Persistent faithfulness as an approach to community transformation

by Christopher Lortie

Many people begin the New Year by making resolutions, a decision to remove something or to incorporate something new in one’s life. I have to admit that I did not make any “official” resolutions this year, although I have recently made an effort to include more fitness activities in my life. I write ‘effort’ because ‘commitment’ may be too strong of a word. This is often the case with New Year’s resolutions. For many of us, it doesn’t take too long until they are forgotten.

Looking back, I often find that my New Year’s resolution goals were too big and unrealistic. The process usually ends in disappointment when I have to accept that I am not meeting my goals.

A similar feeling comes to mind when I consider the state of peace and justice in the world. Currently, I don’t think I need to argue too forcefully that reading or watching the news can create a feeling of despair when wondering about the lack of peace and justice in the world.

Like personal resolutions, promises made by governments toward large scale domestic or international initiatives seem to fade away soon after commitments are made. News headlines can be overwhelming, and it can be difficult to imagine any measurable impact our actions could make – or even where to start.

I recently preached a sermon looking at 1 Peter, which I believe provides us with some direction and hope when feeling overwhelmed by the state of the world. In this context, the New Testament church was facing the reality that Jesus’s return wasn’t happening as quickly as they expected and the realization that they would have to settle into everyday life. Peter presents a way forward for the church, responding to how members of the church are to engage with the world around them, as well as how the church should engage with each other in community life.

Peter argues that those who make up the church should do what is “good” or “right” in the places they find themselves (e.g., 1 Peter 2:15, 20; 3:16; 4:19). They should embody Christ in all situations. This is why Peter uses language from Isaiah 53 – what is often called the suffering servant song – extensively in 1 Peter 2 describing how to take on the role of the suffering servant as Christ did, modeling Christ’s actions, especially in vulnerable situations. This might not sound like a very satisfying option for those who are presently experiencing forms of severe oppression; however, Peter believes that persistent faithfulness would be transformative in the context of the New Testament church.

In the context of community, Peter suggests a response which focuses on love and hospitality where each individual contributes their gifts and talents. He emphasizes that each person should excel with the gifts and opportunities they have been given. Each person has something to contribute, and Peter invites them to do well in their area of giftedness.

First Peter 4:8–11 reads, “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen” (NRSV).

When working for peace and justice, let us start by using our gifts in the places that we find ourselves. We all have unique talents and a sphere of influence, and with these gifts and in these places, we have a solid foundation.

More than a few times in my life, I have made the New Year’s resolution to start running. The problem is, I really don’t like running. The concept of persistent faithfulness reminds me of a time when as a teenager I had to participate in running exercises as part of a training routine for my hockey team. At first, I put almost no effort into this training, and it took me an embarrassingly long time to complete the run.

A change happened when I realized that since I had to do it, I might as well do it to the best of my abilities. As I ran, I would set small goals that allowed me to focus on accomplishments. I would pick a sign or landmark that was fairly close and simply focus on making that goal, and then I would pick another and another. My running time reduced significantly, and I actually began to enjoy the experience.

Rather than giving in to that despairing feeling about the state of our world today, we can apply Peter’s message to the church. We can set small goals or find a sign or landmark that we can run to and not be discouraged by the great overall distance we have ahead of us – one step at a time.

For example, we might not be able to solve the global migration crisis, but we can extend hospitality to newcomers who are in need of friendship and care. Our next goal might be to start informing ourselves about relevant conversations in our community, then our province and our country relating to Canada’s immigration policies. The more we learn and the more we get involved, the more opportunity we will see to use our gifts within our current and potential future sphere of influence.

Solving the great problems of the world can be overwhelming and seem impossible, but when we use our gifts through the concept of persistent faithfulness to be a positive influence, we might find ourselves empowered to do more than we thought was possible.

Christopher Lortie is Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Providence University College in Otterburne, MB.

Photo credit: MCC Photo/Colin Vandenberg

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