Voices for Unity and Peace

Chris Smith, Interim Senior Pastor

For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us; authority rests upon
his shoulders; and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6

I began writing this on the day when the first funerals were taking place in Pittsburgh in the aftermath of the tragic shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue. I do not know what further violence will take place between the composing of these words and the time you read them. I pray there is none. Honestly, though, I’m not counting on it. From my first typing of these words till your reading of them will be about 40 days. A look back shows me that there have not been 40 continuous days in 2018 when some act of terrible violence in our nation didn’t make the news. We are living in a time of great division and terrible violence. As I listen to reactions, I hear people asking questions. “What is going on? Who will lead us out of this? What can we do?”

Division is widespread and no middle way seems possible. Government and political leaders get caught up in divisive rhetoric and messaging. Our political and public institutions appear unable to create compromise, mobilize communities, or build consensus toward workable solutions. People feel helpless and, for some who are more isolated, the frustration and anger that build because of intense division spill over into violence. We see it in our schools, workplaces, communities of worship, and other public arenas. The advent of social media means that more and more we hear only messages that reinforce our own viewpoint. The messaging in our personal echo chambers cuts us off from other viewpoints and we forget the benefits of civil discourse about the hard issues we face. Isolated by the technology that promised to connect us, we forget to come together as communities.

I believe that the church has a unique and important role to play in this crisis. The mission of Incarnation Lutheran Church is: Filled by God’s grace, we feed the hungry in heart, body, mind, and spirit. Incarnation does a good job with this mission. Through programs of service, learning, gathering, and worship we are feeding the hearts, bodies, minds, and spirits of hundreds and thousands of people.

But the unique challenges of our day, the division and violence that we witness and feel helpless to address, these challenges call us to do more. We are called to do more, because people remain hungry and they are hungry for unity and peace, and the church is uniquely positioned to feed them. There is no other public institution like the church and there is no other church like Incarnation.

My role at Incarnation is a temporary one and I am always aware that, as an intentional interim pastor, my influence is limited. It is easy to take or leave what I have to say. Still, I urge you to listen to the call of Jesus: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.” One of his most urgent prayers is this: “Holy Father, protect them in your name…so that they may be one, as we are one.” The call of Christ to bring peace and unity to our world transcends any one person’s role or influence. It is the job of every child of God.

Every weekend we gather in worship. We are conservatives and we are progressives. If forced into a political conversation with our fellow worshipers, there is no doubt that we would disagree, probably quite widely on some topics. But at church we are not brought together by our political views, our tribal alliances, or our economic interests. We are brought together by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

He is the Prince of Peace.

He is the creator of community, the healer of wounds, and the reconciler of hurt. He binds us together for a greater cause so that all, no matter who they are, may experience the grace of Jesus Christ and be fed in heart, body, mind, and spirit. Our unity in Christ uniquely equips Incarnation to be a voice for unity and peace in our community.

I am amazed at all the generous, kind, and good things that Incarnation does in the name of Christ to change lives locally and around the world. But the Holy Spirit is calling Incarnation to do more. Incarnation has the people, the resources, and the capacity to be a public voice for unity and peace. In this very challenging time, being that voice really may be the most important way that we can feed the hearts, minds, and spirits of the hurting people, communities and world around us.

In this fractured and fearful world, let us commit to being these voices*:

The voice of kindness | The voice of encouragement | The voice of empathy | The voice of acceptance | The voice of understanding | The voice of humility | The voice of inclusion | The voice of empowerment | The voice of grace | The voice of hope | The voice of love

Together, we can be those voices, in our workplaces, schools, streets, and businesses.

In the spirit of partnership with our Jewish brothers and sisters, I am moved by the ancient Jewish rabbinic teaching called tikkun olamTikkun olam teaches that we each have a duty to “repair the world.” Our world is badly in need of repair. In the name of Jesus Christ, a great rabbi himself, let us work to repair the world, to be voices that makes it a more unified and peaceful place for all.

See You in Church,
Pastor Chris Smith

*This list comes to you from a thoughtful discussion by the staff at Incarnation.