By Chris Richter, Galilee Lay Leader
June 25, 2020
When we gathered over the Christmas season, who would have guessed that something called “murder hornets” would be the least of our worries in the new year? 2020 has been at turns discouraging, anxious, and confusing.
In John 16:33 we are told,
“On earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
God overcomes our sorrows, indeed. We know this, and this knowledge should allow Christians to prove this overcoming day after day with their robust actions and their untiring love. Yet does it seem like that happens? Some of the challenges the world faces seem so large and so powerful, we don’t even know where to begin.
We can be tempted to ignore them.
Lay leader Chris Richter (with a buddy) at the Butterfly Conservatory at Niagra Falls in 2019.
In these times, I feel blessed by our inspired pastoral team of Pastor Jason and Pastor Geitra (and, soon, Pastor Steve). I respect how they respond to the charged and divisive events around us. Listening to the sermons of the past two weeks—weeks that felt raw and discouraging—I heard our pastors speak words of compassion and peace, love and justice. There was no praising or rebuking one “side.”
It’s not easy to stand where they stand and bring up politics. There’s a long debate in Christianity over the place politics should have in the pulpit. Some pastors encourage believers to vote a certain way. Others feel their message should focus on the eternal (heaven) and exclude the temporal (politics). I recognize that within our congregation, we represent the full spectrum of political debate. I admire the balance our pastors strike while addressing political topics that need to be addressed. I feel like the tone is aligned with who we are as a congregation—not of one mind politically, but of one heart in service of God.
Chris Richter on the Sunday worship livestream.
The first Christians were called to go out into the world—to heal, to comfort, to do good works, and to bring people to God. They did this through engagement and relationship, not by handing out pamphlets. Christianity is designed to be an active faith in the world. Jesus told us clearly not just to love God, but to love our neighbors as ourselves. If our faith compels us to act in a world increasingly unaware of God’s love, we still have the mission to help the poor, to fight injustice, to meet hate with love.
The Bible is our guidebook, but unfortunately there is no index telling us which page contains God’s instructions on the wearing of face masks or the proper balance between social distancing and social justice.
The Loving, Not Judging Approach
In my view, church is exactly the place to examine “touchy” and political topics. What is a believer’s responsibility in applying the word of Jesus against racism and inequality? How can we provide help in an economy with over 20 million unemployed? But when we engage in this discourse, how do we—how do I—model a loving approach and speak with a healing tongue, while tamping down a judging heart?
2020 has thrown us for a loop, but Galilee was already on a course to negotiate difficult changes. Remember when our top concern was the possible split in the Methodist denomination over the issue of LGBTQ? That issue may be on the back burner for the moment, but we still need to chart a path forward, a path involving understanding, justice, and healing.
That’s not an easy issue; we are not of one mind. But whatever divides us, God has overcome. He has already overcome!
Does the world know it?
Statistics reveal that the American public, increasingly raised without any foundation in faith, is becoming turned off by religiosity. For these folks, sermons or social media messages that string together Bible quotes seem cold, and old, and distant, and fake. What resonates instead is a real discussion of our world as they see it, but with God in the center. They don’t need our easy piety. They are begging for real Christians to explain this loving God that we claim to follow, because they don’t see Him in the Christian believers they are shown.
I’ve got my place on the political spectrum, and I know that not all will agree with where I stand. That’s wonderful; that is Galilee. Because we’re not called to convert others to our political views, but to change lives, follow Jesus, and to help the Holy Spirit win the hearts of others.