My family and I have been traveling a lot lately, between taking our daughter up to Chicago one weekend, then going to Kansas City for the denominational Annual Conference this past week. But it was worth it, if only to go to Joe’s Kansas City BBQ (that place is amazing...).
But in the two weeks between my pulpit chats, a lot has gone on in the world. A white man joined a prayer group at a predominantly black church in Charleston, then murdered the church’s pastor and eight other members in a racially-motivated hate crime. In northern Africa, ISIS crucified Muslim teenagers for not following Ramadan according to their own strict standards -- and then went on to bomb a mosque in Kuwait, killing 27 people and wounding more than 200 more in a religiously-motivated attack. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage should be legal in all 50 states (setting off a conflagration of celebration, grumbling, and caustic debate across the country) in a politically-motivated decision. And these were only a few of the headlines.
Now, for a lot of Christians, these past two weeks have been scary, gut-wrenching days. Some have growled and shaken their fists, some have grumbled and just shaken their heads, and still others have just stuck their heads in the sand and tried not to think about it.
But we have to talk about it. Our world has a serious problem, and it’s getting worse, and the Church of Jesus Christ has the only cure.
See, the problem at hand isn’t really racism, or terrorism, or rabid political correctness, or sexism, or any of those sorts of things. Don’t get me wrong -- those are horrors that we as children of the God of Love need to take a strong and active stance against. But those are just symptoms of the real problem. It’s just that our world only wants to acknowledge and deal with the symptoms (if at all), which is why our core problem is getting worse.
Our real problem is a lack of understanding of the concept of grace.
We live in a world that focuses on, thrives on offense, offensiveness, and offendedness. When we witness what we consider to be wrongdoing, we are far more likely to be angry than we are to be heartbroken. We lash out at all those who don’t live, love, or think the ways that we do, and we despise those who lash out at us. Increasingly, society argues that we must completely accept everything that our brother believes or does, or we must completely hate our brother -- and that is gracelessness.
But to live like Christ -- in the power of God’s Holy Spirit -- is to live out a grace that utterly hates sin, yet unconditionally loves the sinner. The world doesn’t understand this, doesn’t understand how Emanuel Church can forgive the man who killed their loved ones in Charleston, nor how the Amish could forgive the man who’d shot their schoolchildren back in 2006. They don’t understand because that comprehension of grace is becoming lost to them.
Here in America, over the past century or so, we’ve created our own downward spiral. We’ve wanted Christianity without personally committing to the Bible, and we’ve been offended at anyone who tells us that we’re doing it wrong. We’ve wanted spirituality without personally committing to Christianity, and we’ve been offended at anyone who tells us that we’re doing it wrong. We’ve wanted morality without personally committing to any kind of spirituality, and we’ve been offended at anyone who tells us that we’re doing it wrong. We’ve wanted to be considered “good people” without personally committing to any foundational morality, and we’ve been offended at anyone who tells us that we’re doing it wrong. And so, we’ve been left with an aching, demanding desire to be affirmed and accepted, while simultaneously removing from our lives the very bases for affirmation and acceptance. Our affirmation and acceptance, therefore, become based on not wanting to offend those demanding them, rather than on anything truly meaningful.
You and I have the opportunity every day to live out a grace that is increasingly alien to our world -- a grace that says that we can and should love one another, regardless of worldly bases for affirmation and acceptance, based not on the emotional demands of an offended society, but on God’s unconditional love toward even the most offensive people. We must call sin what it is, and yet embrace those who sin (of whom I am the worst) without flinching or hedging.
We keep waiting for a big, dramatic, political event to change the world -- but “flash-in-the-pan” moments only last for a short time, or only change the surface conditions of a given symptom. If you really want to change the world, then we need to do it in everyday moments, in everyday interactions, by acting justly with one another and loving mercy toward one another and walking humbly with our God every day.
If every Christian, everywhere, truly lived out this counter-cultural ministry of grace every day, then mountains would move and the world would change. So don’t wait for someone else to change the world -- start changing it yourself, right now, today.