By the Reverend Dr. Warren Crews
Anyone who reads much of the Hebrew scriptures will learn quickly that what God the Father wills is that we human beings act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. To act justly involves respecting all human beings as fellow creatures endowed with the image and likeness of God. Those scriptures emphasize over and over again that to love mercy means taking special care of those on the margins of society: widows, orphans, and strangers, in particular. To walk humbly with God includes valuing the God-given gifts of others, even those with whom we differ significantly, rather than trying to dominate or exclude them. Walking humbly also involves recognizing our own limitations and faults.
Anyone who reads the Christian scriptures discovers right away that Jesus embodied those qualities of acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with his heavenly Father. Jesus day in and day out talked about life in the Kingdom of God in which justice and mercy and humility are what dominate, rather than greed, power, and violence. Jesus not only talked about these virtues, he helped shape them by how he acted. He fed the hungry, he healed the sick, and he treated foreigners and minorities as having dignity and rights. Once, he even protested in a very forceful way the injustice going on within the Temple itself by overturning the tables of the money changers and chasing out the animal sellers, all of whom he called "a den of thieves." Jesus embodied and shaped our understanding of the will of the Father for justice, mercy, and humility.
Anyone who studies the two-thousand-year history of Christianity will discover that its inner driving force has always been the power of the Holy Spirit. The Gospel and Epistles of John describe the Spirit as an advocate and counselor. They teach that we can know that the Spirit is at work when we are brought closer to Christ and when we experience God as the source of truth and love. St. Paul developed long lists of the gifts of the Holy Spirit to build up the Church, as well as fruits of the Spirit for those who seek to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. When the Church relies on the Holy Spirit for guidance and empowerment, renewal and hope spring up. When the Church moves forward without relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, the results can be disappointing and even disastrous. A Spirit-filled Church is always Christ-shaped, always striving to do the will of the Father.
So, now let us turn to this time, so full of anxiety and uncertainty, of anger and confusion about racial injustice, boiling up in the middle of a pandemic. Three thoughts for us to mull over. First, we need to proclaim whenever and wherever we can that justice, peace, and the dignity of every human being is the will of our heavenly Father. We need to do this all the while speaking this fundamental truth in a loving way. Why loving? First, because we worship a God of love, who calls us to love our neighbor as our self. Second, because, we need to humbly admit that we too are not free from the very injustices we are naming. Racial injustice is everywhere, its is systemic, it infects us all, both consciously and unconsciously. Honesty and humility in the face of the will of our heavenly Father is the beginning of healing and renewal.
A second thought: a Christ-shaped response to our crises begins at our baptism when we were united with Christ’s death and resurrection, when we were anointed by the Holy Spirit, and marked as Christ’s own forever. It has continued with our being fed Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist, to strengthen us to be Christ’s continuing Body, which we call the Church. We have been equipped to be the embodiment of Christ’s ministry in our world. What does that ministry look like? St. Paul put it forcefully: we are neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, because we are all one in Christ. If Paul were writing today, he probably would add that in Christ we are neither black nor brown nor yellow nor white, neither straight nor gay, neither liberal nor conservative. Our unity in Christ transcends every division among human beings. Thus, racial injustice is a fundamental failure to recognize our unity in Christ. The only way to make this conviction real to our badly divided world is for us to reach out in loving service to those suffering from the insidious effects of racial injustice. Jesus was all about acting with love and mercy, not talk and empty promises. Furthermore, Jesus was willing to suffer the consequences of his calling his people to a new and different life in his Father’s kingdom. Living a Christ-shaped life will be no different for us.
Living a trinitarian life, as I have described it, is not for the faint-hearted; it requires a strong commitment and a willingness to depend upon God’s Holy Spirit for the wisdom, courage and strength to enable us to respond to these critical moments, according to the will of the Father, in a Christ-shaped way. Fortunately, we are not alone in this. Since we are all one in Christ, we are meant to act together as his continuing presence in our world. Although our problems are huge, but we are primarily being called to be faithful in our own situations in whatever ways that are possible for us. However, the good news is that together we can do much more than we ever imagined. That is God’s promise to us today. My friends, I believe that it is our heavenly Father’s will that we, the people of St. John’s, explore more deeply what will be our very own Christ-shaped, Spirit-empowered response to the crises facing us. What we choose to do in the coming weeks will reveal whether we are willing to let the Holy Spirit take us to where God is calling us. I ask all of us to pray earnestly that that will happen. AMEN.
The Reverend Dr. Warren Crews serves as the co-priest in charge at St. John's.