A Juneteenth Reflection from Pastor Brian Rice

Juneteenth

Imagine This

So, you are a lifeguard. It is your summer job (in any summer other than this one). On any day there are 100 people in the pool. Every person in the pool matters to you. You keep a constant watch over all them. Then, suddenly, there is screaming. One of those 100 people has gone under and not come up. They are drowning. 

Question for you: In that moment, does that person matter most of all? 

Answer: Of course! It’s a no-brainer. That person matters most of all for you at that moment of their great need. And probably, that person matters most for all the others who are aware that a drowning is happening right in front of them.  

Missional Mandate of Jesus

Lost SheepJesus talked about this in Matthew 18:12-14, in the parable of the lost sheep. Read those verses. It is striking. One hundred sheep. One gets lost. The 99 are safe. And for the Good Shepherd, that one lost sheep MATTERS MOST OF ALL. When that sheep is rescued, Jesus says HE rejoices more over that one lost sheep than the 99 that were safe and secure. 

This is priority, this is empathy, this is love in action, this is how spiritual common sense works in the Kingdom of God. You see this all throughout the Bible. Those who are in great need and those who have the greatest need, they matter more and they often matter most, at the time of their great need. 

Isn’t that how we work as a nation when there is a hurricane disaster? Sure, the whole nation matters, but the area of devastation (at that time) matters most of all. So, as a nation, we mobilize to get as much help delivered to that area as we can. That’s common sense too. 

Should anyone be upset if the lifeguard says, “The drowning person matters most of all right now?” 

Should anyone be upset if we say, “The hurricane-devastated part of the United States matters most of all right now?”

Is anyone upset at Jesus when he says, “The one lost sheep MATTERS MORE THAN ALL THE 99 who are safe?”

Black Lives Matter ExplanationI know you see where this is going. 

I have no interest or involvement in the organization called Black Lives Matter.  

All I know is the phrase “Black Lives Matter” really resonates with me, because right now the black population of the United States is hurting (and yes, they are angry as well). As I talk with more and more black people who are part of Living Word, as I hear their stories, as I learn how they experience life, with every conversation I am so sad for them. And I am a bit frustrated with myself for not having known more about their lives sooner.  

And as I connect, I think, “Right now, your life matters so very much to me.”  

“What can I do, what can Living Word do, to be the people of Jesus sent on a mission to rescue the lost, repair what is broken, and be activists of reconciliation?” 

It’s who we are and it’s what we do as God’s missional people in the world.  

We do it because it is the very ministry of Jesus that he has entrusted to us. Remember when Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21)? What did Jesus do? He did what Psalm 147:3 describes: “He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.” He did what Isaiah 61:1 tells us:  

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, 

    for the Lord has anointed me 

    to bring good news to the poor. 

He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted 

    and to proclaim that captives will be released 

    and prisoners will be freed. 

This is the missional mandate Jesus states as he begins his public ministry in Luke 4:18-21. Think of that. Of all the texts Jesus could have used to say THIS IS WHAT I AM ALL ABOUT, he chose this one.  

Christian Framework and Today’s Social Issues

I don’t know your starting point as you think about social issues. My starting point is always the Word of God. My very first thought is: What does the Bible have to say on this? In all that big book says, I am most interested in what Jesus has to say about this. 

I NEVER start with asking what my political platform thinks about it. I will eventually ask that question, and I will also ask if my political platform is even remotely close to what Jesus says. After all, I don’t know about you, but for me, JESUS IS KING JESUS. Nothing else is king. 

So, on this Juneteenth, we need to study the Bible and hear from Jesus. (Juneteenth is a holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. You can learn more here.) We need to discern the times—what is going on and why it is going on. We need to be led by the Spirit and know what the people of God are to do. Then we need to be fully determined to do the will of Jesus. 

Amazing GraceThere are amazing shining light stories of the church rising to her very best on the issues of race, slavery, racism, injustice, and oppression. Then there are other stories of the church sinking down into the deepest mud. I am reading a book right now on when the church has NOT been at our best. It is humbling. So be it. “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord so he may lift you up” (James 4:10). 

We have heroes of the faith who took a bold stand and worked for peace, justice, and goodness on these matters. For just one example, watch Amazing Grace (again I hope). It was the church, it was committed followers of Jesus, who ended the slave trade and then slavery in England. And they used political platforms to carry out their strongest biblical convictions. 

As the church must make its way through a growing post-Christian culture, we need to take stands on behalf of those who hurt the most. It is what Jesus did. It is what his people have so often done. It is what Living Word has done over and over in our history. 

The stakes seem a lot higher right now. 

So what am I doing as your lead pastor? 

  • I am studying the Bible on this. 
  • I am doing a pretty deep dive into the history of our nation as I study presidential leadership and their times. 
  •  I am upgrading my education by reading some of the best books I can on the issue of race. Many of those on staff are doing this as well. 
  •  I am having conversations with my black friends at Living Word. So are other staff. 
  •  I will be connecting with black pastors and churches in our area. 

 Our staff is having conversations. Crucial conversations. 

  •  We are listening. Donavan and Raquel Bratton, and others, are helping us listen and learn. 
  •  We are asking: What can we do? 
  •  We want forgiveness where it is needed. We want reconciliation where it is needed. We want partnership and we want communityWe want to be the body of Christ (Ephesians 2) 
  •  We are praying and we need to pray so much more, for the deepest hurts and brokenness in our culture need the healing power of Jesus. Sin runs too deep. We cannot do this on our own. So we pray and keep on praying. We act and keep on acting. 

 This is not a sprint. It is a marathon.  

But let me return back to where I started. As I read the Bible and pray, it is crystal clear Kingdom of God common sense. Right now, the lives of our black friends and the black community of York matter so very much to Jesus. And if we are the friends of Jesus, they need to matter so very much to us. 

Pastor Brian 

Brian Rice