(The following Broadcaster article appeared in the August 2016 edition [adapted for March 2020])
The tickets are in hand as a family of four, dressed to the hilt, walks through the parking lot to the front doors of the city theater. The evening musical is something the family has been looking forward to seeing for a long time, and they know that tonight will be a colossal performance. The musicians are going to be impeccable, the vocalists will definitely inspire, and the director will have everything under control. As the ushers take this family's tickets, they locate their seats and settle into their plush chairs, anticipating the joy of a well-performed musical. This family has come to see the real thing; they do not want a cheap imitation. They are expecting the best; after all, they have made a sizable investment in this evening's activities. With smiles on their faces, the family looks at one another, just as the lights dim and the spotlight shines directly on the main character, who ambles gracefully across the floor, making her way to center stage. As the orchestra prepares its instruments and stares intently at their conductor, the leading lady of the night opens her mouth to sing the first number.
The audience is watching.
I believe today, more than ever, the body of Christ is on center stage. And if it doesn't realize that it is, it's time to embrace that reality and live into the compassionate call to love and give grace to each and every person, regardless of color, race, ethnicity, gender, religion or any other category that could possibly exclude others. It's time for all of God's people to speak out against violence of any sort and walk alongside the hurting, the poor, the disenfranchised, the marginalized and the oppressed. People have made the investment in us: they have attended church, they have heard the messages, they have participated in missions events. Yet some are confused by the way the church speaks and acts towards one another. People are looking (however consciously or subconsciously) to be in the presence of divine grace, to experience acceptance and inclusion, and to know that the Jesus who walked the earth is the same Jesus who walks with all people today, in whatever condition they are found. People desperately want, deep down in their souls, to belong, to matter, to be valued for who they are and who they are becoming. This is one of the desires God placed in us, it is a part of God's image which has been canvased across our hearts. It is a holy desire.
Today, and every day, cities, towns and neighborhoods encounter violence at every turn. As we consider the division and pain violence causes, it's important to look back about three and half years ago when our nation experienced unprecedented hatred, bigotry, and violence. Cities like Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas took center stage. As an audience looks on, witnesses observed anger and prejudice grow and manifest itself into the killing of innocent lives. Cities like Ferguson and Baltimore still suffer pain, and still today all across America people are anticipating what will be the next "act" on center stage. How will the drama play out? When will the conflict begin to resolve? When will people start to live and love as Christ did on earth? How will all of this happen? What keeps us from letting love take center stage? Notably, on the Saturday night following the Baton Rouge, St. Paul and Dallas tragedies, I sent an online message to a former Wake Forest classmate who happens to be my African-American sister in Christ. I wrote to her, "I stand alongside you. And I will grieve alongside you." My friend eloquently, and prophetically shared the following words, helping me realize how naïve I can be to see it through the lens of just one perspective:
"Will, I appreciate your heart and will be praying. I would just say I know you grieve with us - but I hope you can turn that to action as the Spirit leads. And grieve for yourself, the Body - we all suffer, we all lose when death and hate have center stage. Thank you for your constant friendship."
What happens when life and love take center stage? How can we turn our words into action, as my friend challenges us to do? Why is it vital to grieve with all loss, across all racial and occupational lines, with families who suffer? How do we encourage those who lovingly protect us in our cities and towns while simultaneously hearing and responding to the voices of the minorities who need to receive a listening ear (which turns into gracious action)?
We are not just on center stage, we are simultaneously the audience, too. We are watching one another. I am convinced that our city, state, nation and world are ready to change when we can intentionally reach across the aisle, celebrate and value our differences, and honor and value our own humanity by honoring the image of God in all people, regardless of stigma or category. Black lives matter. White lives matter. Hispanic lives matter. Asian lives matter. All of God's creation matters. All people, everywhere matter and belong to the "..Father of heavenly of lights, who does not change like shifting shadows" (James 1:17b, NIV). We are all God's children; we are all brothers and sisters in the family of God. Always.
So how are we to act? Jesus said, in his Sermon on the Mount, that we are like a city set on a hill, which cannot be hidden (this was a reference to Jerusalem, the city on the hill that shone brightly in the dark of night). In fact, let's read his words to the people on that little mountain from Matt. 5:14-16, NIV:
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."
The spotlight of Christ is on us. We reflect the Lord's glory. It is God's time to shine. And how will he shine? He will shine in the good deeds which God planned in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10). It starts with a willingness to love, to forgive, and to commit to participate in reconciliation, and to work for the value of all individuals, in all circumstances, all to the glory and honor of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Remember, Jesus' brother James tells us that faith, if unaccompanied by works, is dead. God is ready to revive dead faith and shine his light through sympathetic action. God is looking for good Samaritans, priests, Levites, and roadside sufferers to all be neighbors with and to one another. When we, the human race, stop abusing one another, verbally and physically, and honestly and patiently listen to one another's pain, we will make significant steps in God's healing process of our nation and world. Remember, all things are possible for the person who believes. May our prayer be: "God, give us strength to believe, and give us power to act on our belief. May your all-encompassing, selfless and sacrificial love build up, rather than tear down." Remember, dear friend in Christ Jesus our Lord and Best Friend...
...the audience is watching.
God's love be with us all--let it set us all free!
><> Pastor Will <><