Last Sunday we began a new worship series called, “Things We Can Do.” When we developed this idea, it was focused on ways we can continue to be the church in the midst of a pandemic when it is unclear when we will safely be able to gather as a full congregation. I wanted to highlight ways we can still share faith, care for the world and each other, and engage the call to live out the gospel while we can’t organize together, inspire each other, and offer encouragement to each other in our facility. Then, we experienced the tragic death of another African American man, highlighting the many we have witnessed in the complicated history of our nation. The nation’s response to this event added a new dimension to this series. Suddenly it couldn’t just focus on how to share faith in an evangelistic way. Now it also needed to encourage us to share faith as a form of advocacy and repentance. Remember that the word repentance means so much more than just apologizing for wrong-doing; it means to make a change in one’s life, leaving behind an old way of living outside God’s will for us and the world and living in a new way that embraces what God has revealed to us. There needed to be more “things we can do” on our weekly list. But what are those things?
I don’t know.
I have been trying to write this letter for several days. I find myself stuck here. There is so much to mourn. There is so much hope for change, finally. I have faith in what God can and will do through us at this important time in the history and life of our nation. And I experience some fear that nothing helpful will come out of the angst in which we are currently living. On top of those feelings, this novel coronavirus about which we still know so little continues to spread. What can we do?
The founder of the Methodist Movement, John Wesley, said this in a homily titled, “The Law Established through Faith”:
Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Neither is love content with barely working no evil to our neighbour. It continually incites us to do good: as we have time, and opportunity, to do good in every possible kind, and in every possible degree to all men.
Loving neighbors as ourselves is a commandment from Jesus, one Christians have tried to sort out for as long as we have been reading it in the New Testament. We’ve often talked about it in terms of what it means to love OURSELVES: we should offer ourselves as much love and acceptance as we would a beloved neighbor. And we should do that! I believe, though, in this moment in time, the call is to love others the way we love ourselves. That means that any advantage we have, any opportunity we have, any place in life we have, any disadvantage we are able to avoid—we are called to want all of those life circumstances for all of our neighbors. Everyone in the world should desire their neighbors to have every opportunity they, themselves, have. I should desire every child to have the kind of education my child is receiving. I should desire every person called to ordained ministry the opportunities I had to respond fully to that calling. I should desire every family the same consideration we were given when buying our home in our neighborhood. And not only should I desire those things, but I should also find ways to make sure, as far as it depends on me, that they become reality. I know you all well enough to know that you desire these things, too. But how do we do it?
I don’t know. But I am committed to finding out how.
I am committed to checking myself and my own advantages and my ability to avoid disadvantages. That means I must also be committed to making sure my advantages become rights for all human beings. That will become a long list of things, and I will not accomplish all the work required by myself. But if you also find ways to commit yourself to checking your advantages and your ability to avoid disadvantages, you may find ways you can help your advantages become rights for all human beings. I believe that when everyone has an opportunity, we all have opportunity.
In our sermon together this past Sunday, Dave and I shared thoughts on invitation. We wanted to encourage you to think about how we have different ways to invite people to church now. Rather than inviting someone to show up at 3304 Henderson Mill Road on Sunday morning, you can invite them to watch the worship video on Sunday morning (or any other time!). We are investigating ways to distribute an audio recording of the service via the telephone so that whether or not you have access to the internet if you have a phone, you can hear worship! We’re also going to start offering reading groups and some video gatherings for discussion about what is going on in the world and how to respond. Eventually, we will begin to gather in our building, following guidelines for safe gatherings.
I don’t think we’ll ever go “back to normal”, though. In fact, I hope we don’t. There are things we can do to invite others to experience life-changing, perspective-changing, world-changing faith in Jesus Christ as we have experienced it that have nothing to do with the physical space in which we hold worship. Let your life be a witness to taking seriously the commandment of Christ to love all neighbors as we love ourselves, to be discontent with barely working no evil to our neighbors but rather to work hard making sure our neighbors who live every day at a disadvantage finally get the opportunity to avoid most of the disadvantages they have come to expect. I think we can get this right. I know it will take work. I’m committed to doing it. Will you join me?