I just returned from The Reconciliation and Justice Conference in St. Louis. A number of us from City Pres attended in order to learn more about our collected history as a race, as well as our more personal history as individuals within a body of believers as it pertains to race relations both here in the middle of the Bible Belt and around the rest of the world.
The summary of my most immediate feelings about the trip hover somewhere between stunned and either humbled or humiliated. I was in my forties before my eyes were opened to the truths of the Reformation, and now I find myself in my sixties and understanding for the first time the deeply social implications of the Gospel. So I’ve studied and taught the Word of God for almost forty years and the only thing I’ve missed was the point.
Over the last five years, I have watched my children, Josh and Caylee, trying to put feet and hands to the truths of the Reformation. I thought studying the Word, leading Bible studies, and being deeply involved in church was a full orbed expression of those truths. However, they were asking questions and trying to live on a different level that included a very socially expressive form of the gospel. While being happy for them and even excited, I knew I didn’t yet get precisely what it was they were chasing. As it turns out I may be the last in my family to understand these at all. Then they invited me along with others to this conference.
In all honesty I didn’t want to fly to St. Louis to attend a conference. I have done more conferences than I care to remember. I didn’t want to be put in a position of trying to understand something I believed I had a pretty good grasp on, or something that was addressing issues I wasn’t asking much about. This seemed to be their awakening. Not mine. To be sure I was delighted to be seeing my son, daughter-in-love and grandchildren. I was getting to go with my other son and daughter-in-love to attend-so there were reasons that kept me engaged in attending. Then the conference came—and hit me like a short right cross. I felt I was reading the scriptures for the first time—again.
I had been so busy looking at the individual words and their meaning in verses that I missed huge portions of the point of the story He was telling. I had always been a little nettled by the idea that I needed to confess and repent of sins I didn’t personally commit against the black and other ethnic communities, or even against the poor, the widow and the orphan in order to bring about reconciliation and healing. I viewed Christianity and Church through the lens of my own thoughts and intents and I felt I was not nor ever had been malicious in my view of others.
City Pres intentionally moved into the building it did, not because it was the only one available, but because we wanted to become a robust church representing and ministering alongside those of many cultures and colors. But where were they? What were we missing?
Hopefully in the coming months as a church we’ll look at these issues and opportunities. As we work on our vision as a church, I pray we wrestle with how we might become a church ministering to the whole family of God. A church that takes up the cause of the widow and the orphan, and who ministers with love amongst the poor.
Not because we are the rescuers or the heroes coming to help the hurting, but because we too are broken and in need of being rescued. We need to grow in our understanding of other cultures and embrace our common hope in a Savior who is rescuing all of us from our blindness. I’ve obviously not begun to see the breadth or depth of my ignorance. God help me. God help all of us…
“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” Deut. 10:17-19
“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” I John 3:17, 18
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27