I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:1-2 (NRSV)
It was a strange moment for me yesterday when Gov. Murphy announced that churches can return to gathering in their buildings this summer. All Spring I’ve been adjusting, planning, preparing, learning, and shifting things online, only to suddenly move on from an expectation of more waiting to, well, pretty much go on ahead (with appropriate care).
When things change quickly, it can be a shock. This shock also draws into sharp contrast the events of this time when I’ve been too busy some days to even recognize what’s going on. Theologian Karl Barth said we step into the pulpit each Sunday with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other (to update the reference, with an updated news feed in the other).
What have we learned? We’ve seen a pandemic result in immediate, dramatic unemployment for tens of millions of people, with many economists predicting employment won’t return to where it was in February 2020 until 2030. Let that sink in. We also saw that the pandemic disproportionately affected people on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder, people whose wages hardly send the signal that they are “essential” even as their rates of COVID-19 infection skyrocketed from doing their jobs. While this was taking place, we saw the stock markets tumble then recover dramatically even as a pandemic rages, unemployment increases, and millions of people take to the street to protest. The killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, as well as the long litany of names before theirs, remind us of systemic racism and problems in our society tracing back to before the founding of this country.
What are we to do? What is clear is that we reopen, return, pray, and study together, but we do so with renewed minds and eyes opened wider to the reality of this world. The worst thing we could do would be to return to the church building and act as though nothing had happened. We can’t go on like that. Wounds long-festering have been uncovered. It’s time for a life-giving, truth-telling conversation on racism and inequality in the world and church.
Please, stay in this conversation, through the discomfort. As a pastor it’s my responsibility to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” If you’re sleeping easily in this moment, please open your eyes, pray, and think about how we can be bringers of God’s hope, grace, and peace into a time with the opportunity to change this world for the better.
Grace and Peace,