"For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. Do not be ashamed, therefore of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace."
1 Timothy 1:7-9
Pastors have a difficult
hard to open one's mouth these days in preaching the gospel and not get
criticized for being political. Call people to host refugees and one
hears that isn't safe, it's too dangerous, too political! Maybe so, but
Jesus and the holy family were political refugees who fled the wrath of Herod.
They sojourned to Egypt until Herod's death. Thank God that they
found shelter. It's the sacred story being lived out today. We meet Christ
in the refugee. Preach about hospitality and the welcome of the stranger,
stand with frightened undocumented immigrants and one hears "That's
political!" Actually that's the fourth commandment, "Remember
the Sabbath and keep it holy...you and the alien resident in your towns."
(Exodus 20:8-11). Hospitality is also embedded in the Torah's many laws.
"When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not
oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the
citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in
the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God" (Leviticus
19:33-34). Preach about the importance of honesty and the value of speaking the
truth and the danger of illusion or alternative facts. Expect some
recoil! Actually, that's the ninth commandment, "You shall
not bear false witness against your neighbor."(Exodus 20:16).
The wisdom in the Torah, the law, provide a foundation for living
together in community. Then there is the teaching of Jesus. If you
preach "love your enemy and pray for those who persecute
you." "Oh, pastor, that's just too hard, the wounds
are too raw." True. Yet this is the clear teaching of Jesus
whom we profess to follow (Matthew 5:43-48). Encourage forbearance, perseverance
and forgiveness when you are treated unjustly. When retaliation is the
default position, how does that go? Yet, the earliest epistle
concludes, "See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always
seek to do good to one another and to all" (1 Thessalonians
5:15). That's kind of who we are. The Amish community of Nickel
Mines in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and the Mother Emanuel African
Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina reminded us of that as
they gave their witness in the aftermath of tragic devastating mass killings in
their communities. Challenge the criminal justice system in America today
which holds the highest number of prisoners per capita of any country in the
world, and that the percentage of persons of color imprisoned in our country
far out number their percentage in the population. And for goodness
sakes, when advocating for the poor at the expense of the rich sounds like a
political ploy??? What does one preach, then, when our Lord shared his call
to ministry with Isaiah's words, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon
me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has
sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor"
(Luke 4:18-19) Let us be reminded that Jesus' sermon in his hometown
synagogue didn't go well either (Luke 4:29).
Fellow pastors, priests, prophet--proclaim the good news of the gospel! Receive grace, love your people, show mercy, have compassion, walk humbly, do justice, speak the truth, and you will be keenly relevant to all the day's issues. Be bold and brave!
Here is a link to theological conversations and periodic essays in this 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. http://www.presbyterianmission.org/story/theological-conversations-launches-yearlong-celebration-reformation-500/ This series begins with Laura Cheifetz's essay "Theology and Bravery." https://www.presbyterianmission.org/wp-content/uploads/TheologicalConversations_TheologyBravery.pdf She inspired the title of this blog post and this reflection.