In a blog for the New Year, Amy Butler, Senior Pastor of the Riverside Church in New York City, reflects on the transition from the old to the new. In her column, entitled “Goodbye, 2017. Won’t Miss You Much,” she reflects on all the trouble that 2017 brought to us as people of faith. I won’t re-hash her reflection. You can read it for yourself at https://baptistnews.com/article/goodbye-2017-wont-miss-much/#.Wk2HeN-nGUl. But I do want to consider one brief paragraph from the middle of her piece. She summarizes, “In short, 2017, you have shaken us awake to deep problems that have always been present but are now undeniably urgent, requiring all of us to wake from complacency and decide if we will have the courage to live what we believe. Thanks a lot, 2017. No, really … thank you. We now see more clearly the critical work ahead of us, and each of us has a decision to make about what will happen in 2018.”
You’ve heard and read enough of my own griping and grieving this past year to know that I share Amy’s perspective. 2017 “woke” many of us to deep-seeded difficulties in this world in which we live. In particular, 2017 surfaced the breadth and depth of racism, xenophobia, sexism (including harassment and assault,) homo-hatred, and pure meanness that lay just below the surface of our society and was dormant but present in the life-stream of our culture. The pressing question is not one of making “America great again.” The more urgent concern is whether we might be kind, considerate, humane, decent, compassionate, loving – those qualities, which we as people of faith claim as our legacy. Are their ways in which can infuse these qualities into our social fabric and our cultural structures?
This is no simple matter of “what would Jesus do?” if he came on the scene today. It is a complex and challenging question for his followers – what will we do as disciples to follow the Jesus way in 2018? Will we own, with Amy, that 2017 has “shaken us awake to deep problems that have always been present but are now undeniably urgent”? Are we prepared “to wake from complacency and decide if we will have the courage to live what we believe”? There’s the rub, isn’t it, “to live what we believe.”
Is there enough of an ironic challenge in the harsh realities of 2017 to move us to action in 2018. Over and over we have offered up our thoughts and prayers as we have been confronted with one horror after another. I believe with all my heart that what we think and how we pray does shape our lives. But thoughts and prayers cannot be static platitudes. If they don’t stir our hearts, inform our minds, empower our hands, and move our feet, they are like a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” In our faith tradition, thoughts and prayers are inseparable from action. Jesus’ life and ministry were always oriented toward establishing God’s Beloved Community – not just thinking about or praying for it, as important as those elements are.
As a congregation, our theme for 2018 is “To Be Beloved Community.” Once again we consider the four pillars that make up our mission statement – Worship (to live out our love for God with our whole being,) Learn (to open our minds as well as our hearts to where God is leading us as people of faith,) Serve (to act on what we experience in worship and learn in community to make God’s will through Christ’s way a living reality.) In short, we worship, learn, and serve in order “To Be Beloved Community.”
Amy finishes her reflection with these challenging words, “2017, you brought to life a reality I do not want to experience in 2018. Whatever comes in the year ahead, I want to be a person of action, making change and finding the courage to speak up. Too much needs to be healed; the world needs a message of transformational love; and all of us need to be part of making this happen.” Again, I agree. My desire is that 2017 represent the proverbial “bottom of the barrel.” I want 2018 to be better and I recognize, I have to do my part to make it so – taking “action, making change, finding courage to speak up with a message of transformational love.” It will take all of us to make a difference. I hope, as people of faith, called by God, led by Christ, empowered by the Spirit, you will join me in thinking, praying, and building the Beloved Community this year.
Yours on the way and in the work.
From Hymn, by Sherman Alexie
My friends, I’m not quite sure what I should do.
I’m as angry and afraid and disillusioned as you.
But I do know this: I will resist hate. I will resist
I will stand and sing my love. I will use my fist
To drum and drum my love. I will write and read poems
That offer the warmth and shelter of any good home.
I will sing for people who might not sing for me.
I will sing for people who are not my family.
I will sing honor songs for the unfamiliar and new.
I will visit a different church and pray in a different pew.
I will silently sit and carefully listen to new stories
About other people’s tragedies and glories.
I will not assume my pain and joy are better.
I will not claim my people invented gravity or weather.
And, oh, I know I will still feel my rage and rage and rage
But I won’t act like I’m the only person onstage.
I am one more citizen marching against hatred.
Alone, we are defenseless. Collected, we are sacred.
We will march by the millions. We will tremble and grieve.
We will praise and weep and laugh. We will believe.
We will be courageous with our love. We will risk danger
As we sing and sing and sing to welcome strangers.