Extremists for love and justice
Mennonite Churchby Ron Byler
See, I am making all things new.—Revelation 21:5
From his jail cell in 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote a letter to religious leaders in Birmingham, Ala. They had criticized him for his part in a nonviolent protest against racial segregation in that city.
His "Letter from Birmingham Jail" became a turning point in our country’s civil rights movement. That alone makes this letter important for us, because people of color are the primary reason for our church’s growth.
But the letter's significance is also in King's words to his fellow Christian leaders. King says there was a time when the early church was powerful because Christians were joyfully willing to suffer for what they believed.
If the church does not recapture this sacrificial spirit of the early church, writes King, it loses its authenticity. Too often the church is weak, ineffectual and an arch defender of the status quo.
When Mennonite Church USA began, about nine years ago this month, we claimed a new vision for the church as well. "See, I am making all things new" was a bedrock text for the coming together of the two denominations. We believed God was ready to do a new thing among us. We had confidence in God’s purpose for us.
Somewhere along the way, after the formation of Mennonite Church USA, the obstacles we faced became clearer. The Church Member Profile, a survey of our members, showed that our average age is older than most other churches and that we are basing more of our decisions on the norms of our culture than on the teachings of Christ.
We learned, too, that bringing together two different cultures—Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church—was more of a challenge than we had at first imagined.
What I am learning about the Revelation 21 text is that God is indeed making all things new. It is a continual process, not something completed quickly. With God's Spirit to guide us as Mennonite congregations, conferences and organizations, we are joining in what God is doing in the world.
We have not yet become a people thoroughly grounded in God's peace and justice or a community that sees itself as a sign of God's reign, but we are learning. We have not yet become a people who fully trust the Spirit's work among us or a community where the gifts of all are valued, but we are learning. We have not yet become a people known first for sharing God's good news with others or a community that values unity of the body of Christ over division, but we are learning.
Each January we celebrate the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr. Among our elders are some who risked much to walk alongside King in his march for freedom and justice for all people. Where today can we join in this march for wholeness and justice? Will we continue hiding behind what King called the “anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows"*? Or are we ready to risk all that we have to joyfully follow Jesus into the world?
As King challenged readers in his Birmingham letter, we, too, must feel the call of Jesus to be extremists for love, truth and goodness. God is making all things new.
God calls us to be followers of Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit to grow as communities of grace, joy and peace so that God's healing and hope flow through us to the world.
*Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” www.humanistictexts.org/king.htm.
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