How Shall We Respond?
June 7 How are We to Respond? Genesis 1:1-2:4a * Psalm 8 (UMH 743) * 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 * Matthew 28:16-20
Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley… to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his “I Have A Dream” speech delivered on August 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Just when we may have thought things couldn’t get worse, we received the news of George Floyd’s death while being arrested by police in Minneapolis. We can only speculate what reaction this would have caused during “normal” times, but during this pandemic, an already tense country has been pushed to the brink again. With so many previous cases, maybe this one is just building on the past, maybe it just seems more shocking because of the video, but whatever the case, if we don’t do something right this time, the next one will be even worse. What is particularly striking this time is that the protests have continued even though the police officers have been formally charged. The anger seems to be escalating, the calls for justice and change seems louder.
In a church with as many different points of view as we have people, it is generally wise to avoid divisive matters or to seek the middle way so as not to offend anyone, especially where politics are concerned. But the scope of the anger and unrest may be a turning point for our country, either good or bad, and lead to steps that will affect us all. Some of us will take sides and have trouble listening to those who disagree with us. We might even use the Bible to support our side and oppose the other. This is an old ploy of satan, using events to further divide God’s people. Let us try to slow down and see the big picture without taking sides. The future of our country is at stake, and the protests have spread to other countries, affecting their own struggles with racism. Protests in Vancouver have been small and peaceful, but in downtown Portland rioting, looting, and vandalism have been ongoing in defiance of a curfew. As we have seen before, there are those who are just looking for any excuse to go rampaging, but this does not lessen the need to address prejudice and systematic racism. It’s almost 60 years since Dr. King proclaimed: “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.” We are still in that time. Justice still needs to be made a reality. Racism is still rampant in our country. It may not be the same as it did once, but that doesn’t mean it went away, it just has morphed over the decades like a virus mutating in response to medicine.
The simplistic thing to do is cast one’s support with Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter and buy the corresponding bumper sticker, but we know that things aren’t that, sorry for the expression, black and white. There are no easy solutions, for good and bad dwell on both sides. Saying things like “all lives matter” does not address the issue that some lives are valued less in our society than others. This saying may sound true and good but is highly offensive to many, and we need to hear all voices right now if we hope to heal and move ahead. Slogans won’t solve anything. Blaming certain folks without addressing the issues will not solve anything. The hard road to reconciliation requires communication where we can truly hear both sides’ hearts and words and realize that slogans and events will have different meanings to people. Can we as a church work as just peacemakers, working towards a culture where justice is a reality for all God’s children? One of our core beliefs as Methodists is “to do no harm.” What will that look like in this case? Can we both protect our brave policemen and women and preserve the dignity and safety of our African American brothers and sisters? Can we even discuss the issues without bickering over politics? How do we as a church respond, or shall we turn aside?
In the Bible, God makes it very clear that His people will make justice a very high priority. Our prosperity depends on it:
Appoint judges and officials for each of your tribes in every town the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall judge the people fairly. Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent. Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you. Deuteronomy 16: 18-20.
Does this sound like our country? Stories get so twisted that by the time anything gets to the courts, we don’t know who to trust or what to believe. People openly harm others and get away with it. Our first Scripture reading today is Genesis 1, the Creation (those of you who are reading this online can find it here: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=genesis%201:1-2:4). God created the world and called it good. We were created in God’s image and tasked with taking care of our planet. Later, as God’s people grew, it was necessary to provide us with the Law, so those at risk such as orphans and widows would be cared for, and all people would be guided by God’s wisdom and justice. God’s people should have been a light for the world. Does this image correspond in any way to our world today? If we are indeed all created in the image of God, does that mean we should discriminate against certain groups we think are somehow different than us, when all are equal before God?
Our Psalm for today reads:
O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Does this correspond to our world today? Do we reflect God’s majesty in the way we care for Creation and God’s people? Where is God’s glory evident? Have we faithfully kept to the tremendous task of caring for this world, are we wise stewards, have we protected all creatures and used the earth’s resources with moderation and concern for the future? Have we treated each other as God has commanded us to, showing love and justice to all?
Our Gospel Lesson for today is Matthew 28:16-20
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
As confusing as our world may be, with constant power struggles and division, Jesus is still Lord of all. We are still tasked with spreading the Gospel and making disciples. We continue to advance the Kingdom of God according to the mission assigned to us as a church and as individuals. We are to live as God commands, seeking to see all people blessed by the grace of God, in a world where His justice is a reality for all His children. And when we are afraid and confused, He will always be with us, until the end. When we look at our world and see fear and suffering, we still rely on Jesus to make it anew, using us as His hands and feet. When we are afraid of the darkness around us and just want to hide, we let His light guide us into what lies ahead. We cannot give up on the vision the Bible gives us for our world, where justice is a reality for all, Christ is King, and His love rules the hearts of all people. We must continue to work towards this reality. We continue to answer God’s call to be a light in the darkness.
When I came home after spending Sunday at the church, I was greeted by a group of protestors standing on all four corners of the intersection of 257th and Halsey/Old Columbia River Highway in Troutdale. They were peaceful and respectful, holding signs in support of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter. They wore masks but were not observing social distance, although they did show respect for passers-by and did not hinder anyone from passing. Since I rarely go into downtown Portland, I haven’t seen any signs of the rioting there except in the media. I confess that with the pandemic going on, I have not been as emotionally involved in the story surrounding Mr. Floyd as I should have and arrived a little late to the story. It is yet another horrible incident in our ugly history of racism and abuse of God’s children, yet another proof of the fallenness of our world.
So what is our response to be? All ideas are welcome. As a small church far from the action, we may feel powerless to do anything to help the current unrest in many big cities. Justice of course involves acting on many different issues. So, we try to focus on what we can do: provide the Blessing Box, adopt a family at Christmas, start collecting school supplies for next Fall (yes it is time already), and keep looking for new ways to support our neighbors. And as we prepare to open our doors again, we continue to provide a sacred space of peace and love where all are welcomed, and God is worshipped and glorified. We continue to proclaim the Gospel and teach God’s instructions. We continue to pray for peace and justice, reading the Bible and conforming ourselves to God’s commands and the example He provides in Jesus; strengthened, guided, and comforted by the Spirit. We keep inviting the Spirit to fill and transform us, giving us the courage to endure evil times and burst forth victorious into a new day where justice is a reality for all God’s children.
We can also join with other churches in supporting front-line ministries financially. Today is our denomination’s Peace with Justice Sunday. Please consider giving a special offering (in addition to your tithes and offerings to your church, not in place of it) to support our denominational efforts toward justice through peaceful means.
Please give online: umcgiving.org/givePWJS or mail checks to:
Peace with Justice Sunday GCFA, P.O. Box 340029, Nashville, TN 37203.