Willis“Sent with these instructions: ‘Take nothing for the journey except a staff, no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. ~ Mark 6: 7-9 NIV

Today attacks continue against Christians, especially black ones and their churches. We need to hear and believe in Jesus’ instructions and that in them is the power to heal and rebuke demons.

During the 1980s it was arson that prompted then-President Bill Clinton to investigate race hate and men with ties to the KKK who torched the same Mount Zion AME Church that reportedly burned accidentally this past week.

Even before the emancipation in 1865, black churches were more than just religious community centers. They have been hubs and centers of freedom, sanctuaries for civil- and equal-rights organizations. Today they are empowerment centers for the disempowered.

Jesus in Mark (6:1-7), sends out the disciples in pairs. He gives them instructions and power over evil opposition. He gives them the following instructions: “Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this mission, remember you are the equipment. Make no special appeals for funds. Keep it simple. No special luxury along the way”. (Mark 6:6-7MSG)

In South Carolina last week, officials reminded us as recently as November 2008, on the night of President Obama’s election, that three men set fire to a church in Springfield, Mass., to protest the election of the first black president.

When racial hatred and murder occurs we are taught to forgive. Stacey Patton, a columnist with the Washington Post, on forgiveness states, “The victims’ families in South Carolina were quick to offer forgiveness to the shooter.”  She expressed some interesting thoughts in her article “Stop giving white racists a pass black America.

Patton states, “When black redemption (or forgiveness) of white America is prioritized over justice and accountability, there is no chance of truth and reconciliation. It trivializes real black suffering, grief, and the heavy lifting required for any possibility of societal progress.”

Patton goes on to say, “Black lives will never be safe — or truly matter — and we won’t break the centuries-long cycle of racial violence, if we keep making white racial salvation our responsibility.”

In a survey of 35,000 Americans, the Pew Research Organization found Christians have declined sharply in their share of the United States population. Could Christian instructions on forgiveness, void of teachings on true justice, be causing the decline of mainline churches?

Have our instructions on faith, justice and forgiveness become distorted and meaningless? Has the power Christ sent the disciples out with to heal and cleanse grown weak?

The Pew Report goes on to say, “Evangelical Protestant tradition is the only major Christian group in the survey that has gained more members than it has lost through religious switching.”

Many now are active in evangelical churches because they offer self-help programs, teach “prosperity theology” and carry no denominational baggage.

In the second and third chapters of Revelation, Christ writes seven letters to seven churches, commending each church for its good work, and condemning them for their unacceptable work. You ever wonder what a letter from Christ to today’s churches would read like?

Power without proper instruction is dangerous. It is a beautiful thing to see followers of Christ doing the right thing for the right reasons, and being content with just doing good.

We all should pray as President Obama suggests that God’s grace will deliver us from our weak unbelief.  When we don’t follow Christ’s instructions to the letter, we are rendered powerless.

The message the disciples were taught to preach was of joyful urgency, that life in Him can be radically different. “Where ever the disciples went they sent the demons packing; brought wellness to the sick, anointing their bodies, and healing their spirits”. (Mark 6:12-13 MSG)

Though the Apostles were conscious of their weakness, they expected no worldly advantage as they were instructed by Jesus. In obedience to His teaching and in dependence upon His word and strength, they did what He said. Today there are millions of Christians; if we Christians hope to bring people to God, and to heal this nation, we must know we cannot do it without good instructions and power from the Holy Spirit.

The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door UCC in Miami’s Liberty City community. He may be reached at 305-759-0373 or pastor@churchoftheopendoormiami.org