A Message to the Church of God
Jesus wept. It’s a famous line from John 11, capturing a poignant moment in the life of Jesus, as He stood at the tomb of Lazarus. There He experienced the grief of His dear friends in Bethany, moved by the depth of their loss and pain. Lazarus was a good man. He was too young to die. “If only You had been here,” the sisters of Lazarus said to Him. And, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).
This is not the only record of the Lord teary-eyed. “But as they came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, He began to cry. ‘I wish that even today you would find the way of peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from you’” (Luke 19:41-42).
And, what do we imagine Jesus is feeling just now, as He comes close to our cities, our towns, our country? As He stands in the cemetery with grieving families at the loss of over 100,000 in the United States to COVID-19 (and almost 7,000 more in Canada), does He weep? As He walks by the houses of over 40,000,000 Americans who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic (and a similar proportional number in Canada), does He pause with His eyes welling up with tears? And, as He thinks about George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, law enforcement, streets filled with protest, buildings on fire, and toxic grenades thrown back and forth on Twitter, Facebook, and on cable news, does He cry? I think so.
Our world is a mess. What are we becoming? What kind of people are we? What will happen to us? To our children? Perhaps, we have approached what Strauss and Howe (historians and sociologists who popularized generational theory, giving us words like “boomer” and “millennial”) have dubbed the “Fourth Turning” (see their book of the same name). The Fourth Turning is a cataclysmic reordering of national trajectory, prompted by overpowering events. For instance, in American history, Strauss and Howe highlight the Civil War, the Great Depression and the World War that followed as Fourth Turnings. When the Fourth Turning page turns, everything is reset for another century; norms are upended, sacrifices made, society shifts. Our present challenges would seem to qualify.
We stand with Jesus, who never changes. This gives us a certain anchor, a confident hope, even as our hearts are torn. But, if we can face the future with hope in Christ, it must also be said that to follow Jesus we must also know how to weep, to acknowledge the plight and confusion of the world before us. We are a part of that world, too. Jesus is as much about the here and now as He is the hereafter. How can we know the Man of Sorrows if we don’t know sorrow?
When ancient Israel stood at a crossroads long ago, the Lord gave a famous word. It is a word for today as well, as we stand at a crossroads. We cannot continue to run down the path we have chosen thus far; we must stop, take stock, and hear the Word of the Lord:
“If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and forgive their sins and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
If ever there was a people called by “My name,” it is the Church of God. This Sunday, May 31, 2020, is the Day of Pentecost, by the church’s calendar. It celebrates the birth of the church, the descent and filling of the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit. This year, Pentecost falls in the vice of the pandemic and the boiling, legitimate demands for justice and racial equity. This year, Pentecost falls as the nation’s heart is being torn asunder and gathering clouds darken the horizon abroad. This year, Pentecost providentially falls in a moment when the nations need the Church of God to fall on its knees.
Humility is the doorway through which we must walk. This Sunday, whether you gather with your church family online or in person, check your political opinions at the door. Leave Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, the matter-of-fact Facebook posts—which may, in fact, not be factual—and all the rest outside. Our call is to humble ourselves and pray. To admit we have been dressed by pride and hubris. To pray for new clothes, woven in Heaven for our hearts here on earth. To seek the face of God, without prejudice or pretense, simply opening our hearts to Him. To ask for forgiveness, for our land, for ourselves.
This is not the time to pray like “the proud Pharisee,” who bowed his head and said, “I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that guy over there…because I don’t sin!” (paraphrased from Luke 18:11-12). This is the time for us to humble ourselves, owning our intemperate speech, closed minds, harsh attitudes, prejudice, and self-sufficiency; this is the time to admit we are not self-sufficient and that we have not earned our good fortune or the Lord’s favor. This is the time to weep. For ourselves. And for the city in front of us.
If you are a pastor reading this, I ask you to bring this chance before your congregation this Sunday. Perhaps, you will find a place to mention it, at least, before, after, or during your message. In so doing, you will be joining not only other congregations of the Church of God, but also a sweeping coalition of Christian communities across the land. Evangelicals, Wesleyan-Holiness, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Historic Protestant, Historic Black, and Pentecostal communions of believers will also be bowing before God this weekend to mourn the passing of so many in the pandemic and to seek the face of God. This coming together in this moment has few precedents, usually occurring only in seasons that might be defined as Fourth Turnings.
We cannot know what next week or next month will bring. The way forward will be found, but now it is shrouded by low-lying clouds and the fog of unbelief. Still, the Sun of Righteousness shines. He will make a way. It is for us now to humble ourselves and pray.
Many mayors and governors are calling for a Day of Lament on Monday, June 1. We at Church of God Ministries will observe this as well, by closing our offices for the day. In so doing, we are pausing to pray and listen in the wake of the pandemic. We have worked full steam—even remotely from home—during the last two and a half months and will take Monday to focus on prayer. We are also closing to stand in solidarity with our African-American staff and family throughout the Movement as they, especially, reel from the headlines and realization—once again—that when it comes to law enforcement, economic opportunity, and access to healthcare, growing up black is very different from growing up white. There are many other communities disadvantaged in our society; the challenges are not the province of African Americans alone. But, this weekend, we stand shoulder to shoulder with them, as together we sort out how to change the story.
Pentecost is the day the story of God’s people changed. And with that, the story of their world was changed. And now, it is our chance to change the story of our world. We will start with humble prayer.
May the Lord guide, protect, and provide for our every step. May the Church of God be worthy of the Name. Jesus is the subject. Follow Him.
I remain, humbly, your brother in Christ,