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Created in the Image of God…

At 12:22am on May 14, 2021 little Jack Iecce Bell made his grand entrance into the world. He is the first-born son of my nephew Tommy and his beautiful wife Miho, who met in Japan while Tommy was stationed there with the US Navy. Like his name, little Jack Iecce is a wonderful mixture of his Irish American and Japanese roots. His mother Miho brought into our family some of the wonderful traditions of Japan when she moved with Tommy to Florida last year. She has taught us to show respect with a bow and to love rice balls- a deep fried comfort food sure to clog your arteries. And now she has blessed us with a perfect gift of love! Yet, even as I celebrate the birth of little Jack Iecce, I worry about the world he will experience as he grows up- a world that will see the color of his skin and the features of his face and judge him before ever knowing him.
As Christians, we are called to be “ambassadors of reconciliation” (II Cor. 5), becoming Christ’s bridge builders in a divided community. Our heritage as followers of Jesus compels us to yearn for a world in which all are welcome, all are valued, all are seen as “created in the image of God.” Jesus himself comes from a family tree that is rich with ethnic and cultural diversity. In his ministry, Jesus intentionally crossed difficult racial boundaries as he cared for the Samaritans. Jesus even challenged his very Jewish audiences with parables in which Samaritans were the examples of godly living. St. Paul picks up that mantle in many of his letters to the early Christian church, calling believers to “break down the dividing wall,” (Ephesians 2:14) to create a community where “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female.” (Galatians 3:28) That mantle has now been passed on to us, to intentionally, even sacrificially work toward a more equitable, more welcoming, more grace-full society.
Recently, some have called into question Lenape Valley’s commitment to that intentional, even sacrificial work of reconciliation in a divided society. They are correct that we not perfect in our efforts…that we are a faith community that is still learning how to live fully into God’s call. But they have missed in their evaluation the ongoing work that is defining and even changing our ministry. From Bias Training given to all our church leaders in 2019, to the study of our Elders in 2020-21 (Be the Bridge, Overcoming Prejudice Together, Breaking the Cycle, Exponential- How Big is Your Circle?), to changes in our hiring practices to insure inclusion, to discussions with our youth and studies with our adults in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (his most outspoken letter calling for healing the divide), to pastoral messages in letters and sermons, we have worked diligently to deepen our awareness, knowing that we still have a long way to go. And while we have worked toward a greater sensitivity to the hurt in our society, we have also tried to respond to that need. Your mission dollars and your generosity to the Deacon’s Fund and food cupboard have enabled a robust effort to alleviate food and housing insecurity, to increase educational opportunity, and to create safe havens where healing and hope can be found. All these efforts are just the beginning of the work that must be done.
Next week will mark a painful anniversary in the life of our nation- May 25, 2020 was the day George Floyd lost his life. A year ago, protests erupted across our nation and into over 60 other countries. Those protests served as a wake-up call to many that there is still much to be done to create a world where all are welcome, where all are valued, where all are seen as “created in the image of God.” This painful anniversary must serve as a reminder to us here at Lenape Valley that we still have a long way to go to answer God’s call to the ministry of reconciliation. We have much to learn, changes to make and new mission to explore. God is calling us to be part of God’s color-rich, culturally diverse, beautiful kingdom where little Jack Iecce Bell and all his friends will find welcome. We are the mission of Jesus Christ to the world God so loves. How will we answer the call?
With you learning how to build bridges and tear down walls,

Here are a few resources that may stretch your awareness, and encourage your participation in the mission of reconciliation:
Bible Study:
Ephesians, Galatians, and Esther

The Color of Compromise- Jamar Tisby
Caste- Isabel Wilkerson
Be the Bridge- Latasha Morrison
How to Fight Racism- Jamar Tisby

Holy Post- Race in America- Phil Vischer
Practical Ways to Pursue Racial Reconciliation- Pastor Bryan Lorrits
What is Systemic Racism?- Rev. Dr. Tony Evans
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