Rector's Blog: Welcome to the World
“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us,” Paul says to the church in Rome. You’ve probably seen this on a bumper sticker or a poster in a Youth Minister’s office somewhere. Maybe someone has said it to you in order to minimize how upset you are about something and get you to cheer up. But it deserves some context.
Paul’s people are suffering, and they’re scared. They are persecuted, physically threatened, and marginalized. Some people they know have been arrested, others killed, for being Christian. Most of them have experienced ostracization from their communities and families of origin because of their response to Jesus.
On top of this, the Church is dealing with serious internal strife. See, Paul and his crew are seeking to create integrated faith communities – bringing together two cultural groups (Jews and Gentiles) who historically have lived decidedly segregated lives. But that’s not all. These nascent Christian communities are also trying to bridge the socio-economic divide and collapse social inequity. And women take up positions of leadership and spiritual authority in some of these churches. In other words, a lot of new ground is being broken. It’s hard work trying to come together – painful inside and out.
This kind of integration, this connection across social, cultural, political, and ethnic boundaries, is ambitious and lofty. But at the same time, the people to whom Paul writes are still really scared about just getting hurt or dying. Their suffering is connected to their fear for their physical safety.
Here at Redeemer we have begun an audit of our security – with special attention paid to our safety procedures and measures during Sunday worship. Even as we seek to work on the ambitious and lofty goals of creating the Church described in our Vision Statement, we recognize that on a basic level we want to create as safe a space as possible for our community – and this includes our physical safety.
As we have begun this work, I have heard people say repeatedly various versions of, “I can’t believe we have to worry about these things now…I can’t believe it’s come to this.” Many of us are genuinely surprised and dismayed to think that our church might be under threat of physical violence. When the Church in Rome expressed the same fear, Paul’s response was in fact that the world was groaning, yearning in hopeful expectation for an end to suffering and an end to the threats and violence. In other words, Paul was saying, “Welcome to the world. It’s scary here.”
I have no desire to minimize the horrific nature of the violence we have seen perpetrated in recent days, nor would I want to invalidate our response of surprise and dismay. Respectfully, however, I want to suggest that our predominantly white church is for the first time experiencing a fear of physical danger with which African American churches have lived for the entirety of their existence. Days before the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris caught fire, three African-American churches in Louisiana were intentionally targeted and burned down by white supremacists. This isn’t old news, and it hasn’t gone away. Our African-American siblings continue to face real physical danger in their houses of worship.
I expressed in my blog last week my newfound experience of fear of being attacked in a public place. This may be new for me, but it’s certainly not new for Latino immigrants in this country, or for LGBTQ+ persons. In other words, when I experience the suffering that comes with fear for my safety, I’m actually being connected in unforeseen ways to the people who have been forced to the margins of our society. I’m being made aware of what it’s been like for them for much longer than any of us would care to admit. I can hear Paul’s voice saying, “Welcome to the world, Philip.”
But the main point of Paul’s response to this fear is not simply to point out that, in fact, everyone suffers. Paul isn’t just saying “deal with it.” Instead, he says, “The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” In plain language, Paul is saying that the Church’s glory shines forth in how it responds to its suffering and fear. Paul says the world is yearning for us to participate with God in the loving, liberating, life-giving work of reconciliation.
Predominantly white, heteronormative churches in America are new to feeling physically threatened. If we want to see God’s glory at work in the world, we need to pay attention to African-American churches, and to Latino churches, and to the LGBTQ+ Christians among us, and see how they have responded to fear, see what resilient faith in the face of threats and violence really looks like.
Of course, the point is not for white churches to go from ignoring to idealizing churches of color and marginalized Christians. Idealization is just another form of objectification. It prevents real, transformative relationship. No, Paul reminds us that in our suffering we are all connected – to each other and to this world which is yearning for God’s love to redeem all of creation. In our suffering, Paul encourages us to look outside of ourselves, to see our fundamental interconnectedness – and above all to see Jesus in all of it.
“Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” Paul asks, “Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” No. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Jesus is in our lives working to draw us together and bring us into the glory of a just and peaceful world. Jesus, for whom love was stronger than death; Jesus, whose commitment to reconciliation overpowered all fear and delivered us into the arms of God, and into each other’s arms in his name.
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