June 27, 2021

“Christ Alive In Us”

(From  1John 4: 20-21-Message Bible)

If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.

     Last week, I committed to share with you a message based on this year’s Annual Conference.  The Theme of the Conference was “Christ Alive in Us,” so that is the title of our message for today.  There were many scriptures, messages, personal testimonies and video presentations, all focused on some aspect of how Christ is alive and continuing his work in our world both in and through people of faith-hence, the theme name given to this Conference session of “Christ Alive in Us”!

     Of the many evidences that were provided proving Christ is alive in us, two stood out to me as being of particular relevance to this congregation, and warranting some discussion this morning. They speak to the mutual care and concern we, as people of faith, strive for as we live our command to love both God and our neighbors.  The first evidence of Christ’s continuing creative work in and through us was concerned with our church-life together during the safe-at-home time of the COVID-19 Pandemic; and the second evidence focused on the responses of East Ohio Church’s to the pervasive and systemic racism that has so long been a part of our American heritage.  I will now share some of my personal reflections from the many discussions that occurred during last week’s Annual Conference on these 2 topics.

     The COVID-19 Pandemic became real to us all when, in March of 2020, our “normal” routines gave way to a stay safe at home order.  The stay safe part was easy for us to understand, as we watched the daily COVID19 case numbers, hospitalizations and death tolls soar at unimagined rates.  It was the “at home” order that required skillful adjustments to essentially every aspect of our everyday lives.  With Sunday worship and church activities no longer being held in physical buildings, creative ways of doing ministry and being in community with one another were needed.  Bishop Malone personally commended her churches and leaders for their creative new approaches to ministry and mission during the Pandemic.  Until last March, I had never heard of Zoom or Teams, and never expected worship at Peninsula to become virtual so that we could remain personal, even though we were not meeting in-person.   We also called, emailed, texted, sent notes & cards by snail-mail and waved from sidewalks to porches or drove by calling out our greetings to one another in order to remain connected.  Through the nearly 15 months of the safe at home orders, we remained in ministry and in mission to both our community and our greater world.  Your radical generosity and hospitality created new ways of serving others.  For example, at OPEN M, pre-bagged lunches were prepared and distributed to those in need of a nourishing meal.  As you did this for the least of Jesus’ kin, you are accounted as having done it for him.  Amen!  Our story mirrors that of other churches in our Conference, who have also become Zoom service and meeting wizards.  In addition, the practice of providing written manuscripts of our Sunday messages now allows our non-media connected shut-ins to feel that they are part of our church community. The blessing is that, through our creativity, we have connected and re-connected with people we were not previously serving with only our in-church meetings.  We will continue our practice of meeting both personally and virtually via Zoom technology, as well as in-person, so that all within the wider circle of our church community will continue be served.   Our missional generosity this year has been nothing short of enormous.  Our Lenten Local Mission Drive provided $1,100 to support Akron Emergency Overnight Shelter, The Emergency Assistance Center in Northfield, Hudson Community Service Association and Family Promise.  Our Easter Sacrificial Giving Campaign raised $1,620 for our Bishop’s fund to build a female dormitory at Africa University.  I now say to you all, well done, good and faithful servants!  Christ is alive in us!

     This past year has witnessed the spread of another very dangerous and deadly pandemic—systemic racism.  The word systemic reminds us that racism is not a single issue, or the indictment of any particular groups or individuals within our society.  Racism in our country is systemic, which means it has become embedded in the very fabric of our social, political and economic structures.  Whether we choose to claim it or to decry it, white privilege is real.  Our very ability to make a choice regarding whether or not we will exercise privilege is evidence that white privilege exists.  Living in denial of this truth has allowed racism to fly under our radar. It has spread because we have become complacent in what has been for white Americans a comfortable status quo; one that was not equitable to all of God’s people living in our nation.  Church, we must repent of the sin of racism before healing can begin to take place.  This point was made very clear during the sessions of this year’s Annual Conference.  I realize that the conversations about racism and white privilege may be difficult, but perpetuating the sin of racism is both far more damaging and far more costly to us as a people of faith than our embarrassment or personal discomfort.  We have all either seen or heard many examples of the systemic racism that is still so pervasive in our land.  Some stories have made the headlines, and others are told of the subtle ways by which racism has pervaded our society.  For example, apartments have been “already rented” when people of color have come to view them. The time has come for people of faith to stand up for and with our brothers and sisters of all nations, races, and colors in their quest for equality of opportunity in all aspects of life in our society.  Christ is alive in us when we actively seek to dismantle centuries-old boundaries of racism and privilege, and then replace them with justice and equity.  Our Conference adopted a resolution this year condemning systemic racism and white privilege.  This is a start, yet only the beginning step of the longer-term process of dismantling racism in our land.  Bishop Malone has committed our Conference to having the conversations that lead to plans of action toward dismantling racism and privilege in our communities.  In the words of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr., “No one is free until we are all free.”  And, only when we are all free can it be said that Christ is truly alive in all of us.  Let God’s people say-Amen.      

Hymn: “Lord, I Want to Be a Christian”

(words & music-adapted from an Afro-American Spiritual)

Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart, in my heart; Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart. 

          In my heart, in my heart, Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart.