• Steven Marsh

Thriving As a church in a Globalized World – Conflict, Violence and Reconciliation: a Reflecti

It will come to you as no surprise that globalization contributes to conflict, violence, and peace. And so do the world’s religions. Like Miroslav Volf in his book Flourishing, I argue that the role of the world’s religions is to bring reconciliation to the fragmented experience of humanity, which the good and bad of globalization has brought about.[1] Do not forget that Jesus does not invite humanity to join a new religion, but life.[2]

Mark Galli was the associate pastor at my home church in Fresno when I was growing up. Now the editor of Christianity Today, Mark wrote Jesus Mean and Wild. In the book, Mark references an interview in 1994 with Stephen Prothero. Prothero said,

Christians traditionally, as they’ve shaped Jesus, have been worried about getting it wrong, including the Puritans. Americans today are not so worried. There isn’t the sense that this is a life-and-death matter, that you don’t want to mess with divinity. There’s a freedom and even a playfulness that Americans have…. The flexibility our Jesus exhibits is unprecedented. There’s a Gumby-like quality to Jesus in the United States. Even turning Jesus into a friend among… Christians—that kind of chutzpah is something that was unknown even to Americans in the Colonial period.[3]

Mentors in our lives are so important. We learn so much from them; good and bad. I am grateful for so many in my life. When I was an intern at Grandview Presbyterian Church in Glendale, California during the years 1979-1981, my life was severely broken and I really had no comprehension of its depth. My life was filled with conflict and emotional violence, particularly in my marriage and sense of self. Conflict and violence can produce great worry and fear.

Worry and fear are debilitating emotions. They cause us to do things which produce outcomes we often regret. When we give in to worry and fear that decision is indicative of a lack of trust and dependence upon God. In the reading from Jeremiah, we understand God’s lament when God says to the people, “What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?” [4] Jeremiah was astounded and we should be as well, how the people replaced God with “no gods,” in order to alleviate their worries and fears. And the contrary was true. There was no alleviation of the worries and fears. They only increased in their impact. And we do the same as the people then.

The Gospel reading in Luke indicates that the person who most needs to hear a word of grace is the one most likely to hear a word of judgment. And the one who most needs to hear a word of judgment is the one most likely to hear a word of grace.[5]  Humility is at the heart of this dilemma. Jesus says,

When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.[6]

The human spirit changes when it is honest and embraces those with whom conflict exists. That means prayer is the order of the day; not rhetoric, legalism, worry, or fear.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that relationship is what gives meaning to life; relationship with God and others. Grandview Presbyterian Church was used by God to begin the process of saving me from myself, because of its unashamed gratitude for and commitment to the One who loves humanity and creation the most…Jesus Christ. It is true that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Hebrews 13:8 is dependent on verse 7, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” Because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, we can connect to mentors and be mentors. It is in and through relationships, with Jesus and one another that we find real hope to deal with real life. Christians have a responsibility to embrace the great conflicts and expressions of violence that exist in our society and work for reconciliation.

Jesus saved me with his electing choice before the foundation of the earth was laid; he knew me before I was birthed from my parents; Jesus wooed me to himself when I surrendered to him in communicant’s class as a 13 year-old; Jesus called me to the gospel ministry, gave me Janet, our three children, and four-grandchildren; he has guided me and walked with me through every valley, on every mountain top, and through everything in-between; and Jesus exposed me to my arrogance, self-righteousness, pharisaical tendencies, and obsession with image management. I attempted to shape Jesus in my image, but the Jesus that was, is, and is to come; the Jesus that is the same yesterday, today, and forever, would have none of that.

And Jesus will have none of that with each and every one of us. Nor will he with his Church. Let’s get serious about our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. Therein lies the dynamism of the Christian faith and our experience with God and one another. Reconciliation is possible when conflict and violence is authentically embraced. The journey of reconciliation is one where relationships matter most. Let us be about loving God and loving others.

[1]Ideas gleaned from Miroslav Volf, Flourishing: Why We Need Religion In A Globalized World (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2015), 161.

[2]Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers From Prison (London: Fontana Books, 1959).

[3]Mark Galli, Jesus Mean and Wild (Baker, 2006), 16.

[4]Jeremiah 2:5

[5]Adapted from Ronald P. Byars in David Barrett and Barbara Browne Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary Year C, Volume 4 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 21.

[6]Luke 14:12-14

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