If they [the magistrates] be of their flocks, why should they tarry for them — unless they would have the sheep to force the shepherd unto his duty? Indeed, the government may force him, but it is his shame to tarry till he be forced. Be ashamed therefore, you foolish shepherds, and do not lay the responsibility on the magistrates, as though they should do that which in building the Lord’s kingdom the apostles and prophets were not allowed to do! They could not force religion, as you would have the government do, and it was forbidden to the apostles to preach to the unworthy or force a planting or government of the church. The Lord’s kingdom is not by force, neither by an army or strength, as are the kingdoms of the world.
Robert Browne, 1528 (https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/study/module/browne)
On Saturdays, I try to write about the Scripture readings that are appointed for tomorrow. This week, the readings are for our annual attempt to preach about the nature of God, which given the general unrest in our world, seems a little off topic. When it feels like our world is shattering, who cares whether God is three persons, but one blessed Trinity?
In fact, however, there is a lesson there for us and it is this: we teach that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. We teach that at the very foundation of our world is God as “both/and”. God is not either Father or Son or Holy Spirit. God is both Creator and Redeemer and Sustainer. And here’s how that speaks to today:
Our streets are filled with protestors and police; in some cities, they are fighting as if this were a war. Fueling this conflict is the idea that protestors cannot be both protesting and good and that police cannot be both protecting and bad. But there is good AND bad in both. The insistence on drawing close and high boundaries around each category makes it impossible for us to understand the reality of the problems which drive the protests. And it makes it difficult to see how the bad apples in our police departments have spoiled the effectiveness of our police all across the nation.
The reading from the Letters for today, from 2 Corinthians 13:11-13, says “Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”
It is not peace if we cannot hear the cries of the oppressed. It is not peace if we ignore the oppression of those bad apples. It is not peace if we just assume that random acts of violence towards black people are the exception rather than the rule. God calls us to live in peace, and so we are called to listen, to really hear, and to allow the truth of our ears and the truth of our eyes to break our hearts open. Today, the nature of the God we follow tells that only when we see the both/and-ness of our world will we be able to clearly see our path forward.