DALLAS—“Salvation is about healing and wholeness. Now our broken world could use some of that,” Jim Somerville, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., said, addressing salvation in light of the shooting at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C.
Somerville’s spoke during the final worship service of the 2015 Cooperative Baptist Fellowship general assembly in Dallas.
Somerville reflected on growing up in Lowndes County, Ala., just outside Selma, and on the racism he witnessed as a boy with a father who was a Presbyterian pastor. He vividly recalled a cross burned on his front lawn because his father refused to pray at a White Citizens Council.
The “gaping wound of racism,” Somerville said, borrowing the term from TV personality Jon Stewart, “is what our world needs to be saved from. Let’s build a bridge over that. But what do you do, where do we start?”
Somerville repeated advice he gave his daughter, a resident of Charleston, S.C., when she asked what she could do in response to the deadly shooting in her city two days before. Sitting in silence can be misinterpreted, he told her.
“Get up the nerve, get off your couch and go into your community to embrace one another and weep with one another,” Somerville encouraged the crowd. “That’s what you do to build a bridge across the racial divide. That’s how healing begins. That’s how wholeness begins. That’s where salvation begins.”
The Dallas assembly also heard from Julie Merritt Lee, pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Hendersonville, N.C., who asked them to dream with her about the life of Jesus—a baby Jesus who cried, a Jesus who went through the terrible twos, a Jesus with acne.
“The Jesus baby, child, adult that I believe in cries,” Merritt Lee said. “This is what makes the incarnation so powerful. Christ becomes one of us. … The moments of life aren’t the ones that are planned, anticipated and neat. Truly human moments are disordered, complicated and raw.”
The messiness of the incarnation is hopeful and teaches that God is with people in the messy places of life, she asserted. But people have difficulty with the incarnation, as many times people prefer to only focus on the divinity of Jesus.
“The incarnation is scandalous, and what’s scandalous is that Jesus reconciles us to God through his body. … Jesus is the living bridge for us through death—and the materials of reconciliation, his body and his blood.”
“The living bridge of Christ,” Merritt Lee said, provides reconciliation for Christians and makes the body of Christ-followers reconcilers in the world.
Preston Clegg, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., highlighted the general assembly’s worship theme, “Building Bridges.”
“Some of the most expansive bridges are made of words,” Clegg said, referencing the creation story in the Book of Genesis and the risk of speaking powerful words.
“Before the very first sermon was preached, before the first choir harmonied, before the first organ hummed, before the first prayer was prayed, there were words God spoke: ‘Let there be,’ and there was. God made a bridge out of words.”
Wondering about the risks in bridging a gap with words, Clegg asked if God knew speaking out of creation was risky. He reminded the audience of risk and pain throughout the Bible. “The moment that God said ‘let it be,’ Clegg said, “a door was opened to pain, to agony, to suffering. Simply in speaking, the divine became vulnerable.”
Risky and vulnerable love
With God’s words, not only did this possibility for pain and suffering become real, but the possibility for risky and vulnerable love became possible as well, he noted. Through the pain, God continues to create and continues to speak bridges into being because of this great love, he said.
“Love always builds the bridge. Always. This is why God’s love—God’s relentless, stubborn, real, eternal and cosmic love—God’s love is life to us.”
The 2015 CBF general assembly concluded with Cooperative Baptists observing communion led by Ellis Orozco, pastor of First Baptist Church in Richardson, with La Rondalla de la Americas guitar ensemble of CBF partner Baptist University of the Américas providing music. CBF also collected an offering to support disaster response.
“CBF is partnering to renew God’s world—from the mountains of Nepal to communities and congregations right here in the state of Texas,” said Ron Fairley, CBF’s associate coordinator of projects and services, addressing the call for funds to assist in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s disaster relief efforts in response to recent flooding in Texas.
Registered attendance for the Dallas assembly was 1,657.