Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve never been so acutely aware of how differently people see the world. I’ve heard from so many of you about your perspectives on the presidential election and, from what I can gather, the general sentiment is somewhere between euphoric and apocalyptic. It’s a reminder of how we can all be looking at the same thing yet see it so differently.
I thought about the woman who went to the auto shop to pick up her car. The man at the counter said, “Your car is ready, but there’s just one problem. We accidentally locked the keys inside.” She went out to the car and saw the mechanic using one of those Slim Jims in the window, trying to pull up the lock from the outside. He was having a tough time, so while the woman was waiting, she happened to walk over to the other side of the car and, on a whim, grabbed the door handle. Sure enough, the door opened. She looked over at the mechanic and said, “Hey, it’s unlocked over here.” The mechanic said, “Yeah, I know. I already got that side.”
We can all be looking at the same problems, yet see entirely different solutions. And we’re inclined to believe that the solution is so obvious that those who see it differently, or those who voted differently, are ridiculously obtuse. That’s when we fall into the terrible trap of loving our solutions more than loving our neighbors who see otherwise.
Here’s the truth I know about myself: On most days, I’m more like that mechanic trying to jimmy the lock on that car door, than like the woman who’s already found another way in. I can be so consumed by so many tasks and obligations and worries, by my absolute conviction that I’m right, that know what I’m doing, that I don’t even acknowledge that she might at least have something truthful, maybe even something reasonable, to say to me. I’m more apt to see her as part of the problem than the solution.
It could have happened that way for Jesus one day in Galilee. It must have been one of the worst days of his ministry. Jesus is besieged by the aches and pains of the world. He’d traveled back to his hometown of Nazareth to preach to the people who knew him and loved him. It was supposed to be a homecoming, a hero’s welcome, but his sermon turned out to a major swing and a miss. The people were offended by his preaching. They mocked and rejected him, and there’s nothing more painful than being rejected by the people who are supposed to love you, right? Home sweet home wasn’t so sweet at all. What did Robert Frost say? “Home is where, when you go there, they have to let you in.” When Jesus went home, they kicked him out.
But things got worse for Jesus: there was a sudden death in the family. Have you ever had the sudden phone call in the middle of the night, the unexpected knock on the front door? “I’m sorry to have to tell you this… you might want to sit down…” It was about John, his cousin and mentor. John, the Baptizer, the prophet of repentance. “John’s dead,” they told him. “Beheaded by the King.”
Besieged by rejection, heartbreak, grief—and that’s just the beginning of his troubles. There’s no time to grieve, because everywhere he looks, there’s another leper pleading for a cure, another beggar asking for spare change, another untouchable pleading for human contact and acceptance. The sick, the hungry, the outcast and forsaken—they all lined up to get a piece of Jesus, until there was nothing left of Jesus to give. Empty.
Have you ever had one of those days? You ask yourself, “When’s it going to end? How will I keep going? Will it ever get better?”
Some days you wake up and say, “Good morning, God.” And some days you wake up and say, “Good God, it’s morning.”
When you have too many days like that, besieged by the aches and pains and burdens of life, what’s your natural default?
The Greeks had a word for what often happens when we’re overwhelmed in life: ἀκηδία, otherwise known as acedia – the state of feeling listless, of not caring about people or our purpose or responsibility in the world. According to ancient church doctrine, acedia, or “sloth,” is one of the seven deadly sins. It’s the spiritual condition of being unwilling to perform our fundamental duties in life. We pull away from others, we detach from the world, and we find ourselves repeating the three most dangerous words in the world: “I don’t care.”
I don’t care anymore. I’m done.
But what did Jesus do? Besieged, overwhelmed, empty. Just when you think he’s got nothing left to give, he stands before 5,000 people and, with five loaves and two fish, he feeds every last one of them.
His disciples said, “Jesus, send them away.” But he chose compassion instead. “Bring them here.”
For eighteen months, we’ve been besieged on all sides by political messages that first inflamed our emotions, then numbed our senses. Regardless of how you cast your vote, do you sense the deep fracture in our communities? Fractures do not heal on their own. Ignore a broken bone, and the two parts will never properly fuse together; it will always be weaker, more likely to fracture again; it will become a source of chronic pain. This is what happens when acedia is our default response.
“I don’t care.” I’ve heard it in recent days. “I don’t care—the election is over and it’s time for people to get over it.” And I’ve heard others say, “I’m so disillusioned that it’s hard to care at all.”
There’s a better way than not caring. The Apostle Paul called it “the still more excellent way”—the way of love. Paul wrote about it in the most familiar passage about love in all of Scripture—a passage often read at weddings, which is ironic, because Paul wrote it specifically for Christians in Corinth who were so at odds with one another that they could hardly sit in the same church pew without breaking into a fist fight.
“If I speak in tongues of mortals and of angels but don’t have love, I’m a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and know all the mysteries… and if I have such complete faith that I can move mountains but I don’t have love, I’m nothing. If I give away everything that I have and hand over my own body to feel good about what I’ve done but I don’t have love, I receive no benefit whatsoever.
Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”
~ 1 Corinthians 13
These words weren’t meant for a bride and groom on their wedding day. They were meant for times like these, for people like us.
Can I dare you to practice that kind of love in the world, especially with those who may see things differently than you? To do so, you’ll need to answer what I believe are the two most urgent questions that people on both sides of the aisle are asking.
Will you guard the dignity of those in our communities who feel most vulnerable? Will you speak up for those who, as a consequence of political rhetoric, feel especially fearful and defenseless because of the color of their skin, their country of origin, or their religious creed? Many wonderful, compassionate people who voted for Donald Trump categorically rejected and condemned that rhetoric, and it’s the duty of all of us to continue to do so. “What does the LORD require of you,” says the prophet Micah, “but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).
We cannot ignore bigotry, set it aside, focus on other issues, or minimize it. No matter what other issues we also care about, surely we can agree that racial and religious bigotry is morally unacceptable as we attempt to model Jesus’ command to “love your neighbors as yourself.”
Will you guard the dignity of those who feel most vulnerable? Abraham Lincoln said, “To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.” So be vigilant. Be courageous. Guard the dignity of those who feel most vulnerable.
On January 6, 2011, in Alexandria, Egypt, an extraordinary event took place. Just days before, Islamic militants had bombed a Coptic Church, killing 23 worshippers. In the days that followed, tensions between Christians and Muslims were high. Christians feared more bombings; churches were easy targets, and Coptic Christmas Eve services were scheduled for January 6 under a dark cloud of fear and death. But something extraordinary took place that night. As Christians gathered for Christmas Eve, hundreds of Muslim men and women encircled the church, held hands, and formed a human shield against further acts of violence, while their Christian neighbors worshipped peacefully inside. “I know it might not be safe,” said one Muslim woman, “but it’s either we live together, or we die together.”
This is how you heal a fractured community. You come to the aid of the most vulnerable. You love what is good, and you stand with the defenseless.
But there’s one more question that people on both sides of the aisle are asking. It’s the question John Wesley asked the early Methodists, in the midst of heated theological disagreements: “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?” Write this question down, take it with you to the dinner table on Thanksgiving when, I’m sure, someone will spark a heated political debate that will make even the turkey want to scream.
The temptation is to vilify the other side. We tend to see only the bad in those with whom we disagree. But as Edgar Cayce once said, “There’s so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, it doesn’t behoove any of us to speak evil of the rest of us”
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander… Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
~ Ephesians 4:31-32
Tom Brokaw, in his book, The Greatest Generation, records the wartime experience of former U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield. As a young Ensign in the Navy during World War II, Hatfield was the skipper of a landing craft ferrying Marines from the troop ship to the beaches at Iwo Jima and returning with the wounded and dying.
Later, he was assigned to a ship that accompanied the USS Missouri into Tokyo Bay for the formal surrender, and then was assigned to one of the first crews to inspect Hiroshima. He remembers: “This was about a month after the bomb had been dropped. There was a smell to the city—and total silence. It was amazing to see the utter and indiscriminate devastation in every direction and to think that just one bomb had done it.”
Hatfield says as the Americans sailed into the canals, Japanese parents and their children watched silently. “When we landed, the little kids saw we weren’t going to kill or shoot them, so they began to gather around… they were very hungry, so we took our lunches and broke them up and gave them to as many kids as we could.”
In that moment, Hatfield had an epiphany: “You learn to hate with a passion in wartime,” he says. “If you don’t kill your enemy, they’ll kill you. But sharing those sandwiches with the people who had been my enemy was sort of therapy for me. I could almost feel the hate leaving me.” (Tom Brokaw, The Greatest Generation, p. 334-337)
This is how you heal a fractured community. You affirm the image of God in the other. You love what is good in them, and you repent of what is not good in you.
In a world in which people too often throw up their hands at one another and say, “I don’t care,” may it not be so among us.
This week, walk a mile in the shoes of those with whom you might disagree. And if that doesn’t work, then try to remember Koko the gorilla. Do you remember Koko, the famous gorilla who learned sign language? There used to be this poster of Koko, with a caption underneath it that read: “The law of the American jungle: Remain calm, share your bananas.”
It’s a jungle out there right now. Be compassionate. Share some bananas.