Several years ago I saw a poster with a beautiful picture of Jesus Christ hanging on wall right outside the fellowship hall in a local UCC church. It was a solemn picture of Jesus having a discussion with a small group of his followers. The text said, "I came to take away your sins, not your minds."
I have carried that message in my heart and mind for years because it helps me understand how important it is to think about things that are going on around me. It challenges me to realize that I have to be involved in addressing the social problems in our world.
So I can't just sit back and think that God will simply take care of the injustice happening all around me. I cannot ignore my role in systemic oppression. I must take the teachings of Jesus seriously if I am to fulfill my Christian responsibility to be in solidarity with those who are marginalized by society. My faith requires that I think about it and act.
We often hear messages that tell us that it is okay to suffer here on earth because our real reward is in heaven. Most recently, we have heard messages dangerously saying that suffering is part of God's plan or a result of God's wrath. We cannot conveniently cut out sections of Jesus' message just to accommodate our self-righteous tendencies.
The Gospel message requires that we not turn our backs on the injustice that is occurring in our country and throughout the world. We cannot isolate ourselves in our churches with an attitude of self-preservation while the world is painfully crumbling around us. God does not give special preference to those who have more than they need - nor is God ignoring those who have nothing - quite the contrary. Christians, progressive and otherwise, must provide the voice of reason to the current societal conditions that seem to favor the rich, the powerful and the dominant.
Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed
by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what
is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.
In one of his last letters, Paul sends this passionate appeal to Gentile Christians who were living in times of tension and conflict in their society, and self-righteousness was rampant among the new converts. They were deep into criticism of Jews and historic Jewish practice. It seems to relate to similar challenges that the Church faces today in regard to its future and relevance. This letter from Paul to the Romans was sent as a form of encouragement during difficult times; we could use some of his encouragement now.
We are in the midst of a radically changing society that is searching for an explanation to the chaos of current culture. Societies' masses are hungry for answers and will accept almost any rationalization for the miracles of faith, regardless of their sustainability. So words of miraculous salvation – being born again - seem to satisfy the ever present search for truth regardless of whether or not it is grounded in scriptural examination, historical analysis, or even cultural authenticity.
The words on that poster keep coming back to me. "I came to take away your sins, not your mind." They remind me to be transformed by the renewing of my mind to discern is the will of God. In so doing, I think seriously about my faith and act on it.
The Rev. Linda Jaramillo is Executive Minister for Justice and Witness Ministries and a member of the UCC's five-person Collegium of Officers.