Letter to the Congregations: 13th May 2023
Our Dear Brethren,
"Who are you for?"
A few of my students asked me a question as I stood in the doorway greeting them that morning. They asked me "Who are you for?" They were, in some ways, not yet mature, but there were instances where they had to grow up and begin to understand the seriousness of life at a young age. Most of their lives they had heard of the fighting that went on in the neighboring country of Israel. Most of them had family members living in Gaza or the West Bank and they worried for them sometimes constantly. On one hand they desired the fighting to stop, but on the other hand many refused to desire peace with their neighbors in Israel. My students wanted me to choose sides, but really they wanted me to side with them.
"Who are you for? Israel or Gaza?"
Although there are Christians in Jordan and they are free to practice their own religion, we stood out even more than they did in this predominantly Muslim country since we keep the Sabbath and the festivals of God. This is a country where it is illegal and potentially dangerous to openly proselytize. Since we weren't allowed to preach openly, most of the spreading of the good news had to begin through our example. When asked if we were "for" one people or another, as we heard about rockets being thrown across borders, we figured it would be wiser not to take sides but to pursue peace instead. "In my distress I cried to the Lord, and He heard me" (Psalm 120:1). The psalmist here emphasizes allowing God to protect us in the midst of fighting rather than going to war ourselves. In verse seven he reiterates the seeking of peace in the midst of others who desire fighting to continue: "I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war."
"I am for peace."
The phrase we chose to cling to was that simple statement: "I am for peace." This phrase baffled some of my students who questioned my understanding of the situation. Others paused and thought about what I meant. Some accepted the fact that I wasn't going to take sides and appreciated that I desired peace, not only for myself but for them and their families as well.
Ultimately God gives and takes away power. He allows wars to happen and for people to die in battle or as casualties of war. God allows humanity to experience pain and suffering because His kingdom is not yet here. Imagine how much less fighting there could potentially be if every nation knew of the coming kingdom of our God. Nation could begin to work with nation and kingdoms would not be divided. Peoples would gather with one another and worship only the one true God and His Son the Christ.
One day, when the kingdom is finally here, we won't have to worry about taking sides in a war. We won't have to worry when we speak the truth. Until that time we do have the responsibility to spread the "gospel of the kingdom...in all the world as a witness to all the nations" (see Matthew 24:14). We begin to do this even without words through our example. The words we use, accompanied by our godly conduct, have the potential to cause people to pause and think about what God really desires for humanity. There is a strong need for this good news to spread and for a change to begin in the hearts of those who are willing to listen. The message of the peace of the kingdom of God will need to be preached even up to the moment that Jesus Christ returns and begins to set up His kingdom here on earth.
"And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14).
Our love is with you,
Pastor, United Church of God
NYC, NJ, CT, Malawi, Zimbabwe