Good morning, my dear friends,
Unity. The psalmist this morning tells us: How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! … For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore. Unity has been hard to come by this week. The images in the media about Charlottesville, the endless commentary and arguing about who had a right to protest last weekend, the grief over lives lost, and people injured; and a nation still so fractured along racial lines. What is our response as the Church, as God’s people here on earth, supposed to be?
Arbor House has a set of core values around some of these issues: We believe God is calling us to be Communal and Diverse.
What do we mean by that? Let’s take a look at those values:
Communal: We are a community of believers. We take seriously the implications of humanity’s creation in the image of God. As image bearers of the Triune God, who are being renewed in God’s image through the restoring work of Christ, we believe that the church must be distinctively communal. We seek to be a community of radical love that embraces all in the name of Jesus. As Spirit-directed members of the Body of Christ, we commit ourselves to consensus as the normal process of decision making in the community. We affirm that both women and men are called to roles of service and leadership in the church and home. (This is the beginning of finding a way through the angry rhetoric from this week. All people are seen as created in the image of God. There is not one race, or one gender, or one people group that represents God more than or better than any other. We believe that as we live together, worship God together, serve others together we are modeling the communal nature of a triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit living eternally in unity together. As we live in this unity, we become most authentically who God called us to be as individuals and as a community.)
Diverse: (Having stated that community is an important value, we then need to acknowledge that often for the sake of unity, we seek to flatten out or pretend that there are little or no differences between us. That all of us live with similar experiences. That is a lie.) We are a community of believers. We affirm our essential oneness in Christ. We are a community which embraces the distinctions and differences each person brings to the whole body. We welcome all people in a community that seeks to live as a sign of God’s new creation. We celebrate life together as an intergenerational community where children, youth and adults learn from each other as joint participants in the life of faith. We affirm the beautiful and varied array of ministries provided by God on behalf of the church and the world through all of God’s people. We believe it is only through genuine diversity that we can truly experience the unity we have in Jesus Christ. Unity comes with the high price of being able and willing to acknowledge our differences: differences in the way we look, but also differences in our experience of life.
Last Sunday, Ed and I chose to go to a rally downtown that was against the violence of the alt right demonstrators in Charlottesville last weekend. It was a very uncomfortable experience for me. There were some black activist speakers who were extremely angry, using profane language, and basically telling those of us who were there they didn’t need our affirmation of their rights to feel good about themselves. What they needed was for us to come alongside them. To get involved. When we see injustices being perpetrated against them, to step up, not turn away. My first response was hurt, and a bit of anger. “I’m here now, so what are you yelling at me for?” Then suddenly, I realized that was a selfish response. I was making the issue about me, instead of simply listening to, and being a witness to their pain and anger that comes from living with racial abuse for centuries. These brothers and sisters have lived a completely different reality from me… they live with constant fear that they or their child will be hurt or killed simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and someone didn’t like the color of their skin. Most of us have never experienced that type of fear before. And before you simply dismiss it as ridiculous, inflated, unfounded in reality fear… let me tell you two short stories from people who I know.
Years ago, Ed and I went to an inner city church in Paterson, NJ. We had a friend named Frieda, who was a successful professional woman. She was smart. She was beautiful. She was also black. And she would talk about how frequently she would go into a store and have a clerk follow her around where ever she went, making sure she didn’t shop lift anything. Or about the time, she and her daughter were shopping and as they walked by a man and his child, he grabbed his daughter and said, “get away from that dog.”
I’ve never had anything like that happen to me, have you? Simply because of the color of her skin she was disrespected, called a despicable name and treated like a potential criminal.
Or there is my friend Denis. Denis is an incredibly gifted young man. He lead worship at a large local megachurch, and became a pastor at one of their church plants. One week, he was getting into to his car in the parking lot of the church after leading 3 services that morning, and a police car came up to him in the parking lot, they asked him what he was doing in that neighborhood, pulled him out of his car, and pushed him up against it with his hands behind his back because they thought his insurance card was out of date. It wasn’t. Have you ever had anything like that happen to you? Why not?
Racism is still an ugly, toxic presence in our country, and just because we don’t experience anything like that doesn’t mean its not true for others. And it is our call as Christians to stand with them, and against that type of unjust treatment.
Bishop Roller put it this way:
Yesterday I watched the saddening news about Charlottesville. I was in an airport and a gentleman near me said, “Why can’t they just be happy?” I have no idea who he meant by “they.” Fox News would have supposed he meant those who showed up to oppose the alt-right demonstrators. MSNBC would have supposed he meant the alt-right demonstrators. I watched both channels last night so I know the different spins they put on what happened and what followed. It’s amazing how the same events can be so differently reported. But here’s what you can’t spin: A follower of Christ can not be a white supremacist. The concept that some race is better than any other race is absurd and abhorrent to those who recognize the image of God in all. There are not two alternate views that Christians can take on this. There is good and there is evil, and racism is evil. A follower of Christ MUST be loving, because God is love. Any movement that suggests a superiority of one race over another is not getting that primary message.
I would have been among the counter-protesters in Charlottesville. I would have stood with the Black-Lives- Matter contingent. We Christians stand against anything that demeans any person, any race, any nationality, any gender, any political party. We are a people of love.
So what can we do? How can we make any kind of difference in all of this?
One thing is we can participate in gatherings that stand against agendas of hate. There will be a vigil for peace and justice here at 6:30pm in Batavia at the YWCA on North Street. You might consider being a part of that.
Also, Superintendent Pam sent out a list of how she wants her leaders to respond, I’m going to share part of that list with you:
1. Teach, model, and practice corporate repentance. If we do not identify the places where we have sinned both as individuals and communities, we will never see the fullness of the power of God at work. In this particular situation, teach people to repent of any attitudes that allow them to set themselves up as “better” than another. (Philippians 2:3-8) Our story from Genesis this morning was a story of radical repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery, so they had no clue that the strong Egyptian ruler standing in front of them was their little brother Joseph. Joseph set up a series of tests to see if they would abandon their youngest brother Benjamin in the same way they had abandoned Joseph, and when they refused to abandon him, he revealed himself to the brothers. And of course, they were terrified. Joseph was now the second most powerful man in Egypt, and he had the power, and some would say, the right to kill all of them for selling him as a slave. Rather than doing that, Joseph embraces them, and promises provisions and shelter for them.
I am calling all of us to a season of repentance. Our prayer of intercession today will lead us in that repentance. And for those of us who don’t feel as if we have done anything wrong, I want to remind you again, you enjoy privilege that many of your brother and sisters do not simply because you are white. Ask God to give you eyes to see, and the courage to act so that they may also enjoy that privilege. As a Christian we are to come alongside those who are marginalized, and work against the systems and the prejudice that would keep others there.
2. Teach, model, and practice friendships with those unlike you. Our world has forgotten how to both love and like another who is very different from us. Who in your community is most unlike you? How can you reach out in friendship? (Think of those who travelled with Jesus! Matthew – a tax collector. Simon – a zealot. Nathanael – a good Jew. Mary Magdalene – a woman who had been healed of demonic possession. Joanna [wife of Chuza] who would have been used to the luxuries of Herod’s house. These people didn’t just have to get along an hour on Sunday, they travelled together!).
This is where in our core values we have said we want to be different. We want to be a place where people who do not look like us because of their age, or their race, or their culture feel welcomed and incorporated into our community. Who do we need to be more intentionally reaching out to? To live into this value, one of the things we are reaching out to the international students as GCC, and we will be filling welcome bags for them after the service this morning. I hope you can stay and help us with that, but if not, when students are here, be intentional in including them in conversations… it may feel awkward at first for all of us, but we are committed to building bridges, and letting those students know they are welcomed here at Arbor House and in Batavia!
3. Teach, model, and practice how to have respectful disagreements. As a culture we have lost our ability to respectfully disagree. To be friends with those who are radically different. The church needs to show that in our churches this is not only possible but expected as people walk with Jesus. Please, please, please refrain for taking cheap shots on social media. If you wouldn’t say it to someone in person, don’t say it on social media.
Jesus reminded us in today’s Gospel reading that it is what comes out of our mouths that makes us unclean. He said, “the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.” If what we are liking or posting on fb is mocking others, or disrespectful to differing opinions, we have repenting to do!
We have people here at Arbor House who have radically different political views. That is how we like it, we want to be a place to have respectful discussions of those different views. Can I tell you a secret, those are scary conversations to have, but if we truly believe that in our diverse unity God is most glorified, it is important work to do. Let pledge to one another to have those hard conversations in a loving, listening way.
In a few minutes, we are going to pray the Lord’s Prayer, which says, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Our work is to live our lives in agreement with that prayer. May God’s kingdom: where as the prophet Amos describes it: justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream describe our life together as his people here at Arbor House, here in Batavia, here where ever God’s people gather in his name.