Joining Jesus in his ministry of reconciliation
Mission is joining Jesus in crossing a frontier (geographic, cultural, generational, life-experience) with tangible expressions of Jesus’ love (word and deed).To illustrate, I want to share a powerful story told by pastor Ty Grigg on The Ecclesia Network. It's titled It Starts with Lamenting.
Pastor Ty's story
Angela stood up to the podium and pulled out a piece of paper. Normally, during our worship liturgy, we watch an “icon,” that is, a short video or projected artwork that reveals something about the way the world is and the ways God reveals his glory in our world. This Sunday, we would hear a story of lament from Angela:
My cry today, my lament today is for the Church, the bride of Christ, to be a voice--a beacon of hope, a light, a refuge in this time. By this time, I mean post-Trayvon Martin.As Angela spoke honestly from her own experience of racism, I felt my heart softening. This story of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman re-opened wounds in America’s racial history that have not fully healed. It opened wounds of knowing that when my brother was growing up, one of the lessons he quickly learned was DWB, driving while Black. It opened wounds of hearing my father, who is a highly respected physician, tell me of people who don’t want to see him as their doctor because of the color of his skin. It is the wound of not being shown homes in particular neighborhoods because Black people are not supposed to live in certain communities. It opened the wound of a childhood friend asking me if I wished I were white, as if something were wrong with being Black.
In the act of communal lament, the Spirit was drawing me out of apathy and into conviction, calling me to leave the old ways of denial and minimization of racism behind and to follow the Spirit’s call into listening, lamenting, and engaging.
My brothers and sisters, I bring these wounds with me to Church. I don’t leave the sin of racism at the door. I bring it with me and lament over it. And I should not do this alone.When Angela finished her story, she walked toward the back of the sanctuary. As a pastor, I knew what was coming next; Juliet would lead us in a prayer of confession. But suddenly I heard an older man to my left say loudly: “Excuse me, but normally we pray for people when they share their story.” He was referring to the practice of praying for a person when she or he shares a “story of wonder” at the beginning of our service. This was something different. Honestly, my first reaction was annoyance. I was thinking, “No, we have a plan. We are going to confess now. We know what we’re doing here, don’t mess it up!”
Then I realized that he was right. We needed to pray for Angela. I found myself getting up from my chair and slowly walking to the back where Angela was standing. My pace was deliberate and slow. I felt the eyes of the room on me. Reflecting later, it seemed significant that I was going to Angela, not calling her back up to the lectern – a grace. The whole action seemed directed by God, I was merely caught up in it.
As I got closer, I felt my heart fill with deep love and sadness intermixed. Angela stood up and walked toward me. I gave her a hug and the only thing I could say was, “I am so thankful.” She hugged me back. I started to pull away after a few seconds but Angela didn’t let go – again, a grace. I sensed a powerful movement of the Spirit. It wasn’t just me hugging Angela, but I was hugging Angela as a proxy for the whole church. A few others came and joined the hug. When I replay this moment in my mind, the word that comes to me is simply ‘glory.’ God’s glory was breaking through in the midst of Angela’s vulnerable lament and our embrace of her lament.
When Juliet finally began to lead us into a prayer of confession, she began to openly weep. Angela’s lament opened all of us up to a new depth of reality, a new depth of relationship with one another, and a new sensitivity to what God is inviting us into. We are just at the beginning, but I hope we can look back on Angela’s story of lament and our response as a watershed moment of conversion for our church.
It is because the love of Christ compels me to speak up. Church, we can do better at standing against racism and fighting for justice. The change that we desire to see in the world starts with us--it starts with us lamenting with one another, and praying with one another, and praying for one another. True reconciliation happens between us when we listen to the pain of one another, when we are vulnerable with one another—when we start seeing Christ in one another. And the walls that divide us will fall down.
It starts with lamenting.
Pastor Ty's story is about taking Jesus’ love into a part of a congregation’s communal life in a new, transformative way. The congregation crossed over into the life-experience of one of its members and brought the gospel (in this case, a tangible moment of healing for everyone) into all their lives. In the story, Ty describes how the Spirit used him to facilitate a full-bodied experience – thought, action and feeling – which is what is necessary to bring healing to the deep wounds of past experience.
Often we try to resolve deep wounds with cognitive input (sermons, one-on-one advice, etc.). But the interpretations we have made of past events cannot be effectively corrected by head knowledge alone. The narratives we live our lives by were laid down in our neural wiring as the result of experiences that affected both left and right brain functions. For these to be replaced, we need a full-bodied experience facilitated by what we might call an "empathic caregiver" – someone who can enter into a new experience with us and help us see how Jesus is present and offering healing.
As you reflect on Pastor Ty's story I think you'll find that he was an empathic caregiver, not only to Angela, but to his entire congregation, as well as to himself (as a wounded healer, who also is healed as he facilitates a process superintended by Jesus). As you reflect, ask yourself these questions:
- Is the Holy Spirit looking to you to be an empathic caregiver? If so, what kind of discerning skills do you need?
- Could you – like Angela – be the “lamenter” who the Spirit might use to initiate a process of healing for a group? What kind of sensitivity might that require?
- Do you accept the premise that once we are participating with Jesus in his ministry we are on mission – including within a congregation's worship service?