The congregation I began serving as pastor in December 2020 provides a constant stream of amazement for me. I love getting to meet new people, learn new things about the ministry and history of the congregation, and hear stories of something wonderful we’ve done. I find so much joy in discovering what people are passionate about, and seeing people respond to the Spirit’s calling into new ways of being the Church. Just last month we celebrated the formation of a new ministry: the Social Justice Ministry, approved by Council with a young woman as the chair and newly appointed Council member!
This new Social Justice Ministry is a great example of what the Holy Spirit does in us, through us, and for us.
It began as a reading and discussion group when this young woman and others saw the need to dig into the issues related to racist behavior, systems, and thought. They spent time reading books, participating in several weeks of coursework together, and beginning to come to the understanding that this antiracist work isn’t just something we do in congregations, but it’s central to our identity as followers of Jesus Christ and central to the identity of the Church. Throughout the witness of scripture, with around 3,000 mentions, there’s no topic more frequently addressed than God’s instructions to support the poor, the widowed, and the vulnerable. Not only does God command us to provide support for the vulnerable and dispossessed, but in many of these passages in scripture we hear that God ignores even otherwise-righteous actions of those who “trample on the poor”, as in Amos 5:11.
Or even more challenging, later in that chapter Amos continues what began as their disregard for God’s command to care for the poor:
I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.Amos 5:21-24
This also reminds me of perhaps the most famous chapter in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13, which tells us that doing amazing things isn’t what makes something beautiful to God; rather, the love of God reflected in our hearts is what makes them beautiful. Good deeds done without love are just noise. Paul writes in verse 13 that “now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face” when only “faith, hope, and love remain, these three; and the greatest of these is love”. When we are face to face with God, what we will see is what God sees in us through the eyes of love looking back at us.
Love in Scripture isn’t a feeling, but an action. Even the Ten Commandments are rooted in God’s preference for the poor and identification as the One who brings freedom, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; [therefore,] you shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2-3). God doesn’t deny other gods, but challenges them: “What did those other gods whose idols you worship do for you? Nothing. *I* led you out of Egypt; *I* led you out of the house of slavery. These other so-called gods have done nothing are worthless and aren’t worthy of your attention”. The idea that God values wealth or privilege is a popular heresy, and if we think we can follow Jesus without loving the poor and powerless, we’re deeply mistaken.
What I celebrate most about this new ministry is that it also is providing us a new way to live into our status as a Reconciling in Christ congregation by driving us to talk about how to not only work toward racial justice, but intentional inclusion of our LGBTQIA+ siblings in Christ!
What does it mean to be the Body of Christ when our buildings are closed?
None of this would be possible for any of us on our own. In order to accomplish God’s work, we have to remember who we are just as the Hebrew people had to remember who they were as free people, not slaves, before they could learn how to be a people in their own land. Living into our holy mission as disciples of Christ Jesus, we see more completely what’s always been true: Christ is present in the Church whether we’re able to meet in person or not, and that none of us can truly follow Jesus on our own — it always requires a community.