Jesus shows us how to heal injustices
by Chip Hardwick | Presbyterians Today
Forgiving those who have hurt us — even when it’s excruciating. Keeping our promises — even when it’s more difficult than we ever expected. These challenges that Jesus ties together in his Sermon on the Mount (take time to read Matthew 5:21–37 now) came together on a trip last October to New Mexico, Utah and Arizona, where the Synod of the Southwest invited executives to meet almost 20 Native American congregations. It was at once inspiring and sobering, as the congregations demonstrated stirring faith amid challenges rarely experienced by dominant culture congregations.
One congregation in Sacaton, Arizona, for example, had a historic sanctuary where the funeral was held for World War II hero Ira Hayes, one of the soldiers celebrated in the famous Iwo Jima memorial. The structure would have celebrated 101 years in 2019. Instead, it was destroyed by arson.
Think for a minute about all the memories that you have in the church closest to your heart. Now imagine those memories literally going up in smoke due to arson.
Now imagine living out the words of Jesus from Matthew 5:22: “I say to you if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment, and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council, and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.”
Despite quite understandable anger, somehow two elders from the Sacaton congregation met this challenge. They went to the arsonist’s home and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, said that they held nothing against him. Somehow, they found the faithfulness to offer forgiveness — even when it was excruciating.
These elders, like virtually every other congregation we met, lead ministries in very difficult circumstances. Economic struggles on the reservations mean that very few churches have seminary-trained leaders. Their church’s physical plants were the worst that I have ever seen in my many travels throughout our denomination, which lead us back to our Scripture’s second challenge — to keep our promises, even when it is harder than we imagined.
In Fort Defiance, Arizona, we visited a church that was established by white missionaries. A family had given land for a church. The congregation was promised that the physical property would be cared for.
Yet, the larger Church had not kept its promise to steward the property. The larger Church’s “yes” became a “no” as funds diminished.
What would it look like for you to forgive those who have hurt you? And how can we begin keeping the promises we make? It can be done.
In 2018, the 223rd General Assembly established the Native American Church Property Fund so that finally our “yes” can truly remain a “yes” for these congregations and their buildings. You can learn more here.
The Rev. Dr. Chip Hardwick is executive of the Synod of the Covenant.
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Categories: Presbyterians Today
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