Word of the Week

This week, our the Epistle lesson from the lectionary took us to I Thessalonians 2: 1-8

It's a passage that we don't often hear preached in church or a book we often study in Bible classes-- but it's a passage that has a lot to say to us about the nature of ministry and what the gospel of Jesus Christ asks us to do.

It's it comes from a context by which many of us are familiar: the Apostle Paul's 2nd Missionary journey. Paul is seeking to preach the gospel to the unreached and lands in Thessalonica alongside his traveling companions Timothy and Silvanus.

And as he visits Thessalonica Paul begins with his standard operating procedure. He preaches in the synagogues. Then, either the people believe or they don't. But in the case of this particular town, the opposition to Paul's message was fierce. He quickly had to leave-- though he truly wanted to stay and nurture the new believers there.

Yet, in his absence, he writes a letter back with words of testimony and instructions. Saying words such as this in chapter 2 of his first letter:

"As you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition." 

Or in other words church: I want you to know that I was faithful to preach the Word of God to you, even though I faced opposition doing so.

In a couple of days, we'll mark as the church Reformation Day-- the movement that started with Martin Luther holding the church accountable.  And as we mark this occasion, it's a day to remember that sometimes what God needs most from followers of Jesus-- both individually and collectively is to call into question the ways that the culture has watered down our faith. And to stand and proclaim the gospel-- even when it is unpopular.

But as I began to think about the context in which I would preach this text-- a gathered community of believers in Oklahoma-- I wondered what in the world do we know about persecution for our faith here?

We live in a very Christian society.

Just last week, I was at the gym and noticed the Christian radio blasting from the speakers. I asked a staff member why, for I didn't know that this was a religious gym. He replied, "Oh everybody in Oklahoma likes Christian music right?"

We live in a place where there are churches galore on almost every street corner. Every flavor at your doorstep!

We live in a place where celebrating Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter bring us no ill will. In fact, our children get off these days at school.

So what about declaring "the gospel in spite of great opposition" as Paul speaks of? How do we do this?

The last time I read the gospel though, the message of Jesus was always about standing with those who are ignored, those who are marginalized and those who may be different from the norm. So who are these people in our context?

It's no surprise to say that Muslims/ Christian relations in Oklahoma are at an all time low.

After the brutal workplace murder last month of  Colleen Hufford in Moore, OK by an alleged man with extremist Muslim views-- all Muslims in our area have grown to have targets on their back as if the actions of one spoke for all.

In fact soon after this horrible murder, OK Representative John Bennett said that Muslims in our country were like a "cancer that needed to be cut out of American society." And many agreed with him.

Some with similar views began making threatening calls to local mosque leadership, sending hate mail and warning children not to attend school in their traditional dress. One group calling themselves "Patriot Pastors" even organized hate rallies at a Baptist Church in Edmond, OK.

But, there are other voices in this conversation-- other voices who believe the Christian message is one that always begins in love.

Many of these have come from  ministers like these from this church standing beside Muslims who are a part of CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations).

But this is the story I most want to tell you:

There's a group of Oklahoma University students who began organizing recently to say that all people of this state are not hateful toward our Muslim neighbors. They began asking fellow students to sign a petition of solitary with Muslims. The university president even signed!

But then they took their "solidarity" one step further-- they began organizing students, faculty and other area pastors to attend Friday Prayers at Oklahoma City's mosque. They wanted to show in person that acceptance stronger than prejudice.

I can't imagine what some of their parents and relatives must have thought when they found out.

But yet they did it, in spite of the opposition to come as Paul speaks about.

And I'm so glad they did, even if their small and courageous act didn't make the headlines on the news. Isn't this what the gospel is all about? Even if we have disagreements, God never wants us to be hateful.

The reformers long ago didn't ask the church to change to be static. No. They reformed so that the church could continue to reform.

So I ask you, in your community what reformation is the Spirit asking you to make?

As for me here in Oklahoma, I want to find ways to stand shoulder to shoulder with my Muslim neighbors so the extremist voices aren't the only ones we hear!

We've all been glued to our tvs the last 24 hours, watching the coverage of the devastating tornado that destroyed the town of Moore, OK and surrounding areas.

When it first hit, I watched with careful attention-- maybe even closer than most because I was in Washington DC and Kevin was in Oklahoma City. Fear ran through my head about the worst case scenarios . . . But thank goodness, Kevin and his work colleagues at Feed The Children headquarters were ok on the opposite side of the city from where it touched down. Nothing but high winds came their way.

But some families weren't so lucky. My heart breaks for them. I wrote this prayer last night as a response.

(And on a lighter note one of my favorite things about the OKC community the Warren Theater in Moore is now gone too-- leveled in the path of destruction. Super sad for our Fridays date nights).

So in moments like these we all ask ourselves the question of what can I do?

It's so easy to get sucked into the despair because of the 24 hour news cycles-- thinking that images of destruction are all that there is. But, there's another way. Get involved. I have five suggestions.

1. Donate goods
Especially if you live in the Oklahoma City area, Feed The Children is asking for these products: diapers, canned goods, non-perishable food and snack items, water and sports drinks.

Donations are accepted at these locations around the city-
Feed The Children McCormick Distribution Center, 29 N. McCormick
First Baptist Church, 1201 N. Robinson
KOCO-TV, 1300 East Britton Road
Faith Church, I-40 and Portland
TLC Garden Center, 105 West Memorial Road in Edmond
Continental Resources, 20 N. Broadway Downtown OKC
Bob Moore Parking Lot, 412 W. Reno Downtown OKC

2. Donate money.
Feed The Children has made it easy for you to donate. You can either go to their webpage by clicking here to make any size of a donation OR you can text DISASTER to 80888 to make a $10 donation.

Sure, there are a lot of organizations asking for donations right now, but Feed The Children is the ONLY large non-profit that is based out of Oklahoma City-- FTC has warehouses, trucks and staff on the ground, ready to go! Literally in their own backyard, neighbors helping neighbors is what is happening NOW. Plus, the fabulous Kevin Hagan is leading the charge. You can trust him. I wouldn't have married him if you couldn't).

3. Pray.
Sure, it almost sounds clique doesn't it? We throw around words like "prayer" as if we are talking about going to sleep or eat or wash our face at night. "Oh, we need to pray for those people" or we say, "Our prayers are with the people of Oklahoma right now." But do we stop to actually pray? Do we stop to actually consider what it feels like to be a person whose livelihood has been destroyed? Do we consider their grief, their confusion, or their anger? There's so much to say, then, isn't there? So, go ahead, do some talking to God on behalf of the people of Oklahoma right now.

4. Don't say stupid things in the name of God.
It's a good rule when people are in crisis, when natural disasters hit, when terrible things happen in our world, it is not best to pull out the words of judgment. It's good to extend a compassionate arm and sit in the ashes with them. Furthermore, God does not cause tornadoes. Let me repeat, God does not cause tornadoes. Religious leaders like John Piper and Pat Robertson have said stupid things today about the people of Oklahoma and I know they are not the only ones. As people of faith, let's stop the insanity.

5. Consider donating your time in the future.
Ask your church or community group about planning a disaster relief trip to the city months from now.
Join a disaster relief team at your church or in your city-- prepare now by going to training.
Consider what natural connections you have in your community to Oklahoma City (friends, business associates, corporations) Ask them how you can be of help long after the cameras are gone.

The people of Oklahoma thank you.