Black Lives Matter! #3

By William R. Freeman (M.Div.’01)

Dyllan Storm Roof, the young white man who murdered nine Black Christians at Mother Emmanuel AME Church on June 17, 2015 in Charleston, SC after being allowed into a weekly Bible study, was finally found guilty, and on January 10, 2017 was sentenced to death.  However, the real story is how did this young man become so full of hate for Black people that he planned and traveled to this particular historic Black church, in this particular city, to kill nine innocent people in prayer with their eyes closed?

Newspaper reports tell us that Mr. Roof is the product of a racist, self-serving minority in this country who can’t come to grips with the fact that America, no matter how hard they try to stop it, is on its way to  becoming a very multi-racial society.  And, some people, especially certain young white men, who read racist publications, share racists thoughts and ideas on social media, and hangout with persons of similar beliefs, become radicalized; and although most of them don’t go to the same extreme as Mr. Roof; obviously he did.

It has been reported that, at his trial, Mr. Roof chose to represent himself   because he did not want his upbringing, his background, his associations, his family and friends to become targets of public scrutiny.  Now, as a minister of the Gospel, I don’t believe he was born with this deep hatred.  Therefore, the question becomes, where did this hatred and racism come from?  I believe the answer is from parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, school mates, teachers, friends and nowadays, as I said above, social media.

Lastly, we are all influenced by these same contacts, because as I like to say, “The Devil Is Busy!”  Satan is always trying to get his “hooks” into any vulnerable body; some succumb, some don’t.  Dyllan Storm Roof succumbed!  We who are Believers know the only way to defeat that battle is to call on Jesus!  To paraphrase 2 Chronicles 20:15, “The Battle is not ‘ours’ it’s The Lord’s.”  Amen!!

Doing Good Works!

By Helen Beset Byrd (M. Div.’07)

Jesus Christ, our savior, was a master teacher.  He used examples from the culture and experiences of his learners.  In the absence of instructional technology, Paul and all the disciples mentored others and sent them to disparate places to take the message of Jesus Christ to others.  A Greek named Titus was one of Paul’s mentees.  He was sent to the Island of Crete to supervise a large ministry.  Paul wrote Titus telling him to help the followers learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs among the people, so that they would be fruitful.

Both the Old and New Testament describe the determinant traits of good works and fruitfulness.  John the Baptist advised that true repentance produces a generous heart.  When believers are penitent and remorseful, we turn away from sins and with grateful hearts, generously give to God.  Their gifts are not given reluctantly nor of necessity.  Luke tells us that, “God loves a cheerful giver” (Luke 3:11).  Everything we have belongs to God.  We give because we love God.  In Luke 21:1-4, the disciple tells of seeing rich people giving their gifts and a poor widow who put in two small copper coins.  He said the poor widow put in more than all of them because the rich people gave out of their abundance, but the widow gave out of her poverty putting in all she had to live on.

Whatever we have, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are charged to give and help our poor brothers and sisters.  Moses told the people of Israel that they were children of the Lord, and, if anyone among them in the community which God is giving them, is in need, they should not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward the needy person(s).  Nehemiah advised the people to send portions of their plenteous food to the poor people who have none.  And he encouraged them saying, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”

With a generous heart, kindly give to Union so that students whose resources are limited will not be denied the opportunity to prepare to become transformative educators and ministers doing good works that build the twenty-first century church.  Please go to the Seminary website, or send a check, and give to the Annual Fund or the Capital Campaign before the 2016 – 2017 fiscal year ends on June 30th!  Write “BAA” after your name to give online; or write “BAA” on the memo line of your check to help the seminary track responses.  Whatever you can give, like the poor widow, will be a blessing for future students and a blessing for you.

Gems for the Journey – God Sees Us, Do We See God? 2 Kings 6:6-17

By  Veronica Thomas (M.Div.’07)

In our text today we see the prophet Elisha, the successor to Elijah, as God’s prophet doing what God ordained him to do: forewarn. In response to his call, Elisha was “forwarning” the King of Israel of the plans of the King of Syria. Despite Israel’s spiritual sins, the Lord was always with them.  The Syrian King thought someone in his cabinet was relaying vital information to the King of Israel, so he called his cabinet together to confront them; but was informed that Elisha, the prophet in Israel, was forwarning the King of Israel of their plans.

It seems that with this information, the King of Syria should have been convicted in his heart for his misdeeds, but he was not.  Man’s ability to resist God is simply amazing!  In his stupidity the King of Syria sends his army to capture Elisha who is cool, calm and collected.  His servant is alarmed because of the multitude of the Syrian army – not Elisha.  Here, the Holy Spirit is telling us not to be dismayed by that which appears on the surface. The believer is not to walk “after the flesh; but rather after the spirit” as we are reminded in Romans 8.  Elisha asks God to open his servant’s eyes. The Holy Spirit allows things to happen so that you and I may understand, by faith, that we are surrounded by His presence even though we cannot see Him with our natural eye. What an encouragement!

In this passage, we are given a glimpse into the Spirit world of righteousness.  Elisha’s prayer, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see” (2 Kings 6:17a), is one of the most comforting in all scripture. However great the dangers that surround us, we too are guarded by the power of our God.

Elisha’s servant was no longer afraid when he saw God’s mighty heavenly army. Faith reveals that God is doing more for his people than we can ever realize through sight alone. When we face difficulties, such as the actions of ungodly individuals, that seem insurmountable; remember that spiritual resources are there even if we can’t see them. Look with eyes of faith and let God do the rest.  If we don’t see God working in our lives, the problem may be our spiritual eyesight’ not God’s power. God sees us; do we see God?  Pray as the Gospel Clefs sing; “Father, open our eyes that we may see.” Let us close by responding to the Word of God, “Amen.  So be it!”

“Holding Down My Corner”

By Angela S. Duncan (M.Div. ’03)

2 So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he (Jesus) was speaking the word to them. 3 Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:2-5 (NRSV)

In 2000, my final call to seminary came during a very tumultuous time in my life.  I say “final” only because a decade earlier I had received my initial call, but chose then not to follow it.  Instead, I would continue consulting for an international healthcare IT company. My consulting assignments began with new installations and gradually transitioned into working with customers experiencing crisis situations. Their computer systems were crashing and burning, or otherwise in deep systems trouble.  My company would ask me why I had so often been successful in handling these tough cases. I would answer, “It’s about the people. If you ask people what’s wrong, and then listen intently, usually they will point you in the right direction.” In one of my final assignments, the project manager blurted out that his daughter suffered from bipolar disorder, and that he had reached his wit’s end about how to cope with the illness and the damage it was causing the whole family. This family was experiencing a systems failure. Thereafter, I found that I was able to leverage my approach to solving IT systems dilemmas into empathic support for the people directly and emotionally impacted by systemic human dilemmas too.

Fast-forward to: seminary, pastoral care, ethics and hospital chaplaincy within an urban academic medical center.   Here, I am able to leverage supportive emotional and spiritual care for people who are “crashing and burning” in crises, but, sadly in too many cases, within the context of also witnessing health inequities, treatment disparities, and a widespread lack of adequate healthcare access. Very quickly my ethical challenge became this: How does one harmoniously co-exist with a vast and resistant system, while simultaneously agitating for positive change? This is a challenge I continue to confront, and a change I continue to pursue, to this very day.

When Jesus called his disciples, they were already doing the work. Jesus just changed the nature of their work.  The gospels show us how Jesus called men and woman, as Dr. Katie G. Cannon says, “to do the work our souls must have.” God’s great succession plan involves the calling of disciples from the work we are already doing, to receiving the on-the-job training we most certainly will get, as we follow and continue the work of Jesus.

And so, like every disciple who has come before, my whole life has prepared me for the work that God is calling me to today.  My time in seminary helped to prepare me for doing this work more effectively.  My mother routinely admonishes her children to, “Hold Down Your Corner!”  She says, “Always make sure you are doing your part to make this world a better place.”

Like the quartet who held the four corners of the pallet of the paralyzed man as he was lowered into the hands of Jesus, I continually strive to Hold Down My Corner!