July 25, 2016

Finding a Secure Place

            These are not easy days in our nation—and beyond.  The onslaught of violence is hard to comprehend, and we cry out to the Lord.  We want to find the balance between trust in God’s providence while at the same time acting for justice in the world.  Neither passivity nor sheer activism will suffice.  We pray for courage and faithfulness even while reeling from episodic viciousness that only lightly prizes life.

            Two lectionary texts for this coming Sunday offer constructive guidance.  Psalm 107 recounts the varied hardships of wilderness wandering, with the concomitant hunger and thirst.  Near fainting, the people cast themselves upon God.
            Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and God delivered them
            from their distress; God led them by a straight way, until they reached an
            inhabited town (vv. 6-7).
Their willingness to continue on, persevering against harsh realities, ensured the continuity of the people of covenant. And God did not abandon them.

            The Epistle to the Colossians also reassures beleaguered believers, beckoning them not to focus solely on the present with its urgent disputes, but to remember their identity in Christ.  The author exhorts:
            Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for
            you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God (3:2-3).
The language is striking.  God gathers believers into the security Christ enjoys in God’s safekeeping.
            In times when violence convulses our world, I reflect on our friends in Myanmar who have managed a faithful balance amidst the conflict in their land.  They pray with great fervor and trust; they also find ways to work for greater liberty and justice as a religious minority.  They know that their security is ultimately in God’s hands even though many suffer as they balance their faith and prophetic action.

            We can learn from them.  If persons of faith do not protest this current wave of atrocities and xenophobic rhetoric, we have lost our moral compass.  Even if it causes us to be vulnerable, we must speak and act for those whose voices are discounted.

            Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares creative leaders to speak and act for justice.

July 18, 2016

Deliver Us from Evil

            Most Sundays we pray these words, but rarely do they sound the resonance we hear in these anarchic days. Evil seems unrelenting, incapable of exhausting its ravenous power.  Who can withstand its voracious appetite for destruction?
            More police shootings in Baton Rouge; a careening truck driven to kill as many as possible; an attempted coup in Turkey; these headlines scream the turmoil in which we live.  Evil is seeking to devour at every turn. 
            And it is not just these violent episodes.  Systemic and structural racism, economic exploitation, and gender disparity are protracted manifestations of evil.  Even religion cannot get a pass as certain expressions of faith construct templates of oppression.
            It is instructive that the Lord’s Prayer separates sins/debts/trespasses from evil. 

         Blessed One, our Father and our Mother
            Holy is your name.
            May your love be enacted in the world.
            May your will be done
            On earth as in heaven.
         Give us today our daily bread.
            And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
            Save us in the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
            For all that we do in your love, and all that your love brings to birth,
            and the fullness of love that will be are yours, now and forever. Amen.

                        --An Inclusive Lord’s Prayer by Richard D. McCall

Sin and evil are not the same thing, although our sins contribute to the vacuum evil inhabits. Evil speaks of a twisting, demonic power that is larger than any individual’s transgression, abhorrent though it may be.  While evil is not a rival power to God in the sense of a “good God” and a “bad God,” it nevertheless threatens and distorts God’s purposes for creation, humanity included.

            The prayer Jesus taught us is unflinching about the reality of evil and our need for deliverance. Of course we must resist evil at every turn; however, there is also need for a sober recognition that we are engaging more than flesh and blood, but “powers and principalities” (Ephesians 6:12-13).  In other words, we are punching above our weight if we believe that we can conquer evil in our own strength.

            Overcoming evil with good will require a coalition of persons who simply will not give up on the proposition that this world can be put better to rights than it is.  This coalition also confesses that God’s powerful Spirit must contend for and with them if deliverance is to come.

            Molly T. Marshall