We live in a world full of extremists.
It is not just in American society that the battle between extreme beliefs on either end of the spectrum is happening constantly in our political, social, and religious circles. Violence, hate crimes, and acts of oppression erupt all over the world, and through the news and social media, we are witnesses to the distress calls of the people who are caught in the middle of these battles
We can look at history to know that throughout time people have been extreme in their violence to one another, and that in many cases, violence is done in the name of God, for the sake of growing empire, taking land, or converting the masses.
Today, when we are connected to every nation through social media, it is important that we remember our responsibility to care not only for our own interests, but the interests of others, and that we face the history of our own nation with honesty as a place to begin to connect to others.
So in a world of extreme beliefs, extreme hatred, extreme violence and vitriol, what is left for us to be extreme about that can possibly bring good to the kingdom of God?
We become extreme in our practices of love and shalom.
Richard Rohr says it like this in his book, The Divine Dance:
“It is very hard for individuals to enjoy faith, hope, and love, or even to preach faith, hope and love—which alone last—unless society itself first enjoys faith, hope, and love in some collective way. This is much of our problem today; we have not given the world any message of cosmic hope, but only threatening passages of Apocalypse and Armageddon.”
If we are truly to love all people, to call everyone to the wholeness of God’s love and the shalom of the Trinity, there is no room for hatred or grudges.
There is only the work of the gospel, the work we were called to in the first place, the work of our humanity that honors the journeys of others and says that all created things are the imprint of God, that love works in all circumstances to bring a true message of hope.
We’re told that the greatest commandments, the greatest acts, are acts done in love, are seen by the way we love one another. It’s a word that we’ve overused throughout the years, but maybe it’s also a word we’ve underestimated.
The love of God is not something we can argue with.
The love of God is a steady and good work, and it’s an honor to join in that work.
We diligently and lovingly strive for shalom as we care for this earth.
We love to the extreme that anyone is truly welcomed in our churches.
We practice shalom in a way that reconciles the sins of Christianity’s past so that we become better Christians in the future.
We make room for the growing pains that come with change and growth, and we do not stifle it.
We remain world citizens so that we support the love of God that moves and breathes in all cultures, all over the world, in all places.
We embrace the diversity of our neighborhoods and welcome that diversity into our homes without judgment.
We become the hands and feet of Jesus and we do the work set before us, because it becomes the only true and good option we have, the option to truly love our enemies and our allies and everyone in between.
Love makes way for shalom.
And if we know what shalom really means, it goes beyond an absence of war or conflict, but into a space of actual wholeness and wellness. It is a way to make right everything that has been wrong, a way to mend and heal and restore.
And love and shalom make way for reconciliation.
They make way for us to fix the distorted version of the gospel we’ve created, a version of the gospel that puts privilege and profit and the top and the poor at the bottom. Through love and shalom we break the structures of our day that have been made by and for oppression and we say, truly, truly, everyone is welcome at the table.
If we are struggling with the American church’s extreme use of the gospel to bring about hate, shame, oppression, judgment, and economic disparities, we must struggle with the extreme hate that we witness all over the world between all people. We must struggle with the extreme mistreatment of the earth that we’ve played a part in. We must struggle with how to answer the call to love our neighbors truly as if they are embedded in us, a part of us, an image of us.
To practice extreme love, we must recognize what kinds of extremism we practice in our own hearts, in our own churches, in our own homes. If extreme hate has ripple effects into the lives of those around us and beyond, so too does love, and certainly, so does shalom.
And we, brothers and sisters, are called to love and shalom, and in practicing extreme, radical, gracious love, we practice beckoning and living in the kingdom of God as Jesus did. We apply the gospel message as it was meant, a message that welcomes all people and all creation to a new reality of true and lasting wholeness.