Shared Mercies

My wife and I watched “Woodlawn” over the weekend. It is based on the true story from the early 1970’s of a high school football team in Birmingham, Alabama that had recently been desegregated. At the beginning of the movie, we’re introduced to “Hank,” who is a traveling evangelist. After a riot at the school, he asks to address the newly desegregated football team, which is rife with the tensions of the day. The head coach reluctantly agrees. Hank introduces himself and acknowledges the rancor in the school and in all of Birmingham over race relations. Then he asks a simple question: “Aren’t you all tired of it?”

That question resonated with me as I reflect on the past few years of political upheaval in our country. What is particularly bothersome to me is that often those who claim Jesus as Lord are in the thick of this. Posts, reposts, and counter posts expressing political points of view or to counter others who are perceived to be from the opposite side. Much too often there are expressions of hate or disgust toward others of a different opinion, and, sadly, going as far as calling them “evil.”

Aren’t you all weary of it? Frankly, I am. 

What happened in the movie was Hank invited members of the team to give their lives over to Jesus as a means of beginning the healing of the community. Nearly the entire team did so, and their team was transformed! Blacks and whites practiced, played, studied the Bible, and prayed together. Eventually, the coach of their chief in-city rival and much of his team became followers of Jesus as well, leading to a rivalry game that featured the largest-ever attendance for a high school football game in Alabama history, and the crowd reciting the Lord’s Prayer in defiance of the school superintendent refusing to allow Hank lead the crowd in that prayer.

Our pastor has a saying, “the answer is always Jesus.” But it’s not the Christian religion’s Jesus who often is viewed as favoring one political party or issue; it is the real and very much alive Jesus! This Jesus is the only way to reconciliation with our Heavenly Father—for Republicans and Democrats, for progressives and conservatives, for those who are diehard supporters of President Trump and those who are backers of Joe Biden. There really is no difference. We all are dependent on the mercies of God through Jesus for our salvation and transformation. 

The tendency in all of us is to think ourselves better than those with whom we disagree, particularly when we disagree on what we consider moral issues such as abortion, race relations, and injustice. The reality is we are not.

“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:22-23)

Substitute whatever you like for Jew and Gentile. Pro-life and pro-choice. Pro-Trump and anti-Trump. For prayer in schools and against prayer in schools. For Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter. Climate change and just weather. Masks and no masks. Pick whatever opposite beliefs between you and someone else and the reality is still the same: it is sinners holding these views, sinners who are totally dependent on God’s mercies, including you and me. 

The context in which Paul writes does not suggest there are no right answers, but rather alerts us to the danger of becoming self-righteous in making one’s views known. Jews felt superior to Gentiles and that had huge implications for the early Church. They were made to feel like outsiders, never quite good enough. Thus, Gentiles returned hostility with hostility of their own. The same is true today. While talking to a friend recently, he shared that a fellow brother had seen a Facebook post from someone whom he considered a strong Christian calling those who wore masks idiots. 

This is the environment we are in now—hostile and self-righteous. As someone said to me recently, there seems now no way to engage in meaningful conversations with anyone with whom we disagree. The question is, what do we as followers of Jesus have to counter it? Only more of the same? It certainly seems that way at the moment.

Are you tired of it? If so, let’s do something. And the place to start is to recognize we have things in common with our brothers and sisters in Christ. First, we are all sinners, humans who are in need of a Savior. None of us is better than anyone else, no matter what views we hold. Second, if we are followers of Jesus, we are part of the same Body with Jesus as its head. It is extremely unhealthy to harm one’s own body. Third, we serve a God who is love,  and as Paul defines it, love is,

“patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (I Corinthians 13:4-7)

Our interactions with one another should always reflect this love.

Imagine for a moment this is how we as Christians interacted with one another. Oh, how I long for that. Don’t you? The only way forward that I see is to have the same mercy toward our brothers and sisters as our Heavenly Father has towards us. We show grace for one another, and where we disagree, we take the approach Paul had: “All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.” (Philippians 3:15) 

I know I have written a lot about this, but our love for one another is at the heart of our witness to the unbelieving world. Without it, in spite of the seemingly rightness of our opinions, we have nothing to offer it. As the song, familiar to my generation, says, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” Can we start showing it, not only to those with whom we agree, but also to those with whom we disagree? For we are all sinners and, yet, beneficiaries of the mercies of our loving Father. That realization should suffice to bring us together.

© Jim Musser 2020

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