the image of God and deeply loved by Him; thus CPC Edina loves them. He mentioned a wonderful quote from Martin Luther King Jr., “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” This quote hit me again, as I realized that even if it is easier not to engage with issues of racial tensions and racism in America, silence would not be in keeping with our theology and the model of Jesus. It is especially important to engage issues of racial relationships when certain groups are now using their “Christian” faith to endorse racism. Our silence can be construed as passive endorsement. Racism in any form is unacceptable and anti-Gospel. We in ECO are people of privilege, and must use our privilege to combat racial injustice.
Paul says in Ephesians 2:14, “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” He says in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” I believe the Scriptures and their description of unity and oneness in Christ. As Bill Hybels says, “The local church is the hope of the world.” Let’s apply these words to issues of racial division in America. The ONLY hope of solving racial issues in America is the gospel of Jesus Christ manifest through His church in the world. If we don’t engage in this situation, even if it is messy, we abdicate our responsibility to secular groups who aren’t equipped to handle the issue with the love, compassion, grace and mercy of Jesus.
So what can we can we do? Can we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our brothers and sisters in Christ from churches of various ethnicities as a sign of unity? Can we engage in dialogue with those of other ethnicities and listen well to their experiences? Can we befriend those who are unlike us? Can we seek justice in our own communities?
Christ Presbyterian is engaging in these conversations. Also, one of our predominantly white congregations is in a community of segregation and diversity where the city had been harshly fining those of the black community for things like having a car with a flat tire. The city then uses the accumulation of heavy fines to evict these people from their properties and change the neighborhood. Can our Caucasian church raise the issue, and seek to use their leverage and influence for justice? Might you begin, or continue, these discussions in your congregation by sharing the Mark DeYmaz video from our 2016 National Gathering in Newport Beach?
I know that engaging in any of these situations is messy and can even cause individual hardships. But if the gospel of Jesus can really unite all tribes, tongues, and nations, then perhaps we can be willing to follow Jesus into the messiness. Please join me in praying for boldness and action toward that end.