Mercy & Justice with Micah Corps

This week in worship at BBUMC (7.19.20), we heard and saw a virtual presentation from the Micah Corps interns of the Great Plains Annual Conference.

If you click on the link above, you’ll see some of the things they normally do each summer; however, this being the summer COVID-19, they offered to prepare a presentation about mercy and justice. This is apropos, since this year’s annual conference meeting kicked off what should be a year of churches in the Great Plains AC exploring and stepping into ministries that seek justice. Since he was appointed to the Great Plains Annual Conference, Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. has called churches to explore four key practices of what it means to be the church: know God, offer Christ, serve others, and seek justice.

After the presentation, especially in the early service, I led a brief discussion on the ideas shared in the presentation, as well as some of the challenges to thinking about a calling to seek justice as individual Christians and as a church. Those very rough notes are below.

Here’s the Micah Corps presentation. As you watch, consider these questions:

  • What’s the difference between doing kindness and doing justice?
  • How does this fit into, challenge, or reinforce who we are as a church, and individual Christians?

United Methodists have at our core a sort of dual sense of God’s calling (we are not especially unique in these – other traditions also value these ideas and callings – but they are central to our tradition):

Jesus’ Version:

  1. Love God
  2. Love others

Wesley’s Version: “Spread scriptural holiness across the land.”

  1. Personal piety – we value a so-called “personal relationship with Jesus” through which we are assured of God’s saving grace.
  2. Social holiness – we value integrated living, or the belief that what we believe should shape how we live, and how we live reflects what we believe.
  • How have we enacted this locally or as a denomination?
    • UMW messages all last year at BBUMC
      • Groups growing in faith and impelled by faith to serve others and seek for the transformation of the world.
    • UMM
      • Group devoted to growing more like Christ
      • And serving others (like our scholarships)
    • Willow Partnership:
      • A church for worship, prayer, scripture, discipleship
      • A food pantry and other ministries to walk alongside those who are struggling.
  • What other ways have you experienced and lived into God’s calling to seek justice or to serve others with mercy?

Learning may be the starting point to any discussion seeking to answer, “Where and how is God calling us to seek justice?”

We might also ask ourselves these questions:

  • Where is there brokenness in our lives together?
  • What breaks our hearts?
  • What challenges us to experience the abundant life Jesus came to bring (Jn 10)?

Answers to these questions lead us to other questions.

  • What does Jesus call us to do to alleviate brokenness and suffering?
  • How can we help?
  • Should we?
  • Some of the answers will depend on our context, on our experience, and on our walk with God. We may not all be at the same place with Jesus, but his call to love God and love others remains.

We can also go deeper with the questions, which is why Micah Corps talked about learning as one of the first steps.

  • If the brokenness we see is hunger or food insecurity.
    • Mercy asks, “How can we help people eat today?”
      • Food pantries are an answer here.
    • Justice asks, “What do we need to learn and do to reduce and eliminate hunger and food insecurity?”
      • Answers might include…
        • Food growth and preparation classes and tools.
        • Increased employment opportunities in the community and job and life skills training.
        • Budgeting help.
        • Issues of access to physical and mental health care, so that people can function in the workplace and at home more fully and productively.
  • If the brokenness we see is racism or some other –ism, what questions do we ask?
  • If the brokenness we see is violence, what questions do we ask?
  • If the brokenness that tugs at our hearts is stewardship of the earth, what questions do we ask?
  • If the brokenness we see is susceptibility to physical and mental health problems, what questions do we ask?

Challenges in both mercy and justice:

  • For many of us, being food insecure or affected by various -isms hasn’t been the reality we’ve faced, and so humility and learning is part of our calling.
  • Relationships – getting to know actual people and listening to them without approaching them as problems that need solving might also be necessary.
  • Recognition of calling:
    • We may be at different places spiritually and theologically in this, and so we may need to wrestle with a question like this:
    • “I’m a devoted follower of Christ, and my first calling is to get right with Jesus through my personal spiritual life. I’m not sure how that relates to the realities of others. Shouldn’t they get right with Jesus too, and then things would go as well for them as they are for me (more or less)?”
    • Our stream of Christianity, following Jesus and the prophets (and scripture) emphasizes God’s calling for us
      • to know and follow Jesus, becoming like him so others will know and follow him, (and the world changes as we become like Jesus)
      • to love God and our neighbor (and love takes many forms, but always leaves the world better than it was)
      • to be blessed to be a blessing (Abraham) – to experience God, and help others experience God.

Confession of Sorts:

  • I’m not good at this.
  • I value the growth in my personal relationship with Jesus, especially through worship, prayer, and scripture study.
  • I value trying to let my faith shape how I live, in small personal ways.
  • I struggle with how to let my faith shape how I live in ways that actively promote the shalom of the city (as Jeremiah calls the people of God).
  • I struggle with how to let my faith lead me beyond my private, individualized, experience of God – like, “What ways does God call me to work for changes in our community, state, nation, and world?”
    • And if we get to this point of questions, the challenge for me and us is that these always involve things that have been labeled “political”: they have to do with how we organize ourselves (polis), and how we organize our households (economics).
    • In our very divided households and political worlds, this is daunting.
    • Far too often I want to retreat into my quiet place with Jesus and let him work out the rest.
    • But not everyone has that luxury. Some need me, and us, to learn, build relationships, and together seek to create by the grace of God, families, communities, and nations that more fully reflect the character and vision of God revealed in Jesus.

We are called to know God, and knowing God, knowing love, changes us: and this change impels us to seek the good of others. Quite likely, this is wrapped up in the origin stories of Genesis, in which God calls a people to be “blessed to be a blessing.”

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