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A Lament on Martin Luther King Day

January 15, 2018

 "When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born.  Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God."
~ Leviticus 19.33-34

"There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
~ Galatians 3.28

     As many of you know, I often avoid intentionally immersing myself in current events and the news cycle. I have often encouraged us as a congregation to be more informed and formed by the story of scripture than the story dictated by the news media, which is always attempting to convince us that this day's news events are of utmost importance and eternal consequence, when in fact they are almost always relatively unimportant events with only fleeting consequence. 
     However, my intentional ignorance of the news  led me into the service of worship yesterday not knowing the hateful and hurtful words that the president said about immigrants from Africa, Latin America, and Haiti -- hateful and hurtful words that the president said about brothers and sisters in Christ in our own church family. And that meant that I, as the shepherd of this congregation, missed an opportunity to lead the Valley Church family in a time of support, encouragement, love, and welcome for our Haitian brothers and sisters in Christ, reminding us all that we are first and foremost fellow citizens of the kingdom of heaven by the grace of God. It also means that we all missed an opportunity to publicly re-affirm, along with our Haitian brothers and sisters, our commitment to the gospel truth that every human being is created in the image of God and is therefore worthy of respect as a fellow image-bearer regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, education, nationality or anything else.
     This is an email of lament. I grieve that yesterday, a day in which we heard the summons to live first and foremost as citizens of Jesus' kingdom of heaven, we missed the opportunity to embrace our brothers and sisters who were made to feel unwelcome, unloved, unwanted, and insignificant by a ruler in one of this world's kingdoms. I also grieve that we live in a time and culture so sharply divided that it can produce the kind of vitriol and hurtful comments that led to this situation in the first place. 
     Let me encourage all of us, however, not to simply lament or grieve, but to actively embrace our God-given identities as peacemakers, beginning by praying for our Haitian brothers and sisters in Christ, that they might hear and know God's peace spoken to them in the eternal word of Jesus, the King of kings. I also encourage you to pray for immigrants from other countries who have been made to feel unloved, unwelcome, unimportant, and insignificant that they might know the truth of who they are as those who bear the image of Almighty God.
   I encourage you to pray for the people of this nation, that God would work by his grace in the hearts and minds of its leaders and citizens, beating back the forces of darkness and fear that manifest themselves in racism and hate, replacing them instead with the light of reconciliation and compassion.

     Your fellow citizen of Christ's heavenly kingdom,
     Pastor Kurt

     I also encourage you to read the following statement from the presidents of Calvin College and Seminary that summarizes my thoughts better than I could say them myself. It is below.

A statement from the presidents
of Calvin College and Seminary:

    Dear Calvin Students, Faculty, and Staff,
    We wish you all a Happy New Year this January and pray daily for our students, faculty, and staff who are travelling and learning around the world and here in Grand Rapids. Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary, higher education institutions founded by immigrants, are composed of students, faculty, and staff from more than 60 nations. While 600 of us may claim citizenship in another country, we are all prime citizens of the Kingdom of God and share in a brotherhood and sisterhood that transcends all borders. It is for this reason, this love for our brothers and sisters, that we are deeply troubled and offended by the disparaging comments attributed to the President of the United States in recent days about people who come from Africa, Haiti, and Latin America. These comments sow fear and hatred in our country, and they are wrong. More than 150 members of our community come from these countries, and they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

    This response is in no way political. It is in every way biblical. As members of the Calvin community, it is our Christian duty and responsibility to separate ourselves from racist and hateful remarks and sentiments. The world cannot be confused about what we believe. As Christians, we are called to support and promote the well-being of every member of our community and our society regardless of race, ethnicity, or national origin. We protect and defend the inviolable dignity of all people. It is our joy to ensure that every person who lives, learns, or works at Calvin knows that they are full participants in our respective missions. When we live according to these responsibilities and duties with “gentleness born of wisdom from above,” (James 3:13) we bear witness to the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    On Monday, we celebrate the life of a follower of Jesus who lived out this call to confront racism and injustice with the strength to love. The vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., articulated in James 3:18, was a “harvest of righteousness sown in peace for those who make peace.” As we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King, we remember the contributions of a citizen of the United States who understood his prime citizenship in the Kingdom of God. Dr. King stood against evil and racism because he was a follower of Jesus.

    We have the privilege of doing the same.

    Following Jesus together,
    Michael Le Roy, President, Calvin College
    Jul Medenblik, President, Calvin Theological Seminary
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Valley Church
1452 River Road
Binghamton, New York 13901

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