My latest for the Longview News-Journal
This summer, I saw the power Christians have when they set aside denominational lines and work together to serve people in need.
I was shocked by the sheer destruction and devastation of Hurricane Harvey when it hit Texas almost a year ago. Image after image of flooded houses and Cajun Navy rescues were being shared on the news and social media. At the time I had picked the location for my congregation’s youth mission trip, but as soon as Harvey moved out of Southeast Texas I knew that we had to change our plans and go and serve.
I’ve participated in many mission trips over the years, but this trip was unlike any I had ever been a part of before. I contacted some colleagues in ministry and inquired if they would like to join our trip. They accepted. Three churches came together for one mission trip: First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Longview; Trinity Episcopal Church (Longview and Marshall); and First United Methodist Church, Longview.
We joined together to serve the people of Orange and Vidor for a week in June. We worked together, laughed together, ate together, worshiped together, and shared holy communion together. At the beginning of the trip I told the group that we were not Disciples of Christ, Episcopalians or Methodists on this trip, but simply all followers of Christ trying to live out the call of the Gospel in the world around us.
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus commands the disciples to go out into the community and care for the people. Jesus gives them the authority to heal and cast out demons. The disciples went out two by two and did the work they were asked to do. Did they just help those who believed like they did? Did they help those who voted like they did? Did they help those who lived like they did?
The author of Mark doesn’t tell us who they helped, just that they did. Nowhere in the Bible does it say only help those who you like or who you believe are worthy. The Catholic theologian Thomas Merton once wrote, “Our job [as Christians] is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.”
If there is anything that our country, state or city needs it is to witness the unity that takes places when people put aside the artificial labels that we affix on ourselves. Politicians tell us that we need to “set aside our differences and come together,” but rarely does that happen.
This mentality, unfortunately, has even crept into our churches. We hold to our way of doing things and do not see the value of learning from others. On this trip, we were exposed to various worship practices, styles and beliefs, but we were all grounded in the common notion that Jesus is the Christ and his call for the church is that we might be one, serving, worshiping and loving humanity together.
For one week in Southeast Texas, 41 people chose to be followers of Christ together, regardless of their skin color, beliefs of about God, income status or orientation. None of that mattered because we were all serving the same God, the same Christ, partaking in the same holy communion.
May we all learn from this experience. Instead of trying to see which church can get the most people in a certain place or have the biggest ministry program, let’s combine our efforts and see how much can get done. Let’s remove our ego out of the equation and simply leave Jesus’ call on our lives to love our neighbor, all neighbors, just as much as we love our very own selves. This would make a significant impact on our churches, city, state, and nation.
We need this unity now more than ever.