It is in light of this history that these church burnings are particularly painful.
If you have ever attended an AMEC service you know it is one where the gospel is proclaimed as powerful. Where the power of Jesus' healing in society is not only relied upon but expected. It is a place where persons know that trust in God's power towards mercy, justice and the good is trusted.
This week's Scripture passage when Jesus goes to a place to proclaim the gospel where it is not well received - his hometown. At first the listeners seem to be amazed, but then they begin to question his authority, specifically having a difficult time believing because they remember him from his childhood. They question how is it possible that he could have this kind of power to proclaim with such authority? It is the first time that Jesus goes to a town and they take offense at him. As a result, "he could do no deed of power there except that he laid hands on a few people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief."
And we today are faced with the difficult question, how much does our belief in Jesus power give Jesus power over our lives? Is it possible that Jesus can only be at work in our lives as much as we allow Him to? Is it possible that our disbelief limits Jesus' ability to actively be at work in our lives?
I do believe this is true, for I have seen many a person turn from believer to skeptic and then agnositic or atheist. Disbelief is a slippery slope and often times it happens as the church is seen as hypocritical, or God is perceived to be inactive. The apathy that is part of this process is what takes over, because belief becomes dependent on expected results. For instance, if I pray to God that a family member is healed and is not, God could be perceived as distant or not caring or even disengaged from my life. This could lead to apathy from spiritual practices or activities that lead me to a deeper sense of God's presence. As I become more disengaged, more walls of defense come up, making me less prone to awareness of God's unexpected or unanticipated presence in my life. Do you see how much of a slippery slope this can be? And imagine if on top of that, the church is not welcoming to me as the "body of Christ."
I so deeply appreciate the faith of the African Methodist Episcopal congregations. For through the challenges of the civil rights movement and beyond, they have remained steadfast in their conviction of who Jesus is as authority in their lives and in their worship. They have proclaimed the gospel with steadfastness in the belief of the individual and communal spiritual healing of Jesus that transforms lives. They have not wavered in their belief of the authority of God in their life, even when society has told them otherwise. Last week, the Interim Pastor Norvel Goff Sr., led the weekly Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina, where just 7 days before 9 members were killed in a hate crime by Dylann Roof. He opened the Bible Study with these words "This territory belongs to God." May we too have the courage to claim the places of our lives for the power of Jesus' work.