THERE’S A WIDENESS IN GOD’S MERCY
The events in our nation over the last week have changed the way I show biblical examples today. Let me begin with this:
An old Cherokee grandfather is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil—he is anger, envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, feelings of superiority, and ego. The other is good—he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.” The grandfather continued to his grandson: “The same fight is going on inside of you—and inside every other person too.” The grandson thought about what his grandfather had just told him. “Which wolf will win?” he asked his grandfather. To which he replied, “The one you feed.”
The Apostle Paul in Galatians chapter 5 echoes those traits, but each of Paul’s characteristics are given an animal form—a wolf—in the Cherokee story. One set of values is described as “The work of the flesh” and the other the “fruit of the Spirit.” In his letter to the Romans, Paul said “I do not understand my own actions, For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.”
Author and minister Robert Short got permission from Charles Schulz to use his “Peanuts” comic strip to help point people to the teachings and actions of Jesus Christ. In his book “The Gospel According to Peanuts,” Short depicts Lucy holding up a large heart made out of paper and colored on one side. “She says to her brother, “This, Linus, is a picture of the human heart. One side is filled with hate, and the other side is filled with love. These are the two forces which are constantly at war with each other.” Linus, with his tongue out and his hair disheveled, says, “I think I know what you mean … I can feel them fighting!”
Our nation, like all nations, has had an underbelly of darkness, rear its head like a snake over the decades. In the 1930s and 1940s for example, the world went to war in part over a power-hungry, totalitarian German Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, who later claimed the power of a dictator. He believed that non-white human beings were inferior, and therefore, needed to be annihilated to advance the human race. So specifically Jews, and Jewish sympathizers, were rounded up and taken to German work camps “for the common good.” They were actually death camps; and humans were transported there in stifling hot rail cars. When they arrived they were humiliated by being forced to remove all their clothes and “be examined” by soldiers. They were worked to death, or gassed in chambers, and when they died, some bodies were burned while other emaciated bodies were shoveled into mass graves. This is what Hitler did and convinced his followers to do. His party was called the “Nazi” Party.” I have been to the Dachau Concentration Camp. It was a haunting places that will tear your heart out. When I left I promised myself that I would speak out if I saw the world sliding into such godless hate again. Nazis took the cross of my Savior, twisted it, and turned it into a swastika, an ensign that men gathered under for killing and brutalizing Jews. Perhaps they never learned that Jesus was a Jew. True followers of Christ through the ages changed the cross of Calvary from an instrument of death into a reminder of God’s eternal love. Yet in the 20th century the KKK and other hate groups took the cross of Jesus, set it on fire, and used it to threaten death and torture to people of color, to Jews, and to Roman Catholics. I have friends who are Jews, and who are black and who are Catholic. I stand with them and resent men of my race who twist and annihilate the gospel of our Lord with their hate. The so-called Alt-Right and other extreme hate groups believe that people of color—that they crudely call the red man, the brown man, the yellow man or the black man—are inferior. Jesus would weep over such distortions of his love. It is a crime against heaven to take such non-biblical stands. You may have heard of George Takei, Lieutenant Sulu of Star Trek fame. Although his family roots were in Japan, he was born in Los Angeles; his father was from San Francisco and his mother born in Sacramento: full citizens of the United States. Yet at the start of World War II, they were “rounded up” and kept in a fenced isolated area in one of ten government sanctioned interment camps. They were assigned to one in the southeast corner of Arkansas. They imprisoned there for three years. In Takei’s words “We had nothing to do with the war. We simply happened to look like the people that bombed Pearl Harbor.” Sentry towers and guards saw that no one left.
Followers of Jesus, we cannot stand by when the cross of Christ burned with hatred or is twisted into a sign of death for others. We must say “No! That is not what Jesus, or God, are about! They are love!” Still the internet creates places for unhappy, paranoid, or mentally ill persons to feed off of each other’s hateful plans. And the dark web is a cesspool of depravity. If you see something, say something! These days from Charlottesville to the Pulse Nightclub, hate is being bred. The old adage attributed to Edmund Burke, is extra true today: “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph if for good men [sic] to do nothing.” Today I want you to be armed with what Jesus did as we stand against those who carry out their ugly hateful actions twisting the name and the cross of Christ. Those people have succumbed to the one wolf, that Paul called the “works of the flesh.” Paul invites true disciples of Jesus to make different choices, to feed the other wolf and display the fruit of the Spirit.
Let’s take a journey around Jesus’ world today. In his world, the Romans had no use for the Jews, but God did. It has been said “how odd of God to choose the Jews” but God did! And Jesus was sent first to those chosen people. Just like with other children, God anguished over, listened to, directed, and cared about them! The first century world was as separate as parts of our nation are today. Jews had nothing good to say about Samaritans; Romans had nothing good to say about Jews; and Jews certainly had nothing good to say about Gentiles. Then along came Jesus, who spoke well of each of them, and named evil when he saw it. He had the mind and heart of God. God’s mercy is wide the way it was shown by Jesus. Jesus, in John chapter 4, deliberately went into Samaria, a place where Jews never traveled. There he met and changed a woman who was isolated by her neighbors. She went and told others about Jesus! In Luke’s gospel Jesus told a story about a “Good Samaritan” to his fellow Jews, who believed there was no such thing as a good Samaritan! Jesus sowed love where there was hate and isolation. God’s mercy is wide when lived through Jesus. At another time Jesus spoke up for a woman who was charged with adultery. (In those days men could not be charged with adultery!) Even though women were considered to be property by people in that day, Jesus considered women as a human, and worthy of the mercy of God. He changed that woman’s life. Another time he went up north and spoke with a Syrophoenician woman, one who believed in many gods but not in Israel’s God. Instead of condemning her as an unbeliever, their conversation led him to declare to her, “O woman, your faith is great.” Through Jesus’ words and actions, there was, and there is, a wideness in God’s mercy. Certainly in the Gospel of John (written late in the first century,) there are many sentences that some through the ages have said were condemning Jews as a race. They were not; there was no blame on all Jews; John’s gospel describes the mob that called for Jesus death that was led by Jewish leaders of the Sanhedrin. They made up charges about Jesus and incited a mob of people to call for his crucifixion. Neither John nor Jesus condemn Jews as a race. But racist people have read John’s Gospel that way before. Perhaps Jesus showed the nature of God best in Luke 15. He tells a story of two sons, one faithful, and one not faithful. The faithful son was by his father’s side, but sadly he exhibited some of the qualities of the flesh: jealousy, envy, lying, speaking in innuendo as if they were facts, quarreling, and strife. The other son started with the works of the flesh—greed, narcissism, lacking in love—but he changed. He hit his personal bottom and returned to his father. The fruit of the spirit started to bloom in him. By the end of the story, that son was not only accepted back into the family, he was the guest of honor at a party! His brother: out in the fields, turning his mind into a dark web of hate and resentment.
Jesus knew hate; and he knew the evil one; he had tangled with the devil. But we his followers will not just be asked to love; we are asked to stand with those who are hated or hurt; to go to their side or go to their aid. Some might write letters; some may blog to sway thinking. Some may march and some may pray. But we cannot just read our newspapers, our phones, or watch our TVs, shaking our heads in dismay. “Some will say, “What is our world coming too?” But only those who don’t study history believe that. Our world has had just such darkness and evil since time began. It just wasn’t as widely reported as it is now. There were some very hateful times in American history. The part that saddens me, and motivates me, is that it keeps happening! And it has raised its ugly head again. What will you do; what will we do, to stand firm against it? God sees humans as precious, asking us to get marching orders from the prophet Micah: to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. Let’s go.
Let us pray: Merciful God: how many centuries have you watched your children draw lines in the sign, or lines down the edge of a town, separating where people can live or eat or travel? We are challenged to be the heart, the eyes, and the ears of Christ. Give us the courage to change the things we can change, especially in this day and time. Jesus needs our actions to bring light into darkness. In Jesus’ name and for his sake. Amen.
Jeffrey A. Sumner August 20, 2017