It was a treat to spend the last two days in a retreat and in worship at the United Church of Chapel Hill under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, well-known retired pastor of Trinity UCC in Chicago. He was asked to come as the United Church of Christ nationwide focuses on an anti-racist agenda. The title of the workshop was “That they may all be one,” the motto of the United Church of Christ. The singular message I took away is that we are called as a people to love our neighbor. That includes every human being, not just humans we like, and that believe like us or are the same as we are.
Where does the Pope come in? I came home and opened my computer to WRAL News. The headline read “Pope Meets Fidel Castro after warning against ideology.” I wondered who warned whom. Did Fidel warn the Pope not to talk about religion? Little did I suspect that the warning was issued from the Pope, and not to unbelievers, but to all the people of Cuba and by extension to the people of the world. The article unpacked the importance of serving and loving our neighbor, not because he or she has the same ideology or belief that we do, but because , “Whoever wishes to be great must serve others, not be served by others,” he said, “Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people.”(WRAL))
I was stunned because the very message I had been hearing from Rev. Dr. Wright was the very message of Pope Francis. Rev. Dr. Wright spoke during our first service this morning in relation to the Biblical text from Luke 10:25-37 in which we are told of the injured Jewish man who is aided not by the two Jewish holy men who passed him but by a “hated” Samaritan. The injured man would have been reared since childhood to hate Samaritans. The Samaritan was his neighbor, however, not because he and the injured Jewish man would believe the same thing, but because he offered help and compassion.
In the second service Dr. Wright preached from the text in Luke 7:1-10 about a Roman Centurion (not a Jew by belief or practice) who was a holder of slaves, one of whom was ill. The Centurion heard about Jesus the healer and asked for his help to heal this slave. Jesus healed the slave, but this did not necessarily lead the pagan, Roman Centurion to convert to Judaism or Christianity. It did not necessarily convince him to release all his slaves.These are possibilities, but we are not given that information. Again, it comes back to the message of the Pope and Rev. Dr. Wright that our responsibility is to serve others regardless of their ideology. The Centurion asked help, not for himself, but for another and Jesus responded.
The single message of both Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright and Pope Francis is related to the belief of each. Their ideologies both carry the name Christian, but are not the same in many respects. As both made clear, however, the way to bring the peaceful kingdom is about accepting with respect all of God’s children. This includes everyone in the human race. It means giving up any idea of our superiority over others and reaching out to those in need as we would wish someone to reach out to us.
To accept this is pretty exciting. In my church with Rev. Dr. Wright, this message brought a black and white congregation to its feet with enthusiastic clapping and some “Amens.” To the white members of our predominantly white congregation, our response might have surprised even us.
I am now realizing that our exciting approval of the idea on a Sunday morning is not the same as living the idea on Monday. I now have to consider how I want to be treated in order to figure out how to serve others. For example, I do not want to receive charity. I do not even want to accept the help of a younger generation to move heavy items. I do not want someone to say “yes” when they disagree with me, but I want a dialogue that respects my right to hold a different opinion. I do want someone to respect my knowledge gained from some years of experience I do want people to appreciate the things in which I am skilled and ask for my help. I do want someone to help when I am in real need, when sick, or injured. I do want someone to let me be in charge some of the time.
So I must do this to others, even to some that I may not like. I must listen to their story and earn their trust. I must make “giving” something that becomes acceptable, asking those in need what they want. I must support sharing power, control, and resources in systems in equitable ways. There is some fear in this for me. Giving charity to the oppressed and vulnerable still leaves me in charge. Giving resources and power to someone else makes me vulnerable. Living out the mandates these two leaders suggest is much harder than listening to them and applauding them.
Rev. Dr. Wright made one other encouraging point, however. He told us that good news often follows the word “BUT” when it appears in our scriptures as in John 12:47 where Jesus says “I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, BUT to save the world (NRSV).” This may contradict the whole ideology of others or chosen proof texts of others, but I gain more from love than hate and cannot believe that war and the suffering it causes is better than peace. So I will try to follow the encouraging words of both Rev. Dr. Wright and Pope Francis, to respect others who hold differing opinions, to refrain from judgment, and to maintain love for all.