As I consider the current landscape of American culture, “united” is not the first word that comes to mind. We are a people divided.
In and of itself, the division that plagues our country would be discouraging enough, but alas, those fractures and fissures have spread to all corners of our country, even creeping into our churches. Just as division and discord is counterintuitive to the very name of our nation, it is not in keeping with the name of the church. The name church comes from the Greek word ekklesia, which means “the gathering.” Inherent in the very name is the idea of coming together.
Yes, the church is to a large extent a countercultural entity. We are to be different, a peculiar people. Too often, we have used that as a license to rage against the proverbial machine. The church, in many ways, has become known for what we are against, rather than whom we are for. We then fall into the trap of simply being the other side of the same divisive coin.
Jesus, however, has called us to more. What makes us countercultural is supposed to be our love … love for one another (John 13:35), love for others (Galatians 5:13-14), love for even our enemies (Matthew 5:43-44) and love for our God (Matthew 22:37).
My heart breaks at the state of things in our world. At many times and in many ways in recent weeks, I’ve felt like a person without a people. Perhaps that’s a hard truth to hear from a pastor, but it is the truth. I wonder if perhaps what I have felt is something akin to what Jesus felt when he walked the Earth and surveyed the landscape of his community.
In Matthew 9:35-37, it says Jesus went through the towns and villages preaching and healing. It says when he saw the crowds, he was moved with compassion by their brokenness. He then tells his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into the harvest.” Inherent in this request is a gathering together, a sending out to bring in.
The world doesn’t need any more angry and outraged voices. We have reached critical volume, and at this point, it is all just adding to the noise. What the world needs now is grace, compassion and the sacrificial love of Christ. That will only be seen when we, the people of God, his church, come together in the unity that is found in Jesus and reach out to those we see as other.
We need to live the truth of Philippians 2. Paul writes, “Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…”
It goes on to explain how Jesus put to the side his rights as creator, God, in humble obedience to the father and sacrificed his life to provide for our salvation. This is the mindset we are called to adopt and demonstrate in our attitudes and actions. Do people see it? Sacrificing our rights and desires for the glory of God and the good of others is at the very heart of the Gospel message. And it is that love that will set us apart but also enable us to come together.
As I have said before, I will say again, I am tired. I am discouraged. I am struggling to see a path forward through the discord, division and discontent. The anger and outrage of our time is a pandemic in its own right, and it makes me ill.
But I am not without hope. I believe God is still working through his people, as imperfect as we may be. I believe that the Word of God still holds words of healing and life. And I believe as we hold fast to that Word and endeavor to live it out with humility, grace and love that God will heal our brokenness and bring us back together again.
The Rev. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at jeremysmyers.com. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.