I used to think that the church was the kingdom of God. Yet with clear, if youthful, memories of a segregated southern white church which, to put it mildly, felt little responsibility for those of an oppressed race or for their civil rights – I guess I have struggled when trying to perfectly equate the two.
A Dark Time
February, 2017 has been an incredibly difficult time for me, because I am a church leader involved with Hispanic outreach. So it was with an extremely heavy heart that I went to church yesterday, knowing that I have Christian brothers and sisters from a mixed-status Latino community who are living in fear, the like of which I have not seen in many years.
Will I soon find myself visiting some of them in detention centers, (do they even allow visitors)?
Will otherwise law abiding people of faith now be classified with gang members and violent criminals, because we, after all, are a nation of laws with a new president who can only see rapists and drug-dealers when he looks at people that I care deeply about?
And of even greater concern, if that happens, and some of our families with US citizen children are suddenly “disappeared”, what should be the church’s response?
Is the church institutional even capable of raising its voice to say – Enough! If they are good enough to pick our fruit and vegetables, good enough to care for our children, good enough to cook our food in our restaurants, then they are welcome here – in our church and in our country!
Perhaps not, inasmuch as most congregations are not of one mind about such issues. And is it even fair of me to expect others to suddenly share an awareness that has taken me a many years to develop?
So I’m left with the familiar Prayer of Serenity, that tries to draw the distinction between what one can change and what one cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference.
A Bright Moment!
Yesterday, during our church’s “meet and greet” period, I went to the church balcony where our Latino members often prefer to sit. I noticed my good Puerto Rican friend being greeted by one of our “anglo” worshipers, who did not speak Spanish.
The thing is, they were both determined to interact with each other, without the benefit of a common language (my friend speaks limited English and relies upon earphones for translation of the sermon into Spanish). They were, in that moment, embracing a language of Christian love, and mutual respect, even before I provided them with some translation assistance.
It was in that instant, heavy-hearted though I was, that I saw the kingdom of God, and I remembered Jesus’ words that “the kingdom of God is within you”, or possibly, “among you” (depending upon the translation).”
So now, my prayer of serenity is :
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and above all, to see the kingdom of God when it breaks through!
So how then should I regard the church? Perhaps more realistically as a special and at times truly wonder-filled environment in which the kingdom of God is likely to happen!
— The lesser known continuation of the Prayer of Serenity:
Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next. Amen.