Sunday, February 12, 2017

Bold and Brave

"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 task.  It's 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 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.    This series begins with Laura Cheifetz's essay "Theology and Bravery."  She inspired the title of this blog post and this reflection.