Pastoral Response – June 2, 2020

Friends,

My heart has been heavy over the past week as I consider the state of our country and our long national sin of racial division and hatred.  In so many ways it is difficult for me to adequately respond, for I have never known what it is like to be treated negatively due to the color of my skin.  Images and metaphors have long been the key to understanding difficult, complex issues.  For me the image that has continued to surface in my heart and mind is the image of Jesus mourning over Jerusalem, as recorded in both Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels.  At my core, I process and understand matters through the lens of Scripture.  That is who I am and why I do what I do.  So, while it is difficult to know how to respond as an American male of European ancestry, it is not difficult to know how to respond as a pastor and as a follower of Jesus Christ.

Jesus is weeping over America.  And in many ways, Jesus is weeping over the world.  What we are seeing in our country is not a uniquely American problem.  It is a uniquely American manifestation of a universal problem.  My hope is that we will wake up to the realities of racial hatred, examine our own part in perpetuating that ugly legacy, and work diligently in the power of the Holy Spirit to eliminate this evil.  Yet, even if we could somehow wave a magic wand and immediately solve America’s race problems, the root cause would manifest itself in a different manner.  The root cause is the same that led the Egyptians to kill Hebrew baby boys and Herod to slaughter the innocents; it is the same that causes us to trample on others on the road to lifting ourselves up.  That is what Jesus mourned over in 1st century Jerusalem and that is what Jesus mourns over today – the fact that, to paraphrase Jesus’s message to Nicodemus, we love lies and we hate truth.  This is the condemnation of the world.  And one of the prevailing lies that humanity continues to suffer under is the lie of superiority of one person or group at the expense and degradation of another.  It is the legacy of sin with roots growing far beyond the soil line of 2020, 1776, 1619, or 1492.

I find hope in two messages from the New Testament.  Firstly, Paul reminds us that equality is the modus operandi of the Kingdom of God.  In the early Church, racial divisions between Jews and Gentiles threatened to derail the missionary work of the Gospel.  Paul’s plea was simple, but powerful: there are many things that separate us, but one foundationally important reality – our shared identity in Jesus Christ – unites us.  He writes: “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.  As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28).  Our personal and cultural uniqueness is not lost in Christ, but the dividing walls we have built out of our differences are torn down.

Secondly, John receives a vision of heaven in which “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, were standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.  They cried out in a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10).  All people belong in the family of God and are endowed with sacred worth by their Creator.  That is the final message that will win out over hate.  The kingdom of God is populated by all people and everyone is equal in the throne-room of God.  Do not miss the message being spoken around the throne, either: Jesus Christ is the source of our salvation and our healing.  The God who judges us from within, and not from without (1 Samuel 16:7), the Father and Lord of all, is our ultimate source of hope.  In these times and others, in which we fight the personal and systematic effects of sin, it is the Lord of a diverse heaven and a diverse earth who will prevail.

So what do we do?  First of all, we trust in the ultimate triumph of the Kingdom of God.  Secondly, we listen to others with love, dignity, and respect.  And finally, we look within ourselves and ask God to change us.  It is so easy to point fingers at others during these seasons, but that only serves to strengthen the divide and the rule of sin.  You must let God change your heart before the world will change.  Ask God to search your heart and heal you of all division and prejudice.  Teach your children and grandchildren, by word and by example, to love all people and to see people for who they are on the inside, all while respecting the varied beauty on the outside.  And intentionally recognize that God’s people come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and nationalities.  It is harder to shine the light on ourselves and seek healing and wholeness within; it is more daunting, vulnerable, and uncomfortable.  But that is the work of sanctification, which is the duty of all followers of Jesus Christ.

And as we do this holy work, pray for our country.  Its sins can be forgiven and our society can heal.  Remember God’s message to us in the words of 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”  And above all, love your fellow man and woman.

 

With all my love and in Christ,

Pastor Josh

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