In the past six months, American synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway have been attacked and members killed by hate-filled gunmen. In both cases, anti-Semitism was a motive. In New Zealand, two Muslim mosques suffered horrendous loss of life at the hands of a white nationalist.
There is just too much news coming at us these days. Whether it is good news, bad news or inspiring news it is coming all at once and we have to wonder which news we will cling to. Which news will have the greatest impact on how we live out our lives? How will the news we cling to guide us in making decisions? Which news will effect the way we treat each other?
In the Gospel of Matthew chapter 28 we encounter a scene full of news. When Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb they encountered the news that Jesus who was crucified had been raised. They were instructed to go and tell the news to his disciples. As they were on their way, Jesus appeared to them and greets them and immediately the women worship him. And now Jesus gives them instructions to go and give the news to his disciples to go to Galilee and they will see him there. Both the angel and Jesus tell the women to go and share the news.
After hearing the news, the disciples go to Galilee and they finally meet up with Jesus. It’s interesting in their encounter that Jesus does not talk to them about his death, but talks to the disciples about their life.
Now there is another group in this story. They are not told what to do or what news to give. The guards took it upon themselves to share the news with the chief priests. Honestly, I think they shared the news with the religious leaders because they were afraid of what was going to happen to them. They just lost the body they were supposed to be guarding! So a plan was devised and a story was invented. And guess what, they were paid for that story. And this is a story that is still being told…the disciples came and stole the body while they were sleeping! I don’t know about you but I think the rolling back of a big rock and the disciples carrying a dead body would probably wake me up!
The news that the women and disciples were told to go and tell continues from generation to generation. Basically, Jesus tells them, this is what I want you to do with this news, “go and make disciples!” Go, and make followers of me. Go, and make Christ-centered communities! Be a disciple and make disciples.
Go! Baptize! Teach! Remember! This is the news that has the greatest impact on how we live out our lives. It is the news of forgiveness, love, compassion and grace. This is the news that effects the way we treat each other. Remember Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”
So what news will you cling to? May we cling to the news of the Resurrected Christ!
The Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches (CPBC) held a series of events to commemorate the 75th anniversary of what happened at a place called Hopevale, a remote valley located in the center of Panay Island. It was there that 11 American Baptist missionaries, one of their children, and four other American citizens hid for 18 months until they were found and executed by Japanese troops on December 20, 1943 at the height of World War II.
I returned just last night from the Philippines, where I represented ABCNJ at a historic event for both Filipino Baptists and American Baptists. The occasion of my journey was the 75th Anniversary Commemoration events of the executions of 11 American Baptist missionaries in the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army in the Philippines during WWII.
Mariamsina Bekele is a dynamic young woman from Ethiopia. She is a missionary to university students serving with the campus ministry known as EvaSUE. Mariamsina is also a wife, a mother and a terrific Bible teacher.
A Pastoral Message to the Congregations of the American Baptist Churches of New Jersey January 13, 2018
Dear ABCNJ Family,
Our regional family is unique in all of the regions of ABCUSA because we are blessed with racial and ethnic diversity that mirrors the kingdom! The members of our more than 280 churches come from every continent on this planet, except Antarctica, and has made us who we are and shaped our peculiar witness for Jesus Christ. Our region has no real ethnic majority. This is what makes us a singularly unique region in our denominational family because, together, we represent the humanity of God’s desire.
Our life together is held and animated by a 3-fold vision: we are “Christ-centered, Mission- focused, and Pastoral in spirit.” Being centered in Christ requires us to walk on the path that Jesus has set for us, and that path always leads us to mission, and we do mission with a servant heart and for the sake of Christ.
It is within this unique ministry context where we as American Baptist congregations in the state of New Jersey strive to live out the grand declaration of the Apostle Paul that, “Jesus himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14). As a regional family, we are committed to breaking down any wall that prevents us from being with one another. We have not fully arrived to that heavenly ideal in our journey, but our striving defines who we are as we commit to the journey of making the reign of God in Christ visible here on earth as it is in heaven.
In recent days, in a meeting at the White House with legislators to discuss immigration reform, the President of the United States referred to Haitians and people from Africa (and of course, by extension, people of African descent) with vulgarity and hateful rhetoric, and singled out to stigmatize Haitians as disease-bearing, modern-day lepers. ABCNJ has 24 Haitian American Baptist congregations - 16 in New Jersey and 8 in Florida. We have 2 African congregations. Our sisters and brothers of African ancestry - Haitians, Africans, and African Americans - comprise 1/3 of our total regional family. The words that came out of the President directly demeans and dehumanizes our sisters and brothers who we deeply cherish and love.
As followers of Jesus we must speak out and denounce, in his name, words that fan the winds of fear, divisiveness and racial hostility - not only in our diverse regional family but in our diverse nation, and call these words to repentance and proclaim in its place the fierce conviction that the reign of God’s love is now here. This is not about partisan party politics, because the ultimate allegiance of the disciple is to Jesus Christ alone. We are called to speak to power the truth that sets free, regardless of who is in power. This is what it means to be Christ-centered. From Moses to Esther, Ruth, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and Micah, the people of God were always called to set people free from oppressive captivities, and to speak truth to power. When the Herodians (religious collaborators of the empire) attempted to trap Jesus into admitting allegiance to the emperor, Jesus told them to “Give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” The church’s voice is muted when it abrogates its prophetic voice by surrendering its allegiance to earthly power.
The church is the embodiment of Jesus on earth, as Jesus was the very embodiment of God. We are called to bring the presence of Jesus in every space we inhabit and change the world. Tomorrow we commemorate the life and ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a great American Baptist who gave his life to the struggle for racial equality and economic justice through non-violent and peaceful resistance. He called all of us to realize “The Beloved Community”, a society based on justice, equal opportunity, and love of one’s fellow human beings. The Civil Rights Act was passed and enacted because of his leadership. It was not legislators who transformed American society, it was the church.
The Holy Spirit’s work of love remains unfinished in the world. The church must speak. We shall overcome.
Rev. Dr. Elmo D. Familiaran Interim Executive Minister and Senior Regional Pastor