We must be the church
This essay was originally published in the Autumn 2001 issue of SPU’s Response
During the days immediately following Sept. 11, I asked myself how we, as a church, should be responding to this terrible tragedy. Do we take up an offering? Do we hold prayer services? Those are good church things to do. But what I found myself returning to again and again is this: We must be the church.
As the church, our primary role is allowing the face of Jesus to be seen in the midst of evil and tragedy. What does our traumatized society see of Jesus? The New Testament makes the audacious claim that Jesus is to be seen in the community of Christ’s followers. It is when the face of Jesus is seen in us that we are most clearly the church.
When the church is most clearly being the church, the face of Jesus shines with hope, faith, and love.
Hope for God’s people is confident assurance that Jesus is Lord and will one day reign over all. In the post-Sept. 11 world, the church must offer not just fear-generating scenarios of the end times, or strong condemnations of the evils of America now being judged, but rather a hope-building message of a God who loves us, and a Jesus who stands with us in the midst of this tragedy.
Faith in God is not a vague belief in something or a set of ideas to which we ascribe. My faith is in a person, and that person is Jesus. How does that faith express itself? Four services of worship and prayer were held that tragic week at First Free Methodist Church, including a packed, SPU-led service at Friday noon. Even in shock and sadness, the faith of the church is framed in worship, praise and prayer.
Love for all people, even our enemies, is what the Scripture teaches us. As the face of Jesus in difficult times, we must resist any temptation to vent our anger on Middle-Easterners or Muslims or Afghanis. The face of Jesus seen in us is the face of love, love expressing active compassion for those in need, love mourning with those who mourn, love suffering with those who suffer.
Where was God on that terrible Tuesday? God was where God was on the first Good Friday: in Jesus, suffering along with us and suffering for us. And we have the privilege of being that face of Jesus to a world that needs to see his face these days.
We may not be able to completely eradicate terrorism in the world or to give airtight answers to theological and philosophical questions about the problem of evil. We may not be able to reach our arms around the thousands who have lost loved ones to terrorism. But we can and we must be the face of Jesus in hope, faith and love to those whom we encounter.
Thus, I call myself and us to remember who we are during these difficult days. I urge us to avoid pat, simplistic answers. May our words be words of hope, faith, love, remembering “Christ in me, the hope of glory.” Christ in us. That’s the church being the church.
Mark Abbott was lead pastor at Seattle’s First Free Methodist Church for 28 years. In retirement, he now serves as an adjunct faculty member at SPU and Fuller Seminary in the Northwest. He is the author of A Psalm-Shaped Life (2011) and The Story of Beginnings (2013).