Narrative Lectionary Reflection
January 15, 2017
So let’s leave it alone ’cause we can’t see eye to eye
There ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy
There’s only you and me and we just disagree
-Dave Mason, We Just Disagree
It was about 20 years ago, that I attended a large Baptist church in Washington, DC. The church was an odd mix, or at least it would be odd today. Evangelicals and liberals were somehow able to worship together, along side a healthy dose of members from Latin America and Asia.
The church decided at some point to hire a pastor to the join the good-sized multi-pastor staff. The person chosen was a woman with great pastoral care skills. At the time, there was a bit of controversy because she was pro-gay and some of the evangelicals in the church weren’t crazy about that.
I was at a meeting where a member of the congregation stood up. She was one of the evangelical members of the congregation and she had what could be considered a “traditional” understanding on homosexuality, but she spoke in favor of calling the pastor. You see, the pastor had been involved with congregation for a few years and the two had gotten to know each other. “We don’t agree,” I recall this woman saying when talking about the issue they didn’t see eye-to-eye on. But this woman was a good friend and she saw her as the right person for the job.
What’s so interesting about this story is that I don’t think it could happen today. Churches like the one in DC really don’t exist anymore. Evangelicals and liberals have sorted themselves into different churches and don’t really know each other. Which only makes it easier to highlight differences and demonize each other.
In Luke 4, Jesus comes back home to Nazareth and go to the local synagogue. He reads from Isaiah 61:1-2, which is an inspiring text. The people love this, a local boy made good.
But Jesus knew what was going on in the hearts, so he decides to tell some more stories. One is a story from I Kings 17 where the great prophet Elijah helped feed a non-Jewish woman and her son in the town of Zarapath during a famine. The famine struck Jewish widows as hard as non-Jewish widows, but this was where God led Elijah. Jesus then goes to 2 Kings 5 and tells the story of the prophet Elisha healing Naaman, a Syrian (not Jewish) general, from leporesy. He was healed even though there were many in Israel that suffered from the skin problems.
This did not go well with the crowd. The mood went from pride to a homocidal rage. The pushed Jesus towards a cliff in order to throw him off, but Jesus was able to slip away.
Sometimes we can mouth the words that Jesus loves everybody, but in our heart of hearts, they are just that: words. Deep down, we want God to provide for us, but not for that evangelical Christian. We want to be showered with blessings, but we don’t want that liberal Christian getting anything from God. We want to be God’s special people and we want those that disagree with us to go to hell.
But God doesn’t work that way. When it is said that God so loved the world, it really means God so loved the world; as in everybody. Instead of welcoming people into God’s realm, we start to act like the holy bouncers deciding who is on the special list and who isn’t.
Jesus had a good way of holding up a mirror to people who thought they were good people and showing them who they really are. Maybe if we were living in first century Palestine and Jesus showed us how we fall short, we might to join in throwing Jesus off a cliff.
When Martin Luther King Jr. was working for racial justice in the American South, many whites were willing to support him. Maybe because they didn’t like the South and thought it backwards. But when King started to take his campaign to the North, starting with Chicago in the 1966, many whites were turned off. He had chosen to show a mirror to White Northerners and what they saw wasn’t pretty.
But the thing is, as much as this passage shows that people are not so pure, it also shows that God is loving of us, all of us even when we act like jerks.
The two women in Washington, DC were able to get beyond boundaries to love and support each other. In our modern age which seems more and more divided by class, race and ideology, we need to place our trust in a God that loves us all and pray that God give us a heart big enough to love “those people” as well.
Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century and the Federalist.