A Crisis of Identity
(Matthew 22: 34-40, 28: 16-20)
Many years ago, when Teresa and I lived in her hometown of Coldspring, Texas, I was the elected Criminal District Attorney for San Jacinto County. We lived in her grandmother’s house which was located on the courthouse square. I timed myself one day and it took only 70 seconds for me to go from door to door. Not a bad commute. It was a very small town in a very rural county. I used to describe it as a cross between Andy of Mayberry and To Kill a Mockingbird.
One warm morning Teresa and I looked out the window to observe several news satellite trucks parked on the courthouse lawn. From what I could tell they were from Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio. Not a good sign I thought. They were there because I had court that morning and was prosecuting a young Texas Highway patrolman who had reported his personal pickup truck stolen and had set it on fire. He was going through a divorce and didn’t want his wife to get the truck. How is that even newsworthy you ask? Well, as Paul Harvey would say, now for the rest of the story. Our young patrolman was black and when the investigators went into his apartment on a welfare check because his mother was worried about him they found some of the things he claimed was in his truck when it was stolen. At that point, his mother convinced him to play the race card and claim he was being prosecuted because he was black. To prove it they produced a polaroid picture of him sitting in his uniform surrounded by other white patrolman in uniform all wearing paper KKK hats. Of course, representatives of the Texas Department of Public Safety all claimed it was a poor joke played on the patrolman when he successfully completed his probationary program. A harmless joke they reasoned as they had done it at least once before to another black patrolman and he wasn’t offended. What’s the big deal? Well, the photograph hit the paper and everyone wanted to know if the officers in the picture were members of the Ku Klux Klan. The New Black Panther Party got involved and spokesman Quanell X was on all the news programs decrying the blatant racism that was rampant within the Department of Public Safety. Of course, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. It just so happened we had a chapter of the secret society in our county and they responded in kind. So, every time the young patrolman had a court appearance we would have numerous representatives from the New Black Panther Party and the Ku Klux Klan milling around the courthouse spewing their rhetoric. I had little faith in our local sheriff’s department in their ability to keep the peace and was pretty sure none of them belonged to the New Black Panther Party.
Cooler heads had to prevail so I met with the patrolman’s attorney and cut quickly to the chase. I told him that we both knew that this case had nothing to do with race and that we were being used as pawns in the larger game of hate. I told him that regardless, I was going to treat his client just like any other stressed out divorce client. He had no prior criminal record so I would offer him a suspended sentence that would result in no felony conviction if he stayed out of trouble and paid off General Motors. Done deal and everyone went home unhappy. The cameras were turned off, Quanell X lost his platform, the Klan didn’t get to beat anybody, my house hadn’t been fire-bombed and the reputation of the highway patrol was besmirched.
In these times of extreme hate and division over every little and big issue cooler heads must prevail. In all that’s going on the phrase “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” keeps reverberating in my head. Are we still one nation? Are we still indivisible? Is there really liberty and justice for all? Where is God in all this? Whose side is He on? God is on the side of one nation, or more correctly, one kingdom, His kingdom here on earth and in heaven. God is the biggest proponent of all for liberty and justice for all. In our scripture reading for today Jesus tells the legal expert who was testing him that the greatest commandment in the Law was You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. Then he said, you must love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands he tells them. Jesus is telling the expert, and us, that love is the lowest common denominator. Love is at the center of all things. Without love, there is chaos and divisiveness. When Jesus commissioned the eleven disciples he said to them, I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.
Part IV of the Methodist Book of Discipline, The Ministry of all Christians, explains in clear and succinct language the mission and ministry of the church. Paragraph 120 states that the mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. I know I say that a lot but I don’t think it can be understated. It is our mission plain and simple. In paragraph 121 the Rationale for Our Mission explains that the mission is accomplished by proclaiming the good news of God’s grace and by exemplifying Jesus’ command to love God and neighbor, thus seeking the fulfillment of God’s reign and realm in the world. The fulfillment of God’s reign and realm in the world is the vision Scripture holds for us. The BOD goes on to explain that the mission is our grace-filled response to the Reign of God in the world announced by Jesus. God’s grace is everywhere, at all times, carrying out this purpose as revealed in the Bible. It is expressed in God’s covenant with Abraham and Sarah, in the Exodus of Israel from Egypt, and in the ministry of the prophets. It is fully embodied in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is experienced in the ongoing creation of a new people by the Holy Spirit.
The BOD explains that John Wesley, Phillip Otterbein, Jacob Albright, and our other spiritual forebears understood this mission in this way. Whenever United Methodism has had a clear sense of mission, God had used our Church to save persons, heal relationships, transform social structures, and spread scriptural holiness, thereby changing the world. In order to be truly alive, we embrace Jesus’ mandate to love God and to love our neighbor and to make disciples of all peoples. The process for carrying out our mission is found in paragraph 122 and reads, in part, that we send persons into the world to live lovingly and justly as servants of Christ by healing the sick, feeding the hungry, caring for the stranger, freeing the oppressed, being and becoming a compassionate, caring presence, and working to develop social structures that are consistent with the gospel.
In the simplest of terms, the BOD states in paragraph 124 that as servants of Christ we are sent into the world to engage in the struggle for justice and reconciliation. We seek to reveal the love of God for men, women, and children of all ethnic, racial, cultural, and national backgrounds and to demonstrate the healing power of the gospel with those who suffer.
As Christians, as Methodists, our mission is simple. We are called to be the voice of reason and agents of love and peace. Our weapons are love and prayer. If we are going to have one nation, one kingdom under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all we are going to have to step into the fray. We must stand tall and be the example of love of God, neighbor and self. We must be the voice of reason and calm and stand between the agents of hate that seek to tear us apart remembering the promise Jesus made when he told his disciples that he would be with us every day until the end of this present age. As long as we remember whose we are and what we are called upon to do we will never have a crisis of identity.
Please pray with me.
Most gracious and forgiving God, thank you for reminding us whose we are and that, as your servants, our mission is to make disciples for your son Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world and that we are to live our lives loving you, our neighbors and ourselves. We pray to the Prince of Peace for his intervention into a world in crisis and we pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit on where and how we can act and react in your name. Master of all there is and ever will be, we know that if there is going to be the kind of peace on earth that you meant to be it must begin with us. Remind us and cause us to advocate that because you are our creator and as your children we are called to walk together in perfect harmony. Loving God, accept this, our prayer, as our solemn vow to take each moment and to live each moment in peace eternally. In the name of your most holy son, the Prince of Peace, we pray, amen.