Dear Partners in Mission:
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” 1 Cor. 12:12
Yesterday on Pentecost we heard these words from the Apostle Paul. That though there are many members, we are one body in Christ. And as one body then we belong to one another as we belong to Christ. In 2020 on Pentecost we must acknowledge that many of the members of this body are hurting. Today, June 1, our Presiding Bishop encouraged us to participate in a national interfaith and civic day of mourning. This day was intended to be an opportunity to collectively acknowledge that as a nation more than 100,000 people had died of COVID-19 in just three months. To acknowledgement that although the grief and loss from this pandemic have been unequally and unevenly shared across our nation this loss of life, equivalent to the population of Abilene, TX, we must take time as a body to acknowledge not just this loss of life but also the many other losses experienced as well. So I invite you to join your synod staff in taking time today to do the holy work of mourning because members of our body have and are suffering. For more information about this day, check out Sojourners: National Day of Mourning and Lament.
Of course when this day of mourning was set we had no idea the additional outpouring of pain and grief we would experience Pentecost weekend. The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis has intensified this collective experience of grief as one more example of how communities of color feel marginalized and targeted in our nation. The anger, frustration, and protests continue to reveal the cracks in our society and the uneven experience of what it means to be part of this nation. Combined with the specter of white nationalist groups attempting to capitalize on protests to fuel hatred and violence, there is even more painful truth that we as a nation must acknowledge today.
Sunday I was honored to be able to join in worship online with St. John, Dallas, one of our majority African descent congregations in NT-NL, and I was invited to listen to their stories of frustration, systemic bias, and oppression. I was honored by their trust and openness. One member shared their “feeling that a knee has been on our neck for 400 years.” The body is hurting, and as we are one body, that means we are hurting.
In response to this hurt the ELCA Conference of Bishops united in one voice again affirming our commitment to combating racism in its many forms and particularly as it manifests in ideologies of white supremacy. Ideologies that degrade the body and, based on sinful theologies, believe one member of the body to be superior to another because of the color of their skin. That sin must be named, its systemic and institutional expressions identified, and ultimately work for reuniting the body in equity and justice be done. Equity and justice in which we acknowledge privilege and sin and make steps to preserve and lift up parts of the body that have for too long suffered.
The rush of the spirit on the church that first Pentecost gave the body of Christ marching orders. The church was to be a multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, diverse body that was one not in language or nation but in Christ. Throughout its history the church has both lived into and fallen well short of this mission. Too often we have been silent and complicit. We look for our privilege and advantage. We forget that our Christian freedom is not for us but for our neighbor, particularly our marginalized neighbor. As our Briarwood Leadership Center Director Dr. Robert Smith reminds us in his recent blog post on Christian Freedom (part of a series giving structure and context for our fall leadership convocation).
“Rights exist to protect the existence of minorities, not salve the discriminatory conscience of those who represent an empowered class enjoying the benefits of de facto establishment.”
The temptation to homogenize the body of Christ, to align with power, is strong. The Church’s impulse to preserve the institution results in compromises of the Pentecost promise and the witness of the Apostle Paul. Yet the rush of the spirit comes again and the witness of modern day apostles is there for us to hear, if we will listen.
A wise pastor recently said to me that she often hears people say to her “I just don’t understand how they can think like that.” Perhaps on this day of national mourning we can begin a new Pentecost project among us. To take time to engage why our neighbor might think or be or do what they do. To listen hard to the different experiences of the body and not brush them away when we become uncomfortable. We have a time to do this right now. To listen to the stories of those impacted by Covid-19 and not brush them off because “no one I know has gotten it.” To listen hard to the experience of siblings whose skin color is different that ours, who grew up in different economic circumstances, whose sexual orientation is not ours and be willing to be changed. To take seriously the fifth anniversary of the martyrdom of the Emanuel 9 in Charleston and utilize the ELCA’s resources for commemorating this day.
In baptism we are changed. We become a part of the body of Christ, which has many members, but is one. One in our diversity, one because Christ makes it so. God bless you this week and may we, as Lutherans in NT-NL, be known in this time as people united in Christ, secure in our baptism, and doers of justice.
P.S. Bishop Eaton has recorded and provided a sermon for Trinity Sunday (June 7) you are welcome to use.