The late beloved Rev. Gardner Taylor said, “our faith was born in the midst of a world of turmoil.” Indeed that is true. From the beginning, the people God made had a hard time getting along with each other, loving each other, providing for, and insisting upon justice for each other. From the beginning, there was always an “us” and a “them,” in spite of One God who made us all. For those who wrestle with the question of the goodness and ultimate power of God, the inability of God’s people to live in authentic and loving relationship with each other seems puzzling. Why doesn’t, or why hasn’t, God just “fixed” the hearts, minds, and spirits of the people whom God created?
While we will never know the answers to those questions, we have at our disposal and for our use the power of the Holy Spirit, which can and does convert us from our most base to being who and what God has always wanted us to be.
The issue isn’t that God does not have power; the issue seems to be more that we do not use the power that God gave to us. While we profess to love God and God’s son Jesus, we are all too ready to dismiss what God gave us in, with, and through the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. While we say we are Christian, we bypass too often the words of Jesus and latch onto other parts of the Bible, most often the words of Paul. While Paul’s writings have their own power, they do not have the power of Jesus’ words, nor do they carry with them the promise of the Holy Spirit, which does have the power to sustain and strengthen us.
The ingestion and digestion of Jesus’ words makes us fertile to receive and to use the Holy Spirit. It takes away our fear of not being accepted by peers and instead puts our eyes, hearts, and spirits in alignment with what Jesus asks. Whenever we do that, we see God work and move. We saw it with Dr. Martin Luther King, we saw it with Mother Teresa, we saw it with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and we are seeing it with Pope Francis. God’s will, it seems, is to break through the situations that oppress people, but doing God’s will is often hard and dangerous. Thus, many of us opt out. We call ourselves Christian while we ignore the words of the Christ, who died that we might have life, and have it abundantly – no matter who we are.
A breakthrough act of the Holy Spirit today would be the biggest miracle ever, if that breakthrough made us lose our capacity to hate, discriminate, and oppress, and instead, work against economic, racial, sexual, and social oppression, not afraid of what it might cost us. It feels like people in the church, especially the younger people, are yearning for justice; they are yearning to see God in action. A recent report indicated that people are moving farther and father away from the traditional church and latching onto “non-traditional” settings. What people are wanting to do is to touch the ground, get their hands in the mud of life, and be participants in the spreading of justice for all people.
The church wrestles against powers and principalities as entities, just as individuals do. The pressure of the church to be a “successful” business supersedes the desire of many to do God’s work” of providing love and justice. The provision of the same just do not meld well with the business model.
And yet, were the church to lose its shackles of fear, were the church to become unafraid of dealing with the uncomfortable issues of our day, including racism but certainly not to the exclusion of the other pressing and painful, uncomfortable issues, the world would be revolutionized. Were the church to accept Jesus as Jesus is presented in the Bible, as a counter-culture rebel who worked against the Empire for the purpose of letting all God’s people know their worth, the world would be forever changed.
Susan Smith is former Gordon Cosby Seasoned Voices Fellow at the SpiritHouse Project, which works to stop racist crimes against African Americans and to build multicultural coalitions to contest racism.
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