Two weeks ago, as I traveled across this great land by car, I heard my seven-year-old son ask a familiar question. “Are we there yet?” Such an innocent question, “Are we there yet?” I simply wished that we had been further than fifty miles into a 1200 mile trip the first time I heard it! It is a question that begs an answer and somehow “not yet” is insufficient. No there needs to be a plan, a report on progress made, and consideration of alternative courses of action. Is it too late to fly?
I wondered about Jesus walking from place to place with his disciples. Did one of the disciples ever ask, “Are we there yet?” I believe they did. Matthew 24.3 (NRSV), “When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?'” That is very much what my son wanted from me. What is the sign that we are there?
So we need a goal, a plan, a report on progress, and we must consider other courses of action that may be more efficacious or being us to a better result. This applies to us whether we are travel across Kansas or looking into the vision and mission of the church. Are we there yet?
Some would say that we have gone far beyond what the church has been called to do. We failed to keep our eyes on the goal and because of that we are not there yet. So what is the appropriate goal of the church? Jesus tended to answer questions with parables. This forced people to think long and hard about the answer and illuminated all sorts of possibilities. But when asked about the goal of His ministry he answered very directly. Love God with all of your being and love your neighbor as yourself. Also go forth and spread the Gospel of peace and love out to a hurting and broken world. (Matthew 22.37, 28.19 my paraphrases.) The New Testament really revolves around these verses. These verses are transformative, transforming the world for the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom on earth. Are we there yet?
The mission field of our church is no longer some foreign land thousands of miles away, although they too are our neighbors. In the good old days of the United Methodist Church* we knew that most of the people outside the doors of our congregations were Christians. They had already received the message. The mission field truly was somewhere else. We got complacent and forgot our primary jobs. Love and spread the Gospel of peace and love. So today we find that the mission field has moved to the communities where we live and worship. We need to be reaching out and loving our neighbors, sharing the greatest gift we have available to us; the story of Jesus’ life and ministry.
How do we accomplish this? We witness to the power, glory, and majesty of Jesus. In other words we tell people about the difference that Jesus has made in our lives. That is a great start but only covers a fraction of the power, glory, and majesty of Jesus. In addition to sharing the stories of Jesus we must show people the impact Jesus has had on our lives. We come together as the Body of Christ and seek out ways to be in service. We go forth helping those with needs, whatever those needs might be. We develop relationships with people that are different than we are whether that difference is racial, social status, or any other difference. We love people and allow people to love us as well. This grows the Body of Christ.
As the Body of Christ grows we reach out farther. We use the power of our voices to right wrongs, to aid the marginalized, demand justice, and fight oppression. We work to rid the world of “isms” such as sexism, ageism, and racism. Are we there yet? The Trayvon Martin case and the fallout over the verdict indicates that we are not, but are we closer? My son is African American. There were some children at Bethesda UMC’s Ice Cream Supper. They were riding bicycles from the parsonage. My son was the only African-American child there and he had gone inside. Someone asked the children who had given them permission to ride the bikes. The children stated that the boy in the green shirt had told them it was okay. None of us were present the night that Trayvon lost his life. We don’t know exactly what the jury heard or was told. We know that a young man lost his life. Color doesn’t matter. A young man with a bright future is dead. His case is one of a countless number of tragedies that occur every year. Was it racism? Was it fear, bigotry, or hatred? Was it silly gun laws? I don’t know. I do know that we, as a church, aren’t there yet.
There is hope however dim. We can and must come together and work for justice and peace and love. We can see the glimmer of hope that is held in the minds of our children and our children’s children. Who gave you permission? The answer wasn’t the African-American kid or the black kid. The answer was the boy in the green shirt.
We have a lot of work to do and we must start that work today. Reach out to your neighbor, the other, in love. Reach out in hopes of developing a relationship based on mutual respect and care. Reach out, as those children did, in hopes of making a friend. Reach out, you might be amazed at what you find.
That is this pastor’s opinion. What’s yours?
In Christian Love,
*The idea of the good old days or glory days will need to be dealt with in a different post.