The world is scary place as our country approaches a major change in leadership. So much hatred and fear and divisiveness have bubbled up. So many voices want to bend the moral arc back to where it was in times past.
As people of faith, how do we respond to this?
We respond the way Jesus did.
He lived in a world that was very different on the surface but quite like ours fundamentally. There were sharply different values competing for sway in his society, his religion, his economic system, and his political system.
His response was to advocate for the kingdom of God, a place that’s run by God’s values of unconditional love and compassion, radical inclusion, unlimited forgiveness, and healing and grace and peace available to everyone equally.
Jesus said the kingdom is here and now – already in our midst – and everyone is invited to join it and enact it by living those values. We’re enlisted to make the world a place where everyone is treated as an equally beloved child of God.
Of course, God’s values weren’t popular with many people then. Or now. So many people today say that love and compassion and equality should be excluded from most areas of our lives. They advocate far different values: privilege, exclusion, discrimination, wealth, power, violence, domination.
Jesus challenged all of it. And if we’re to follow his way, we must do the same.
So, how do we go about it? How do we bring God’s kingdom more fully into the world in these times?
I have three suggestions.
First, Jesus’ message of transformation always starts within each of us. We must be transformed first. We can advocate for God’s values only to the extent that they’re already growing in our hearts. We can enact the kingdom only to the degree that it’s already inside each of us.
Spirituality isn’t a course to be completed. There’s no finish line. Each of us has a long way to grow. We need to make this a daily endeavor, a personal priority as we move forward. We can’t skimp on that part.
Second, we must stand up and speak out. There’s no sitting this one out. We’re summoned to be light and salt for our world, changing everything we touch. We can’t hide or be indifferent. But how we go about it matters a great deal.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. – whom we honored this past weekend – was a spirit-filled prophet who showed us the way to use God’s values to change the world. He said that we must never back away from the struggle, but the only “weapon” we may use is love. We must treat those who see things differently as our equally beloved sisters and brothers.
If we return violence for violence — either physically or verbally — then violence becomes our value. We’re not trying to hurt those who disagree with us; we’re trying to challenge their thinking and show them a different way.
My third suggestion is that we need to challenge not only those who see things differently, but those within our own groups, in our own tribes, in our own churches and families. That’s what it means to be prophetic.
Again, King provided us with an example. To the extent that a politician or a political party or a church would support God’s values of treating every person equally, he supported them. But when that same politician or political party or church failed to support God’s values in some way, he confronted them directly and lovingly. He wasn’t partisan.
That’s how he did it. That’s how Jesus did it. And so must we.
Yes, it’s challenging. There’s a price to be paid for advocating for God’s values. But if we don’t do it, there’s also a price that we pay: Those other values become entrenched and dominate our world.
That’s a much higher price.
We can’t lose faith. Progress never comes in a straight line. It’s always a matter of two steps forward, one step back, one sideways. It circles around at times. But persistent love keeps us moving forward in the long run. It keeps putting its hands on the arc and bending it.
There will be many times, like right now, when it feels like love has been defeated and relegated to a dark, cold tomb. And a big stone has been rolled across the entrance, making sure love never emerges again.
But it always does.
That’s the story of us and God. The stone always gets rolled back, and love emerges stronger and more determined to continue redeeming the world.
So here’s a suggestion. When you feel frightened, try to quiet yourself and listen. At this very moment, you’ll hear the stone being rolled away by Someone who wants to redeem the world all over again.
Through you and me.