Rev. Melissa Cooper

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Prophets to the Powers that Be

This time of year in the church is easy to gloss over. We've all survived the chaos of Advent and Christmas. We made it through Epiphany. Now most of us are looking toward our Lenten plans. 

And yet, there are a couple of really incredible opportunities that can be missed if we let the recovery from the Advent and Christmas seasons overwhelm our focus. 

This weekend, a couple of things coincided. Many of us celebrated the Baptism of our Lord on Sunday (in an effort to wrestle it from Epiphany's liturgical grasp). And today, we celebrate the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Now for some traditions, this might be an odd pairing, but it shouldn't have been a challenge for my Methodist friends. Our baptismal liturgy is a wealth of theological truth and personal conviction, including around justice issues.

Last year, I led a confirmation class for my church, including a retreat. On that retreat, we went through the vows they would be taking at confirmation, as well as offering opportunities for the students to ask any question they desired, and we would answer it as best we could.

I am blessed to have worked with some pretty incredible and intelligent teenagers in confirmation classes, and this crew did not disappoint. In fact, some of them even asked about the future of the United Methodist Church, especially around the question of how we will include or exclude the LGBTQ community in the future. 

What happened next was a beautiful moment, as I watched leaders in their church remind them that no matter what the church said now, they have the power to change it. They were given encouragement that it was their job to change the world. And you know what? They are going to do it. I am in no way concerned about the future of our world and our church, because I know whose hands it's in. 

Will they need us to help guide them? Absolutely. Will they make some mistakes? You bet they will. Do they still do some dumb teenage things now? Of course! And yet, the future is bright and I can't wait to see how they transform the world.

And one of the ways they do that is embedded right in our baptismal vows:

"Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?"

I told my confirmands that it was important they take seriously this vow, and that "whatever forms they present themselves" includes when evil, injustice and oppression appears in the church

Yesterday, we also celebrated a reaffirmation of baptism, and I loved the way this particular liturgy asked the congregation to reaffirm that vow:

One: Will you let the Spirit use you as prophets to the powers that be?
All: We accept the freedom and power God gives us
To resist evil, injustice, and oppression
In whatever forms they present themselves!

I've seen a number of friends from all over the political spectrum speaking up against racism this week, as our president has given them a significant opportunity to do so. I know many of us have been disheartened as we see Christians defend statements that are unequivocally racist in nature, and represent ideals that are in direct opposition to the teachings of Christ. I, too, am disheartened. 

And yet, I return to my first thought - for the first time in a long time, I have seen friends from many ends of the political and theological spectrum speak out against this particular statement. While it is not all, it is many. And in that, I am heartened. I am optimistic that we might just be able to move past Christianity as us vs. them and realize that, while we do not yet agree on all things, there are things that are decided and done. Let's not forget those things, friends. Dr. King died so that we might not forget those things. 

We are called to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves, and we cannot do that silently. We cannot do that passively. Let us use our voices, empowered by the indwelling of the Spirit, to resist. To transform the world. 

And so, I pray that on this day we remember our baptismal vows, and we submit ourselves to used by the Spirit as prophets to the powers that be, resisting evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. 

Melissa CooperComment