This was challenging to think about. To examine my own life and to reflect on what God might be asking of me. The comforts of my life in stark contrast to those of the refugee.
This was also true in the time of John the Baptist in the midst of increasingly volatile politics and unrest under the Roman oppression. In a time where practices of extortion, corruption and injustice were rampant. His words were cutting, harsh and yet astonishingly curious as the crowds came out to the desert to see what all the ruckus was about. John minced no words. He called the religious folks out, comparing them to snakes, imploring them to change their lives, not their outward appearances of religiosity. He called their bluff, saying just because Abraham is your father does not mean that you are children of God. What counts is your life.
And then he expounded on this, saying that what truly mattered were the practices and fruit of their lives. Were they green and blossoming or dead? He didn’t speak to overturning the corrupt government but instead called them first to personal repentance. The crowd's response was, “Then what are we supposed to do? He responded, “If you have two coats, give one away,” he said. “Do the same with your food.” To the corrupt tax men, he told them, “No more extortion—collect only what is required by law.” To the soldiers serving in an unjust system under Herod, he told them to act justly, “No shakedowns, no blackmail—and be content with your rations.” John called them into a baptism of repentance, a life-change, reserved then for non-Jewish people converting to the Jewish faith. Apparently, the people of God had lost their way to the point that they were now in need of conversion, repentance and a recommitment to the way of God. The invitation was far beyond the hypocrisy of a religious title but to a radical life change marked by acts of generosity and justice.
Reading this today, I am convicted and I am grieved. Much like in the time of John the Baptist, I believe that religious folks like us and the church at large have profoundly lost our way. The disconnect being this - we no longer look like Jesus. Our lives no longer set apart by acts of justice and sacrifice. No longer worthy of inquiry or curiosity by the world because of our love for one another and for the extravagant welcome of the stranger. Often it is just the opposite.
But I believe that there is a prophetic call to the church right now - to prepare the way for God to act. To repent. To make a life-change. To commit to a shared life steeped in grace, justice, generosity, hospitality, love and sacrifice. And I believe that there is a growing sense sweeping all across the land longing for change. We are tired of doing life this way. And we are outraged and hurting, fed up with injustice. We want to do something. To be a part of something bigger than ourselves. To care for the vulnerable, the poor and the marginalized. To use our voices to join those of the oppressed and to fight for justice.
As The Practicing Church, I believe that now is the time to act. To repent. To change. To sacrifice. To begin to live deeper into the ways of Jesus.
In light of the refugee ban crisis and racial divides in our communities, I believe we are to welcome the stranger and work towards justice in our neighborhoods. Here are some resources and upcoming events here locally and I urge you to get involved!
- Radical Hospitality & Extravagant Welcome: I have blogged on this the past couple of weeks, but how can we extend friendship and hospitality as a subversive act of the kingdom.
- Talking to Kids About Race | Einstein Middle School | Feb 6th @ 6:30p: Parent Education workshop with Shoreline School District’s Equity & Family Engagement Director Tanisha Felder.
- Turning Point Community Meal | February 9th at 5pm: Share a meal with neighbors and Turning Point families and children. Bring a potluck dish to share and experience friendship with many of different culture, religion and socio-economic status. To learn more, read blog. Turning Point | 1315 N 160th Street, Shoreline, WA 98133
- How To Help Syrian Refugees in Seattle | The Seattle Globalist
- Faith & Race | Quest Church| Feb 12th @ 1:30p | Register here to explore questions of race, ethnicity, and identity in terms of what it means for us as followers of Christ and as people of God.
- Kingdom Come | Vineyard Seattle Area Gathering | Feb 25th | Training 1:30-4:30 | Worship Gathering 6:30p: Pray for God to move in our churches and communities, that we would truly be a people that embody the love of God, showing the world what God is like.
- When God Grew Tired of Us | What Life is Like For a Refugee | Movie Night & Discussion with Rose Swetman: February 27th at 6:30p
- Equity & Inclusion Conference | UW Bothell | February 24th 9a - 3:30p: Register
- A Letter from Phil Strout, National Director of The Vineyard on Refugee Crisis
This week, let us examine our lives and hold this question together, “If John the Baptist was out walking our neighborhoods today, what would his invitation of repentance or life-change be?”
by Jessica Ketola