Updated: Oct 30
“We need to get back to Jesus. Just Jesus” the bishop* proclaimed. The singer had just finished a rousing version of “Give me Jesus!” The conference room full of congregational leaders applauded, and many amens were heard.
But not from me.
I didn’t think anyone in the room had left Jesus behind. No one needed to go back and get him, he was there.
The conference was called “Bound by Grace. Bound by Race. What does this mean? If the question of the day was: How can we work against racism? - I didn’t think “Just Jesus” was a sufficient answer. Worship services and education opportunities center us in Jesus and his teachings. And that is beautiful and necessary, and not all there is.
Maybe that’s not what the bishop meant.
Maybe she didn’t mean for us to focus only on worshiping Jesus. Maybe she meant to release us from a job that isn’t ours. We church leader types can get caught up in what we think our congregation “should” be doing: programs we “should” be offering, ministries we “should” launch, all the glory days things that we can’t quite pull off anymore, but if we could, it might save the church from decline. Maybe the Bishop wanted to remind us that Jesus did all the saving that needed to be done, once and for all. Just Jesus.
Okay – so now that we know that Jesus did all the saving: What do we do?
As it was for the disciples in the Bible, it is for us: We learn from Jesus, and we are sent forth in Jesus’ name. Discipleship is not an end to itself; it is where we receive the invitation to become apostles.
Pastor Carla Christopher was the main presenter the conference. She challenged the white folks in the room to get past the shame of being privileged and learn to use it. White folks listen to other white folks more easily than to the BIPOC** voices. We claim our apostleship when we speak up.
Racism is a HUGE problem in our country, our cities and in our congregations. Recently, the Los Angeles Times ran a front-page article on Blaxit – Black people who are exiting the US to live in other countries. They are finding peace and freedom “it’s like leaving an abusive relationship” and “being able to take a full breath for the first time.” This exodus has been going on since 1948 but picked up in the last couple of years. BIPOC** folks are tired. It is totally appropriate for them to sit at the feet of Jesus and rest. But me and my white colleagues? We have work to do. This is a time for white Christians to actively take part in the ministry of reconciliation.
We are called to actively love our neighbors. Of the different Greek words for love available to them, Jesus, and Paul use “agape” most. This is active love. It is the motivating force in Matthew 22:36-40 (Luke 10:27, Mark 12:28-31) “You shall agape the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind…you shall agape your neighbor as yourself.” Agape motivates action. We are saved because of God’s agape for us. Through that same Spirit, we actively love God, one another, and our neighbors. Paul calls this the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18-20). The walls that separated “us” from “them” have been torn down…. We can love one another; reconcile with one another (Eph 2:14).
If getting back to Jesus means to love like Jesus did, and like Paul describes, then I’m all in.
What about you? Are you ready to be sent out, to actively love your neighbors? This isn’t one more thing you need to do to save the church. This is something you can do – within your context and within the capacities of your congregation- to work against racism. It’s not a giant leap, just the next faithful step.
Our just Jesus invites us to stand up and go.
Pastor Carla pointed us to some of the free resources available through the ELCA. Resources to expand the conversation in your congregation. Read them and let the Spirit lead you.
Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery:
Indian Schools: Truth and Healing Movement
*The Bishop knows about this blog and is cool with it.
**BIPOC: Black, Indigenous, People of Color.