“There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court and detest the one who tells the truth. You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. For I know how many your offences are and how great your sins are. There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times, for the times are evil. Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.” —Amos 5:10-15
One of the Lectionary offerings for this week, Amos 5:10-15, has remained a most provocative text. The Shepherd of Tekoa’s harsh words have become even more poignant as humanity struggles with the dis-ease caused not only by the COVID-19 pandemic but by the levels of pain, marginalization, and injustice that still exist. Truth has become elusive and conditional, in fact, truth has been twisted and trampled (v 7), the innocent remain oppressed, bribery and corruption stalk the hallways, and those with the privilege of voice, in the name of prudence, remain silent because the proverbial times are evil.
Amos was not a typical or career prophet, but he received a peculiar message for the people of the Northern Kingdom. His onslaught of words in Bethel addressed not only the people of Israel but challenged the neighbouring nations. His words were penetrative and tough to hear as his soul got angry because of the constant oppression and dehumanization of the poor and dispossessed. Amos recognized and condemned the many crimes of war, and he was strident in denouncing the atrocities and suffering of the people as nations ravished each other. The images of fire, ripped open pregnant women, the enslavement of people, the killing of relatives, and the general gruesomeness seem harsh for our ears and imagination today.
However, some of these realities dwell within the underbelly of who we are as Caribbean and North American people. Deeds of evil allow for the dispossession, racism, discrimination, and disparity which mar our societies. For a long time, people have been suffocating under the weight of oppressive systems that prevent access to good health care, proper housing, equal educational and employment opportunities, and the enjoyment of life in its fulness. These have all become magnified in the current time.
The Prophet warned the people of Israel that they would be chastised as they worshipped false gods, yet they expected Yahweh to protect them. Israel and Samaria would suffer great devastation unless there was repentance. Spiritual poverty echoed in the words ‘The Lord has said that they don’t even know how to do right’ may still be our challenge today. Unfortunately, even when all was in decay and sorrow abound because the people did not know how to do right, they still rejected God.
Can the Prophet speak to us?
It was from this dark place that Amos called the people into a right relationship with God. The call to ‘Seek Good, Not Evil…Hate Evil, Love Good…Maintain Justice’ belong in our hearing and midst today. More persons need to purpose in their hearts to seek good. Simply put ‘ if you want to live, you must stop doing wrong and start doing right’. Collectively, we must decry the actions of evil and cease the folly of denial and own the call to love good and maintain justice. Our souls must yearn for that which is good!
In your daily walk seek to do good, help to transform the darkness, announce works of hope, seek peace and pursue, provide a safe place for those in need, share table with the poor, welcome the stranger, embrace those who come empty and fill them with good things, support the weak kneed, and lift up the bowed down. Then and only then will we begin to glimpse Amos’ call to ‘Seek Good, Not Evil…Hate Evil, Love Good…Maintain Justice’.
Rev. Dr. Yvette Noble-Bloomfield is a Deputy General Secretary in the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. She has responsibilities for the Cayman Islands Regional Mission Council.
“And he said to them ‘whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’” (Mark 10:11)
There are things we wish Jesus never said. Like this. Our churches are full of people who have experienced divorce, and this doesn’t sound like good news. And yet this year Jesus teaching on divorce was the lectionary passage for the first Sunday in October – World Communion Sunday.
Of course preachers have to put such teachings in context. In Jesus time women were in an extremely vulnerable position. If a man divorced a woman, she could not hold property. She might have to beg on the streets or worse to stay alive. So Jesus strong words here need to be understood as being about the wellbeing of women, for they were the ones most affected by divorce.
More than that, this passage is paired with Jesus welcoming the children. Jesus points that unless we become like children (aware of our dependency) we can’t enter the Kingdom of God. Again Jesus is lifting up the most vulnerable, for children had very little power or status in Jesus time.
Jesus is also contrasting attitudes. The Pharisees who come to Jesus want to trap him with a legal question about whether divorce is permitted. Jesus basically says that attitude of legality won’t get you a good life. What is permitted isn’t always the same as what helps human community flourish.
We live at times so aware of our essential unity, the very thing we celebrate on World Communion Sunday. We experience beauty in nature – a heron rises from marshland and flies in front of us. We look into someone’s eyes and feel deep connection. Other times the newspaper and our common life in the church remind us of the brokenness in which we live. It can be so disillusioning, the human capacity to take sides and separate from one another.
Every year World Communion comes around and every year we are reminded we have much to learn. How it is more important to value relationship than to be right. How our egos cling to things that only serve to separate us from one another. And how the grace and love of God for all creatures, all people is offered to us. Again and again.
“What God has joined together, let no one separate.” We hear these words as “wedding words” but Jesus was speaking his theology here. We are all joined together, interdependent. We have so much to learn about how this is so, and what is asked of us that we might reflect God’s desire for us – for us to claim and live this essential unity.
“And people will come from east and west, from north and south, and sit at table in the Kingdom of God” In a world of such brokenness, we live in hope.
Reverend Dr. Helen Nablo is a pastor in the United Church of Christ. She has served churches in both the PC(USA) and the UCC, and is currently Interim Pastor at Pilgrim Church in Harwich Port, Massachusetts. She lives by the ocean in Plymouth Massachusetts, where she walks and gives thanks for living in such a beautiful place.
Scripture: 2 Timothy 1 vs 6-9, 13-14
In this month of September, the Presbyterian Church of Trinidad and Tobago has focused on stewardship. Today, we meditate on the theme of Discipleship. A term we have hard in so many ways, and yet it shall take a lifetime to develop it. What does it mean to be a disciple?
The scripture selected for this morning comes from Paul’s second letter to Timothy. Timothy was a faithful follower and learnt from Paul in his ministry. By the time Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, the young pastor had been ministering to the church at Ephesus for four years, and it had been almost that long since he had received his first letter from Paul. Paul nurtured Timothy into maintaining the right attitude of being a disciple of Christ.
Use your gift
Paul tells Timothy to use the gift that God has given him in his work. Our Church is filled with people with many talents.- song, dance, compassion. A disciple is called to follow His maker, and His teachings, using his gift for for His glory. What gift do you have? Whatever gift you have or yet to receive, in this part of your journey, God calls you to use it with joy. Serve him with gladness. When we do this, we begin to change our mindset of what we are called to do.
Adopt the right attitude.
The scripture reminds that a true disciple is filled with the Spirit. The Spirit does not make us timid, but in fact gives us power, love and self-discipline. If we adopt an attitude of discipleship, where we follow the teachings of Jesus, where we build ourselves up in our faith through prayer, scriptural meditation, we live a live that is pleasing to Him.
Remember that you are important in God’s eyes and in the eyes of all of us here today. Be bold and courageous in knowing that God has a task for you!
And Paul reminds us in his letter to Timothy that “He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.” We are made holy. We are chosen. We are part of His family through His Son Jesus Christ. Christ died for our sins and purchased us with His blood. This commitment shall mould and shape us to live a life of service to the Church, to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. This is the essence of being a disciple; responding to God’s grace.
Seek the Holy Spirit
But the comfort we have is the Holy Spirit is there with us, every step of the way. “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” The Holy Spirit equips us to move, to grow, to mature in our faith. When you seek the wisdom of the Holy Spirit through prayer, through your Bible study, through your active membership in this church, you remain strong, bold, courageous and steadfast in your faith. The power of God through His spirit strengthens you in your daily life such that you become closer to Him. You hear His voice, You feel His touch and you see His favour in your life.
Stefan Wilson was born in the United Kingdom and migrated to Trinidad in 2003, where he joined the Presbyterian Church of Trinidad and Tobago. He holds a BA Literatures in English with Spanish and Linguistics from the University of the West Indies, Dip. in Interreligious Studies from Bossey Ecumenical Institute (Geneva) and a Masters Degree (MA) in International Education from the University of Leicester. He currently teachers Spanish and English at one of the Presbyterian High Schools, St. Augustine Girls' High School and is also a Student Minister of the Presbyterian Church.
Presented at the WCRC “COVID & Beyond” discernment session on July 21, 2021.
Today we gather, confessing before God and one another the Church’s complicity in the systems and structures of this world that reproduce human misery in excess. God of grace,
Hear our prayer.
Hear our prayers O Lord, as we join together now to pray for the Black, Brown, and Indigenous bodies that have been lost at the intersection of Racism and COVID-19. For the disparities in the COVID-19 mortality rate, that on average in the United States claims 3.8 times as many Black lives as it does white lives. Even now, we pray for Black lives in Michigan, where Black people make up 40% of all COVID-19 related deaths, while amounting to only 17% of the state population. God of all life,
Hear our prayer.
Hear our prayers God, as we lament the scapegoating of our Asian American and Pacific Islander siblings who have been attacked 6,603 times in the twelve months between March 2020 and March 2021. Settle within us a holy discomfort that we may resist the temptation to participate in racist stereotypes, policies, and practices that endanger the lives of your children. God of everflowing justice,
Hear our prayer.
We lift now all those who have carried an outsized portion of the economic toll of this pandemic. As America’s most wealthy members have gotten on average $1.2 trillion richer since January 1, 2020, we remember the 61% of Latinx households who saw their wages cut and jobs lost due to COVID-19. We pause now remembering all those who do not have the privilege of legal protections in the United States, who received no stimulus checks, did not benefit from enhanced unemployment, and continue to be exploited by the economic systems of the richest nation on the earth. God who provides,
Hear our prayer.
We confess in solidarity with a report by the University of Albany which found that “Systemic racism has produced, and continues to produce, deeply entrenched differences in health care and the social, economic, and environmental conditions that account for inequities in longevity and the likelihood of disease. This was true long before the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed … and will remain true unless the resources and will exist to make systemic changes.” God we pray that you would give us the will and the courage to imagine a new way of being as we seek your kin-dom right here and right now. Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
God who offers us the choice between life and death, grant us the wisdom to resist death and its agents, as we seek to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, hear the voices of peoples long silenced and work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.
Help us now to choose life, and strengthen us for the work ahead, the work of ensuring the lives of Black and Brown and Indigenous folx are seen as precious in our eyes just as they are in yours. God who is the Resurrection and the life,
Hear our Prayer.
Hear now these words of assurance, God is yet at work!
Our God, the maker of earth and sky, whose hands set the heavens with stars; and whose fingers spread the mountains and plains. Our God is at work, calling us to communion, calling us to one another.
It was in the early days of the pandemic, in the city of Memphis when I sat in a room where Southern Baptist preachers sat next to Imams who sat next to mega-church pastors. In a room where Presbyterian clergy connected with non-denominational leaders. Where Episcopal Bishops connected with Catholic Bishops for the sake of choosing life in the face of the death presented by COVID-19. God is yet at work!
When low-wage workers were forced to quarantine while living in multi-generational households and ecumenical partners entered into a season of local mission, providing food and personal protective equipment, coordinating care calls for those isolated, and joining in prayer for one another, I saw that God is yet at work!
When Black and Brown communities were being targeted by vaccine misinformation and adequacy vaccine access had not yet been achieved, I saw Presbyterian churches and Disciples of Christ churches, Baptist churches and UCC churches, offering their buildings and campuses as vaccine sites, lending their credibility to pass along reliable information, and leveraging their moral authority to preserve life at every time. Beloved, God is yet at work.
And if God is at work in this way in the United States, we know, I know that God is yet at work in your region, in your community, in your church, in your life. Choose to be where God is, choose life. Amen.
Joshua Narcisse, candidate for ordination in the PC(USA) and Director of Spiritual Care at Church Health located in Memphis, TN. He is a graduate of Yale Divinity School and a 2018 PCUSA delegate to CANAAC.
Samuel Son serves as Manager of Diversity at Presbyterian Mission Agency. He is also a writer of short stories, poems and columns. www.sonsamuel.com.
In the Presbyterian Church of Trinidad & Tobago (PCTT), the month of September is observed as ‘Stewardship Month’. Over the years, by dint of the earnest exhortation of our preachers, we have moved away from a narrow understanding of ‘stewardship’ to the conviction that being stewards is inextricably linked to who and whose we are. This year's Stewardship Month theme is “Growing in Giving”, with the sub-themes: growing in gratitude, faithfulness, discipleship, and mission.
As many of us would testify, in conducting the study of Scripture, we often experience moments of profound enlightenment, which we correctly recognize as the prompting of the Holy Spirit...This happened as I simultaneously reflected on stewardship, and contemplated the Revised Common Lectionary readings for the first week of September.
In these six diverse passages spanning the gamut of the canon, we discover common threads within the diversity, leading us to “behold wondrous things” (cf. Psalm 119:18), and to make vital connections.
The first, from the Old Testament Wisdom book of Proverbs, begins by telling us of the invaluable nature of a “good name”. Such a treasure cannot be placed on par with even the most precious worldly possessions. And immediately, comes a reminder on what is often the critical test to our “good name”, how we relate to those who are less privileged with earthly gifts:
“Rich and poor have this in common:
The Lord is the Maker of them all.
A generous man will himself be blessed,
for he shares his food with the poor” (Proverbs 22:2, 9, NIV).
One writer comments that:
“The proverbs are spiritual guides for ordinary people, on an ordinary day, when water does not pour forth from rocks and angels do not come to lunch” (Ellen F. Davis. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs, Louisville: Westminster, John Knox, 2000, page 12).
And, indeed, it is in the midst of the ordinary that we encounter our calling to be the people, the stewards, of this world that belongs to God...
We consider next the Psalm readings. Psalm 125 is one of fifteen ‘Songs of Ascents’. It affirms trust in the Lord as a great strength to the believer, which is reciprocated by God’s all-encompassing presence and protection.
Psalm 146 opens the collection of five Psalms sometimes referred to as the “Hallelujah” Psalms. We continue to find therein the good news of God’s faithful and comforting nature. In contrast with humanity “in whom there is no salvation” (vs. 3), God remains trustworthy, and ever ready to uphold the frail and the helpless. As in the Proverbs, in both Psalms it is evident that God’s mercy entails a deep concern for the downtrodden.
In the brief Isaiah passage, there is a progression of this same idea: the awareness that God’s divine judgement, often portrayed in Scripture as devastating to sinful humanity, is closely linked to His salvation:
“...say to those with fearful hearts,
Be strong, do not fear;
Your God will come,
He will come with vengeance;
With divine retribution
He will come to save you.” (Isaiah 35: 4 KJV)
Such is the exquisitely merciful nature of the God whose presence surrounds us as the hills surround Jerusalem (cf. Ps. 125, vs. 2). And, following beautifully on that image, Isaiah tells how in the wake of God’s coming, the land itself will become fertile and life-giving.
In both New Testament readings, the issue of faith arises. In Mark (7:24-30), we see Jesus doing something he does only here—responding with apparent disdain and refusal; but also something that he does frequently in the gospels - he praises and rewards the tenacious faith of an unlikely individual. James 2:1-17 addresses what faith looks like, proposing what appears to be contradictory and controversial: ‘works’. Ultimately, however, it is the ‘correct’ answer: a practical living-out of what we say we believe.
Throughout these readings we are led into a deep contemplation of both the nature of our sovereign God, and the calling He gives us as His stewards. We must be like Mount Zion, unshakeable, for our hope is in the Lord, the Maker of all, who reigns forever.
Jesslyn is an elder and lay preacher of the Presbyterian Church of Trinidad & Tobago. She is also the Clerk of Session of her Pastoral Region, the Secretary of her Local Board, the President of the Women’s Group, a Choir member, and a Sunday School Teacher.
Scripture: Psalm 65:1-13
During these times, I have been putting additional energy into spending time outdoors, especially on a permaculture gardening project around our home. About two-thirds of our garden is devoted to native perennial plants and flowers to attract and feed pollinators and the other third is dedicated to food production for our family and for sharing. This part encompasses vegetables and some fruit, and three chickens who we added to our family about a year and a half ago. They provide the entertainment portion of gardening!
Yesterday my husband went out early in the morning and reported that he noticed that either the squirrels or the chipmunks had left an torn apart and eaten, corn husk. The corn was to be ready for us to eat in about another 2-3 weeks, something we were looking forward to, as we were growing two beautiful varieties. I went outside to look at the raised bed dedicated to corn to find every husk pulled off the stalks, and eaten all the way down to the core. The debris was left cast unceremoniously on the ground.
My first reaction, I must admit, was anger. How dare they? That is my corn. I planted it. I’ve been taking care of it. I was planning to use it to feed my family and share with neighbors and friends. And we were so close!!!! The leaving of corn-carcasses by the front door added insult to injury.
But at the end of the day, the animals are only doing what they do. Eating. They are foragers by design and I am in their space, not the other way around. Gardeners and farmers all over the world contend with animals and pests of all kinds. Sadly, the response in so much of this world is to deal with other hungry stomachs by using traps that kill and poisons that pollute and desecrate the Creation.
We have very specifially chosen to not use these things in our garden. It’s tempting when all your work is destroyed. It’s human to be upset and disappointed. But, the truth is, I was also trying to find some open space in my raised beds for fall crops that I had already started from seeds a few weeks ago. I pulled out the now denuded corn plants and put them in the chicken run. The chickens will love eating what is left over and they will be happy. As I got into the soil I noticed that it was healthier than it was a few months ago, there were loads of earthworms and other beneficial micro-organisms present, right at the soil surface, a sign of excellent health. I fed the soil with some organic nutrients, and planted in lettuce, kale, bush beans and chard for the fall. If you garden with permaculture in mind, things are annoying, and can be very disappointing, but they are never a total loss.
For me, this process reminds me of God’s abundance and the miracle of Creation. So much is going on that I am only learning to understand. I connect often to veteran farmers and soil activists. I am on a learning journey about the earth and practicing in my garden. When I deal with a situation like this one I am reminded that I am just working with what the Creator has already set up (after I weep and wail a little bit!). I am trying to harmonize with the Creator, as my response of gratitude for the gift of Creation. By saying no to violence and pesticides I am saying no to harming God’s first and most precious gift to the generations of microbes, plants, animals, fungi and people that stretch out before and will come after me. It is in the garden I pray and take my worries and my joys and talk with and listen for the Spirit. In the garden you can see and even participate in the promise of resurrection.
A few weeks ago I took a medicinal plant class with a farmer who has been working this one small piece of the craft for nearly 40 years in both Europe and the United States. I asked him about what he notices. His response was that he notices there is a lot going on he does not know, he said some things are “imperceptible.” He knows there is a harmonizing effect, even if he cannot prove it by “traditional,” meaning Western measurements. But he senses it is there. I heard his words as wisdom indeed.
—Rev. Shannan R. Vance-Ocampo
Presbytery of Southern New England
Presbyterian Church (USA)
The Presbytery of Southern New England which encompasses Connecticut, Rhode Island and portions of Massachusetts. Shannan also serves as the Chair-Elect of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Living in North America and specifically the United States, I have been reflecting on what it means to have freedom as well as the responsibilities and rights that come with being free people. Freedom is a significant point of tension within the United States--even among our churches. You no doubt have heard or experienced the debates regarding public worship, masks, and vaccines. All of these debates center around the freedoms and rights that we have in our country. Some pastors are now being asked to write religious exemptions for congregants whose employers require vaccines. The challenge, however, is that we don’t have a theological argument against the use of vaccines like we do against abortion, for example. The only possible premise for writing such a letter is based upon “freedom.”
I am finding the words of Paul to be a good guiding framework for understanding how to use and understand our freedom. “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love, serve one another.” It is fascinating that Paul's view of the purpose of freedom is radically different from what we encounter in our current culture. He says, don’t use your freedom to serve and gratify yourselves. Your freedom is given so that you can serve others!
I was talking with a leader of a network of churches in the UK about the protests surrounding the shutdown of church buildings. People were not protesting because they wanted to gather for worship. Instead, they were protesting because they wanted to use their building to serve those in need in their community, and they were being prevented from doing so. Of course I am not saying that public worship isn’t a vitally important part of our faith, but the spirit of those protests in the UK didn’t often seem to really be about worship, but instead a protest on infringement of freedom.
I wonder how our postures would change if we kept these words of Paul at the forefront of our minds when contemplating our freedom. How might we use our freedom to serve one another? How might we let our freedom not be self-focused, but others focused? Wouldn’t our surrounding culture be drawn to the light of Christians, and thus the light of Christ, if our freedom was a vehicle by which to serve those around us? Perhaps the early church experienced exponential growth in Christianity as a result of believers' response to the plague, so we would see a revival of those entrusting their lives to Jesus because of the radical way in which we as Christians used our freedom.
ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians
Throughout all storms and devastation, God remains faithful and present. While the forces of nature are beyond our control, they are not beyond God’s control.
Most recently, tropical storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, pandemics, and all forms of injustice have ravaged the world.
The work in which CANAAC, PC(USA), and all of the partners of the WCRC remain focused upon all that we have in common and upon the use of our gifts and talents for the common good.
The areas in which we are committed include: justice, peace, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being, worship, and prayer.
We unite our hearts and souls in prayer for all who have been affected in any way by all areas of devastation; we join in prayer with and for all who have been rendered homeless, without food and water, in hospitals, and who are in danger of any kind.
By God’s grace and the hope that is in God, we continue in faithful service and commitment, knowing that throughout all of the catastrophes of life, God is present and will strengthen us for all that we face.
Our lives are in God’s hands.
God of Grace and God of Hope, relieve all who suffer in any way; continue to be present with everyone who has been affected by the recent earthquakes, storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, and any event that has brought suffering. In your love, heal all who suffer from COVID-19, whose lives have been threatened by illness or injustice, and grant us your peace for health, economic strength, and holistic well-being. In your Holy Name we pray. AMEN.
—Rev. Mary Newbern-Williams
First United Presbyterian Church
Richmond, Virginia, USA
The fateful news of the deaths of four people in Mayagüez, others in a state of care, allegedly influenced by a religious leader not to vaccinate against COVID-19, is a critical matter that has social, ethical and religious consequences.
Jesus summed up his teaching in two practices: Loving God and others. The Christian leadership has a responsibility to instruct those two facets that conducive to life and pursue the common good.
COVID-19 is deadly, leaves unemployed communities, increases domestic violence, delays education. Ethical response from faith cannot be based on our individualism, but on the common good. The quality and degree of care we have with others is a direct reflection of Christian values. The alternatives that have saved lives and restored livelihood in the past are the choice when it comes to human beings in the face of an unexpected pandemic. The exercise of religious freedom does not include the right to imply or encourage harmful activities such as spreading contagious diseases.
Any religious leader who suggests an action that affects his life, freedom or dignity is misrepresenting the principles and lessons of faith to which he claims to belong.
We seldom stop to think about community health problems, self-absorbed in our individual evil. But from the Christian faith “my” health can only be understood as part of “our” health. This pandemic is a reminder that health care is not a private good. It must stop and question us how far our ethical responsibility as religious leaders goes with the lives or death of our communities.
Our responsibility is also to the lives of those who refuse to take the necessary medical precautions or receive the vaccine, as well as to those who are denied a bed or a fan, even when they risk their health and others.
As believers we understand that divine grace is mediated through the reality of our life experience. Every time we share bread and wine as a community at the table, we affirm the value of life. As a society, we must keep in mind that no religious leader owns an absolute truth to which no criticism or reflection can be made. This is how war conflicts are justified, forcible offal of territories, genocides, murders, acts of terror and collective suicides occurred in Jonestown, Guyana, and Waco, Texas.
Any religious leader who suggests an action that affects his life, freedom or dignity is misrepresenting the principles and lessons of faith to which he claims to belong.
Our ethical duty requires us actions to ensure that the most vulnerable people have access to this health care and to raise awareness that the destruction of nature and consequent loss of biodiversity are causes that are at the root of this and any another potential pandemic.
Speaking on behalf of the one who said, “I am Life,” gives us the opportunity to use our influence to counteract the misinformation, denialism, and fake news they kill.
Let's promote the common good and remember those who congregate in our temples that loving others includes protecting their health and their life by promoting social justice.
—Agustina Luvis Núñez
Theologian and Teacher
Evangelical Seminary in Puerto Rico
“Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?” – James 2:5
I used to interpret those words as follows: God has given faith to the poor as a gift. Because their life is hard and they need some extra help to endure their struggles, God has provided an extra dose of faith to those who need it most. God promised that their life would be better in the hereafter. As a seminarian and potential pastor, I could help those poor people by teaching them faith. It sounded kind, but now I wonder if it’s misguided.
“Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” – Matthew 25:40
I went to seminary in a time when “missional church” and “reign of God” were popular phrases in theological discussions about the church. These words of Jesus were a favorite of my classmates and mine. We debated whether or not “members of my family” were limited to those who called themselves Christian, but we never debated the role of “the least.” They were always there to be served, but now I wonder if they are the source of my salvation.
As I learn about the way that Christian colonists encountered a world new to them and identified those they met as non-religious or sub-human, as they stole land and broke down bodies, I wonder how much of my thinking was in them. Was faith a gift that they had to impart to others rather than one they could receive from them? Were “the least” those who were deficient and in need of service rather than those who might impart salvation?
James, not only recognizing the gift that belongs to the poor, questions the favoritism shown to the rich. He has astounded by the deference shown to those “with gold rings and fine clothes” even though it is “the rich who oppress you” and “drag you into court.” Likewise, Jesus knows that it will be easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. And yet, we know who walks through the halls of power and who sit on the seats of privilege.
Latin American theologian Jon Sobrino considered the world of the poor to be “a mediation of the truth and absoluteness of God” and sees a “partiality of divine revelation” among the least of these. Carroll Watkins Ali wrote in Survival & Liberation, “Faith articulated in the womanist tradition speaks in terms of God as identified with the ‘least,’ as a divine cosufferer, and ‘God is able.’" Gustavo Gutierrez asks, “How is it possible to tell the poor, who are forced to live in conditions that embody a denial of love, that God loves them?”
Maybe the church doesn’t need to tell the poor anything. Maybe the church needs to listen. Isn’t the mission of the church, then, to learn from the poor? Isn’t the reign of God revealed by “the least of these who are members of my family” because they know best how to bring the earth into alignment with heaven? Doesn’t all of this mean that the poor are not deficient but rather possess something of God that we do not? As I continue to wonder what it might mean to decolonize Reformed theology and practice, these are the sorts of questions that roll through my heart and mind.
James W. Perkinson wrote in White Theology: Outing Supremacy in Modernity, “Christian superiority reinforced by metaphysical supremacy was re-reinforced by Calvinist indelibility. In this kind of ‘sign economy,’ white supremacy achieved its most virulent ideological articulation, as the inheritor of an absolute essence with absolute destiny…a Calvinist notion of predestination that sought eternal confirmations in surface significations (like success in business or skin-color in race).” Those of us who have inherited this theological tradition have a special responsibility to repair the harm done in its name. To be clear, it’s not about serving the poor or even empowering the poor to take positions of leadership. It’s about recognizing the wealth that God has already given to the poor and the way that Jesus identifies with the least of these and seeking to receive our salvation from them.
As Joseph Drexler-Dreis writes in Decolonial Love, “Decolonizing is thus a fundamentally different project than ‘opening’ particular disciplines or ‘diversifying’ Western thought systems; the goal in projects of decolonization is to transcend Western thought systems. This requires a different eschatological imagination. Decolonization, rather than inclusion, becomes the desired end.” Who better to teach the world a different eschatological imagination than those who are rich in faith?
St. Croix Reformed Church
US Virgin Islands
Peter is currently pursuing a Doctor of Ministry at Claremont School of Theology and exploring what it might mean to decolonize Reformed theology and practice.