Preserving Life

Screenshot 2020-06-02 17.44.04This has been a tough week. It has been tough because we feel raw and exposed, weak and at a loss. In seeing the sins of others and deep injustice in our world, our hearts are revealed as well.  Hopefully, this time leads each of us to repentance.  It has for me again and again.  There is no room for pride here. Only a humble seeking of God for life and for forgiveness.  Here’s why.

First, the gospel reveals that the whole world is under the power of sin.  These moments should grieve us but not surprise us. Our entire world has the contagion of sin. Years ago, I would not have included myself in the problem of racism. It was through an African American pastor who befriended me that God revealed my part.  His name was Bob, and Bob shared with me his life story. He explained what it was like to start a trucking business as a black man. Securing a business loan was near impossible. His business merited the loan for sure. He had been successful, but he was denied because of his skin color. This was the small tip of an immense iceberg. His story was filled with disadvantage and discrimination. His entire life had been lived resisting a force like gravity constantly pulling him and keeping him down.  It was always there working against him. His story seemed unbelievable to me because I did not live in his world. I assumed his world was the same as mine. It was not.

glassesHere’s the thing. Bob never blamed me for being born into a different world. No, he had become a Christian pastor by the time I met him. I could only see the love of Jesus in him. I was ashamed when I heard Bob’s story not because I didn’t know, but because I never sought to know and understand.  It was thinking about the incarnation that brought me to repentance. Jesus entered into our world, and shared our story so that he might bring life. I began to wonder what it might be like to reflect the love of Jesus and enter the world of others. What would it look like to build new friendships, and to seek to understand? How would it be if all of us did this?

Someone said that theology is geography.  What we believe will determine where we stand. I believe it will also determine those we stand with.  I find that when we stand with the poor and those that are oppressed and distressed that we are standing with Jesus because that is where Jesus is.  I think this is a time when we are called to do that.

handsSecond, the gospel calls us to oppose racial prejudice. My friend caused me to reread the gospel. It was amazing how often the gospel spoke to this deep sin of the human heart.  Because “there is no distinction…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22-23) there is no room for pride. As we like to say, the ground is level at the foot of the cross. None of us are worthy of God’s grace. No racial group has an advantage. Instead, God gives his love freely. Our temptation (read: mine) is to feel pretty good about ourselves, and to see other people, especially those different from ourselves, as on the other side of a great gulf. There is grace for us, but not so much for “them.”  But, the gospel speaks this word of truth to us all. None of us have a privileged place before God. God shows no favoritism.

Grace means that we must guard against our own pride and also against the judgment of others because “we do the same things.” (Romans 2:1) Yes, you may find yourself standing in judgment of racists at this time.  We can always find someone we can judge.

The good news is that the gospel from the beginning has united Jews and Gentiles, people of different cultures and socioeconomic groups, and men and women. Jesus has torn down the dividing wall of separation that human beings seem to always be rebuilding. Prejudice based on race has been endemic in our world. There is no place for racism in the life of the gospel.  Our refusal to see this is a denial of our need to be redeemed through the grace of Jesus. It is a denial of what Jesus has done.

Screenshot 2020-06-02 17.46.34

Third, the gospel requires that we do all we can to preserve life. Our church’s larger catechism (used to instruct us in the faith) reminds us that we are required by God’s law to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any… (See text below) This is our high calling. This means we don’t use our words to incite violence. We protect others with our words and actions. We guard even our thoughts and purposes.  The catechism goes on to say that we avoid sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge as well as provoking words, oppression, quarreling, striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life.

Yes, it is not enough to remain silent. We are to do all that we can to preserve life, to guard against those practices that put life in danger. We are to value all people as made in the image of God, seeking God’s justice for each individual.

The catechism speaks a hard truth to us.  We must be careful not to add more violence to the mix, but to trust in the power of God’s love in word and deed. This means being proactive not reactive.

worldFinally, the gospel reminds us that our battle is not against flesh and blood. Scripture teaches that our world is under the control of what it calls “principalities and powers.” (Ephesians 6:12) What are these?  Remember my friend Bob? He didn’t simply encounter people that stifled his business-growth. He found himself living as part of a system, a way of doing life and viewing our world, that perpetuated oppression for some, and opportunity for others. For sure, people keep the system going, but it is larger than any person, political party or nation.  It is these powers that keep us trapped in cycles of violence and oppression. Each one of us shares in that.

This is what ultimately led Bob to Jesus. He could see in Jesus the only hope for our world. How so?  First, Jesus speaks the truth about our condition.  Scripture is honest about the need of every person to receive forgiveness and life. In the gospel, Bob found himself no different than any other human being. Second, Jesus opened the way for our reconciliation with God and with each other. Though born into the power structure of our world, Jesus refused to obey its direction in the way he treated minorities and women, and those of different cultural or socioeconomic backgrounds. In this, Bob knew Jesus loved and welcomed him into his kingdom. Third, Jesus established an alternate kingdom that is alive and at work in our world.  It is that kingdom we become part of when we come to faith in him. Bob wanted to share in what Jesus is doing to change our world.  We can choose by the power of the Spirit of God to do as Jesus did. We can treat each person with dignity and respect and without partiality.

crosspicThrough the love of Jesus, I met Bob and we became more than friends. We knew we were brothers. His friendship gave me a whole new outlook on the world, and the ability to comprehend what is “the breadth and length and height and depth” of the love of Christ, and that there was room for me. It also led me to repentance, to see how wrong it was not to enter into the stories of others, not to protect others. I had been comfortable with distance instead of motivated by God’s love.  This is a complacency and comfort that God is constantly leading me away from.  I hope he is doing the same with you.

That’s why I am asking at this time: what can we do to protect others?  How can we build friendships that will foster understanding and open the way for gospel transformation?  Let us pray and work for this together. When the darkness seems the deepest, light seems the brightest.  Let your light shine before all that people may glorify the Father in heaven.

I hope you will do what you can as an individual to protect life and oppose oppression in our city and our world.  I’m going to ask our leadership to consider how we as a church can better engage in our city going forward. I’d love to hear your ideas. Please reach out to me if you have any input for our conversation.  I ask your prayer for our city, each other, and for our efforts together in the future.

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From the Westminster Larger Catechism

The duties required in the sixth commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any; by just defense thereof against violence, patient bearing of the hand of God, quietness of mind, cheerfulness of spirit; a sober use of meat, drink, physic, sleep, labor, and recreations; by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild, and courteous speeches and behavior; forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil; comforting and succoring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent. Answer to Q. 136 in the Westminster Larger Catechism

The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense; the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life; sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge; all excessive passions, distracting cares; immoderate use of meat, drink, labor, and recreations; provoking words, oppression, quarreling, striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life. Answer to Q. 137 in the Westminster Larger Catechism

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