Newsletter of First Presbyterian Church of Garner
Letter from the Pastor
During the last few months one of the things I’ve learned is how much I still have to learn. Has that ever happened to you? You see, seminary didn’t really have a class on “What to do during a pandemic” though, to be fair, there are a number of course—most online obviously—directed to filling in that gap.
So for the last 6 weeks (and for at least another 6) I have been part of a “Learning Cohort” that meets twice a month via “Zoom” (a video conference platform that is mentioned elsewhere in this newsletter). Our goal is to think collaboratively and creatively about how we serve God and the church through the monumental changes with which we are all dealing.
In our most recent session, we read an article that dove deep into Matthew 15:21-28—an encounter between Jesus and a Canaanite woman, who comes seeking healing for her daughter. Jesus at first dismisses her, then insults her by calling her a “dog.” But the mother—like most all mothers I know—persists in her request. In response, Jesus changes his mind, commends her faith, heals her child, and, from that moment on, expands his ministry to include not just the Israelites (Jesus’ own tribe and kindred) but the all those, who, like the Canaanite woman, were outside of that group.
It is a difficult scripture, one I’ve preached on before, and in an odd way one I come back to often. Mainly because it shows a vulnerable side to Jesus. A side I can relate to of being at times obstinate, tunnel visioned, caught up in the privilege of his own skin, without much regard for a person who is from a different ethnicity or class.
The article I read though, put this compelling feature of the story in a new way.
“Jesus is susceptible to empathy, which is demonstrated in this story and seen in his miracles, in his grief, in his exhaustion, in his death, and through the resurrection.”
Empathy. It is a simple word. But a powerful one. And so for the past few weeks I have been trying to hold it fast, to learn the same lessons that Jesus seemed to have learned with that encounter:
- Attempting to put myself in other’s shoes when considering decisions;
- Listening and encouraging church leaders to listen to the hopes and anxieties we face as we make complicated decisions regarding how the church moves forward in this time;
- And especially in this moment where the wounds of racism have become, suddenly, a more stark and inescapable reality for white America, reflecting and confessing ways I have been dismissive and downright insulting to people of color who don’t have the privileges that I do.
What I have discovered along the way is this: We have all already been engaged in this work, perhaps without fully knowing it. The last 100 days testify to this as we have learned that no solution is perfect and as we’ve adapted to new ways of worshipping and connecting as a church family.
But there is still much to be done as well. Jesus’ moment of empathy with the Canaanite mother did not stop there, but indeed, as the passage quoted above notes—led him inexorably to the cross. Empathy was an ongoing effort, an intentional commitment against cynicism, dismissiveness, and fear that made Jesus snap at that fierce, desperate, faithful mother in the first place.
If we can relate to the first part of that, then how much deeper is our call to, as best we can, imitate the empathy Christ learned?
To put it another way—in coming weeks and months, as plans develop and change in response to a virus, as calls to be part of difficult conversations around race and justice come to us, our call to live the good news of Jesus Christ demands we embrace empathy, that does not seek perfection or self-gratification-but that holds us accountable to each other, invites us to be flexible and creative, and calls us to actions of humility, mercy, and expansive grace.
The Lord Bless and Keep Us as we do so,
Act! LOVE! WALK!
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly
and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8
In light of current events happening in our country and around the globe, First Presbyterian Church of Garner would love to offer a virtual space for children from our church and in the community to come together and discuss prejudice, racism, and injustice in a way that is faithful and based in scripture.
Our goal would be to allow for honest dialogue so that when any of the children encounter these things in the world, they will be better able to recognize, process, and react in a way that is founded in biblical knowledge and love.
Please join us for a time of discussion, singing, studying bible stories, and crafts via Zoom on July 27th -29th from 6:30-7:30.
Here is the link to register: Act!Love!Walk!
Once you have registered, you will be emailed the Zoom link and all materials needed for this program will be delivered to your home! Please also share with your neighbors and friends!
Please feel free to contact Rachel Acton at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions!
To read The Spire in it’s entirety please click on the following link: July Spire 2020