Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Reclaiming our Voice in the Public Square

Don't offend!  Don't make waves!!  Don't mix pulpit and politics!!!  Keep your opinions to yourself, lest people...  We hear these voices in our conversations if not as tapes in our heads.  We find ourselves susceptible to our longing to bring people together, and fear chasing any more members away annoyed.  Yet, these are inherent in the power of the gospel.  We call people/ourselves to repentance;  share God's steadfast love and grace;  and point to the blessing of God's ways, God's economy where there is abundance overflowing, enough for all.  Ministers of the word and sacrament are charged to be pastor, preacher, and prophet all impossibly at the same time.  Navigating these roles and functions is particularly challenging in a super charged political election season such as we find ourselves today! We ought not advocate for candidates.  However, we do have responsibility for proclaiming the gospel.  Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, who addressed the Presbytery of Lake Michigan at our recent meeting, challenged us to speak the truth in a culture of lies.  Words matter!

We have a higher calling than pleasing people and making them happy!  Our allegiance is to God, to following Jesus, who when challenged to take a political stand astutely said, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and unto God what is God's."  The gospel writer, mischievously leaves to the readers' imagination the twinkle in Jesus' eyes communicating the obvious. Everything belongs to God!  Our calling is to make disciples of Jesus and together, as the Church, be the body of Christ in the world today doing what Jesus does.

Jesus, in his first sermon to his hometown synagogue, extended God's blessing to the foreigner.  This enraged those with whom he grew up, to the extent of trying to throw him off the town's cliff.  I've visited Nazareth.  There is a cliff there.  Jesus passed through the midst of them that time.  But it a sign of things to come.  He repeatedly challenged the norms of the community by his interactions with those outside the circle of the insiders.  He engaged the Samaritan woman in conversation at the well.  He publicly invited himself to a hated persona non grata tax collector saying, "Zacchaeus... I'm going to your house today."  His manner with people emboldened ten lepers to approach him.  Jesus did not protect his ritual cleanness, but engaged them and healed them in the process.  So we approach Holy Week, it occurs to me that Jesus would not have been betrayed, arrested, tried, and crucified, if he hadn't offended peoples' sensibilities on behalf of the world.  This is the narrative from the beginning.

It is an important time for the church to speak with a moral voice to our nation!  And maybe more difficult to speak a word to our fellow church members, friends, and neighbors with whom we may differ.  I confess that I held my tongue recently when my barber was sharing his support for a presidential candidate who greatly concerns me.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer and some confessing German Christians found their voice and declared their opposition to rise of the Third Reich and its obscuring the Gospel through the Barmen Declaration.  That declaration is now included in the Presbyterian Church's Book of Confessions.  A similar declaration is being circulated today.  It appeals to Christians in the United States.  I first read it in the Sojourners Magazine, April issue.  Signers include Rich Mouw, former president of Fuller Seminary, and Jul Medenblik, President of Calvin Theological Seminary, Will Willimon, Former Methodist Bishop.  I am a new signer of this letter.   It is an appeal to Christians in the United States.  I invite you to read and sign it.  Find it at this Link to The Appeal

Another leader who has found his voice is Peter Marty.  He is the new publisher of Christian Century.  I found his editorial "Who Matters to Us?" in the March 16, 2016 issue powerful.  http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2016-02/who-matters-us

May we each find our voice in the public square.
May we proclaim the gospel with power and integrity.
May we be mindful of those who have gone before us, who did not ask to enter the strife, but who were compelled to speak a word against the tide:  Fredrick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., William Sloan Coffin, Wendell Berry, and the many whose names are not remembered.