“Humble Yourselves, Discipline Yourselves, Be Steadfast”
1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
…we have no reason to fear what even the most powerful empire in the world can do to us or the most well-placed bullet because we get to bear witness to a powerful love. It is this awareness, this belief that has led followers of Jesus into the darkest, most violent places on Earth to proclaim and live the transformative message of Jesus and the way of life he redeems us to. Or, it has led followers of Jesus into parts of our society that aren’t necessarily desirable, has led us to desire healing and hope in places of brokenness.
Believing this message should, I emphasize should lead Christians to look at their society around them, searching for places and relationships of brokenness that we can then move towards, engage with; instead of separating ourselves from, insulating ourselves from brokenness. Unfortunately, the pattern of response to brokenness in Cincinnati, like many cities, is people abandoning, leaving behind, running away from darkness because we don’t like to feel uncomfortable, insecure, stretched, or frustrated. People move into an ever-increasing ring of suburbs to find a place of security, leaving behind communities falling apart. We then build beltways and interstates that keep us from having to see and engage those communities on a daily basis, and they slide into our subconscious; only coming up when we are forced to detour through them.
Precious few churches choose to obey the courageous call of Jesus to seek out places of brokenness and put down roots there. This community of Cincinnati Church of the Brethren and our community Vineyard Central have attempted to be faithful to the call of God in this way. But it has been rough going, for us and for you.
For one thing, we’ve found that we don’t have the tools to be able to handle pain and brokenness very well, because we’ve been shaped by a gospel of pain avoidance. Several weeks ago, I heard a story from a man named Scott Dewey that connects with this truth. Scott is a follower of Jesus, and Scott caught a vision to move to the slums of Bangkok, Thailand with his wife. There are any number of preventable diseases there in the slums that primarily result from unclean drinking water. Scott wanted to solve those problems, and bring hope to the slums. So they said, “Here I am Lord, send me” and they went. Three years later Scott rolled over in bed one morning and said to his wife, “Melanie, I can’t do this any more. There’s too much pain here.” After three years, they hadn’t solved the unclean water problem and Scott had been crushed by the pain and darkness of life in the ghetto. Scott, however, chose to reflect on his thinking instead of just abandoning the place, and he came to one crucial awareness.
They had entered that neighborhood to do ministry for people there. They had come with a gospel they believed provided hope. And Scott realized as he thought about the pain and darkness crushing him that the people who had lived in that ghetto all their lives had a greater capacity to deal the with the pain and still find little cracks of hope than he did. Scott found out that the gospel and the community he came from was one that was not familiar with pain, did not seek out pain, struggle, and brokenness and therefore he didn’t have the resources to deal with the pain there in Bangkok. What Scott learned was that the people he had come to minister to were in fact ministering to him in how to live with pain and suffering. What Scott learned through them was a fresh understanding of the gospel that does not bring hope through avoiding pain but through embracing it and finding God in the midst of it…
Link to full text here.