“The LORD has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)
Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with our God. These words echo through the centuries and remind the children of God of the complex simplicity of our call. We are called to stand with the ways of justice, kindness, and humility against forces that often feel impenetrable – injustice, hate, and poverty. These forces tempt us to turn on one another, take away the dignity of brothers and sisters, and tempt us to focus on what divides us. This has caused me to dig deep and consider our counter-cultural call as followers of Jesus.
What does it mean to be a Christian – a faithful servant of Christ – at a time such as this?
This question seems to be even more relevant as we, the Presbytery of Philadelphia, enter our 300th year of responding to God’s call and faithfulness as individuals and congregations. And so I have allowed myself to consider some moments in our nation’s history when culture and church collided:
- The Civil War and the call to stand on the side of the abolitionist.
- The internment of Japanese Americans and the call to stand on the side of justice for them.
- The segregation and racism leading up to the 1960s when the church was called to stand on the side of human dignity for all people, regardless of color.
From the very beginning of our history, our story as a people has been checkered with these dark chapters – dark chapters that require the voice of the church near and far to resist the culture and reclaim the Gospel. In many ways, this is where we again find ourselves – that place where church and culture collide; that place where the model of Jesus’ servant leadership crashes head-on with the culture of leadership based on sheer power.
Regardless of our individual political cultural leanings and opinions, there is no denying the unsettled spirit in the air. It is a spirit that has been unleashed – giving permission for incivility, cruelty, indifference and even violence to take center stage in the narrative of our daily lives. It is a spirit that is counter to everything we claim as a people of Christ. We sense a call to be the people God called us to be – but what does that look like? Our call is framed by the life and teachings of Jesus. The Gospels tell us over and over again of how Jesus took on the cultural assumptions and images on behalf of the ignored, despised, forgotten, ill, poor.
This week we were reminded of just how powerful our witness can be as we gathered with the eight identified outreach ministries and initiatives that seek to interrupt the school to prison pipeline in the Philadelphia area. We heard of the commitment to provide safe places to inner city children and youth – places that would simultaneously provide educational support and elevate human dignity while creating alternative relationships to the ones found in the streets that lead to truancy, gangs, juvenile justice system, and prison. We learned of initiatives for restorative justice through radical hospitality and using the arts as vehicles to strengthen the hearts and minds of those forgotten or even feared. This is our call – to engage our faith in a way that actively embodies our counter-cultural call to resist the new normal that encourages a spirit “not of God.” This is our call – to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.
As we prepare to gather next Tuesday for our Stated Meeting, I am grateful for the faithfulness of these initiatives along with the faithfulness of our congregations that grow and disciple the saints- young and old – to be bold ambassadors of hope in the worlds they engage. I am eager to come face to face with you; to greet one another in the name of Christ as we listen to seven words of light and hope during our worship. I am eager to be encouraged by your presence and prayers in this season of Epiphany. Above all, I am eager to reaffirm our commitment to reflect the light of Christ together – defying the darkness around us.