Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Book of Common Prayer, p. 305, The Baptismal Covenant
When I was asked to write a reflection for this week, I said I would try, not knowing what, if anything I might have to say. The world, as it is at this present point in time, is unlike anything I have ever experienced. The United States of America, my home, is becoming unrecognizable to me. It seems as if the very fabric of our society is unraveling before our eyes. The pandemic, as bad, dangerous and destructive as it has been seems almost secondary—and I don’t say this lightly—compared to the horror of seeing a police officer murder an unarmed man, George Floyd, in broad daylight, with witnesses and fellow “law enforcement officers” calmly looking on.
I was born and raised in Selma, Alabama, and have witnessed the destructive horror and evil of racism. I know that sin—the sin of racism especially—unaddressed and unconfessed will continue to eat away at the soul of a society and a people. My hometown is a dying community because what happened in Selma in 1965 has never been addressed, confessed and repented of. The life changing and hard work of reconciliation has never been done, and though most of the adults who were present at the time of the 1965 Civil Rights marches in Selma have died, the generational sin of what happened still survives.
The generational sins of slavery, lynching, Jim Crow laws and state sanctioned segregation continue to haunt, impact and infect our entire country, not just the South. Redemption, renewal, and reconciliation can only come through an awareness of sin and the turning towards the new life promised to us in Christ’s resurrection. But where and how do we begin to make this spiritual turn, as individuals, as a people, as a country?
I believe the Martyrs of Uganda, whose feast day I recently celebrated, show us a way forward. On June 3, 1886, 32 young men, pages of the court of King Mwanga, were burned to death for their failure to renounce their faith in Christ. When Christianity was introduced in Uganda under a prior King, some nine years earlier, it flourished among the members of the royal court. King Mwanga, when he ascended to the throne, was angered that some of the converts to Christianity were placing loyalty to Christ above loyalty to the King. When the young men refused to pledge their total loyalty to Mwanga he sentenced them to death. On their way to their death, the young men sang hymns and prayed for their enemies.
The witness of these faithful martyrs offers me hope in these troubled, tumultuous and divisive times. In the United States, battle lines have been drawn along all sorts of lines- political (especially), economic, racial, religious, etc. The divisions have been especially strong among “people of faith”, those who profess a belief in a “higher power”. It seems that the draw of loyalty to something or someone other than Jesus has been the dominant pull for many. What if our loyalty to Christ was above our loyalty to political party or candidate? Or country? What if we looked at each other through the eyes of Christ, letting our loyalty to Christ lead the way? As 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old has passed away.”
The Martyrs of Uganda have much to say to us at this crucial time in history, calling us to proclaim Jesus as Lord, rather than the civil authorities and our elected officials. Our Lord Jesus calls us to tend his sheep and to follow Him. May we have the courage and wisdom to do so.
Blessings, grace and peace,
Robert T J Childers
The Rev. Robert T. J. Childers
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
211 Franklin Road
Franklin Road at Scenic Highway
Lookout Mountain, TN 37350
“May mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance”
Jude v. 2