Musings on the Role of the Church in Such a Time as This.

I’ve often read or listened to Jesus’ famous “Sermon on the Mount” kind of like I listen to background music: it’s pleasant. It’s pretty. It’s just… so… nice. Throughout most of the month of February (in most mainline churches around the world), we will be wading our way into the entirety of this profound sermon, in which Jesus gives us a radical new way of thinking about and acting towards our communities and fellow humans.

laura-james-sermon-on-the-mount-2010Jesus seems to take “good, faithful” folks like us, and turns us upside down! Listen carefully to the Gospel. Imagine yourself not as an innocent spectator, but instead as the very people Jesus is addressing!

The reality of Christianity today, friends, is that for many, our faith is not seen as a religion proclaiming God’s gospel message of peace and divine justice, but rather as a belief system more concerned about order and institutions than it is about people and equality. There seems to be a disconnect between what is said during worship, and what is practiced by adherents of American Civil Religion… I mean… “American Christians.” Maybe it’s a misperception, but I really don’t think so. The question must be asked: what is the role of the church in such a time as this? This, a time when I see so many “Christians” triumphantly rallying around “law and order” over inclusive sisterhood and brotherhood; a time when I hear “good, faithful” folk extending pointed fingers at political opponents and calling them names rather than extending open hands, ears, and arms. If the church is to be the hands of Christ, I wonder why they sometimes seem to be wringing so much! The prophetic words of one of my favorite American preachers, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. comes to mind, when he wrote that the greatest stumbling block for oppressed people are those who are “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefer a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”

I have a persistent belief that the Church throughout the world can be the leading institution to undo a way of being that dehumanizes people. Anything that dehumanizes God’s good creation is sin, and so I take Jesus very seriously when he preaches, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Matt. 5: 29). For me, I’ve come to realize that sexism, racism, and a wide variety of unfair, uninformed, and sinful attitudes toward people with other religious or political beliefs, sexual orientations, or who are otherwise “other” than me are threads that have been woven into the fabric of my life. And yours too, probably. In other words, these are the “right eyes” that need to be torn out and thrown away in order for us to really live.

Through the Church, the Holy Spirit weaves together a new fabric— one that does not include these threads that blind, entrap, and choke us. As disciples of Jesus Christ who believe that God creates all and bestows us all with the gift and challenge of co-creation, we believe that together, we have the power to make the seemingly impossible, possible; to create the very alternative social reality that we pray for weekly in the Lord’s Prayer: YOUR kingdom come, YOUR will be done. I cannot imagine a more joyful thing, than to materialize God’s goodness here on earth, even if only for moments at a time!

So, dear practitioners of Grace, may we have eyes to see beyond what we want to see, and to recognize God in every person we encounter. May we have ears to hear the good news and the invitation of the Gospel. And may we have the courage to choose to encounter all of God’s creation for the sake of building up beloved community.

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