Dear Centenary Family,
I've been do some planning for preaching through the summer and on into the fall.
One text that grabbed my attention was Exodus 32:1-14, which is the account of the people demanding that Aaron make gods for them to worship while Moses is away on the mountaintop with God. When Moses comes down from the mountaintop and sees that a wild party had broken out as people worshiped the golden calf, God tells Moses he needs to get "his people" in line. Of course, Moses isn't having any of it. Moses says in essence, "These aren't my people--they're your people!"
God is ready to incinerate them. But Moses has the audacity to argue with God, telling God if he does indeed destroy "his people," the Egyptians will say, "Look at that. This God took his people out into the wilderness to destroy them. Who'd want to have anything to do with a God like that?"
And so, God's anger subsides, and he graciously lets the people live!
Prayer as Protest, and Protest as Prayer
Moses' prayer is a form of protest. Even though Moses is disgusted with the sinfulness of the people of Israel, and Aaron's please at any cost leadership style, Moses loves the people enough to argue with God for their salvation!
As I think about the events of the past few weeks, and the protests that have taken place, I have begun to hear these protests as a form of prayer. These prayers are fervent demands that people of color be treated with dignity and respect by police. These prayers are fervent cries for justice.
I know that sometimes we wonder whether our prayers change circumstances, or whether our prayers change God. But the Bible's view of God is not the philosophers' view of a God who is an abstract, immovable, impersonal force. Rather the God of Moses, and the God of Jesus is a relational God who it seems works in partnership with human beings to create the world God envisions. Could it be that God sometimes waits on us to raise our voices in prayerful protest so that injustice can be eradicated, and so that justice can begin to flow down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream? (Amos 5:24)
From Prayer and Protest to Action
The frustrating thing for many of us who are disturbed the recurrence of police brutality experienced by our African-American brothers and sisters is that we wonder how to move from prayer and protest to actions that actually remedy a long-standing problem. Drew and I have been part of a group called
Clergy Against Racism
. Thankfully, we have cultivated some good, honest relationships with African-American colleagues in ministry before the events of the last few weeks. These relationships make possible some attempt at unified response, as well as consideration of concrete actions toward justice we might take. Other groups are doing great work, also, for instance
which convened faith leaders and members of faith communities last night for prayer and peaceful accompaniment of protesters. Here is a link to a statement released by
Clergy Against Racism
Here is a link to coverage by Channel 8:
Faith leaders have also been working to advocate for some concrete changes to policing here in Richmond which have been well-received by city leaders. Here's a statement supported by many faith leaders in the city:
We, as clergy and religious leaders of the Community of Richmond, respectfully call on the Mayor and City Council of Richmond promptly to establish a Credible, Accountable Civilian Review Board, independent of the Richmond City Police Department. Both the community and the Department deserve this clear and transparent form of respect and oversight.
Another initiative underway is to gain support for what has been called the Marcus Alert Program.
You may recall the shooting of Marcus-David Peters, a Biology teacher having a mental health crisis in 2018. This program would try to allow mental health professionals to be the first responders in similar situations in the future.
These are small steps toward realizing Jesus' vision of God's reign of justice and peace on earth, but they are neverthelss steps in that direction, that no doubt need to be supplemented by many other steps in the not too distant future.
Listening for the Gospel in this Time
Here at Centenary, we have a pattern of worship that has involved listening carefully to the Scriptures from the lectionary throughout the Christian Year. This coming Sunday is Trinity Sunday.
You may think that Trinity Sunday sounds very abstract and unrelated to life in the midst of a pandemic, exacerbated by racial tension and conflict. However, it may be just the thing we need. I'm working on a sermon from Matthew 28:16-20 entitled
Two things have been much on my mind this week as I think on this text. One is that in this passage, Jesus says that "All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me." The implication is that Jesus is now transferring that same authority to his disciples. Matthew uses the phrase heaven and earth frequently in his gospel. It suggests that there is a fracture between the two realities that stems from the creation itself. Jesus' work is to heal that fracture. And that's the work Jesus authorizes us to do.
Secondly, this is the place Jesus commisisons his disciples to go out and baptize in the name of the "Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit." This is one of those New Testament texts that implicitly articulates what we now call the Trinity. You may not think that the Trinity has much to do with pandemics and racism, but maybe it has everything to do with such earthly problems. For us as Christians, the Trinity is how we see God, and it may just be that the way we see God shapes everything--from the way we respond to a global health crisis to the way we respond to our brothers and sisters who've lived with the painful impact of racism and prejudice for far too long. I hope you will join us for worship Sunday. We can continue our prayerful argument with God about the state of the world we live in. And who knows, maybe God will have a word or two for us as well.
I consider it a great privilege to seek God's direction for our mission together in these challenging times.