The image of the stained glass window of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama hangs behind the worship platform in my church in Portland, Oregon. The picture displays Jesus with outstretched arms and hands—the right hand halting oppression and the left hand opened and offering forgiveness. The stained glass window was given to the church in Birmingham by the people of Wales after the bombing of the church orchestrated by the KKK on Sunday morning, September 15, 1963. The horrific bombing killed four young African American girls.
I thought about that incident and the stained glass window this past Sunday as my pastor preached on Luke’s Gospel. Jesus brought reconciliation—his ‘right hand’ halting oppression and his ‘left hand’ offering forgiveness—throughout his ministry. Our church is seeking to live into that reality—living between Jesus’ two outstretched arms.In view of Jesus, it is right to say that reconciliation that does not pursue justice is not truly reconciliation and justice that does not pursue reconciliation is not truly just.
This burden for justice and reconciliation is too great to bear on our own. Only Jesus can bear the burden. But that does not excuse us. Jesus carries our burden and longing, halting oppression and offering forgiveness. His actuality makes it possible for us to live into this reality, no matter how hard it seems, as we live between his outstretched arms.
I’m speaking on these and related themes this week at the Mosaix 2013 Multiethnic Church Conference.
This piece is cross-posted at The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and at The Christian Post.