From the Pastor….

I have spent a lot of time lately writing about and preaching against the behavior of other Christians, especially those who claim to be “evangelical” but who are more interested in advancing their own religious and political agendas than with spreading the love of God in the world. A fair response from them (and that could include some within our own church) would be that those of us who might think of ourselves as more “progressive” have our own problems, and that is certainly true.

However, my interest, indeed my calling is to following Jesus into the world and share the Gospel, and the major deterrent I find to doing that is not that others consider Christians to be too liberal on social issues but too condemnatory of other people. You can say you “hate the sin but love the sinner,” but all others hear is the hate part. I will say it one more time: If I tell people who are not religious that I am a Christian, especially if I identify myself as a Baptist, their immediate perception is that I will be condemnatory and they will want to distance themselves from me.

Usually I follow up this observation with the admonition that we just have to try harder to be more loving and to overcome the image that others have created. While that is true, there is another instruction from Jesus that can prove helpful here: pray for your enemies. Stay with me on this one for a minute.

If it is our job, our calling, our commission, our life to share the Gospel with the world, especially by demonstrating love in the Savior’s name wherever and whenever we can, and if there are other people — no matter how well-intentioned, how outwardly righteous, how confident they are in their position — whose actions, attitudes, and pronouncements stand in the way of our job, then they are the enemy. They don’t have to be overtly evil. They just have to be obstructionists to qualify as the enemy.

Think about it. Jesus loved everyone, but whom did he condemn? It was the self-righteous Pharisees and other religious leaders who stood in the way of common, everyday folks receiving the Gospel. And he condemned them in no uncertain terms. If you’ve forgotten that, you should read the twenty-third chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus delivers what have become known as the “eight woes” against these religious types. Part of what he says is:

13-14 “But alas for you, you scribes and Pharisees, play-actors that you are! You lock the door of the kingdom of Heaven in men’s faces; you will not go in yourselves neither will you allow those at the door to go inside.

15 “Alas for you, you scribes and Pharisees, play-actors! You scour sea and land to make a single convert, and then you make him twice as ripe for destruction as you are yourselves. ” (J.B. Phillips translation)

So, following in the steps of Jesus, I’m not going to treat those who fit this description as if they were simply another type of Christian, or as someone who happens to see things differently from the way I see them. That is just not helpful. I’m going to understand that they are the enemy.

However, as soon as I make that distinction I have a different obligation. Now I have a far greater responsibility to the modern day Pharisee. I am not allowed merely to condemn nor ignore. In The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “The prevailing wisdom is to love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I’m turning that upside down. From now on, love your enemies, bless the ones who spend their time running you down, perform acts of kindness for the haters, and pray for the ones who would do you harm…..It’s not a big deal if you love the people who love you. Everybody does that. And it’s no big deal if you address the like-minded around you with courtesy and respect. Be more like your Father who loves everyone (Matthew 5:43-48, James King version).

That’s going to be a lot harder than remaining among people with whom I am generally in agreement and lobbing theological hand grenades at the opposition. In what is quickly becoming a classic treatment of non-violence, Jesus and Non-violence: a Third Way, Walter Wink wrote:

Love of enemies has, for our time, become the litmus test of authentic Christian faith. Commitment to justice, liberation, or the overthrow                                  of oppression is not enough, for all too often the means used have brought in their wake new injustices and oppressions. Love of enemies                              is the recognition that the enemy, too, is a child of God. The enemy too believes [they are] in the right, and fears us because we represent                              a threat against [their] values, lifestyle, or affluence. When we demonize our enemies, calling them names and identifying them with absolute                        evil, we deny that they have that of God within them that makes transformation possible. Instead, we play God. We write them out of the Book                       of Life. We conclude that our enemy has drifted beyond the redemptive hand of God. . . .

It is our very inability to love our enemies that throws us into the arms of grace.

So it is time for an attitudinal pivot on my part, and maybe yours too. Let’s continue to seek to love and transform the world in which we live. But when we encounter someone who claims faith but does not show love, let’s offer forgiveness as Jesus did, especially as he gave it from the cross, and let’s pray for their conversion. The needs of the world are too great for us to think we don’t need as much help as we can get.