“Jesus is Lord.” So much easier to say in Church than to live out in real life.
Jesus said a lot of things I sure wish he hadn’t. I don’t like his instructions in Matthew 5:23-24. He’s talking about a quarrel breaking a relationship with a brother (or sister) when he says:
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” He didn’t say I should go confront my brother or sister if I have something against them—the situation is that they have something against me!
We’ve all heard folk wisdom sayings like…
“Let bygones be bygones.”
“Time to bury the hatchet,” which strangely enough, is about making peace.
“Time heals all wounds.”
There is a bit of truth in each phrase, but not the whole truth. Take “time heals all wounds”. Imagine a situation in which you were deeply hurt by someone twenty years ago, and you haven’t seen the person since. Then, as you’re walking through the square on your way to the Farmer’s Market, there they are right in front of you. I guarantee that time will not have changed our emotional reaction. Our “fight or flight” switch will be thrown and our command center will be screaming to all areas of our brains, “Mayday…Mayday…danger…danger.” The greeting, if you can’t avoid it, might be cordial, but we can never mistake cordiality for reconciliation. Reconciliation requires going back to the hurt and trying as best anyone can to tell the truth and own our part in whatever happened.
We settle for “not fighting” all the time and think we’re reconciled with the people around us. I can’t tell you how many families have self-destructed after the last parent dies and the estate is settled. Suddenly old wounds, which have been tossed in the “let bygones be bygones” bin, suddenly spring back to life. Reconciliation is hard, but necessary work. For us, as Christians, I believe it is mandatory, not optional. Jesus was clear in his instructions, and Paul followed up with the Christian job description being that of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5)
So far so good? Not for me. I’m learning a very hard truth. I want to understand Jesus and the other New Testament writers exclusively through the lens of personal relationships. Reconciliation through that lens has to do with my one-on-one interactions: this family member, that friend, the neighbor next door, my co-worker. While certainly reconciliation is needed in our personal relationships, what we leave out, is our collective sin which creates social, economic, political, and even religious systems that hurt so many, usually the people who are “different” from me. It is sobering to realize that what I want to talk about is how well I treat the people I know who might be poorer and struggling to make ends meet, a different skin color, who struggle with English, etc. What people who are struggling with systems that handicap them want to talk about it is how the system itself is the problem. I don’t want to talk about structural poverty, sexism, or institutionalized racism. I want bygones to be bygones and not address the systems that marginalize and oppress, even though a cursory reading of the Old Testament prophets makes it clear that God is very concerned about these societal issues.
So here’s the thing. I don’t get to tell “them”, whoever “them” is, to get over “it”, whatever “it” is. I had no idea when this series on reconciliation, using the Belhar Confession, was hatched that Starbucks would close their stores this last Tuesday for “racial-bias” training. Nor that ABC would cancel Rosanne Barr’s show as she crossed a line and the network drew a line. But we’re in the midst of a cultural upheaval that has been in the making for a long time.
As a Christian, I’m challenged to do more than just wring my hands. Our culture is our point of location, but our culture cannot be our source of information. For that we must turn to the Scriptures and to what the Spirit of the living God is doing in the larger church community. The Belhar confession continues to be helpful to me as a guide to the demands of the Holy Scriptures in the context of a culture that in so many ways has lost its moral bearings. Written in the context of apartheid in South Africa, it is the declaration of a church seeking to live the earliest, and simplest confession, “Jesus is Lord”.
This is going to be our mission for the next six weeks—to let these words collide with our lives here in Sonoma, in the year 2018. As my friend Russ Kane said so well:
Does the church have anything to offer a world that is tearing themselves apart with tribalism, nationalism, and partisanship? That is the question for the church today. That was the question of the church in South Africa, too. Their response to the role of the church in a chaotic world was the Belhar Confession. Like the Barmen Declaration and the Confession of 1967 before it, the Belhar is different from the ancient creeds in that it seeks not to define pure doctrine so people will have a clear path to heaven, but a way of being in the world but not of the world- for the sake of the world. It seeks to inform the Church how to bring God’s will to earth.
For those of you want to read the full text of the Belhar Confession, here it is…
Confession of Belhar September 1986
We believe in the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who gathers, protects and cares for the church through Word and Spirit. This, God has done since the beginning of the world and will do to the end.
We believe in one holy, universal Christian church, the communion of saints called from the entire human family.
that Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another;
that unity is, therefore, both a gift and an obligation for the church of Jesus Christ; that through the working of God’s Spirit it is a binding force, yet simultaneously a reality which must be earnestly pursued and sought: one which the people of God must continually be built up to attain; that this unity must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin which Christ has already conquered, and accordingly that anything which threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must be resisted; that this unity of the people of God must be manifested and be active in a variety of ways: in that we love one another; that we experience, practice and pursue community with one another; that we are obligated to give ourselves willingly and joyfully to be of benefit and blessing to one another; that we share one faith, have one calling, are of one soul and one mind; have one God and Father, are filled with one Spirit, are baptized with one baptism, eat of one bread and drink of one cup, confess one name, are obedient to one Lord, work for one cause, and share one hope; together come to know the height and the breadth and the depth of the love of Christ; together are built up to the stature of Christ, to the new humanity; together know and bear one another’s burdens, thereby fulfilling the law of Christ that we need one another and upbuild one another, admonishing and comforting one another; that we suffer with one another for the sake of righteousness; pray together; together serve God in this world; and together fight against all which may threaten or hinder this unity; that this unity can be established only in freedom and not under constraint; that the variety of spiritual gifts, opportunities, backgrounds, convictions, as well as the various languages and cultures, are by virtue of the reconciliation in Christ, opportunities for mutual service and enrichment within the one visible people of God; that true faith in Jesus Christ is the only condition for membership of this church;
Therefore, we reject any doctrine which absolutizes either natural diversity or the sinful separation of people in such a way that this absolutization hinders or breaks the visible and active unity of the church, or even leads to the establishment of a separate church formation; which professes that this spiritual unity is truly being maintained in the bond of peace while believers of the same confession are in effect alienated from one another for the sake of diversity and in despair of reconciliation; which denies that a refusal earnestly to pursue this visible unity as a priceless gift is sin; which explicitly or implicitly maintains that descent or any other human or social factor should be a consideration in determining membership of the church.
3. We believe
that God has entrusted the church with the message of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ; that the church is called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, that the church is called blessed because it is a peacemaker, that the church is witness both by word and by deed to the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells.
that God’s lifegiving Word and Spirit has conquered the powers of sin and death, and therefore also of irreconciliation and hatred, bitterness and enmity, that God’s lifegiving Word and Spirit will enable the church to live in a new obedience which can open new possibilities of life for society and the world; that the credibility of this message is seriously affected and its beneficial work obstructed when it is proclaimed in a land which professes to be Christian, but in which the enforced separation of people on a racial basis promotes and perpetuates alienation, hatred and enmity; that any teaching which attempts to legitimate such forced separation by appeal to the gospel, and is not prepared to venture on the road of obedience and reconciliation, but rather, out of prejudice, fear, selfishness and unbelief, denies in advance the reconciling power of the gospel, must be considered ideology and false doctrine.
Therefore, we reject any doctrine which, in such a situation sanctions in the name of the gospel or of the will of God the forced separation of people on the grounds of race and color and thereby in advance obstructs and weakens the ministry and experience of reconciliation in Christ.
4. We believe that God has revealed himself as the one who wishes to bring about justice and true peace among people;
that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged that God calls the church to follow him in this; for God brings justice to the oppressed and gives bread to the hungry; that God frees the prisoner and restores sight to the blind; that God supports the downtrodden, protects the stranger, helps orphans and widows and blocks the path of the ungodly; that for God pure and undefiled religion is to visit the orphans and the widows in their suffering;
that God wishes to teach the church to do what is good and to seek the right;
that the church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream; that the church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.
Therefore, we reject any ideology which would legitimate forms of injustice and any doctrine which is unwilling to resist such an ideology in the name of the gospel.
5. We believe that, in obedience to Jesus Christ, its only head, the church is called to confess and to do all these things, even though the authorities and human laws might forbid them and punishment and suffering be the consequence.
Jesus is Lord.
To the one and only God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be the honor and the glory for ever and ever.
1. This is a translation of the original Afrikaans text of the confession as it was adopted by the synod of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in South Africa in 1986. In 1994 the Dutch Reformed Mission Church and the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa united to form the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA). This inclusive language text was prepared by the Office of Theology and Worship, Presbyterian Church (USA).
I hope to see you this Sunday – until then this what I know…
MARK YOUR CALENDARS: Join us Sunday, June 24th at 11:45am in the Fellowship Hall for the next step in St. Andrew’s Capital Campaign. We’ll meet with Denis Greene and his team for a light lunch to review upcoming projects and to organize our Volunteer Teams. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to get involved! RSVP with the church office.
DO YOU PLAN TO JOIN US FOR THE 2019 ISRAEL TOUR? We’ll visit “The Best of the Holy Land” from March 31—April 12, 2019. Informational brochures (including the registration form and details) will be available on the round table in the Narthex this Sunday. Reserve your spot by turning in a completed Registration Form and $400.00 deposit to the church office.
VACATION BIBLE SCHOOL REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN FOR PARTICIPANTS & VOLUNTEERS ON OUR WEBSITE: WWW.ANDREWPRES.ORG
JUNE 25TH TO 29TH:
Incoming K-5: 9:00AM—11:30AM OR 9:00AM– 2:00PM
SPLASH CANYON—A Week of VBS Packed with Thrills and Spills! Discover God’s Promise on Life’s Wild Ride!
St. Andrew Presbyterian Church | [email protected]
(707) 996-6024 | www.andrewpres.org