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Having authentic conversations about faith and politics


Speaker: Be like Paul and work out your differences for the sake of the gospel

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

Ray Jones portrait

The Rev. Dr. Ray Jones

WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana — The Rev. Dr. Ray Jones, acting director of Theology, Formation & Evangelism ministries for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, has a deepening passion and understanding of the gospel that he says “is changing my life.”

“I’m not an expert,” Jones told those gathered for his conversation and presentation on “Faith, Politics and Authentic Conversation” at Presbyterian Youth Triennium. “But I am a growing, maturing follower of Jesus Christ.”

With that, Jones described his desire for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to live into God’s loving redemptive mission in the gospel, which he increasingly believes is connected to the  Matthew 25 invitation to churches and mid councils. The invitation calls on Presbyterians to work on congregational vitality, eliminate structural racism and eradicate systemic poverty.

“Friends, it’s not just the good thing to do,” Jones said. “As the body of Christ, it’s the right thing to do.”

Recently Jones was reading Jen Hatmaker’s book “Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity.” Hatmaker left her megachurch to start a new one because of a change of heart about the gospel.

“Increasingly God began giving her a heart for people on the margins,” Jones said.

And on her journey of discovering God at work in everyone’s life, she wrote this, about Matthew 25:

“In its greatest depth this passage is not merely a moral challenge or judgment on this world. Nor is it just a program for social action or poverty reduction. Rather it describes the mystery of salvation that grounds all hierarchy, motivates all action, and makes possible the acceptance of our identity as redeemed sinners.’”

“What if this, which is God’s redemptive mission found in the gospel, is what could hold us together through all of our conflict?” Jones asked.

Then reading from Philippians 4:1-9, which describes a conflict in the early church in Philippi between Euodia and Syntyche, Jones wondered, “What was dividing these two female leaders?”

“In Philippi, people were proud to be Roman citizens,” he said, “so it could’ve been about what it means to say, ‘Caesar is Lord and Jesus is Lord.’”
Jones acknowledged that the conflict could also have been about the early Jewish followers who said, “Jesus is great,” but wanted those in early church to follow some of their laws, like circumcision.

“Perhaps one leader was saying to the other, ‘No, it’s Jesus alone,’” said Jones.

Then he asked gathered Triennium youth and adult participants to describe what creates conflict in some of their churches.

“Different ways of doing things” and “interpretation of Scripture,” they called out. “Music, politics, and any kind of change.”

“And what does Paul say about conflict?” Jones asked. “Work it out,” he said. “Why? For the sake of the gospel.”

This message, Jones believes, is urgent for today, because the church of Jesus Christ has work to do: building up healthy churches and honestly addressing systems that perpetuate racism and keep people in poverty.

It is on this journey of working out conflict for the sake of the gospel, Jones noted, that Paul says, “The peace of God will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

“In Scripture, peace is such an interesting word,” he said.  “It’s about shalom, wholeness, completeness, righteousness and righting wrongs.”

“So, what if the work of the gospel we are being invited to do through Matthew 25 is what will protect us?” he asked. “When we live into the gospel, we don’t become narrower, we become more expansive.”

Jones encouraged Triennium participants to allow the grace they experience this week to change them, even as they hold in tension that there are people on this journey of faith who think differently.

“We don’t have to be alike, but we do need to learn how to have civil conversations,” he said. “We’ve got to share where we are politically so that we can figure out how to be a community dying to ourselves in our baptism and being raised to new life.”

This is what gospel people always need to be about, he said — having life.

That means “the racism of white privilege in me has to die,” Jones said, “to help others have life in Christ.”

And by holding one another accountable, to be the people God is calling us to be in the Matthew 25 invitation, Jones believes the PC(USA) will increasingly become a become a place of justice, welcome and hope.

“Not because it’s a good idea,” he said, “but because this is what God desires for us through Jesus Christ.”

Make sure to follow PYT on social media on FacebookTwitter and Instagram to be up to date on all of the Triennium excitement. The official event hashtag is #PYT2019.

Presbyterian Youth Triennium is a gathering for high school age youth from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church that occurs every three years. The 2019 event runs through July 20 at Purdue University. The theme for the 2019 event is “Here’s My Heart.” The Presbyterian Youth Triennium is supported by your gifts to the Pentecost Offering.

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