“Changed for Good” – The Sunday Preview by The Rev. Stephanie Kendell
We are so excited for another week of worship together where Pastor Kaji will preach a message that I know will inspire faith-in-action. I hope that you all have been following the story of Ravi Ragbir and the ways The Park has shown up and supported him over the last few weeks. This week, we hope our efforts to keep him from being detained and deported will prevail and that he will be able to join us in service on Sunday. This Sunday is also a day of support and action against Domestic Violence and so we invite everyone who is joining us for worship (in person and online) to wear purple to show their support of this initiative.
This week I have spent a significant amount of time in Texas. I loved my time in Texas and am thankful for the ways it has shaped my ministry. However, coming back has also been challenging. Fort Worth may be the same, but I have definitely changed.
This week I got to experience the Rev. Dr. Frederick Haynes III, preach incredible sermons. If you are unfamiliar with his work, I invite you to look him up and watch a sermon. He is dynamic and spoke truth to power in each of his sermons. And as I have become accustomed to through worship at The Park, when Rev. Haynes made a point in his sermon that moved me, I responded back with a loud “amen.” However, this time, instead of the congregation doing the same, many of my friends turned to me in amazement. This is not a church, and they didn’t know me as a person who engages with the preacher during a sermon. I felt out of place. I missed The Park.
After service and during the next day’s workshops, I shared with my colleagues some of the justice work we are doing at The Park. I even got a group of ministers from all over the nation to tweet #IStandWithRavi and showed them videos of our worship around immigration and human rights. I also spoke about the work we are doing with domestic and intimate partner violence. Every story I shared was met with love and support. But then I would also sometimes get a version of the question, “Your congregation allows you to talk about stuff like that?” This question came out of a space of longing and need. It was a question that I recognized and had posed myself. However, as I thought about my response, I knew one thing for sure…”let” was the wrong word. We are obligated. We are obligated through our covenant to each other and God, to proclaim the gospel. And the gospel is a text that demands justice. I am thankful for a congregation that holds me accountable to that obligation.
If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe betide me if I do not proclaim the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.
For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings. (1 Cor. 9:16-23)
Being a member of this church has changed me because it holds me accountable as one who knows the good news of a God who seeks and demands justice. Because once we know the liberating love of God, we don’t get to un-know it and we definitely don’t get to keep it to ourselves. That is why I share the work that we are doing in new spaces and with new people. It is not to brag but to share the way God is calling us to work with new communities and to seek justice for all God’s people. But we must be vulnerable enough to take this first step in engaging these hard conversations with other people. We need to be vulnerable when accompanying people on a new journey. This text reminds us that empathy drives change. We must go outside our comfort zones and be vulnerable to meeting new people and have new experiences that inspire and renew our commitment to end systemic oppression and build connected and sustaining communities through the love and grace of God.Friends, I have had hard conversations this week about systems of oppression and injustice. However, knowing that I get to go home to a congregation that not only openly loves and supports me, but also demands that I seek justice in all that I do, has been one of the most unexpected lessons and reminders of this week. Because of you I am a better, more faithful servant of the gospel. Because of you I have been changed for good.