SUNDAY: Bible Study - 9:00 AM | Worship - 10:00 AM | PM Worship - 6:00 PM | WEDNESDAY: Bible Class - 7:30 PM | 8110 Signal Hill Road Manassas, Virginia | 703.368.2622
Over the past couple of weeks, we have seen many protests occurring across the country, some of which unfortunately turned into riots, all triggered by the senseless death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The pain, frustration, and anger that has given rise to the current Black Lives Matter movement is understandable, but at the same time heartbreaking. We know the pain is felt deeply by some members of our own congregation – it is having a negative impact on all of us, whether we realize it or not. The unfortunate truth is racial prejudice exists, and some of our own members probably have experienced it within the Lord’s church. It’s hard to know how to help, but we must start somewhere, because at Manassas, “the love of Christ compels us” (II Corinthians 5:14).
We may begin by all remembering that we live in a fallen, imperfect world, a fact certainly on display right now. Whatever the nation, whatever the time in history, whatever the form of government, prejudice has been present on this planet. It is, after all, Satan’s turf. We read about prejudice repeatedly in the New Testament. Jesus addressed it. His trip through Samaria and his engagement with the woman at the well in John chapter 4, both of which shocked his disciples, was, in part, a lesson on prejudice. Christians who came out of a Jewish background continually wrestled with prejudice against Christians who were born Gentiles. The apostle Peter himself fought against his own prejudice. It took a vision on a rooftop in Joppa in Acts chapter 10 to convince him to preach to a Gentile, Cornelius. It appeared he understood when he stated, “…I understand God shows no partiality.” But old habits die hard. In Galatians chapter 2, Paul had to confront Peter for his failure to associate with Gentile Christians when in the presence of Jewish Christians. He had been eating with the Gentiles but when the Jews showed up Peter pulled back from the Gentiles fearing the reaction of the Jews. Again, old habits die hard. And Peter’s habit was a bad one. And just like Peter, we bring our personal baggage to our Christian walk and often struggle to overcome it.
Most of us have been raised to be very proud of our nation and for good reason. Yet, in being proud of our country we should not put on blinders that keep us from seeing the facts that surround us. A word that should come to mind is “empathy” – the possessing of a sensitive understanding of someone else’s situation. Without question, the most empathetic person ever to be on planet earth is Jesus. He understands what we go through. He understands our challenges. He understands what we suffer. For the rest of us, we have to work at it. All of us need to work very hard at being more empathetic just like Jesus, even if being so does not come naturally. Our Savior strove to get to know everyone he met and often demonstrated just how much he knew them (again recall the woman at the well). Getting to know another human being better is always to our benefit, and theirs.
At Manassas, we are one of the more diverse bodies in the brotherhood of churches of Christ, and it is a great blessing to have different strengths that come from different parts of the body. Even within the eldership, we find that differing viewpoints are a major source of strength, and though in some instances it takes time to fully understand each other, we believe it is both Christ-like and of great benefit to do so. Our diverse Manassas church family is a shelter in a sea of turmoil, and we should also remember it’s a hospital for those wounded by this world. We are all here to nurture and care for one another and dress the wounds inflicted on us by the world.
But old habits do die hard. Each of us who have grown beyond young childhood probably can remember occasions when we treated another person differently because of his or her race or appearance. Even by pointing out something wonderful or lovely about another person, if it has to do with his or her skin color, it can cause discomfort or pain. And so we must strive to be like Paul in confronting Peter – let us see things from the perspective of others. Let us strive doubly hard to avoid inflicting wounds on one another, even by “well-meaning” compliments. Let us all continue in love for one another, sometimes leave our comfort zone to reach out and humbly strive to understand and depend upon each other more. Let us show patience – especially to those who are hurting or who have been personally affected by racism or any other life challenge. To be like Christ, we collectively and individually must be the salt and light to not only our brothers and sisters in Christ but also to our community. Doing so will make us a stronger and more resilient congregation, as well as a greater tool for God to use for good to this world.
To fulfill that mandate at the Manassas church of Christ, we strive to be like Christ, and this means:
We oppose racism in any form, by shining our light for Christ and rejecting racial discrimination as sinful behavior according to scripture. (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11)
We mourn the senseless deaths and acts of discrimination, hatred, and violence in this world. (Romans 12: 15)
We value and seek out diversity in our congregation. (I Timothy 2:4, I Corinthians 12:14-20)
We strive to be Christ-like by showing love and respect for all brothers and sisters, regardless of their skin color, age, gender or socio-economic status. (Romans 10:12, John 13:35)
We do our best to be God’s instrument for the Kingdom in this world, striving to follow scriptural principles and do what is right, even when it is hard to do so. (Matthew 7:12, II Corinthians 5: 20)
From this point forward, our prayerful request is for all to join us in redoubling our efforts to live these principles. Let’s show by our actions our commitment to serve and love God, by serving and loving each other and our fellow man as Jesus did, supporting those who are struggling (Galatians 6:2). For we know that some people have been especially hurt by racism or other prejudices. It will take more than words to accomplish the changes we desire, but violence and more hatred is not the answer. We can only change when we can hear and understand the hurt of others and respond to that hurt with love. We are available continuously to help everyone navigate the rough waters we all are currently experiencing. If you have been hurt or are hurting, as your elders we want to hear and understand your concerns. Please reach out to us, we want to lead in shining our lights for Christ.
- Your Shepherds
Hansen’s Disease, a chronic disease of humans caused by the Mycobacterium Leprae bacillus, characterized by lesions of the skin and superficial nerves; the disease may also involve the eyes, and mucous membranes of the nose and pharynx. Encyclopedia Britannica
I am not sure if the man Jesus meets after delivering the Sermon on the Mount has Hansen’s disease (more commonly known as “leprosy”) or not. But this event takes place in the First Century, and everything from psoriasis to contact dermatitis is taken to be leprosy. This is wise, of course. Hansen’s disease is hard to pass between persons. It requires long term contact with an active lesion. But until the 20th century there wasn’t an effective treatment. Today it is curable with a multi-drug therapy – but there is no known treatment, other than miracle, for the disease when Jesus meets the man, the “leper,” in Matthew 8.1-4.
The Law of Moses requires an extreme form of social distancing when someone shows symptoms of leprosy. They must remain unkempt, keep their mouth covered, self-quarantine, and shout “unclean” when someone approaches (Leviticus 13.45-46). There is also an elaborate protocol for coming off such quarantine, which involves examination by a priest, sacrifices, bathing, shaving, and washing clothes (Leviticus 14.1-32). Jesus always insists that the lepers he heals observe this protocol. Perhaps the best-known case of leprosy reported in the Old Testament is that of the Syrian General Naaman, who baptized himself in the Jordan seven times, at the direction of the prophet Elisha, and emerged clean (II Kings 5.1-14). The “leper” in Matthew 8 is seeking a similar miracle. Jesus obliges.
A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” He said, “be clean.” Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. Matthew 8.2-3 NIV
Jesus can heal at a distance – this is made clear in the healing of the centurion’s servant (Matthew 8.5-13, Luke 7.1-10). It is not necessary for Jesus to reach out and touch this leper to make him well, but He does. I always find Matthew 8.3 one of the most moving verses in all the Gospels. What would it mean, after so much time, to experience human contact?
If this war with Covid-19 continues for many more weeks (months?), we may be able to empathize. The social distancing required of us is difficult, but wise. To act cavalierly in times like these is to violate the Golden Rule. We need to be available to help anyone in need, let’s be clear about that. But “helping” can be used as an excuse to get out of the house and into circulation – a selfish course to pursue indeed.
My old Church History professor from seminary, Dr. North, told a story about David Lipscomb and the Cholera Epidemic of 1873. It seems the good Christians of Nashville fled the city. Lipscomb stayed, and used his horse and wagon to carry Roman Catholic nuns around to nurse the sick. When the epidemic passed, Lipscomb was criticized for cooperating with “false teachers.” His answer to his critics was that if they had stayed to nurse the sick, he would have driven them around. Lipscomb’s point is well-taken. But David Lipscomb was helping, sacrificing – the way our health care workers are now – not driving around because he couldn’t bear to sit still.
There are a thousand lessons to be learned from Jesus’ healing the leper in Matthew 8, but I want to share only one – Jesus transcends social distancing.
Jesus did not hesitate to touch the leper – He was at no risk when He did. He is no less present with us now than He was before the Corona Virus invaded. In Him we are not distant from each other. We are His body – One body – together with Christ as our head (Ephesians 4.4-16). Physical separation does not part us in any lasting way (I Thessalonians 2.17-3.10). We are one family, one flock, one body and He is with us, all the way – even to the end of the age (Matthew 28.20).