Our world argues for everything to be mutually exclusive. We argue over position and place and prominence. We fight to be noticed, defended and celebrated. We argue over whose lives matter most, whose side God is on and whether he prefers elephants or donkeys, a socialist or free market healthcare system. We insist on there being one correct answer, according to our thinking, and instead of listening to others in their pain, we write them off with ad hominem attacks and flimsy straw men arguments, as if God himself could be fooled.
Recently, we have been saddened by more violence in the world, this time in Sri Lanka. The disregard for human life stuns us, and we ache because of the pain and hatred perpetrated upon humanity. We ache if the victims are Muslims (as they were in New Zealand), if they are Christians, Buddhists, impoverished or wealthy. We ache because they are all part of God’s creation, and he aches. If we understand God’s love and desire for a flourishing world, we will want the best for all peoples, regardless of whether they are like us or not.
If it is Us versus Them, then, Lord, forgive us.
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” (Psalm 116:15)
Here, the psalmist is not saying that God is ever pleased at death, but rather, that he holds sacred each life.
If we are called to act in compassion for one group, does this negate the significance of another group in their crisis? Christ desires love and peace for all.
If we love as he loves us, it doesn’t matter if “our people” have enough media coverage. It is not important if people understand us, or if we share the same language, religion, job title, housing development, political ideology or worldview.
This attitude of exclusiveness, us versus them, goes against the gospel of grace and inclusiveness. It ignores our shared humanity, shared separation from God and the mutually beloved state we all enjoy as part of God’s creation. This is not to say we water down the gospel to such an extent that we do not recognize what Christ’s call demands from each of us. This would be what Dietrich Bonhoeffer refers to as “cheap grace.” Rather, if we examine the New Testament honestly, we see God instructing his followers in the widening of his propensity for love, not in the narrowing of it. He embraces the Samaritans. He includes the Greeks. He cares for the mentally ill, the possessed and disenfranchised. Jesus commends the foreigners and enemies. Everywhere he went, Jesus, by turns, surprised or aggravated the people around him with the application of his open embrace.
For those of us who are parents, sisters, brothers or friends, we understand that the more loved ones we have, the greater our love increases, not the other way around. God models his nature through our relationships. If God is gracious to someone else, it in no way diminishes the grace he bestows on me. Christ taught us this through the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). He shows us this through the contradictory power of the cross.
Jesus taught his friends, and reminds us, that others will recognize us through our love for one another. But where is the love if we are constantly irritated by those who think differently? Where is the love if we cannot stop being offended? This past week some people referred to us as “Easter worshippers.”
Let’s be careful about acting offended. The early believers in Jesus referred to themselves as followers of “The Way.” (Acts 9:2) It was not until Antioch (Acts 11:26) that they were called Christians, and that name came from outsiders. Was it meant to be derogatory? Possibly. Yet no one seemed to complain. They embraced it. They were, indeed, people belonging to Christ. What does the term “Easter worshipper” denote? Are nervous politicians using it to avoid “inflammatory” religious speech, to be politically correct? Perhaps. That is not our concern, however. Is it descriptive? Do we worship at an Easter proclamation? Absolutely! As followers of Christ, at the very heart, we proclaim the truth and good news of the Resurrection.
Last week we greeted one another with “He is Risen.” Then, we returned the greeting with “He is Risen, indeed!” The sacraments of baptism and our weekly communion boldly proclaim this greeting every time we partake of them. Indeed, we are Easter worshippers. We worship because of Easter! Without it, we have no cause and no object of our worship. Whether we gather in Sri Lanka, Nigeria or Indianapolis, we are bound by the shocking truth of the first Easter two thousand years ago.
May God comfort the families of the victims and embolden the survivors. May we keep Christ’s gospel of love, peace and flourishing intact. May we reach out to include those in front of us. May our love never make room for indignation, but always forgiveness and courage. May we love as he loves us.