“What comes next?” That’s the line King George’s character sings in his second appearance in the Broadway Musical Hamilton, after the Battle of Yorktown. “You’ve been freed. Do you know how hard it is to lead?” In fact, as followers of Jesus Christ, we do know what comes next. Confident that we are freed by Jesus’ love and mercy, we cannot but help share that love and mercy with others.
What is it that drives us to love our neighbors, to boldly give people a glimpse of the reign of God through congregational ministries and our daily lives? For us, the scriptural principal of agape, which Jesus uses in Mark 12:31, continues to guide us: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Experiencing the agape of Jesus, how can we not want others to experience it? In a culture filled with options, filled with advertisements, filled with promises, we cannot assume people will experience God’s love. And we should never assume that the paid congregational staff are the only ones equipped and empowered to share the agape of Jesus.
Laying the groundwork for what later became known as the Priesthood of All Believers, Martin Luther wrote, “For all Christians whatsoever really and truly belong to the religious class, and there is no difference among them except in so far as they do different work. That is St. Paul’s meaning, in I Corinthians 12, when he says: ‘We are all one body, yet each member hath his own work for serving others.’ This applies to us all, because we have on baptism, one gospel, one faith, and are all equally Christian” (An Appeal to the Ruling Class).
There is another metaphor of Paul’s that I find equally helpful, and that was true before the pandemic had me utilizing the postal service at a new pace. In 2 Corinthians, Paul mentions other apostles whom he calls “super-apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:5, 12:11) and “false apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:13). These traveling missionaries have come to Corinth after Paul left. Now, impressed by these new apostles’ credentials, the Corinthians may be asking about Paul’s credentials. Earlier in the letter, Paul tells the Corinthians that he and Timothy do not need letters of recommendation since the Corinthians themselves are a letter recommending Paul’s ministry.
“3Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Surely, we do not need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you, do we? 2You yourselves are our letter, written on our* hearts, to be known and read by all; 3and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”(2 Cor. 3:1-3)
We all have the potential to be the letters of recommendation to the communities we live in and to the world, letters of Jesus’ agape. Our very human hearts are filled with the love of Jesus. That love is made known in feeding and housing people, caring for the neighbor, learning about the world we inhabit, disrupting racism, and advocating for marginalized people or the natural world.
I remain hopeful during this strange and hard season because so many people are stepping up, or digging deep, or whatever image is most helpful. People are working together collectively not only for the health of congregational ministry, but for the benefit of the larger community, nation, and world. I have been deeply inspired by people of all ages who are concerned not just for the well-being of their own families but for people they have never met. They are showing acts of kindness in their immediate vicinity, but they are not content to only be kind. People are working towards bigger and broader transformations. Their actions give me hope for our world. I will continue to seek and find the groups of people who are letters of Christ, written with the Spirit of the living God on tablets of human hearts.
Direct us, Lord God in all our doings with your most gracious favor, and extent to us your continual help; that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in you, we may glorify your holy name; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.