For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” 16 But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ. —Romans 10:13-17
Romans 10, verse 17, today speaks to all of us — working in whatever part of the world we are in. The WCRC is made up of 232 member churches spanning geographical locations worldwide: Africa, Asia, Caribbean, Europe, Latin America, Middle East, North America, the Pacific. We are a communion working in our varied spaces and places toward the common goal of sharing faith from what is heard — the word of Christ.
Our world today has been plunged into an experience similar to that of Job’s (feel free to read the book of Job) that can easily overwhelm us and cause fear to surround our every movement. Thankfully, we have a gift to share with the world — a gift that surpasses time, age, and event. The Word of God is that gift and is filled with promises, testimonies, and HOPE! Indeed, the world is in need of hearing this word of hope as we grapple with the fluidity of life in this era.
Across the ages, the Church has found itself advocating for many and supporting the good work being done for global unity, sustainability, and justice. As people working for the Lord in whatever sphere, there seems to be a never-ending cycle of grievances to work on. It is imperative then, that we, who work in these capacities, also hear and hold on to the word of hope that the Scriptures contain, so that we do not sink amidst the constant tide of justice issues pervading our societies.
We must saturate our spirits with the Word so that what comes out of us — through our lips or hands — will be filled with goodness allowing for growth and grace. Thing is, when reality sets in, as it sometimes does, giving up becomes more attractive. Truth is, the world needs each of us working diligently in our areas to share hope, light, love, and grace. Our work is vital to sustaining the goodness and good things of this earth.
The Scripture selection today urges us to recognise that our efforts are never in vain. So we continue to toil and labour, work and give — so that all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved!
As the Secretary for CANAAC, working out of a small country in the Caribbean called Trinidad and Tobago, I value the amazing work that is done by each and every individual across the CANAAC region and across the WCRC. This is living with purpose and fulfilling that commission of Jesus — reaching out and drawing persons in to the embrace of God so that they too, will find solace, peace, joy and hope in the midst of a strange world. Let us all work for the Lord gladly, knowing that we serve alongside so many others for a better world, a just society and a people of hope!
National Youth Coordinator
Presbyterian Church of Trinidad and Tobago
“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enable them…Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?” (Acts 2:4, 12).
In Acts 2 God gathers a scattered people by fulfilling the promise God made in Joel 2: “In the last days, I will pour out my spirit…” In a bookend to what happened at the Tower of Babel, when people were scattered and their languages became incomprehensible to one another, God now draws people of all languages together and reasserts God’s promise of salvation.
Did you know that there are 7,139 known languages spoken today? As a Vice President of the WCRC, I have become accustomed to hearing many languages when the communion gathers. We employ interpreters who translate so we can do the work of communion and justice in a way that engages all of our voices. It feels like a type of Pentecost, when we speak clearly and listen carefully so that we can understand one another.
We speak different languages--and sometimes even when we speak the same language. We misunderstand one another and find it difficult to listen in order to understand. This happens in the political arena, on social media, and even in the church. As many are impatient to return to “normal” after Covid, we recognize significant injustices that Covid has accentuated. WCRC has engaged “Covid-19 and Beyond”, a process in which we are asking, “What does the Lord require of us?” (Micah 6:8). It is a similar question to the one asked in Acts 2: “What does this mean?”
Pentecost affords the opportunity to learn, or re-learn, the language of the Spirit. First, it is the language of new life. Jesus’ words in John 10:10, “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly,” are significant for the WCRC. We seek to serve a God of life in all aspects of the communion. In the gift of the Spirit, we relearn and reassert the language of new life for all.
Second, the language of the Spirit is the language of love. When Jesus promised the coming of the Spirit, he said that the Advocate would remind the disciples of all that Jesus had taught them. On the night he was betrayed, Jesus gave a new mandate: that they love one another. Although they didn’t fully understand what lay ahead any more than we do at this moment, the Spirit would teach them to love, which begins with listening.
Third, the language of the Spirit is the language of new confession. After Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples responded by hiding out of fear of the Jews. It was then that Jesus appeared and said, “‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:21-22). On Pentecost, Peter boldly confesses Jesus as Lord. “Covid & Beyond” emphasizes that we must not only be the church which has confessions, but which seeks to boldly confess the God of life in a world fallen among thieves (John 10:10).
Friends, let us seek to relearn the language of the Spirit: a language of new life, new love, and new confession of the God of life as we are called to communion and committed to justice. May we discern together just how God is calling us to live and work together at such a time as this.
—Rev. Lisa Vander Wal
Reformed Church in America
WCRC Vice President
As a denominational executive, and as a member of the steering committee of CANAAC—the Caribbean and North American Area Council of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC)—I’ve been reflecting lately on the state of our world, our nations—especially in North America—and the multiple divisions that we see in our society. As events develop, it seems that all of our institutions—governmental, societal, and even our religious institutions and churches—seem to be reacting to the world’s events as they occur. And with all of this reacting, it makes me wonder, who is leading?
As Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, I believe that our Lord has something to say about this condition in which we find ourselves. Amidst all of the splintering, arguing, disagreement, and discord, what if there were institutions that modeled a different path? What if there were institutions that epitomized a different way—a way of respect for each other, a way that demonstrates care and concern for each other, and yes, a way that demonstrates the possibility that we can care for each other and love each other even as we love ourselves?
As it turns out, such institutions do (or should) exist, though I must admit, amidst the cacophony of voices and situations competing for our attention, these institutions seem to have lost their way. Such institutions—the physical manifestation of the Church, in its many forms—was built to represent a new way of being—a new way of living—a new way of loving. As members of Christ‘s Church, we are called to be a people of this different way. We are called to be people of the vine, as Christ himself described to us in the writings of John 15:
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.
4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
Jesus is calling us to holiness—to maintain a spiritual connection with him—and through this connection, a living connection signified by a living vine, he is calling us to a spiritual connection with each other. I would note that in any vine, no two branches are identical, the degree of development may be different, the sizes and positioning may be different, and the health and growth may be different, but as long as the branches are connected through the stem to the root, it remains one vine nourished at the source.
Jesus goes on to say,
6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
This is an exciting promise—if we remain connected to the source of life—Jesus Christ, he will provide for all of our spiritual needs, which I believe includes the need for belonging, the need for unity, the need for family. I would further note here that unity does not mean uniformity. As every branch of the vine is different, so can we all continue to be different—different congregations, different denominations, different contextualized expressions of the vine in different nations—but through it all, connected at the root to the power source that is Christ.
I don’t want to minimize the reality of the difficulties we face in our nations or the reality of significant sinfulness that continues to reign in our world. Jesus also recognizes this in John 15 when he says,
6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire, and burned.
This is the judgment of Christ for those who intentionally walk away from the vine. May it not be so for us. May we, as Christians, in spite of our different perspectives, different experiences, different hurts, different histories, may we continue to look to Christ as our source of life, and through him, may we see each other as fellow branches of the same vine, nourished by the same source. And may we leave the pruning up to the master gardener who is our head.
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.”
We have much work to do, and before we do that work, may we simply – be – resting in the knowledge that we are one with the creator of the universe. May we rest in the knowledge that the heavy lifting is up to Christ, and as we lean into his vision, his being, his vine, may we be found faithful as co-laborers doing the work that leads to a new vision of unity for Christ’s church—a unity that will be seen by those not of the vine as an example of what could be—an example for our nations to follow.
—Colin P Watson Sr.
Christian Reformed Church in North America
CANAAC Steering Committee Deputy Convenor
Q: What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A: That I am not my own, but belong--body and soul, in life and in death-- to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
--Heidelberg Catechism, Question and Answer 1
Serving as a nondenominational hospice chaplain, I spend my days providing spiritual support and companionship to people who have received a terminal diagnosis as well as their loved ones. I meet people from a wide range of religious beliefs and spiritual orientations, from extremely devout to completely non-religious. Regardless of particular faith journeys, most of the time what people seek as they approach the end of life is reassurance that they are loved, that they matter, and that they are not alone.
These are completely natural requests and vital messages to receive, particularly as people are faced with mortality and the opportunity to more closely reflect on what life means. As a clergy person invited into sacred times of transition, it’s an honor and privilege to bless human souls with those messages that always bear repeating: You are loved. You matter. You are not alone.
And while my work calls me into spaces with an acute awareness of death, hospice is far from the only window into the truth that life on this planet is temporary. At the time of this writing, the world is in its 14th month of a global pandemic and 3,352,109 people have died from COVID-19. Racially or ethnically-motivated violence and murder is increasingly publicized, oftentimes sanctioned and perpetuated by the systems and powers expected to serve and protect human life. People who express their gender or sexuality in ways that are misunderstood within a binary framework are disproportionately targeted and killed. Rampant consumption and pollution are destroying plant and animal lives at exponential rates.
The circumstance of death can be horrific, yet death itself is not the enemy. “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8 NRSV).
Therefore the key is in knowing, whether in life or in death, that we are loved, we matter, and we are not alone. Can you imagine the flourishing that could be possible if all creation truly believed and experienced these messages to be true every moment of every day?
The Protestant Reformation affirmed the immediacy of God’s presence and eliminated barriers for laypersons to know and experience God through increasingly accessible worship and Scripture. Yet worship and Scripture are not our only access points for God. In my denomination, we like to say that “God is still speaking.” Within this claim is the affirmation that God certainly speaks through Scripture, yet this was neither the beginning nor the ending of God’s revelation of truth and love to humankind. The Church’s calling, then, is always to cultivate imagination and attentiveness to the myriad ways God reaches out to let us know that we matter, that we are loved, that we are not alone.
Can you notice God’s love for you in a dandelion, a vaccine, or a drink of clean water? Can you feel God showing you your worth through a loving relationship in your life, the strength of your emotions, or a piece of music? Can you sense that you are not alone when you feel the earth beneath you, when a stranger nods or smiles at you and says “have a nice day,” or when another breath of oxygen enters your body, yet one more moment?
No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, as you consider your own mortality—however near or far it may be in the future—may you find comfort in knowing that you fully belong to God.
—Rev. Bethany Joy Winn
United Church of Christ, USA
Bethany is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ (UCC). She currently serves as chaplain with Spectrum Health Hospice and Palliative Care in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA. In 2017 she was a member of the UCC delegation to the General Council of the WCRC (World Communion of Reformed Churches) in Liepzig, Germany
As the fledgling Christian church set about preparing itself for its role and mission, the power of Pentecost burst into the lives of those early believers, with a mighty rushing wind and tongues as of fire…
It happened that before the church even knew itself to be a church, the members had received specific instructions from the risen Lord. That motley band of believers, comprised of “the eleven” and other believers—possibly their friends and relatives, and friends and relatives of Jesus, including his mother, Mary—had received, and were awaiting, further instructions given by Jesus, prior to his Ascension. All four gospel accounts record these instructions in differing levels of detail: Matthew 28: 16-20, Mark 16:15-20, Luke 24:47-53, and John 21: 15-22. Verses 2 to 10 of Chapter 1 of the Acts of the Apostles also corroborate these accounts.
If we categorize the events that mark the genesis of the Christian faith, we discover that these unequivocal instructions, together with the actual experience of witnessing the ascension, with the further instructions of the “two men in white” (Acts 1:10) played an important role. These experiences prepared the individual men and women, as well as the group as a whole, the frontline leaders of this new movement, that would itself become the Christian church. In Acts Chapter 1 we find a summary of these instructions:
“(Jesus) commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which said He, you have heard of Me./..you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.../...you shall receive power after the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be witnesses to Me, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.” —Acts 1: 4,5,7,8 (KJV)
The response of the followers to these instructions, grounded as it was in their experience of having witnessed the glory of God in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension, was a key contributing factor to their preparedness for the glory of God as it came to be revealed in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost: They followed the instructions they had received. They returned to Jerusalem, and waited. They gathered in community, both men and women. They were unified. They surrendered themselves to prayer. They listened to the Word of God proclaimed amongst themselves, and they did what today we call “succession planning,” while acknowledging the leadership and guidance of one of their number, and acting upon that selfsame guidance to the benefit and strengthening of the unit (Acts 1:13-26). What an amazing example for the church of today to emulate!
And so it was that these original founders of our Christian church, were “all with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1), when the power of the Holy Spirit came, as a mighty sound from heaven, filling the place where they had gathered, and cloven tongues, as of fire, the actual manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s presence and gift, rested upon them. Most glorious of all was that these visionary cloven tongues engendered what would be the first miracle of the church: the awesome unprecedented ability of the empowered ones to preach the word to all those in the multitude that had gathered to behold the event.
The stunning truth of that first Pentecost was that the Word proclaimed was received in the listeners' own languages...even without the speakers being intellectually able on their own to speak the dialects of the more than fifteen named groups (Parthians, Medes, Elamites, men of Mesopotamia, Judaea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya, Cyrene, Rome, Crete, and Arabia) that had assembled in that place! It was an event of literal miraculous proportions. It was, too, a foreshadowing of how the gospel message would come to penetrate “all the world/earth” (Matthew 28:20, Acts 1:8).
Further, in the harmony that reigns within all of Scripture, it was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel: 2:28. And further yet, in a blessed reversal of the dreadful event of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), human beings were no longer separated by language. Instead, as they placed reliance on God, He, himself, in His mercy, through the glory of the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit, presided over a newly-born, unified church, empowering God’s witnesses and His people to speak, to listen, and to receive His one true message of love and salvation.
In this we too can rejoice, for even now in these trying times, because of the Holy Spirit’s work at Pentecost, the Christian church continues to receive the promise, the presence, and the power of Pentecost.
Presbyterian Church of Trinidad & Tobago
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.
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” —Galatians 6:2 (NIV)
Burdens: there is scarcely a person on the planet who hasn’t born some kind of burden during the past year. Some have borne the burden of being an essential worker, caring for people sick with COVID-19 in hospitals and care facilities, or working in grocery stores. Others have carried the burden of loss: loved ones who have died or themselves carrying “long COVID” through continuing health concerns. Others have lost jobs because of an economy fraught with COVID-related issues. And still others have borne the burden of loneliness and despair as the pandemic has continued largely unabated in many regions. It has been a difficult time, and for many places in the world it is still worsening.
This is an appropriate time for us to internalize the words of Paul in Galatians 6, because he properly reminds us that burdens belong to all of us. The image Paul gives is of mutuality, that we recognize that others have difficulties and encumbrances even as we do ourselves. Some are more weighty than others, but it does not mean that they are not difficult to carry.
In some contexts, like the United States, there has been a tendency for people to want to be “done with” COVID, even though COVID clearly isn’t done with us. We want our old freedom of movement and lack of encumbrance back; we want to return to the days before the pandemic began.
But here is where Paul’s words come to us, inviting us to “carry” more concern with helping the other with their burden than to be freed from our own. Places in our world like India, where we have many friends in the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), are experiencing tremendous and heartbreaking loss. How may we carry their burdens through prayer and tangible concern? Many places in the world are lacking vaccines. How may we speak for justice in encouraging the “haves” to share with the “have nots”? How may we reach out to those who have lost loved ones, to help carry their burden of loss? How may we encourage those who are lonely and depressed?
As we have traveled through Lent, the Easter season, and beyond, we are reminded that Jesus has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. May we each mirror Christ, that in humility we may value and care for those around us in the same way that he has done this for us.
—Rev. Dr. Lisa Vander Wal
Reformed Church in America
WCRC Vice President
And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want." —Matthew 26:39 (NRSV)
I received my call to ministry when I was 18 years old. I had been kneeling at the side of my bed and in prayer saying to God I did not want to become any of the things I had desired to become in the past – doctor, lawyer, forensic detective – only what God wanted me to become. I recall having a vision of people needing to hear the gospel, and I deduced that God was calling me into ministry. However, at that time, because I was still a Roman Catholic, I felt that this calling meant that I would have to enter the priesthood. That was something I did not want to do because I desired to have a family. I acknowledged to God that I did not want to become a priest; however, in submission of my will to God’s, I said, “even though this is not what I want, I will become a priest because I know you will provide the enablement and fullfilment I desire.”
The time of my call was the first time I can remember God asking me to do/become something and despite not wanting to, I said yes. Since then, on numerous occasions, God’s call to me, from my perspective, was inconsistent with what I desired; nevertherless, at every turn, I responded, “if this is what you desire, even though it is not what I want, I will do it.”
Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane was confronted with the choice of pursuing his life’s purpose or self-presevation (see also Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46). However, He surrendered to God’s will rather than giving in to His desires. In His plea and response, we have an illustration of what it means to deny self: “Father if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not my will but thine be done” (Matthew 26:39).
Jesus momentarily shrank from the thought of the “cup” of the Cross, but almost instictively, recoiled at the idea of not obeying the Father. No doubt, this momentary hesitation was due to the wiles of the Tempter who had tried to get him to forsake his ministry with the promise of prestige, power, and possessions (Matthew 4:1-11). He also attempted to derail Jesus’s date with the cross by having Peter insist that Jesus should not pursue the Via Dolorosa. In response, Jesus knowing full well who instigated Peter’s words said, "Get away from me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my way, because these thoughts of yours don't come from God, but from human nature" (Matthew 16:21-23).
Satan had successfully gotten Adam and Eve to sin by doubting whether God indeed had their best interest at heart and by insuating that God is not trust worthy. Every time God calls on us, we have to determine whether we believe God is trust worthy, loves us beyond measure, and will always have our best interest at heart (that is, as God, not we, knows our best interest to be). When we answer the call of God on our lives we may not accumulate wealth, garner prestige, or exercise power, but we can always expect to be fulfilled. Whenever we live within God’s will, we shall always find life fulfilling.
When I was in seminary in North Carolina, I always had difficulty with the persons often held up as successes in ministry. It was always the pastor with several thousand members on their church roll. I have always contended that the successful minister is not necessarily the one who has a thriving ministry but rather the one who is faithful in his/her calling and works at it daily to the glory of God whether or not others acknowledge the value of his/her work.
On receiving God’s call, expressing our reservations, our doubts, and our fears to God is okay and even recommended. God knows our innermost thoughts and God also knows our heart. It has been my experience that although I was at first reticent to go God’s way, once I surrender to his will, my life has always been rich and fulfilling. Once I am living within God’s will, at every turn, God has provided the resources that I have needed. Since that first call of God on my life, I have learned to live in the light of the truth of Jesus’ words: “…be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things” (Matthew 6: 33, GNB). Whenever God Calls and we are able to discern God’s will, our only response should be one of trust and obedience in which we say, “Lord, not my will, but thine be done!”
—Rev. Dr. R. Osbert James, OBE
Minister and Moderator
Presbyterian Church in Grenada
Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” —Luke 12:16-21 9NRSV)
In Canada, those earning more than $25 an hour before the pandemic have actually done better financially than they would have otherwise, as a result of the pandemic. Those making less are doing worse. They are the ones who are losing their jobs, who don’t have sick pay, who can’t afford good child care, who are more vulnerable to COVID-19. $25 per hour is a lot of money in many parts of the world, but one fact knows no borders: those most vulnerable in the pandemic are those with lower incomes. In Canada that includes indigenous peoples.
So isn’t it ironic that during this monumental crisis of the pandemic, Canadians have amassed record savings – especially those who were doing well to start with. The chief economist for one of our national banks said that by year end 2020, Canadians would have saved close to 200 billion dollars! Normally Canadians save at the rate of about 1.7% of income. Last year that was closer to 25% for much of the year. That money has not gone to help the most vulnerable, it has gone to personal bank accounts and Tax Free Savings Accounts and Mutual funds. Financial advisors think it’s great - build a bigger barn and put it in there while you can.
I think Jesus is speaking to us through the parable of the rich fool. I know he’s speaking to me, and it’s not all that comfortable. What are we doing with our barns? Building bigger ones?
As the pandemic ends, one of the questions being asked is how the health and wellbeing, especially of the vulnerable, and those who have been most at financial risk, will be ensured. Churches and others in society describe this as A Just Recovery for All.
These are the principles for A Just Recovery for All:
Christians, especially in Canada are at a moment when their faith in action will be tested. We have an opportunity to mobilize our own resources for good and to advocate for A Just Recovery for All people in the months ahead. Now is the time to consider this. This is one parable where Jesus’ words are starkly clear to us when he says: So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.
Pray for A Just Recovery for All. Work for a Just Recovery for All.
—Rev. Stephen Kendall
Principal Clerk, The Presbyterian Church in Canada
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
“A verdict has been reached in the Derek Chauvin murder trial”—and with this announcement made late in the day on Tuesday, Apr. 20, many of us throughout the United States, Canada, and elsewhere held our collective breath as we waited to hear what that verdict would be.
For many people, the pending verdict raised questions. Would the reality of George Floyd, as a fellow human being made in God’s image, be affirmed– or would our ailing society once again fail to acknowledge the basic humanity of another Black life?
For the past few weeks, the media shifted their attention from the COVID-19 pandemic to this other sort of virus. Racism is very real in our broken world, and the Derek Chauvin trial has pushed it back into the limelight.
For people who have not been following this story, Derek Chauvin is a former Minneapolis police officer who was charged with murdering George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes during an arrest last May.
Some refuse to believe that race had anything to do with this tragic death. For many others, George Floyd was yet another name on a long list of Black men and women who were murdered at the hands of others, including police officers. As a result, the Chauvin trial came to be seen almost as a litmus test to determine whether justice would be served in this case.
As we now know, Chauvin was found guilty on all counts: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.
And with this announcement came a ray of hope that perhaps we, as a society, could collectively stand together on the same side of this issue. Perhaps we could agree with the findings of the jury that, in this case, Chauvin attempted to use the power of the system to try to deny life and liberty to a fellow human being—and perhaps we can collectively say no, there is a better way, the way of "shalom."
Living in a fallen world, we must acknowledge that this was not an isolated incident. For many Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC), events such as the death of George Floyd are a reminder of the many overt and subtle acts of discrimination they face daily. A trial such as Chauvin’s, in which the actions of the victim are scrutinized and judged, seems to unfairly shift the blame for all these other acts on the victims as well. It retraumatizes countless people who have previously been hurt.
While we as Christians should be pleased with the way in which this jury's conclusions honor and respect the lives of the BIPOC community, we also recognize that this verdict represents only a tiny shred of justice. True shalom would have resulted in George Floyd not losing his life at the hands of an officer of the law.
That’s why today, as we hear and react to the verdict, we would like to call on all of the members of the Christian Reformed Church in North America to join in a time of prayer:
I leave you with these thoughts from our contemporary testimony, Our World Belongs to God:
"Together, male and female, single and married, young and old--
every hue and variety of humanity— we are called to represent God, for the Lord God made us all. Life is God’s gift to us, and we are called to foster the well-being of all the living" (art. 11)
"We are confident that the light that shines in the present darkness will fill the earth when Christ appears. Come Lord Jesus, our world belongs to you.” (art. 6)
—Colin P. Watson, Sr.
Christian Reformed Church in North America
Scripture Reading: Psalm 22
The Psalms have been faithful companions during this past year, favorites among them are Psalm 42, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God...”, 121, “I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come?”, and 130, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!” A reflection of the human condition, these songs offer words of praise, joy, gratitude, lament, anger, doubt, and sorrow. Psalm 22 has been my most recent companion as I was asked to preach on it for Good Friday. As I meditated on the Psalm, some insights came to mind, and I share them with you.
First, Jesus, utters the words of the first verse from the cross. In his humanity, in his pain -like the psalmist- feeling the abandonment and loneliness of the cross, Jesus cries to God, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These words shared from a place of deep sadness and despair might be familiar to us. We have experienced or are experiencing similar sentiments, and versions of these famous words are being pronounced, again and again, in different languages and from distinct voices these days. I sat with these words reflecting on how relevant they are; a look at the news or even outside our own front doors would suffice to see their relevance. In the midst of a pandemic, of social injustice and inequity, of misuse of power and mistreatment, of divisiveness and unkindness, how can these words not be echoes of a suffering world? Jesus, having experienced the cross, accompanies us in the places of sadness and despair where we find ourselves and where we find our most vulnerable siblings.
Second, back to the psalm, even in the midst of despair, the psalmist finds signs of hope. The following verses alternate between cries of despair and remembrance of God’s deliverance, and by the time we reach verse 24, the discourse begins to shift. “For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.” From lament, to trust, to hope, to praise... Although the psalmist felt abandoned by God at some point, God didn’t leave him. This realization brought forth the last insight: How exactly did God deliver him?
The answer to this question is not in psalm directly, yet one could infer some kind of miracle was involved, supernatural or otherwise. It could have been a miracle in the form of literal salvation from a dangerous situation or a divine illumination, a coincidence that became an opportunity, a random visit that inspired acts of justice and kindness, or even intervention by a person, like you and me, who was then an instrument of God for deliverance and the miracle someone desperately needed. Sometimes we are so focused defining deliverance in the individual, spiritual sense only, that we forget its collective, yet also very spiritual, day-to-day meaning and implications that demand a response from us in the here and now.
I invite you to sit with the words of Psalm 22 and reflect on the “how” of God’s deliverance. Consider the part we all play in God’s salvific plan in this world, as God’s coworkers (1 Cor. 3:9). Jesus, our Savior and teacher is risen. He is our miracle. Following in his steps, may we become a miracle for others, and when we hear the world crying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” in any version or language, may we respond confidently and humbly, “My sibling, I’m here. God has not forsaken you. God has sent me.”
—Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri, M.Ed.
Educator and Elder
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Vilmarie is a teacher and a Presbyterian ruling elder born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She has served the PC(USA) at many levels including the session, presbytery, synod, and other church groups, such as Presbyterian Women. Most recently, Vilmarie served as Co-Moderator of the 223rd General Assembly (2018-2020). She has dedicated most of her adult life to education and training, primarily teaching English to high-school students and adults from all over the world. Vilmarie lives in Florida with her husband, the Rev. José Manuel Capella-Pratts.