Pastoral Letter from Rev. Sharon Watkins

I received this pastoral letter from Sharon Watkins, the General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I thought I would share it with you as it speaks directly to matters of public interest, which has been a topic of conversation here.  I invite you to think about what she has to say about the world in which we live and the theological lens through which we may view it.

Office of the General Minister and President January 12, 2012

Dear Disciples,

Today as I sit to write, it is the anniversary of the massive earthquake that shook Haiti two years ago. We have experienced the shock of other tragedies since then: the earthquake in Japan, storms across North America, and the on-going drought and starvation in the Horn of Africa (to name a few.)

For many Disciples in the US and Canada, however, the disaster that hits closest to home is the economy. We are told the recession is over, yet too many still look for work, too many are still choosing between rent and medicine. A recent Pew Research Center poll indicates: “Conflict between rich and poor now eclipses racial strain and friction between immigrants and the native-born as the greatest source of tension in American society.” 1

What does the good news of Jesus Christ look like at such a time? The story of Jesus’ baptism in Matthew 3:13-17 gives us some clues.

There is John the Baptist, stunned that Jesus would come to him for baptism. Does “Your Majesty” bow down to a mere “Mr.”?  Jesus’ request turned the world upside down! Instead of going to the high and mighty for validation, he did “the limbo” (how low can you go?) and turned to a wild man, asking for immersion in water.

Water, in the Bible, is more than cleansing, bathing, birth. It is also – chaos! In Genesis, God creates the earth by pushing back the watery chaos of space. In the Psalms, watery oceans are the places of monsters and unpredictability. Water, in the Bible, evokes a primal, deep-seated fear of the unknown.

So what happens when Jesus goes into the water? The heavens open. But instead of watery chaos pouring in through those holes in the sky, God’s voice wafts down with blessing, and a dove appears as a sign. “You are my son, my beloved,” says God. “I am pleased.”
Jesus goes through the watery chaos, comes out again to receive a blessing from God and heads into his ministry.

The good news still involves that same progression – from chaos to blessing to mission.

When the walls of water are waiting to burst in, this is when the people of God are at our best. When we follow Jesus right into the chaos and come through on the other side to a blessing and a mission. When against all common sense we rediscover our hope.
Jesus told John, “I must be baptized by you.” It seemed an idea designed to turn the world on its head, making chaos out of the normal human order of things. But Jesus wasn’t afraid of a little chaos. He went for it! And instead of turning the world on its head, the world turned right side up! God spoke. “Beloved, I am pleased.”

When the massive tornado churned through Joplin, Mo., last year, South Joplin Christian Church was not in the direct path of the tornado, but it was severely damaged on the away side of the tornado by debris being swept in by that powerful vortex of destructive energy. The roof of the church was peeled back and the next several days of rain poured down through all floors to the basement.

I had the privilege of joining with the congregation of South Joplin as they dedicated a refurbished building. Beautiful! A blessing, indeed. A couple of weeks ago, South Joplin also opened their refurbished youth center – now a mission station that will house volunteers who come to Joplin to help rebuild. A blessing and a new mission, too. The people of South Joplin Christian Church, like so many others, dove right into the chaos. It hasn’t taken away the pain of loss, but it has given a way forward.

In this year of 2012, chaos may still loom. Decisions beyond our control may affect our economic future. In the U.S., an election year seems bound to unfold with personal attack instead of thoughtful debate about achieving the common good. It’s tempting to give in to cynicism or despair. But Jesus leads a different way – right into the middle of the chaos – in a progression through chaos to blessing and a mission.

As we move more fully into 2012, I offer a prayer that we will, as a church, be willing to head into the chaos of our time with a sense of God’s blessing and a call to God’s mission. Perhaps we will lead a mission trip to Joplin or Tuscaloosa or Southwest Good Samaritan Center. Perhaps we will call our congregation to pray regularly for the healing of the nations. Perhaps we will increase our stewardship for the mission of the church through Disciples Mission Fund, Reconciliation and Week of Compassion. Perhaps we will join with other congregations in our own town to be a blessing to our neighbors closer to home.

Disciples, we are a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. Our calling is to follow Jesus –and that usually means right into the chaos. But also right on through to blessing and to a mission and to a sense of things being right side up at last.


Sharon E. Watkins
General Minister and President
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
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Learn more about Sharon Watkins at  

As you hear this invitation to respond to the needs of the hour, perhaps the call to engage in a mission trip will come to you.  In addition to the possibilities offered by Sharon, I'd like you to consider an urban mission  trip to Detroit this summer through Motown Mission and/or Rippling Hope Ministries.  Motown is especially appropriate for larger youth groups looking for a week-long event.  Consider especially the week Michigan Disciples are sponsoring in June, which we have called Peace Week (June 17-23).


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