Charles Dickens’s depiction of 19th century Europe in his classic “Tale of Two Cities,” seems in some ways to describe the incredible times in which we live.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…”
Our country enjoys unequaled prosperity, incredible opportunities, and according to a recent Gallup Poll, 90% of Americans are satisfied with their personal life. Yet, it seems more than ever, we are polarized politically socially, religiously, and morally.
Just think about this week’s events. The sexually-charged Super-Bowl half-time show. President Trump’s State of the Union Address. Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, ripping up his speech in front of 37 million TV viewers. The Senate voting not to remove the impeached President from office. And former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor, Pete Buttigieg, a homosexual, who’s married to a man, winning the Democratic Iowa caucus for President of the United States.
Add to all of this President Trump’s speech before the 68th annual prayer breakfast, in juxtaposition to Speaker Nancy Pelosi sitting at the head table and leading a prayer. Then the President’s unprecedented victory celebration in the East Room of the White House a few hours later.
Whether you are a Christian or a non-Christian, a liberal or a conservative, a Republican or a Democrat, a “Trumper” or a “Never-Trumper,” you’ve got to admit we live in unusual and unsettling times.
What didn’t make much news from the Washington, D. C. Prayer Breakfast, was a speech by conservative author Arthur Brooks, a Harvard professor and a self-described “follower of Jesus.”
“In this crisis resides the greatest opportunity we have ever had as people of faith to lift our nations up and to bring our people together,” Brooks declared.
Brook’s answer to this challenge was to “think differently” and apply an age-old solution taught by Jesus in His famous Mountain Message.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt 5:43-44).
These words, Brooks correctly observed, are as “subversive and counterintuitive” today as they were 2,000 years ago.
Brooks encouraged the audience, including The President and The Speaker, to personally apply Jesus’ command.
“I want it to be personal to you on this day,” the author of Love Your Enemies, challenged, “Let me ask you this: How many of you love somebody with whom you disagree politically? Are you comfortable hearing someone insult that person that you love? Make it personal, my friends.”
At one point Brooks compared our country to a couple who can’t get along. “Contempt is ripping our country apart. We’re like a couple on the rocks in this country. Don’t believe it? Turn on prime time TV … it’s tearing our society apart.”
“How do we break the habit of contempt? Some people say we need more civility and tolerance. I say, nonsense. Why? Because civility and tolerance are a low standard,” he said. “Jesus didn’t say, ‘tolerate your enemies.’ He said, ‘love your enemies.’ Answer hatred with love.”
It’s too bad the cable news didn’t air Brooks 15 minute keynote speech in its entirety instead of some of the other divisive clips that were repeated over and over again.
While Jesus’ teaching and Brooks’ speech may have little impact on our national leaders, it ought to resonate with those of us who claim to be Christians. We can do better. We can try harder. We can live on a higher plane. And with nobler intentions.
Jesus’ admonition does not demand us to develop a mushy emotion for our enemies but to love them like God does. With goodwill. With their interest at heart. With concern about their soul.
Jesus says when our enemies blaspheme us, we bless them. When they hate us, we help them. When they persecute us, we pray for them. Is that hard? Absolutely. But it’s necessary. If we really want to be a child of God. If we really desire to be different from the world. If we’re seeking a perfect love like our Heavenly Father.
Let’s demonstrate that kind of love for others in all our interactions on social media. Facebook posts. Conversations. Classes. Sermons. And personal relationships.
We can disagree without being a disagreeable jerk. We can discuss without being disrespectful. We can even debate without acting despicably.
Jesus’ ancient call to love one another despite our differences, will provide inner peace, improved personal relationships, and an opportunity to shine our light in a sin-darkened world.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman