Retirement affords my wife and me the opportunity to visit the congregations of ministers who grew up in Ebenezer and now serve elsewhere. I am so proud of the progress God is making through them and their congregations.
We visited a church led by one recently, where encouraging signs of sensitivity to the world of God and the mission of the congregation in the surrounding community was quite evident. This church sponsors a plethora of programs to help it maintain faithfulness to its message of redemption from sin, poverty, domestic violence and unfunded public education, to name a few. These are only a few of the litany of challenges facing these congregations.
During the service there, we were profoundly blessed, to the point of tears, to feel the presence and grace of God in worship. When the invitation to Christian discipleship was extended, a number of teenagers, both male and female, came forward to receive strength for their journeys.
The major thrust of the sermon that Sunday was not the theme of the text, but it was God’s word.
First, we all had to acknowledge, to our shame and sorrow, that human sex trafficking has become a way of life for some in our urban communities. It is on the rise across our nation and world. Teenage girls and boys are often forced into prostitution to meet their survival needs, caused by conditions that they have little control over.
After the sermon, the pastor called on us still present to stand, hold hands and pray with and for these young people, and for ourselves. We took our seats at the conclusion of the prayer, but two young girls remained standing. They clung to the pastor and he held them in his arms for at least five minutes.
Thank God they had found a man who spoke of a savior they could trust. They were children of the streets who sought love and refuge in Christ’s church.
This scene reminded me of one in the New Testament, when Jesus informed His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die, because of our rebellion against the word of God.
Peter, who vehemently opposes any thought of harm coming to Jesus, puts his arm around Christ’s shoulder and whispers, “This will never happen to you as long as I’m around. I’ll protect you, Lord.”
Peter had his own notions about the mission of Christ. He saw himself as God’s vindicator of the poor, a warrior king who would drive Rome away from Israel’s shores forever. Like Peter, here is our challenge:
Are we willing to throw our love and support around the young women and men who are shamefully selling their bodies in Atlanta? Are we willing to invest our lives in theirs, and by doing so, redeem them and ourselves?
Fortunately, there are resources in our communities to help us all face these challenges (the Living Water organization in Decatur is one of several in Atlanta).
But not only are people of goodwill needed to provide protecting arms for our young, we need adults to stretch out embracing arms to others from diverse lands and cultures. In our national politics, we are too dogmatic, too rigid and too concerned about being right all the time. Only on rare occasions do we listen to each other, or to God.
World-renowned Christian author P.T. Forsyth puts our challenge in these words:
We are experiencing the constant pressure of a redeeming God upon His fallen word. We need to look each other in the eye to really listen to each other. We need to embrace each other, as well as protect each other.
This is our great challenge as religious spokespeople. People don’t want any more struggle or hardships. Give us peace and prosperity.
Just as Peter throws his protective arm around You, Jesus, we want Your strong protective arm around us. We know we can count on You, God, but we are not sure we can count on each other.
Rev. Joseph L. Roberts, Jr.