I was given the opportunity to share at The Lion & Lamb Festival this past weekend in Fort Wayne, IN. I was asked to write a letter to the Church, here is what I wrote and shared with those gathered there.
A Letter to the Church in the U.S.
To the Church scattered across the United States, to the ones called to be light in dark places, to travel the alleys and back roads, and to be salty: grace and peace in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I write to you as a co-laborer in the messy fields of life. I give thanks for the ways in which you have established relationships with one another. The love you have for each other is evident as you share one another’s burdens. God has mercifully shown us grace, a grace you often share with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
Standing In The Gap…
I encourage you, brothers and sisters, to be aware of the individuals that walk into our places of worship for the first time. Some show up with very little; no job, no car, no driver’s license, no computer skills, no phone, no money, no home, and no friends. The very little they do have might be the record of 20 years of life on the streets. What are we doing as the Church to help these individuals experience the transformation that comes with knowing Christ?
The widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ is a growing justice issue we must not only be aware of but engage. The United States has the most unequal distribution of wealth of all developed countries. The richest 400 Americans have more wealth than the bottom 150 million. There are over 10 million families considered “working poor” in our country alone. 42% of children born into poverty never make it out. The cycle of poverty, which is virtually impossible for an individual to break unless someone else provides help, is a gap the Church must be willing to step in to. Our practice of mass incarceration perpetuates this cycle as individuals step out of prison carrying the weight of bad choices for the remainder of their lives. With so many things stacked against them, it is not enough to simply repeat the myth and tell them to “pick themselves up by their bootstraps” when in fact many do not own boots.
Praise God whose grace abounds to even us, that he would call us his Church! Remember how our bad choices along the way have made us desperate for this grace, which we freely received so that we might freely give. This is exactly what our Lord has called the Church to be about. We, brothers and sisters, must stand in the gap and be the grace that finds ways to break the cycles of poverty and injustice. James reminds us (2:14-18) it is not enough to say, “Good luck!” or “We hope that works out for you.” because acknowledging a need or injustice is not the same as fighting it.
The Leper Colonies of the West…
The working poor and those with a criminal past have become a few of our modern-day leper colonies, creating a justice issue the Church has been struggling to respond to. Christ, the head of his body called the Church, spent time amongst the social outcasts of his day often times sharing a meal and a touch. This requires us to be in relationship with the least, the last, and the lost. It is difficult to be agents of healing and grace absent of relationship. The Church’s hesitation, fear, or unwillingness to be in relationship with the poor or criminal perpetuates the very cycles of poverty and injustice we are called to act against.
Grace as a Part of Justice…
There are times when the Church confuses justice with vengeance. This happens most easily when we set ourselves as the arbiters of justice in place of, or in addition to, established processes. Our world is full of injustices. As servants of Christ, we must do everything in our power to fight injustice, to end discrimination, and to cast out hate, but attempting to do this while demanding a “pound of flesh” is not the best way. Let us not confuse justice with vengeance.
What is the relationship of grace and justice? Must they be on opposite ends? The idea of grace is something we want to embrace for ourselves and those we love. The thought of extending grace to a perpetrator of injustice or a mouthpiece of hate on the other hand, does not sit well with many. We must shine the light of grace into the darkness of injustice, hate, and fear. This does not abdicate responsibility of unjust actions but rather highlights the scandalous nature of grace.
Disconnecting Grace from Holiness…
We must always fight for justice but be careful not to disconnect grace from holiness. Holiness apart from grace becomes legalism. It is a focus on punishment over justice. Grace disconnected from holiness, on the other hand, is pointless. Holiness is our goal and pursuit, grace is the means by which we are able to continue on the journey even after stumbling. Justice is best served when grace is present. Where is your pursuit of holiness taking you? Is it leading you to be grace on the street corners, in the unemployment lines, in the housing projects? It is challenging you to break the cycles of poverty and be a voice for the those who have none? Is it giving you the courage to be in relationship with those who have a criminal past but are looking for a new future?
May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you. My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen.