Justice for All

justice-2071539_1280

Num. 16:36-50Rom. 4:13-25Matt. 20:1-16

Grace abounds in Paul’s letter to the Romans today.

Paul talks about it by continuing to assert that God’s promise is realized through faith, not the law.  “For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.  For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace….”

All throughout the New Testament we discover that God’s kingdom is not driven by good business practices, but a practice of love, abundance, and grace.

This is a regular theme of the New Testament that grace supersedes the law, and one that continues to get kick-back from religious leaders in all corners of the Church.  It is just too much to think about Love and Grace trumping rules.  And yet I see a church that is consumed by laws and condemnation lately.  We have a lot of “no’s” for a world that is looking to us for God’s “yes”.

For Paul, the struggle was over circumcision – Gentile versus Jew.  Today it is about immigrants and inclusion.  Not much has changed.  We still struggle over who is in and who is out, because people grab for power.  We like the status quo.  Actually not much has changed since kindergarten – we are a selfish people who don’t like to share.

 

Last night’s election results surprised me a bit, but then I looked nationally and my eyes widened even more.  And yet as the shock waves of last night’s election continue to be felt around the country, our job as Christians does not change much.  We are still faced with the same ol questions:

Are we ready for the radical nature of the Gospel of Love to take over our lives?

Are we ready for God’s new world of Love which means that ALL ARE WELCOME?

Are we ready to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable?

My response comes easy.

-Matt

Advertisements

General Assembly – Wrap Up

IMG_0379
Num. 16:20-35Rom. 4:1-12Matt. 19:23-30

I believe I have recovered from General Assembly!  It is waaaayyyyy too long of an event.

But the take-aways are many.  Our denomination is on a solid footing.  We have good leaders and the future is bright.  I also walk away with a whole host of renewed relationships.  Indeed, the dynamics of GA are such that relationships can be fostered, and that is the real strength of this meeting.  As I mentioned on Sunday in my GA debriefing, it is not the committee work or the plenary decisions that are of importance, but the way this church puts its “best foot forward” in this time, does worship well, sets the bar high for the rest of the year in terms of relationships and direction.

Another walk away is that our denomination is now ready to stand up to the powers and principalities.  We are a denomination that has God at the center of our existence, and the evil at work in our world is something to oppose.

Interesting, that is the focus of the Matthew passage today.

The parable of the rich young man: “It will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for  someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”  When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?”  But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

We are reminded that God is the mover and shaker.  Everything begins with God’s movement in our lives.  We are in the same boat as the rich young man – tied to our worldly affairs so much we are unwilling to let go.  This is the essence of our sin.

But with God all things are possible.  If we as a church or a denomination are going to get anywhere it is coming to this realization.  It is not about us.  It never was.  It is about God.

Is it possible for us to let go and claim the newness of God?  Not an escape from this world, but God offers a release from the power of greed, money, status, and worth.  We have found new and everlasting worth with Christ.

This is the miracle of the gospel.  The abundance of God’s love is so great, that we can talk about it in terms of a camel going through the eye of a needle.  It is an abundance of impossibility.  Not counting our faults, the love of God washes over us like a gentle rain, encapsulating us.

There are those who believe that text is not a metaphor, but a literal “eye of a needle.”  But did you that in some later centuries, the early churches had doors that were referred to as “eyes of needles”?  Tired of the rich people riding their horses into the sanctuary, they would shrink the doors so only people could get through, raising the bottom, lowering the top, so it was what amounted to a crawl space.

And what a way to start church!  You are reminded that you can pass through the eye of a needle, when you are amongst God’s faithful.  With God all things are possible!  It’s even possible to travel through the eye of a needle – traveling through every Sunday morning.

-Matt

General Assembly – Day 8

img_0411

The marathon day of the Assembly is over!!!

The Assembly adopted broad strategies to fight institutional racism, environmental racism, injustice, gun violence, and nationalism. Divestment was voted down. Other practices were adopted to support climate science, fight climate change, and care for the earth that God has entrusted to our care.

It was days like yesterday that make me proud to be Presbyterian.

It was a long day.  Divestment debate went on for some time.  And in the end, divestment was soundly rejected, as the 223rd General Assembly voted against divestment (409-106); and the stakes for what was adopted was increased, as a short-list for possible selective divestment in 2020 was inserted, naming specific companies.

I hope those who advocated for a fossil free PCUSA don’t forget that which was passed.  They did not lose.  The Church did not lose.  The way forward is still for broad support for alternative forms of energy.  The PCUSA is committed to wind and solar technologies. Natural gas, nuclear, and every other initiative to move the church and the world to reduce their carbon footprint were all adopted. The MRTI group will continue to fight and advocate for the climate entrusted to our care.

One of the pieces of this is the Assembly’s strong stand is against environmental racism.  Communities of color are disproportionally hurt by climate change.  That may be why the Advisory Committees on Social Witness Policy, Racial Ethnic Concerns, and Women’s Concerns all stood opposed to divestment.  And the Assembly wisely agreed.

There will be a Synod of the Sun event in Norman on Nov 2-3 that will include the MRTI folk.  I hope you mark your calendar now.  It should be an engaging discussion on the plan as we move forward to protect our environment.

Many of us Mid-Council leaders planned to stand in solidarity with the #MeToo movement on this bow tie Friday which is quite a thing with J. Herbert. Pictured above is Ruth Clendenin, the Stated Clerk of Palo Duro Presbytery, Sara Dingman, the Synod Executive at Lincoln Trails and me.

Over 200 of us wore pink bow ties or pink shirts.

There was so much more, and I will sum it up tomorrow. Last day!

-Matt

 

 

General Assembly – Day 7

IMG_0375.jpg

Yes it was a big, long day at the Assembly.  Yes, there was remarkable things that passed – to our denomination taking a stand with immigrants, against the current administration’s policies, and so much more.  Yes, Joe’s committee made their report, Committee 7 – MidCouncils.  But it is the relationships that are formed that are the real power of the General Assembly.

Pictured above is Jimmie Hawkins and Catherine Gordon, of the Office of Public Witness in Washington DC.  At the far left is Sara Lisherness, who is in charge of the Office of Compassion, Peace, and Justice.  Sara and I go way back…to the World Council of Churches.  Jimmie and Catherine are much newer relationships.

A little background on Jimmie.  Yes, he’s a great preacher.  Yes, he is an insightful and incisive leader.  He is also willing to step in it!  Jimmie doesn’t have a passport right now.  And why?  He was arrested a few weeks ago on the steps of the Supreme Court for standing up against injustices in these dark times, and those which stand against PCUSA policies we have adopted.  I’m sure they will mail his passport back to him when they  done “processing” things in DC.  Jimmie makes waves…waves that need to be made.

He co-led the march the other day with our Stated Clerk, taking $47,000 of our dollars to the Justice Center to bail out many non-violent offenders.

Catherine works on the international side of Public Witness.  I look forward to connecting more with her and the important work of the Office of Public Witness of the PCUSA in Washington D.C.  Did you even know we had a D.C. office?  We do!

Jimmie and Catherine are two of the megaphones for God’s grace that we have, as we try to move into God’s Kin-dom and God’s Kingdom ever more fully.

I also had coffee with my friend Dennis Smith, a PCUSA mission co-worker in the Southern cone of South America.  Actually Dennis has been promoted and is in charge of all of South America now.  Holy cow!  He oversees the 9 mission co-workers in that part of the world, and works with the many ecumenical and religious partners in the area.

The Way Forward Committee made their report, and all their recommendations were adopted.  The way forward continues, and I sense there is going to be a significant shake up in the national office in Louisville within the next couple years.  There will be much more collaboration, and things are moving in a healthy direction.  That being said, it is going to be a difficult time for many as times of stress may continue, before they get better.

I am hopeful.  Hope for the way forward for our denomination.

May God continue to shed light on His Church, as we take on issues of divestment, environmental concerns, and so much more.

-Matt

P.S. Joe’s committee, Mid-Councils, usually is a pretty simple, straightforward committee.  This time there were some wrinkles, as they heard from some presbyteries requesting an Administrative Commission be formed, and with possible original jurisdiction.  It was voted for by the committee and the assembly.  Be praying for the Synod of the Covenant as they strive for health and wholeness.

 

General Assembly – Day 6

IMG_0343.JPGYesterday the Assembly made it back into plenary.  The echoes of the march to the justice center rang in our memories and our ears, and many shared stories and reflections of the previous day.  The press coverage has also been quite remarkable, at least here in St. Louis.  I’m not sure what you all have heard or are hearing.

As we entered Plenary, Melissa’s committee made their report.  But before we heard from Committee 7 – Ecumenical Relations, we voted the Consent Agenda.  I was a little surprised that no one removed certain items from it for individual discussion and vote.  If some of these items would have been there 5 years ago they most certainly would have been taken off.

In short, it is a new day for God’s LGBTQIA people in the PCUSA.  The General Assembly unanimously approved two historic overtures (at least historic from the Covenant Network’s standpoint).  One affirms and celebrates the gifts of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in the church.  The second affirms the rights and dignity of people of transgender, non-binary and people of varying gender identities.

I have been around this divisive church long enough to be very surprised by this.  Not by the fact that it passed, but that it was voted unanimously.  Things have certainly changed. It is a whole, brave new day for this church.

So back to Melissa’s committee and the Ecumenical things at work.  To me, this is the news-worthy elements of the day, although I doubt the press will pick up on these things.  This is part of the behind-the-scenes pieces of the Assembly that are so easy to miss.

This morning was an extraordinary Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast.  I say that because my good friend and colleague Rev. Michael Blair was speaking this morning.  He challenged us to shelve a lot of this “God is not at the Center….God is at the margins” talk.  As if the world still revolves around us?  It never did.  And God is speaking most profoundly in the Global South.  Even the talk of Center/Margins is ethnocentric and warped.  Instead he said,

“We have all always been on the margins.  Everyone of us.  It is God at the Center.  And God is also with us on the margins.”

Michael stated that as part of a healthy ecumenism and part of a true building of relationships that:

“It is not the case that we are the Church in the world.  It is the God of mission that has a Church in the world.  So, the question is what is God up to in God’s world?”

It may seem like theologically splitting hairs, but it is not.  It means EVERYTHING.  It means once and for all outgrowing our stereotypes and prejudices, and embracing all denominations as being directed by and full of God’s Spirit.

We then moved into an Ecumenical Worship service which was led by the President of the World Communion of Reformed Churches a Lebanese/Syrian Christian who shared very powerfully.

In Melissa’s Committee much of which was adopted in the consent agenda, one of the most exciting and celebratory parts of their report, and one of the things that makes Melissa most proud is the forging of new partnerships, like the covenant relationship being fostered with the significant Indonesian and Minahasah-speaking members of the church, and the move toward officially being in covenant relationship with the Gereja Masehi Injili di Minahasa denomination.

It is truly an exciting new day for so many corners of God’s Church.

There was also an overture from Mission Presbytery originally on mental health that passed. #Breakthestigma was the hashtag that blew up my phone late into the night.  Truly an encouraging and exciting day.

Today is another day of the full Assembly meeting.  Let us hope and pray we can build on the strong and unified start we had yesterday.

-Matt

General Assembly Musings

IMG_0312

I hope you all are finding your day to my daily reflections on General Assembly.

Day 5 can be found at: https://mattmeinke.com/2018/06/20/general-assembly-day-5/

IMG_0311

General Assembly – Day 5

IMG_0299Tuesday of the General Assembly is both one of the most relaxed days, but also one of the most interesting.  Committees wrapped up their business, and as is the case, some finish before others.  So many are looking for things to do.  Other friends are stuck behind, serving on committees with hefty agendas and going long into the night trying to finish.

I sat in some of those committees in the morning.  Some were “stuck in the weeds” as it were, like the Way Forward Committee.  I’m not sure we will ever find our WAY FORWARD.  By day’s end the clouds had broken, I hear.

I say it was one of the most interesting, because I also sense that we are finding our voices.  Presbyterians are getting louder.  Frozen Chosen no more.  I sense us stepping out and finding our voice when it comes to systemic injustice.

Knowing this dynamic of Tuesday’s flexible time, our Stated Clerk, J. Herbert Nelson, had asked the Assembly to engage in a bit of raising their voices.  That is exactly what Tuesday was.  $47,000 had been raised during the offering time of Opening Worship, raised to be used to help end the injustice of the Cash/Bail system.

IMG_0292And so we marched, gathering first in the Assembly Hall at 3pm, and many of us marched to the Justice Center in downtown St. Louis.  We raised our voices demanding Bail Reform, armed with our $47,000 dollars which we used to bail out as many non-violent offenders as we could.  It was an encouraging and empowering time.  It was also hot.  98 degrees I think.  But there is steam gathering.  We are finding our voices as a denomination, armed and ready to fight systemic injustice wherever it is – yesterday in the racist, unjust system of cash/bail.  This problem is particularly relevant here in St. Louis and Ferguson that has been ripped apart by racial inequalities.

IMG_0300Many of us had engaged in a noon-time rally for Immigration as well.  And so I sense us finding our voice.  No longer is General Assembly a time to remain in the frozen air-conditioned convention hall, but a time to engage with the community.

J. Herbert also took some time on Tuesday to respond  to the Trump administration’s new policy of separating young children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.  He issued a statement from the Office of the Stated Clerk condemning the policy:  “What has this nation become?  How have we wandered so far from Jesus’ kind admonition, ‘Let the little children come to me…'”  He also criticized the Justice Department’s stated use of the policy as a “deterrant” to immigration and accused the administration of cherry picking scripture, saying that using Romans 13:1 to argue for “obeying the law” which ignoring the higher scriptural demand of Romans 13:10 that “love is the fulfilling of the law” is just blatant misuse of the Bible.

I hope and pray our voices will continue to get louder.  We need to step up and speak out.  I have had enough being quiet.

Wednesday brings with it a new day.  We head back into plenary.  Committee recommendations end, and decisions about the way forward begin.

-Matt