The Good News of Peace
An Open Letter to Pastors in My City:
I had planned to write this message months ago, but talked myself out of it because I didn’t think I was the one who should write it. Then I almost wrote it several times in the last couple weeks, but again hesitated. Though I may not be the right person, and though the timing may not be right, nevertheless I’ve decided to risk sending you these thoughts and pray you will receive them in the spirit in which they were written. I don’t know what others have suggested or what is the best route for us to go, but I’m entrusting my thoughts to you so that you can discern if they’re useful to the church.
Here’s my suggestion: That we restart the Alton-Godfrey Ministerial Alliance with a narrowed focus on practicing reconciliation.
What hope is there for true peace and restorative justice if Sunday morning remains, as it was in the days of the Civil Rights Movement, the most segregated hour of the week? Will our society just figure out reconciliation politically or sociologically or psychologically or economically?
You know the “immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine” power of God, a power that St. Paul says is “already at work in you” (Ephesians 3.20-21). It comes at the end of a prayer for the church, strengthened by the Spirit and indwelt by Christ himself, to so know the love of Christ that we are “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (3.14-19). That amazing prayer begins, “For this reason” (3.14). For what reason? Continue reading backwards with me a moment more. The same phrase starts 3.1, and then St. Paul takes a 13 verse tangent (my tangents don’t seem so bad anymore…). So the prayer, and the assurance of power, is for a reason that came in chapter 2.
Chapter two is all about the mystery of two becoming one. Later this mystery is two becoming one in marriage, and our becoming one with Christ. But in chapter 2 the mystery is that Christ “himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (2.14). The two become one, one new humanity, one family, one household of faith. The good news of peace is oneness with each other.
That oneness comes when the church knows the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge, confounds expectations, reignites hope, and foolishly claims that it is in fact the answer to the very problem we’re facing right now. That’s why St. Paul says God can do immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine. God can use the church to do the impossible here and now.
I’m asking us to restart the alliance in faith that there is a power already at work within us that is the exact answer to the brokenness in our city. What other power is there? What other hope?
Enough preaching to the preachers.
I don’t know what that looks like or how to build it. But as I’ve thought and prayed about it, here’s what might help us find our way to it:
1. Fast and Pray: Can we as pastors fast and pray together to yearn for God’s peace, to lament and confess, and to ask for guidance in how to be the blessing of peace to our city? I would love it if we got our churches involved as well, setting a 3 day period sometime in the next few months. Perhaps we could announce on a Sunday, fast Monday through Wednesday, and have a place for people to prayerfully break the fast together.
2. Restart the Alliance: With a renewed focus on practicing reconciliation, we could begin to cooperate with that “power already at work within us” and let it lead us to how the church is to bless the city. We can learn together. We can practice. We can make mistakes. If there’s anything that Ferguson has shown me, it’s that our city is almost as much of a tinder box. There is anger, resentment, suspicion, fear, and probably everything else that could rise up and tear us apart given the opportunity. We just need a little lighter fluid and a match.
What will we do in that day if we have not practiced together what a nonviolent, coordinated, and faithful response looks like? Martin Luther King Jr. in the essay “An Experiment in Love” wrote of the display of Christian unity during the Montgomery bus boycott, saying, “The mass meetings accomplished on Monday and Thursday nights what the Christian Church had failed to accomplish on Sunday mornings.” I fear we are not prepared to bring peace to our city in a time of crisis and violence because we are not practicing. That’s not a judgment on anyone, just a sense that we can’t hope to be ready together if we’re not practicing and preparing, if we’re not already accustomed to being peacemakers before the crisis hits.
I don’t know how we would do that exactly, but I believe the reconciling power already at work within us will lead us along the way of love even though we do not know where we are going.
3. Commemorate and Serve Together on Martin Luther King Jr. Day: I love going to the MLK Commemoration that the NAACP puts on and many of the historically black churches help lead. It pains me that I am one of the few white people there, more so that most of the other white folks are there because they have official roles or presentations to make. Can we make an effort to commemorate Dr. King together, that we might also adopt together his legacy, teachings, and practices?
I would also love it if we would participate in the national day of service together to go into the city in Dr. King’s honor and in some small way to do what he did. After the fasting and prayer, this will probably be a good first step in cooperating.
4. Develop an Apostolic Response: The apostles were sent out to take the good news across boundaries. The boundaries in Acts are geographical and cultural, but they are also racial. You’ve probably also seen the demographic maps of St. Louis that show how segregated our metropolitan area is. For any lasting reconciliation, changes in economic policy, politics, education, etc. will have to be supported and empowered by an apostolic response among present day disciples to cross “dividing walls of hostility” in a humble and even vulnerable posture. What I’m talking about here is what Dr. Robert Lupton has called “re-neighboring” a city. It’s my best guess for what will make for true peace, and it’s also the slow and challenging strategy that we’re trying to build our church around.
I’ve said enough, maybe more than enough. Please pray and let’s discern together what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
Pastor of the Alton Mission Church