PREACH IT PASTOR — RACISM / NATIONALISM

A preacher without a pulpit, I am compelled to share a ‘Facebook Public post‘ from a colleague, The Reverend Susan Sytsma Bratt.   Preach it!  Teach it!

With all the ugly hatred, racism and nationalism emerging from this weekends Charlottesville crimes and a Trump Administration that panders to this abhorrent behavior, this is my way of using this blog as a pulpit. I also thank Dan Saperstein, Presbytery if Lake Huron Executive,  for pointing me in the direction of this post.

These words from Rev. Bratt:

There is much to say in the wake of the last 24 hours where more hatred has taken root and sprouted up publicly in Charlottsville.

Tonight, I turn back to Scripture and the Belhar Confession as I prepare to lead worship tomorrow.

To be a member of any Christian church is to be an active witness to Christ’s reconciliation in the world. It’s not just for Sunday morning, but has a place in our daily lives. It shapes how we vote, when we march and use our power to protest, and how we seek to know and love our neighbor.

Faith isn’t private, but public. Not individual, but communal.

The Belhar Confession was written by the church to work to overturn the systemic evil and sin of apartheid and institutionalized racism in South Africa.

The opening lines say this:

“We believe that Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another (Eph. 2:11-22); that unity is, therefore, both a gift and an obligation for the church of Jesus Christ; that through the working of God’s Spirit it is a binding force, yet simultaneously a reality which must be earnestly pursued and sought: one which the people of God must continually be built up to attain (Eph. 4:1-16);
that this unity must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin which Christ has already conquered, and accordingly that anything which threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must be resisted (John 17:20-23);”

Full text is worth reading and studying. Presbyterians, this is our newest Confession.

Here:
CONFESSION OF BELHAR
1. We believe in the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who gathers, protects and cares for the church through Word and Spirit. This, God has done since the beginning of the world and will do to the end.

2. We believe in one holy, universal Christian church, the communion of saints called from the entire human family.

We believe

• that Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another (Eph. 2:11-22);

• that unity is, therefore, both a gift and an obligation for the church of Jesus Christ; that through the working of God’s Spirit it is a binding force, yet simultaneously a reality which must be earnestly pursued and sought: one which the people of God must continually be built up to attain (Eph. 4:1-16);

• that this unity must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin which Christ has already conquered, and accordingly that anything which threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must be resisted (John 17:20-23);

• that this unity of the people of God must be manifested and be active in a variety of ways: in that we love one another; that we experience, practice and pursue community with one another; that we are obligated to give ourselves willingly and joyfully to be of benefit and blessing to one another; that we share one faith, have one calling, are of one soul and one mind; have one God and Father, are filled with one Spirit, are baptized with one baptism, eat of one bread and drink of one cup, confess one name, are obedient to one Lord, work for one cause, and share one hope; together come to know the height and the breadth and the depth of the love of Christ; together are built up to the stature of Christ, to the new humanity; together know and bear one another’s burdens, thereby fulfilling the law of Christ that we need one another and upbuild one another, admonishing and comforting one another; that we suffer with one another for the sake of righteousness; pray together; together serve God in this world; and together fight against all which may threaten or hinder this unity (Phil. 2:1-5; 1 Cor. 12:4-31; John 13:1-17; 1 Cor. 1:10-13; Eph. 4:1-6; Eph. 3:14-20; 1 Cor. 10:16-17; 1 Cor. 11:17-34; Gal. 6:2; 2 Cor. 1:3-4);

• that this unity can be established only in freedom and not under constraint; that the variety of spiritual gifts, opportunities, backgrounds, convictions, as well as the various languages and cultures, are by virtue of the reconciliation in Christ, opportunities for mutual service and enrichment within the one visible people of God (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:1-11; Eph. 4:7-13; Gal. 3:27-28; James 2:1-13);

• that true faith in Jesus Christ is the only condition for membership of this church.
Therefore, we reject any doctrine

• which absolutizes either natural diversity or the sinful separation of people in such a way that this absolutization hinders or breaks the visible and active unity of the church, or even leads to the establishment of a separate church formation;

• which professes that this spiritual unity is truly being maintained in the bond of peace while believers of the same confession are in effect alienated from one another for the sake of diversity and in despair of reconciliation;

• which denies that a refusal earnestly to pursue this visible unity as a priceless gift is sin;

• which explicitly or implicitly maintains that descent or any other human or social factor should be a consideration in determining membership of the church.

3. We believe

• that God has entrusted the church with the message of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ, that the church is called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, that the church is called blessed because it is a peacemaker, that the church is witness both by word and by deed to the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Cor. 5:17-21; Matt. 5:13-16; Matt. 5:9; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21-22).

• that God’s lifegiving Word and Spirit has conquered the powers of sin and death, and therefore also of irreconciliation and hatred, bitterness and enmity, that God’s lifegiving Word and Spirit will enable the church to live in a new obedience which can open new possibilities of life for society and the world (Eph. 4:17–6:23, Rom. 6; Col. 1:9-14; Col. 2:13-19; Col. 3:1–4:6);

• that the credibility of this message is seriously affected and its beneficial work obstructed when it is proclaimed in a land which professes to be Christian, but in which the enforced separation of people on a racial basis promotes and perpetuates alienation, hatred and enmity;

• that any teaching which attempts to legitimate such forced separation by appeal to the gospel, and is not prepared to venture on the road of obedience and reconciliation, but rather, out of prejudice, fear, selfishness and unbelief, denies in advance the reconciling power of the gospel, must be considered ideology and false doctrine.

Therefore, we reject any doctrine

• which, in such a situation, sanctions in the name of the gospel or of the will of God the forced separation of people on the grounds of race and color and thereby in advance obstructs and weakens the ministry and experience of reconciliation in Christ.

4. We believe

• that God has revealed himself as the one who wishes to bring about justice and true peace among people;

• that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged;

• that God calls the church to follow him in this, for God brings justice to the oppressed and gives bread to the hungry;

• that God frees the prisoner and restores sight to the blind;

• that God supports the downtrodden, protects the stranger, helps orphans and widows and blocks the path of the ungodly;

• that for God pure and undefiled religion is to visit the orphans and the widows in their suffering;

• that God wishes to teach the church to do what is good and to seek the right (Deut. 32:4; Luke 2:14; John 14:27; Eph. 2:14; Isa. 1:16-17; James 1:27; James 5:1-6; Luke 1:46-55; Luke 6:20-26; Luke 7:22; Luke 16:19-31; Ps. 146; Luke 4:16-19; Rom. 6:13-18; Amos 5);

• that the church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream;

• that the church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.
Therefore, we reject any ideology

• which would legitimate forms of injustice and any doctrine which is unwilling to resist such an ideology in the name of the gospel.

5. We believe that, in obedience to Jesus Christ, its only head, the church is called to confess and to do all these things, even though the authorities and human laws might forbid them and punishment and suffering be the consequence (Eph. 4:15-16; Acts 5:29-33; 1 Peter 2:18-25; 1 Peter 3:15-18).

Jesus is Lord.

To the one and only God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be the honor and the glory for ever and ever.

Note: This is a translation of the original Afrikaans text of the confession as it was adopted by the synod of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in South Africa in 1986. In 1994 the Dutch Reformed Mission Church and the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa united to form the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA). This inclusive language text was prepared by the Office of Theology and Worship, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

 

TOOLS IN ADDRESSING CONFLICT

This past few weeks I have learned or heard about some minor conflicts between neighbors in the community where I live.  It has become way too easy to voice grievances using Social Media Networks.  Others have been more formal in writing their complaints.  While not a desired result, personal feelings have been hurt.

While this has only happened with a small number of people in the community where I live, I have decided to take a few minutes to write on the topic of “Addressing Conflict”.   Some basic, common sense guidelines:

1.  Direct Communication!  Two-way dialogue with those whom we disagree is the first and most desired first step in resolving conflicts.  This is preferably done face-to-face.       

 2.  Be sensitive to the reality that there will differing opinions when it comes to issues and conflicts.  The more diverse the community, more likely opinions will exist.

 3.  As neighbors, we need to listen and hear what others are saying—especially those with whom we may disagree.   Use of hateful or demeaning rhetoric will never be helpful in resolving conflicts.  

 4.  As leaders in the community, we need to be open to the possibility of adapting or changing ones viewpoint or opinion.  We must also be open to apologizing when it is discovered we have been wrong.     

 5.  We need to be open to the idea of ‘agreeing to disagree’ in avoiding the escalation of a conflict.  

There is a wonderful document published by the Presbyterian Church Mission Agency titled, “Seeking to be Faithful Together”.  Persons who wish to explore the subject of managing disagreements may wish to look at this link.  This PDF document is free.

http://www.presbyterianmission.org/resource/seeking-be-faithful-guidelines-presbyterians-times/

When it comes to living in harmony in a community—whether it be a neighborhood or church or some other type of business or organization, a typical goal is the uplifting of people and their relationships with others.  To this end, I hope this blog will help in underscoring the need to resolve conflicts in applying the “Golden Rule”:   “Do unto others as you would have them to unto you!” Luke 6: 31  NIV (New International Version)   “Face-to-face” conversation is the best tool we have in resolving conflict.

Prayers for the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA)

I am calling for prayer for the many challenges the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) in working with the 1001 Worshipping Community program.  After a lengthy and expensive investigation into the improper creation and funding of a newly formed California 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, four individuals at the national level of the church were dismissed.  My prayers are with all who work with Executive Director Linda Valentine and Marilyn Gamm, Chair of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board  (PMA)….and those who were dismissed–Roger Dermody, Eric Hoey, Philip Lotspeich, and Craig Williams.   .

Please lift up in prayer all who are involved in this process as no one should be demonized.  We are all still one part of the Body of Christ and graciousness in all things must be maintained.”  (Bruce Reyes, Chow, former Moderator of the PCUSA)[1] 

These are challenging times in our beloved church.  The issue of trust in the work of the Presbyterian Mission Agency will be hanging over many in the church as dark clouds break and trust in national leaders is restored.  I was recently reminded by a colleague that what happens at the national levels of the church has an impact on all of us because we are a connectional church.  Thus the need for all in our church to pray for the restoration of trust at all levels within our church.

We are connectional.  We are not part of a “them/us” church.  We are all members of the one body of Christ.   While it is true we have stubbed our toe at the national level, it’s going to take all of us working together to help this injury heal.

May God continue to help grow and move forward as the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.  While we heal, we need to hold our entire church in prayer.

For more information about the issue that has been hanging over the Presbyterian Mission Agency and our entire church, look at the articles found in Presbyterian Outlook.

The most recent article:    http://pres-outlook.org/2015/06/1001-inquiry-continues-to-unfold-executive-director-review-planned-investigation-report-still-private/

[1]   PC(USA) Ethics Violations and 1001 New Worshiping Communities Controversy

Experiential Learning

The experiences of others is perhaps the most valuable of all the tools in the pastor’s “Ministry Toolbox”.  For me, why else spend years upon years of attending ministry conferences in figuring out what others have done to make their experiences both faithful and successful.  For small struggling churches perhaps the most important of all resources is in looking at what others, like yourselves, have done successfully. For example, if you are a small downtown church struggling with what to do with a large and expensive building, take a look at what others have done in similar situations in addressing this concern.

Presbyterians Today June 2015

I just received my June 2015 copy of Presbyterians Today with the cover title.  “Small Churches. Big Impact”.   This issue is full of stories of experiences of others.  This learning from the experience of others will help you open doors in trying new things in the future.  In fact, I am writing this blog because I truly believe learning from the experience of others is for me the most valuable tool in my “Ministry Toolbox”.

Stewards of Global Change–Earth Day 2015

“The earth is the LORD’S, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”  Psalm 24: 1

The President in his weekly broadcast tells the world, on the eve of Earth Day, “we only have this one world”.   The concerts on the Washington Mall with a quarter million people in attendance project the same message:  THIS IS THE ONLY WORLD ENTRUSTED OUR CARE!    For those of us in the church:  What are our plans as stewards of “everything in the world and all who live in it”?

Remember filmstrips?  It was back in the 70’s I shared with a youth group a filmstrip produced by the Presbyterian Church.  If I recall correctly, the title of this filmstrip was “The Big Blue Marble”.   In my memory as a pastor, this was one of my first attempts to sensitize those around me in the church to become stewards of the world around us.  Stewardship isn’t just about our use of time and talents and money in building up the church.   In specific ways, we are called be activists for this beautiful globe God has entrusted our care.  So my question:  Are we ready to re-commit as advocates in caring for the earth?

I write this blog because I am frustrated.  It is spring and everything is slowly turning green.  I am looking out my study window watching a handful of neighbors working on their lawns.   I am also well aware that many in our world are limited when it comes to a basic resource:  water.  This has become a clear issue for me in watching my 2 year old grandson living in California playing in one inch of water in his little pool.  It’s a given that water cannot be wasted!  He is learning how to dive into a pool of plastic balls instead of a pool of water.  It’s also a mandate that those living in California cut back water usage by 25%.   What have we done (or not done) in caring for thus beautiful earth?

I am also frustrated because this issue of climate change has become a political grenade…being tossed back and forth waiting for the next natural disaster to strike.  With the issue of global warming in the political arena, there can be no winners.  There will always be a “right” and “left” in assessing blame for this crisis.   Is there a place for the church in reconciling some of the differences we find between the “right” and the “left” on the political spectrum?

And then we have the issue of what we teach in our schools?  Who’s at fault for this deterioration of our world’s natural resources?   Are we going to depend on FOX NEWS or MSNBC for our information?   What are we going to hear from our pulpits about this issue?  What twists and turns are we going to hear these next 18 months as the our nation electes a new President?  I have lot’s of questions!

I see very little that is positive emerging from the political arena when it comes to protecting this “Big Blue Marble” for future generations – our children and grandchildren to enjoy.  I am frustrated because the depressing fact remains:  The “Big Blue Marble” is fast drying up and turning brown!   But this doesn’t have to happen!  I still believe there is power to be found within the church — faith communities drawing upon our spiritual resourcefulness in attacking this issue of climate change in caring for this earth.

It is a good thing that the church is recognized earth day on many of their liturgical calendars.  I know this is the case in the Presbyterian Church.  This is the weekend many in the church will be promoting positive change in the use of natural resources—those things we can be doing as stewards of this beautiful earth.

I ran into a good article by Rebecca Barnes titled “Caring for God’s Creation” that talks of a certification process for churches pledging to care for the earth.  This pledge emerging from the 1990 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church says,

God calls us  to cherish, protect and restore the earth, and it focuses on four areas: worship, education, facilities and outreach. It encourages environmental education and public policy that supports environmental protection.  It emphasizes stewardship so that God’s holy creation will be sustainable for all life and future generations.[1]

It’s time to shift conversations about climate change and care for our world away from the politicians and back into the church.  It’s time to look at the care for our world as an issue of stewardship in demonstrating that “people of faith” know the problem and how to solve it….in caring for the holy ground God has entrusted our care.

Some of the eleven suggestions (paraphrased) from the Barnes article for “Earth Care Congregations”:[2]

  1. Celebrate Earth Day in worship
  2. Vacation Bible School programming
  3. Home energy audits
  4. Purchase of fair traded products
  5. Insulation blankets on water heaters and pipes
  6. Thermal shades on windows
  7. Automatic controls an faucets
  8. Recycling
  9. Reusable supplies
  10. Purchases from local vendors
  11. Stewardship of resources with local plantings

I hope and pray that God will enter our hearts as we gazed upon this beautiful world of blessings God has entrusted our care.  I hope and pray that we all find ways to take one or two steps forward in making this a better world in which to live.

May God bless us in these efforts….

 

Two Presbyterian Church Resources:

www.pcusa.org/earth-care-congregations

www.pcusa.org/environment

 

[1] Rebecca Barnes, Presbyterians Today, Vol 105, Issue 2, March 2015, pg. 30)

[2]   Ibid.

Doors Open Wider!

The doors of Presbyterian Church, with a recent decision to allow for same sex weddings, have just been opened wider for those in the LGBT community wishing to be married.  While I join with Presbyterians from around the country celebrating our becoming a more inclusive church, we must also remember the need to be pastoral toward those in the church who, in heart-felt ways, disagree with this decision.  Let’s be honest!  Many in the church have strong feelings that this was a bad decision.

From a pastoral letter written by Rev. Jim Browne, the General Presbyter for the Presbytery of Lake Huron—the Presbytery of which I am a member:

What this means is that anyone authorized to perform a marriage and lives in a state where this is legally possible will be able to officiate at  same sex weddings as well as traditional weddings, between a man and a woman. The pastor still is vested with the authority to decide whether a particular wedding is wise and should go forward. The Session which is still given the responsibility to control the use of the building still retains the right to authorize the use of the building for a particular wedding, or to refuse it. The rights of the pastor and of the congregation, vested in the Session, will remain unchanged from before.[1]

Rev. Browne calls upon those in our beloved church to be “gentle with one another”.   I like this!  While some, like myself, want to celebrate this change in our church constitution, I also know some of my best friends at the core of their being are in disagreement with where the church when it comes to this issue of marriage.

I am proud to be in a church that wrestles with difficult questions – always putting Christ at the center of our deliberations.  We are grounded in scripture recognizing there can be varied interpretations when it comes to how God’s Word inspires and guides us in making difficult decisions–living our lives as faithful Christians.

It comes down to this for me:  The door is now open wider for those in the LGBT community who wish to join in worship in Presbyterian churches knowing they are fully included as participants in the sacred institutions, like marriage or holding ordained office–institutions and offices we hold near and dear to our hearts.

Note:  Rev. Grady Parsons, the Stated Clerk and spokesperson for the Presbyterian Church shares an excellent letter showing how decisions on the issue of the inclusion of the LGBT community has evolved since the 1970’s—a short letter for those interested in learning more about how the PCUSA came to this decision. 

http://oga.pcusa.org/section/ga/ga221/message-stated-clerk-grady-parsons-marriage/

[1]   Bi-weekly News of the Presbytery of Lake Huron, March 18, 2015