Today I start a new life. My old life as a preacher in the midst of a congregation whose lives I counsel, marry, bury and journey with, is over. I’ve been kicked upstairs into a more administrative function. My new life is a roving office where I primarily supervise around 50 United Methodist churches. Instead of a congregation, I now have the responsibility of evaluating clergy, overseeing their attempts to reproduce the life of Jesus in the lives of those who claim to follow him.
This can be intimidating. After all, what we know about Jesus is that he cast out demons, healed the sick, washed the feet of his disciples, hung out with the poor, had solidarity with sinners, broke social traditions and became a threat to those who held power. It’s not easy living that kind of life. The good news is that we do see glimpses of how to do it.
We saw the Church be the church it is supposed to be throughout the tragic, agonizing horrors of Charleston. We saw a congregation that exists to welcome and to help folks, yet in the midst of that way of life, they were visited by a poor soul, plagued with hatred, a victim himself of the lingering foul stain of slavery and white supremacy. His hate, cruelly enacted, was met by a force more powerful. Anyone viewing the deep grief of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church bears witness to this more powerful force. In the midst of their pain, they sang a song of greater reconciliation, of a wider mercy that overcomes, of a more profound freedom that rises within the human soul. We were taught this week how to treat our enemies, how to sustain our God-given dignity and how to stand up straight, even after horrible circumstances bend our backs. We were taught to believe that hope and love are greater than the grave.
Last week, we also saw clergy at its best. Pope Francis, even in the face of the awesome powers of militarism and rapacious runaway capitalism, stood up and spoke forth a word of truth to these powers. Francis spoke for the earth and insisted that we stop our belligerence, our cruelty, our willful ignorance and mindless brutality. Francis called the nations of the earth to repent from a way of death, turning instead toward the way of cooperative life. There will be a cost to such prophecy. These words, which on the surface seem to be easily silenced, have a hidden secret power. They unleash truth into the world. And truth will not be restrained until its clarity exposes the lies and convicts and converts the liars.
This last week we saw Jesus come alive again. And, oh, how I hope that in my new life I will help my own little church follow this path through the Cross and into resurrection.