February 2017 Jim's Reflection

My friend’s church has a sign in front that reads: “Of course we welcome refugees; we’re Christian.”  What does it mean to live like a Christian?  This is a conversation that has been front and center these last weeks, and we are reminded again and again that there is a wide opinion.  Just look at words spoken at the National Prayer Breakfast and you know this is true.

This is why I have been so grateful for the lectionary texts for these past weeks.  Working through the Sermon on the Mount will remind us what we are called to as followers of Jesus.  It is not an easy task, but the way is clear. 

The Beatitudes are a good place to start (words that I’ve adapted from Eugene Peterson’s The Message):

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope, when you admit your frailty and humility. With less of you there is more of God.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One who longs to bring you peace.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God.“

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, God does! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. The prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

This past Sunday, we were fortunate to be joined in worship by the Rev. Diane Weible, Conference Minister for the Northern California / Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ.  She preached on Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5: 13-16 – The Message) “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous One we seek.

Our call is clear.  Now we are to get about the work.

And if you wonder what to do, the United Church of Christ has a few suggestions.  Our Justice and Mercy team will also be offering ideas and projects in the weeks ahead.

1) Strengthen the Movement: 
Join the UCC Justice and Peace Action Network.  Share the link to join (ucc.org/join_the_network) or download a sign up sheet and collect signatures in your congregation and send it back to us at ucctakeaction@ucc.org.

2) Support Each Other: 
Reach out to others in your congregation and local community who are doing justice work.

3) Learn & Advocate: 
Ask important questions and deepen your knowledge of the important policy issues and their impact on the most vulnerable in our communities. 

4) Build Relationships:  
Reach out to and establish relationships with key decision makers.

5) Show Up: 
Participate in and organize your own public witness events.  Many national events, such as the upcoming Women’s March on Washington in January have coinciding local and regional events. 

6) Take Your Advocacy to the Next Level: 
Plan to attend the 2017 Ecumenical Advocacy Days conference in Washington, DC April 21-24, 2017.  The theme is “Confronting Chaos, Forging Community,” addressing the challenges of racism, materialism and militarism.  Our very own UCC General Minister and President John Dorhauer will be delivering a keynote address at the conference. Learn more and register.

7) Remember That Your Voice Matters: 

In taking up the challenge to bring healing to a broken world, think often of the teaching of Rabbi Tarfon “It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task.  Yet you are not free to desist from it.”