Many of you have certainly heard me say something along the lines of "vital congregations are engaged in the work of dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty." This is the work that leads us to ask why our neighbors are hungry, why our neighbors don't have access to affordable shelter, why our neighbors are struggling every day to make ends meet. As we establish relationships with our neighbors who visit our food pantries, our clothing closets, or who sleep in our churches during the winter months, we begin to hear their stories and see their inherent dignity as God's beloved children (just like each of us!), and we begin to ask "why."
This week, Shannon Hanson and I attended a conference with the title "Fraught and Flummoxed." What a title!!! We were being asked to wrestle with the intersections of Christian nationalism, White supremacy, structural racism, systemic poverty, and our call to be people who take seriously the prayer asking God's kingdom to come and will be done "on earth as it is in heaven."
How do we live into the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, and us by extension, in a world where the very systems and structures we all participate in simply by living are opposed to God's vision of beloved community and actively seeking to thwart God's justice? How do we even begin to dismantle structural racism or dismantle systemic poverty? It's just too big, and so we as Christians and leaders and children of God are, quite simply, fraught and flummoxed.
If only I could say that this conference solved the conundrum. Offered the magic formula that leads every faithful follower of Jesus Christ, every vital congregation, into this life-giving, life-saving, life-changing work. Because that is exactly what it is. Structural racism and systemic poverty combine to cut lives short every day, all around us. Our work as the church to combat these systems and structures is completely in line with and in response to the work of Jesus as Savior.
But, no, no solution was offered. No quick fix, no three-part process. Which makes sense. The foundations for these deadly systems and structures began to be built a long time ago, when Emperor Constantine took the symbol of the cross as one under which to use military might to conquer the world. We have a lot to dismantle and eradicate.
So here's a little bit of Good News, and a little bit of hope for the journey. We are not alone in this work! Shannon and I met other people committed to pursuing a vision of justice that leads to the abundant life Jesus promised for everybody, all of our neighbors, and though we left without easy solutions, we also left with encouragement for the work ahead.
We are not alone in this work! The Bay Retreat is an opportunity to gather with leaders from across the country and partners in ministry within the Presbytery to continue the conversation and shape our intentions. Learning more about being vital congregations is a step towards dismantling structures of injustice and eradicating systems that oppress.
Not only are we not alone, God has planted us where we are for a reason! Each of our congregations, each of our pastors, each of us has been planted where we are to be part of, involved in, and sharing the saving work of Jesus Christ. And that's here and now! That's meant to be today! What else do we mean when we say "give us this day our daily bread."
The Bay Retreat is an opportunity to bring our fraught and flummoxed selves together for encouragement, equipping, and enlivening. Together, as partners empowered by the Holy Spirit, as followers of Jesus Christ, and as children of the Almighty God, we can build vital congregations that are engaged in the work of dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty.
May God make it so! Amen.
Grace and Peace,