At the Getting to Know the Bible event on July 14th, twenty-five of us gathered to have a group project about understanding Paul as he is described in Acts and how he represents himself in his many letters. It was a 90 minute session so it was obviously just scraping the surface. The best part , arguably, was at the very end when we tried to adopt Paul’s voice in writing a letter to the church in the Philadelphia region (of which Circle of Hope is only a part). Paul often writes his letter to address a problem. The problem that my co-presenter, Scott Shannon, and I settled on was how Black Lives Matter is a point of division. People started throwing out phrases and ideas on the Zoom call and in the chat, and I took those notes as inspiration to write the following letter. These ideas are mine as inspired by the group and Paul, as he (and I) are inspired by the Spirit, though I hope those gathered read it and offer me feedback so this can evolve.
To the Philadelphians and their region
We, Paul and his time-separated friends who gathered at the Getting to Know the Bible Zoom Call on July 14th, 2020, send you greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave the city at the center of your region the reason to be and the power to live truly as a city of brotherly love and sisterly affection. We, who are in Christ, and thus New creations in him, send you all of our love without reservation for we know that God’s love is an infinite spring and our ability to love does not end when we reach the limits of our personal depths.
We are thankful for you, Church in the Philadelphia Region, for the way you dedicate yourselves to compassion, loving your neighbors practically in many ways and making a wide space of welcome for hope to grow and the Way of Jesus to be walked by many. You never give up scouting for opportunities for goodness. You see it everywhere and find ways to participate in the movements that aim to make your region and the world a place that looks more like the Kingdom of God. Jesus inaugurated this Kingdom, it has begun; and yet we are still only seeing it dimly — in soft focus through fog or in sharp bursts of clarity that never last very long — but we know it is there and we persevere in our hope that yes, one day soon, the Lord will return to bring all of our broken tries into their fullness, and bring all of the lies to destruction completely. On that day, when we see him face to face as he is, we shall be like him even as now we are becoming when we love and obey him.
Be careful not to lose your namesake of Philadelphia, for it is possible. Brotherly love and sisterly affection takes practice and is easily lost entirely. The lies of the evil one have taken root in your region and I see they are encroaching on you too. Are you too blinded? Have the lies already committed you to their cause? Have you bent the knee to a different story letting yourselves be tangled? Hack away, brothers and sisters, for you must not lose sight of what you have seen and who God has shown you to be in the reflection of Jesus’ eyes. Have you lost sight of those loving eyes. Have you lost your way along his Way?
I don’t care what you call it but you must live like Black Lives Matter. If you can’t find Jesus in this mess you will find him with those who are mourning comforting them with his presence. If you can’t find Jesus you will find him with the least among you as he always said. If you can’t find Jesus you will find him with all those crying for justice for the oppressed for Jesus, for did not the Lord himself say that he came to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, to restore the sight of the blind, to set the oppressed free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor? You are not blind, so I am telling you, “See!”
See the way you value your money and property above the human lives of the poor. Yes, even you who are in the streets at the rally’s, the weeds of the world need your constant vigilance otherwise you will be choked like the Lord’s sower’s seed. Do not be haughty or think you are safe. Only Jesus makes you safe, keep your eyes on him and ask him daily for protection. See the way black and brown people are treated in your society and refuse to be satisfied until this has changed. Do not give up hope! Keep fighting the good fight. But do not fight each other, you need everyone you can get to actually make a dent in the evil of racism that has so ensnared you. See how you are divided? This will not do. You must bear with one another in love even as you continue to take down strongholds of the evil one’s power. This will not be easy but it is not either/or. We must do both.
White people, yield your privilege so you can learn to be subject to one another? White men in particular, as much as possible resolve to be silent in church and talk with your spouses and friends at home. Too long has the conversation been dominated by convenient correspondence with these strongholds of the evil one’s power. Too long has racism been able to take hold of your conversations even when the speakers were unaware of their submission.
Listen to the people of color in the body; there are many in your region. Your commitment to togetherness will require you to listen longer than you ever have before. But be not afraid, the Lord will help you. The body is strong enough in the Holy Spirit to withstand this transformation. Persevere in your listening that you might see new things.
Now may the God of hope give everyone of you courage to go beyond your current vision. All of you will learn new things, of this I am sure. Walk by the faith planted firmly in you and watered by everlasting streams. Hold onto the vision of the future Jesus has promised and live from that until he comes again. And once the pandemic is safely behind you, begin again to greet one another with a holy kiss.
Ben for Paul and maybe those on the call on Tuesday night
For more Gifts for Growing Events like this one visit wayofjesus.circleofhope.net/giftsforgrowing