The theme of the 2018 Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Assembly, which I attended last week in Dallas, was “celebrating the Church locally and globally.” We heard a number of testimonies from leaders in churches tell of how God is at work in the Church locally and how through partnerships with others, ministering globally. These local church congregations from various parts of the country looked beyond the usual ways of addressing needs in their communities and found creative ways to take the love of God, “the Gospel,” into their neighborhoods.
One featured speaker, Dr. Wade Bibb, pastor of Central Baptist Church Bearden in Knoxville, TN, spoke of how spiritually energizing and exciting it has been for their church to be guided by the Spirit of Christ into new ways of ministry. Bibb said, “we’ve been flexing the muscle that we have in the wrong way for the wrong reasons. We’ve been flexing the muscle to sustain power. We’ve been flexing the muscle to hang on to the past. We have been flexing the muscle and substituting the mystery for the controllable.” We might expand the “controllable” to include the comfortable, personal preference, the way we have always done it, or what requires the least effort and has the least resistance. I cannot think of a time in scripture that Jesus took such a path. He challenged the status quo encouraging his followers then, and his followers today, to be transformed and to experience a paradigm shift in understanding life and the implications of God’s love for the whole of creation. We are called to follow Him and in faith courageously respond to all manner of ills particularly those promoting an ideology that God’s has greater love of one, or one group, than another.
We, as individual Christians and as a church are called to be God’s people, following Jesus to the edge of cultural norms where the marginalized exist. We are called to compassionately care for all of God’s children, regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or nationality. A fact Jesus made very clear in the Matthew 25: For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
As I consider the plight of the immigrants seeking refuge and entry into the United States, I am reminded of this quote by Sir Thomas Browne, “By compassion we make others’ misery our own.” In this and all situations where individuals are in distress, misery and losing hope, where there is oppression and injustice, prejudice and bigotry, I urge you to listen to the Spirit of Christ to convey and interpret, apart from your personal opinions, how you should respond and how you should pray for and speak to those in positions of leadership to respond with love and mercy. How we respond to “the least of these” is how we respond to Jesus the Christ.