It's difficult to rejoice, pray or even give thanks when facing the world today.
But Christians from a wide spectrum of churches were challenged to do just that.
"Common sense would say, in the face of the world today, rejoicing is naïve," Presbyterian theologian Dr. Margaret Aymer told an ecumenical group Tuesday, according to Presbyterian News Service. "Common sense would say, in the face of the world today, prayer is ineffectual. Common sense would say, in the face of the world today, giving thanks is learned powerlessness."
"As children of a living God, redeemed by the Christ, inspired by the Spirit, I am here to remind you that we are not called to be a people of common sense," she proclaimed. "We are called to be a people of uncommon sense; and as a people of uncommon sense, Paul charges us: rejoice, pray, give thanks."
Aymer opened the National Council of Churches' annual General Assembly in Minneapolis. The theme of the three-day meeting is "Rejoice Always, Pray without ceasing, Give thanks in all circumstances."
When Apostle Paul called believers in Thessalonica to rejoice, as described in the New Testament, he wasn't under any illusion that their circumstances were good. They were living under the oppressive Roman Empire, living in slavery and dying in poverty, Aymer indicated.
And just as Paul exhorted Christians thousands of years ago, Aymer delivered that same counsel to believers who face a bleak world today.
As the Rev. John L. McCullough, executive director and CEO of Church World Service, pointed out, there are an estimated 40 million people living with HIV/AIDS; every year out of the 350–500 million cases of malaria, there are one million fatalities; 1.8 million children die each year as a result of diarrhea; and another 2.2 million children die because they are not immunized.
Rejoicing amid such conditions makes no common sense. But Aymer, who is associate professor of New Testament and Chair of Biblical Studies at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, explained that the Christians' joy "rests not in our human ability to change the grief of the present, but in our steadfast hope in the One who holds the future," as reported by the Presbyterian News Service.
Rather than bear witness to a hopeless happiness, Aymer called Christians to attest not to their ability but to joy born out of their "common hope in the power and presence of the Triune God, past, future and even today."
She continued, the uncommon sense of unceasing prayer "is the discipline of relinquishing control, of opening our clenched fists from around all of our dearly held fundamentalisms and traditions, whether we are progressive or conservative."
With regard to giving thanks, Aymer noted that that might be the most difficult for western Christians.
"We twenty-first century western Christians know very little about gratitude. We not only take for granted that we will we have food on the table, but we create reality TV shows about eating less and losing weight," she said. "The truth is that when we claim we are giving thanks to God for all of God’s benefits, we are really giving thanks to God for all of our privilege, all of our power, all of our access to the things that we have."
While the common sense of the world is to let go of God when they gain riches, power, certainty, and strength, the uncommon sense Paul spoke of is to give thanks "because we know that we do not have all the answers, but we know a God who does."
The General Assembly continues through Thursday
The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA was founded in 1950 and has led in efforts for ecumenical cooperation among Christians in the United States. The NCC's member faith groups include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.