Reflection for ‘Aha Mokupuni
April 16, 2016
Church of the Holy Cross UCC
I am probably the least qualified person in the room to welcome you – I’ve been pastor here at Church of the Holy Cross UCC for less than two weeks! – but I am truly delighted to welcome you here, to meet you, and to begin serving with you.
Christians tend to be nice people. We value caring and compassion. We uphold kindness. We offer hospitality and we extend ourselves in charity. We tend not just to live but to honor quiet, humble lives, causing no trouble to others and seeking no trouble for ourselves.
And so we tend to forget some things about our founders, who were, on the whole, not so quiet.
The twelve apostles who took the message of Jesus’ resurrection to the world were repeatedly arrested and imprisoned. Those who joined them joined in their poor relationship with the enforcers of the law. The apostle Paul boasts (and he is boasting) that he’s been imprisoned more than anybody, and he may have even lost count. I guess when you’ve been whipped five times, beaten with rods three times, and endured the pain and terror of having stones hurled at you, prison stays may not stick in your mind.
The point is that Christian behaviors and practices we highly value today were actively discouraged by custom, by prejudice, and by law in the first century. Romans used both laws targeting Christians, banning their gatherings, and laws that seemed more general, such as requiring homage to the Emperor (who could object to that?), to discourage and eradicate our faith. Christians steadily gained ground, and the more explicit laws were removed, until Constantine took the step of making Christianity the official religion of the empire.
That came with its own problems, and we suffer from those still today. But that’s for another time.
The ancient Christians had little power to change the laws under which they lived. That power resided in a very few, very powerful people, and it was only by steadily persuading them of the love of God in Christ that the situation changed. It took years.
We live in a system where the laws, at least in theory, belong to us. The representatives who make them serve at our election, and they may be replaced if they do not attend to the will of the people. There is much to be concerned about in the American political system (I think the current presidential contest demonstrates it beyond doubt), particularly the influence of money and power and the pernicious manifestations of racism, but the structure says the authority belongs to us.
Which means the responsibility belongs to us. Roman rules eventually changed the laws which took the lives and freedom of so many early Christians, including Jesus himself. We have the opportunity to prevent the incarceration of so many of our young people, laying the burden of a criminal record upon them and depriving them of the support of their families and communities. A legal structure that increases the prison population sevenfold in thirty years requires change. Processes of law that disproportionately imprison some ethnic and racial groups demand change. The responsibility to reform it is ours.