A MESSAGE FROM REV. J.C. AUSTIN: “All of the Above”

Today I filled out a survey from the Log College Project, the program of Princeton Seminary that we are part of, that is trying to cultivate new ways of doing ministry with young people. The survey was to help them get a better sense of how the events of the past three months have been impacting that ministry and how they might help us respond.
One of the question was something like, “in a word or phrase, describe how are you feeling in this moment? (“I’m exhausted.” “I’m hopeful.” “I’m overwhelmed.” “I’m excited.” I’m grieving.”) My answer to that question was, “all of the above.”

And I suspect that’s the answer that many of you would give if you were asked the same question. We’ve talked periodically through the pandemic about grief; I even preached a sermon on it as an expression of love, in the sermon series after Easter: “Love in the Time of the Coronavirus.” But grief – which is not limited to death, but any kind of loss, including our expectations or beliefs about our lives and society and world – is hitting us in a whole new way in the last few weeks:

• grief for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and so many others
• grief for those who have been abused or even killed in or around the protests, including protesters, bystanders, and law enforcement officers
• grief for the sense of how familiar so much of this is in so many ways, in spite of the progress that has been made over the decades.

And we are exhausted and overwhelmed by the stress of processing it all and trying to figure out what are the faithful and constructive and impactful ways to respond as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Yet while acknowledging and honoring that, we should also not lose sight of the reasons to be hopeful and even excited. The entire top-10 of the New York Times bestseller list are books related to understanding and combatting systemic racism. Organizations and individuals who have never spoken out against racism and white supremacy before are doing so. And 68 people showed up for the first session of our new adult education course, “Faith in Living Color: Race, Racism, and Christian Discipleship.”

There were also a handful of people who had technical difficulties joining (our apologies; we have a plan to prevent that from happening again), and others who were simply unable to attend for various reasons. So you can go to www.fpc-bethlehem.org/racialjustice and find links to the course, as well as the sermon series “Sermons in Extraordinary Time,” as that progresses. We’ll also share other relevant resources as we create or curate them, including the work of our Racial Justice Task Force, a new initiative from the Session to help guide our efforts in this crucial work.

I am convinced that the Holy Spirit is powerfully at work in our congregation and our world in the midst of “all of the above,” and will continue to be so as we strive to be faithful to our calling in this tumultuous season.

I am grateful for us as a congregation that is truly leaning in to that calling, to our core values and our mission as I mentioned last week. And I am hopeful that there is good and important fruit that is being born in the midst of all this that will nourish us all more fully in God’s ways of justice, mercy, and peace.

Grace and peace,

PS – Please remember our “Sermon Response” sessions available via Zoom, after each service on Sunday: an opportunity to reflect on the message with others. Details are below.