We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. —Romans 8:22-25
WCRC and CANAAC
The vision and directions document of the Caribbean and North American Area Council (CANAAC) of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) states that we are committed to mutual engagement of denominational leaders and members across the Caribbean and North American region with a view towards mutual growth, encouragement, and living as examples of the fruit of Jesus’ commands for us in his Word. This statement is in line with the WCRC vision which includes a call to communion and a commitment to justice. We do this work, and engage in relationships, as a demonstration to the world of what is possible when we believe and act on the love of Christ.
With this in mind, and in accordance with Jesus’ commands to unity, love, and the spreading of his Word, we seek to live in a world circumscribed by Communion… Community… and Shalom… but we know, this is not our present reality.
Our ongoing dilemma
Our daily news is replete with stories of ongoing worldwide conflict – of wars and their ugly consequences – of atrocities – of injustices perpetrated by countries and tribes against others with whom they disagree or hold in disdain. No nation or people is exempt from this reality. For those of us who are Christians, this condition is not a surprise. We know that our world is in pain, things are not the way they are supposed to be – and we understand that this, from a biblical perspective, is a result of a separation from God – a result of our sin.
In the passage above in Romans 8, the Apostle Paul acknowledged this reality almost 2000 years ago. In spite of our best intentions, in spite of our longing for Communion, Community, and Shalom — such harmony has been elusive, and at times, seems impossible.
The Hebrew word ‘Shalom’ is understood as encompassing … peace, safety, prosperity, well-being; intactness and wholeness. It also has mutual and communal positive elements regarding security, safety, feelings of satisfaction, well-being, and contentment.
How far has our world drifted from this ideal!
Communion, Community, and Shalom in Our World
Throughout the Bible, whenever we see glimpses of God’s shalom, these are usually evidenced by his people living in community – by various groups agreeing to come together in a deep relationship which honors the person and the work of God. In the New Testament, Acts 2 documents the coming of the Holy Spirit among a gathering of Christ followers at Pentecost. The power of the Holy Spirit was poured out on people from numerous tribes and languages, and there was communion with God, holistic community with each other, and a sense of shalom among the many. This is God’s desire for all of us – that we live in the reality of this communion, community, and shalom.
But is this atmosphere of harmony possible for us in the 21st century? I believe it is, and it must begin with the church. We, who are the beneficiaries of Christ’s selfless death on the cross, his resurrection, and who are all recipients of the power of the Holy Spirit, according to Christ’s promises, must lead the way in the demonstration of such a biblical condition of shalom.
My recent weeks
A few weeks ago, on Transfiguration Sunday (19 February, according to the Liturgical calendar) I preached a sermon called God is Transforming Us – reflecting on the fact that the Holy Spirit has been visible throughout the ages working to change all of us into the people God wants us to be. The Spirit’s presence can be seen from Moses’ radiant face when he received the tablets of the law (Exodus 34:29), Jesus' face and garments shining like lightning at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-3), and the ‘tongues of fire’ present over the believers’ heads at Pentecost (Acts 2:3-4). This is the same spirit who indwells us all. Therefore, we are without excuse…
For since the creation of the world, God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)
There have also been many recent martyrs who have lived in the hope of the reality of Christ’s shalom, and from whom we can learn, and for whose lives we give thanks. Many of these names came to mind over the last month as we celebrated Black History Month in the United States. We give thanks for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and many others who decided to live in the reality of God’s shalom, even in the presence of the material absence of such shalom. In the face of all odds, God will always prevail – he is…
—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. (Romans 4:17)
I experienced this ‘already but not yet’ condition of our world at the prayer retreat of the Christian Reformed Church a few weeks ago. As church leaders and pastors from many nations, races, and cultures paused our ministry and business schedules for two days to come to God in prayer, we experienced a glimpse of the blessing of the shalom of Christ. It was also during this time that we became aware of a series of revivals taking place on college campuses around the country, and for all of this we give God thanks. In the midst of our chaos and turmoil, God gives glimpses of his faithfulness and glory.
The rest of the narrative
So let us not lose hope, God is still on the throne, Christ is still resurrected, and the Holy Spirit still lives in each one of us if we are Christians. The church must lead the way by demonstrating the presence of shalom even amongst the chaos of wars, enmity and strife. And if we do this, God will demonstrate his power and presence…
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
Our Response – Praise and Worship
As I wrote in my Christmas reflection in this medium, I believe that in the midst of our pain, even as we live in the reality of conflict, we are called to worship and to praise God. Why? Because we, the Church, if we are obedient, must reflect Christ’s hope… so, we pray… but we pray knowing that we pray to a God of boundless hope.
Prayers for the World
With the above in mind… let's pray that in everything, in every circumstance, we develop the ability to see each other as a child of God – made in the image of God. And we continue to pray for:
In addition, let us continue to pray for governments (especially in the CANAAC region) as they seek to discern the proper actions to take in our polarized world…
Shalom is possible, and the church must lead the way… with each of us recommitting to this goal
“God is making room in my heart for compassion: the awareness that where my life begins is where your life begins; the awareness that the sensitiveness to your needs cannot be separated from the sensitiveness to my needs; the awareness that joys of my heart are never mine alone-nor are my sorrows. I struggle against the work of God in my heart; I want to be let alone. I want my boundaries to remain fixed, that I may be at rest. But even now, as I turn to Him in the quietness, His work is ever the same.
God is at work enlarging the boundaries of my heart...” (Meditations of the Heart by Howard Thurman)
I close this reflection as I did at Christmas, recognizing that every major conflict that faces our world was begun because of the sinful premise held by some that their people – tribe, race, country, or nationality – are superior to those upon whom they wish to impose their will, dominate, or subjugate. If everyone who claims to be a child of God acted accordingly, and treated each other as if we are equally children of God, maybe healing could begin.
So let us remain in prayer for all of the ills of the world. Pray for the needs of those in the CANAAC region. May we, the church, lead the world in demonstrating the hope that comes only from the premises of Jesus Christ – may it be so ‘that the world may know’ (John 17:21) that we are his children.
Colin P. Watson Sr.
Co-Moderator, CANAAC Steering Committee
Executive Director Emeritus – Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA)
 Dr. King’s last speech in Memphis, Tennessee, USA (April 1968) included the words… “We as a people will get to the promised land…”
 Initially begun at Asbury University, Wilmore, Kentucky, USA – February 8, 2023.