The headline read “Back to back Massacres Shake a Bewildered Nation.” In case you just arrived from Mars, 2 gunmen in two different cities, killed 29 people Saturday night and injured many more in the cities of El Paso, TX and Dayton, OH. Yes, I am shaken. I am sad. I am indignant. I am choosing to look inward and upward. The media says the tragedies are the result of political rhetoric of hatred. Some are calling for more gun control laws. There are certainly issues with the way our leaders hurl words at each other that are inflammatory, that feed fear, that drive us into isolation from one another. There are common sense laws that screen those who can buy guns that should be passed into law. Some are suggesting that we curb free speech.
Our challenges in America are far deeper than our political leadership or lack thereof. Indeed, those we have elected to lead us are a reflection of the real problem. We are a nation that is spiritually sick, adrift without an anchor, filled with uncertainty about our future. The principles that once united us as people in spite of our political opinions have eroded. The hope that helped us to see the future on the other side of our present challenges is largely gone. We have become survivors, scrambling for self-interest, building coalitions of power to force our will and to protect our privilege, setting aside guiding principles of shared faith for expedience. As we vilify and demonize those with who we disagree, we sow the seeds of violence and then wonder at the harvest of death.
Christians, who should be advocating for humility, for respect of others, for renewed recognition of our common humanity, are too often joining in and sharing the rhetoric that divides us! We know better but we excuse ourselves, claiming that the end justifies the means, living in the dim light of half-truths.
I spent this past weekend on a break in Washington, DC where I visited the Museum of the Bible. (5 stars, by the way!) One small exhibit shook me to my core. It featured the so-called “Slave Bible.” Here is how the museum’s website summarizes the exhibit. “The Slave Bible, as it would become known, is a missionary book. It was originally published in London in 1807 on behalf of the Society for the Conversion of Negro Slaves, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of enslaved Africans toiling in Britain’s lucrative Caribbean colonies. They used the Slave Bible to teach enslaved Africans how to read while at the same time introducing them to the Christian faith. Unlike other missionary Bibles, however, the Slave Bible contained only “select parts” of the biblical text. Its publishers deliberately removed portions of the biblical text, such as the exodus story, that could inspire hope for liberation. Instead, the publishers emphasized portions that justified and fortified the system of slavery that was so vital to the British Empire.”
The ”Christian” people claimed to desire the conversion of the slaves but provided them with only half of the truth to keep them enslaved, without hope of liberation! If that does not make you angry, something is seriously awry in your walk with the Lord! Thank God for voices within the Church, persistent, often reviled, that kept a witness to the whole truth about slavery, that kept speaking about human dignity, about the love of Christ Jesus – fearlessly, unwaveringly. Yes, here in America, the collision of ideas ultimately brought us great bloodshed. We cannot be naïve about the cost of speaking truth to power! It can bring rejection and even death to us.
My brothers and sisters, here is my point this morning.
Are we choosing the same path of expedience, living with half-truths about Christ’s life?
Do we know the whole truth but choose to ignore parts of it in the name of protecting privilege or power?
Let’s not surrender to those who think the answer is just to be ‘nice’ people who avoid saying hard things or even offensive things. Let’s not deceive ourselves to think that a change in political party will change much in the spiritual state of the nation, either. Courageously, we must insist that people are loved by God- ALL PEOPLE. He does NOT only love rich people, or poor people, or white people, or black people, or straight people or gay people, or devout people or irreligious people, or sober people, or addicted people, or Republican people, or Democrat people … HE LOVES PEOPLE. Love is not that insipid thing that we often see that is found in weak words and empty sentiment. Love struggles. Love engages. Love hopes. Can we learn to love people enough to be able to state our convictions about what they do or how they live without hatred? If we actually love God, we will think through our positions and commit to living the teaching of Jesus with as much integrity as we can even if that brings us death.
Yes, this nation does need to turn back to God, but that is not code for a return to some imagined utopia of the 1950’s! Nor is that an appeal to put people back into church pews. We humble ourselves before Him, learning to revere Him as our shared Creator. We find our greatest hope in Him, so that we do not fear tomorrow. We invite the Spirit of God to change us – inside out – to people who love, not with empty words, but with our whole being.
Here is a word from the Word. May we learn to love. “One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31, NIV)
Abba, I come to You this morning – my mind yielded to Your Spirit.
Speak to my heart of Truth. Give me courage to live it with integrity.
Forgive me, and those with whom I live, for our willingness to choose expedience over truth. Help me to live Jesus’ commands to love You and my fellow human beings- deeply, beyond words.
Heal our land, O Lord, I pray.
Lead us to choose You over prosperity, to choose You over power.
Guide us into all truth and make us fearless to speak it.
Forgive us our personal sins and our national sins.
In Jesus’ Name. Amen