I’m preaching religion here, folks. I don’t usually do that; we get preached at quite enough in our lives — the TV blares at us, our bosses yell at us, our spouses yammer at us, and Facebook memes shout their simplistic half-truths and loaded messages all day long. (Many seem to involve Starbucks cups.)
This time, though, I think it’s worth you being a little irritated. It’s in a good cause.
You see, I’m afraid you may be suffering under a misapprehension, and if so I’d like to correct it. I am sorry that I have to preach in order to do so. I’ll try to make it as painless as possible.
Here’s our text. It’s a quote; I know you’ll be tempted to skip over it. Don’t. I think you’ll like it, and I hope you’ll agree with 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.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”
Usually, I’m a fan of the King James Version. I love the style of the prose; it’s sonorous and high-sounding and lovely; it begs to be spoken aloud, to be orated. It’s textual music. But this passage needs to be clear; it needs to be plain; it needs to be easily understood by everyone who reads it — hence, NIV. Go on; read it again. Read it out loud so you can hear it and understand.
Speaking of reading: I recently read another writer’s post, one which he entitled his“Emancipation From American Christianity”. It is a very evocative piece, an emotional appeal to the rest of us; if you don’t care to explore, the theme is basically that American Christians tend not to be very Christ-like in the practice of their faith, and he wants nothing to do with them.
This is my response:
You are quite right in what you say. That which you see around you, this rabid self-righteous pseudo-patriotic wave of hate wrapping itself in a Christian flag — this is not what God wants of us, from us, or for us. It is not what the Bible has instructed us to do or to be, and it’s most certainly not appropriate behavior. We wouldn’t tolerate it in a six-year-old, and yet people act that way (God help us!) in the name of love.
My grandmother lived to 103; she died not long ago. Every morning and night, she prayed — individually, name by name, for a very long list of people. There were more than a hundred that were related to her and many more that weren’t. She mentioned each one by name and held them all in her thoughts and in her prayers. She practiced a quiet faith, but it was in no way powerless; instead, she was the sort of Christian that I would like to be myself.
I submit to you that many of the Christians in America are of that sort, at least as best as we can manage to be. We are quiet, caring, more or less meek, and we do our best not to judge folks because the Bible tells us not to. God is love, and that’s the center of our faith, the core of our religion, and the driving force of our lives.
But you don’t see us.
You don’t see us because our quiet voices are drowned out by the Joshua Feuersteins with their “red cup Christianity”, all sound bites and mass media appeal. (Mind you, he does seem like a decent fellow despite his vehemence and odd choices of preaching targets; don’t be distracted by the hype. He’s not a man that I’d follow, but I think his heart may often be in the right place even when his mouth isn’t.)
You also don’t see us because we’re drowned out by the people we’ve chosen, by and large, as political allies. There too, the voices of reason are less often heard than the extreme hate on either end of the spectrum, and the stain of that hate rubs off on all who associate with it.
People see the Westboro Baptist Church and somehow think it’s normal. People see reverends leading protests that turn into riots and they think that’s normal because they’re on the news; the reality is, normal isn’t newsworthy. People see T.V. preachers and big-business evangelist moguls leading the national prayer breakfast or addressing Congress and they think that’s normal just because everyone’s watching them. People see the ranting of xenophobes, gay-bashers and Muslim-haters and they figure that’s just the Christian way.
I want you to remember: These people are NOT normal. They are the fringe; some of them are confused, several are terrified, many of them are certifiable, and none of them represent either Christ or the majority of Christians. Most of us aren’t loud. We’re quiet, and patient, and meek, and kind.
(Not me so much; alas, I fear I’m neither quiet nor very meek. But I do try to be patient and kind. Sometimes it’s hard.)
There’s a scholarly discipline taught in seminaries in classes called “Apologetics”. In reasoned argument, apologetics refers to the science of defending a logical position; Christian apologetics is that field of study which focuses on presenting logical, philosophical, historical, and scientific evidence supporting their beliefs. It’s fascinating, and I’m willing if asked, but it’s not what I’m doing here today.
Instead, my goal is to apologize for the more offensive among us that you might quite reasonably have mistaken for the majority.
I’ll leave you with this passage from one of Peter’s letters (also from the NIV):
“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For,
“Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”"