Wow, what a last year we’ve had! A pandemic, failures in race relations and attempts to work on them, and a heated election here in the US. In my The Upper Room devotion for March 31, I invited readers to consider the posture of Paul in his letters. After identifying himself, Paul starts all of his letters with something along the lines of, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” In some cases, he goes on to affirm his readers’ ministry and faithful endurance. In others, he criticizes them harshly! But in all cases, he cannot bring himself to speak to them unless he first makes peace with them. The United Methodist Book of Worship invites us to do the same before we come to the communion table.
I’ve found it helpful in these tense times to remember Paul’s posture toward others. In this election season, I’ve encouraged myself and my churches to mentally say, “God loves Donald,” or, “Joe is a child of God,” or, “The person who just made a mean comment toward me on Facebook is baptized, just like me.” Saying these things challenges our partisan attitudes and our need to be right, and it invites us to be loving instead.
None of this is to excuse injustice or meanness. Instead, Paul’s words invite those of us who read them to embody the love of Jesus toward others, whether they are our friends or our enemies. Remember, Jesus never said that we should not have enemies — he acknowledged that we would! But he told us to love them anyway. Loving our enemies may be harder than not having enemies at all. At the same time, there is a certain privilege for those who live relatively free of the fear that their enemies may actually hurt them. I count myself as among this group. For people like me, perhaps part of seeking grace, peace, and embodying the love of Christ is standing up for those whose enemies are actively seeking to hurt them. The Black Lives Matter protests last year come to mind for me.
Lilla Watson, an Aboriginal Australian artist and academic, has said, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” This is the sort of community to which Christ invites us, one where we all work together in the difficult task of embodying Paul’s greeting: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The reality is that I cannot fully live in peace or be liberated unless you are too. And none of us will be able to until our friends and our enemies experience that same liberation.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
View a growing list of resources for the spiritual work of overcoming racism.