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God's Story, Your Story and Our Story Through the Eyes of the Gospel Writers:

Empathy Today and It's Significance for Being the Best Neighbors With Those in Your Neighborhood--Reclaiming Abundance: a Reflection on Genesis 1:1-2:4a and Matthew 28:16-20

Individuals and churches/faith communities must cry out for justice and peace. Without justice, there can be no peace. Without the corresponding behaviors of love and compassion, the pursuit of justice and peace is evasive. Justice and peace lead to a better life for all. Creation is to live in harmony.

The late professor Jacques Monod, the famous French geneticist and Nobel prize winner, in the course of a television session in Toronto with Mother Teresa, spoke of how in his opinion all our destiny was locked up in our genes, which shape and direct our character and outlook, thus destroying the individual. As he held forth on this theme, Mother Teresa sat with her eyes closed and her hands folded, deep in prayer. On being asked by the programme’s compere whether she had anything to say, she replied: “I believe in love and compassion,” and resumed her devotions. As the Professor was leaving the studio he was heard to mutter: “If I saw much more of that woman I should be in bad trouble![1]

Living a life of love and compassion, with the corresponding outcomes of justice and peace, is threatening to one who has built their identity and understanding of safety and wellness with divisive words and actions.

Racism in any form is never okay and should never be tolerated. Every person is created in the image of God. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Racism is the enemy of God’s creation. Man, male and female, is created in the image of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Racist behavior is nowhere near the heart of God. Racist behavior is rooted in fear and the worldview of scarcity. God created and there is enough of everything for all 7.2 billion people. But, until those who “have” begin to shift the scales so that others can “have” too…well, the tug of war between the worldviews of scarcity and abundance will continue. We see abundance in each of the first five days of creation. And, particularly in the sixth day, we see that every person, of every color, gender and sexual orientation is created in the image of God. We need conversion my friends, a conversion from a worldview of scarcity to that of abundance. In this regard, Krin Van Tatenhove and Rob Mueller in Neighborhood Churchwrite,

Though it may be a dramatic demarcation line, conversion is never a onetime event. It is a perpetual process—a shedding of soul skins—as we grow into stronger, more flexible spirituality. When conversion means adopting a fundamental set of principles, and then wielding them defensively in our commerce with others, the results are tragic. We have all seen this in practice...Ongoing conversion is an antidote to this cancerous inflexibility.[2]

Ongoing Conversion, personally, societally, culturally and collectively, from scarcity to abundance, is needed my friends.

The texts in Genesis 1:1-2:4a and Matthew 28:16-20 assert that God created and continues to create the kingdom of God as it is in heaven on earth.

In Genesis 1:1-2:4a, we learn that God collaborates within the Godhead and with humanity to bring the kingdom of God as it is in heaven on earth.

In Matthew 28:16-20, we learn again that the one whose name is Emmanuel, “God with us,” is with us on the journey of bringing about justice and peace through the words and actions of love and compassion on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus told the eleven disciples to do the things in the world that he had taught them. They would be the mind, heart, ears, eyes, hands, and feet of Jesus. And such is the case for followers of Jesus today.

The Confession of 1967 states this about the mission of the Church. “To be reconciled to God is to be sent into the world as his reconciling community. This community, the Church universal, is entrusted with God’s message of reconciliation and shares his labor of healing the enmities which separate women and men from God and from each other. Christ has called the Church to this message and given it the gift of the Holy Spirit.”[3] Jesus sent the eleven disciples into the world to bring about reconciliation as was his purpose.

The Theological Declaration of Barmen sheds further insight to the presence of Jesus through the lives of believers as they witness in the world, “As the Church of pardoned sinners, it has to testify in the midst of a sinful world, with its faith as with its obedience, with its message as with its order, that is solely his property, and that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and from his direction in the expectation of his appearance.”[4] Jesus would be continually present with the disciples. Jesus is continually present with you.[5]

During times of stress, like the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests triggered by the alleged murder of George Floyd at the hands of four Minneapolis Police Officers, many people withdraw inwardly due to fear and change. A survival mentality emerges. Scarcity becomes the operative paradigm as opposed to God’s abundance. Again, Krin Van Tatenhove and Rob Mueller, the authors of Neighborhood Church write, “Two aspects of this transformation are essential: conversion from scarcity to abundance and conversion to our neighbors.”[6] The good news of Trinity Sunday is that the Triune God, one God in three persons, is a mighty, creative, life-generating dancer who invites creation to join God in spreading the abundance of God’s justice and peace through words and deeds of love and compassion. We become caught up in God’s redemptive purpose for creation.

Creation is not living in harmony. The COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing pain and inequality of racism are dividing, not uniting, humans. The pain is deep due to the silent killer of COVID-19, as well as the words and deeds of injustice and chaos. The current narrative is not God’s intent for creation. As behaviors of injustice and chaos prevail, more and more people are cast to the side of the road. I cannot ignore the privilege of being a member in the community of “the haves” by turning a blind eye or remaining silent to my brothers and sisters whose experience is being a member in the community of “the have nots.” Neither can you.

On this Trinity Sunday, we embrace the Great Commission and go to our neighbors. By loving our neighbors, we collaborate with God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit in bringing about heaven on earth.Injustice and chaos are rooted in the worldview of scarcity. Justice and peace are rooted in the worldview of abundance. Wherever we see justice and peace, through words and deeds of love and compassion, we know God is at work. God is at work bringing about justice and peace that is heaven on earth, through your words and deeds of love and compassion. Jesus says, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

[1]Kitty Muggeridge, “Gazing on Truth” in Christianity Today, Vol. 29, no. 18. [2]Krin Van Tatenhove & Rob Mueller, Neighborhood Church (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 9. [3]The Book of Confessions of the Presbyterian Church (USA), 9.31. [4]The Book of Confessions of the Presbyterian Church (USA), 8.17. [5]In the five paragraphs of textual analysis, I have benefited from the thinking of Lynn Japinga, Andrew Foster Connors, Oliver Larry Yarbrough and Mary F. Foskett in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery, Cynthia L. Rigby and Carolyn J. Sharp, editors, Connections, Year A, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 2-5, 5-7, 14-16 and 16-17. [6]Krin Van Tatenhove & Rob Mueller, Neighborhood Church, 10.

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