Oh American church -- I am you. The son of a pastor: born on the west coast, raised on the east. I wrestle with the faith of my fathers -- MLK, Bonhoeffer, Kierkegaard, St. Paul, Abraham. We are born from a history of glory and shame. From the cross to the inquisition, from slavery to civil rights. Yes, this church of triumph and failure is my family: awkward, beautiful, and fatally flawed. I have no stones to throw -- after all, I'm only human, and I get it wrong more than most.
So let me start with a confession: I have sinned and fallen short. I confess I am prone to failure. My heart is inherently pulled by the base desires of pride, lust, violence, and greed. I confess that the gospel I've inherited does not belong to me or to America. But rather we -- we the people, we human souls -- we belong to this gospel of peace.
I confess that we have grown cold. That we have lost sight of our True Love. And together we have forgotten the cross: the self-sacrificial love of the One who calls us to go and do likewise. Oh, American Church! I am you and you are me. And together we have grown judgmental, folding our hands and closing our doors. Have we forgotten that we were once the ones on the outside looking in? Have we forgotten that our salvation is a gift given to us, that we are but jolly beggars at the door of the Gift-Giver himself?
Oh church, where is our love? Christ chose to die for the marginalized and the poor -- the sick, the needy and the broken. Are they not waiting for us here in America today? Waiting for the hands and feet of Christ to meet them where they are? And who are the hands and feet of Christ if not you and I, the church? We who have been given such grace, where is our mercy?
And as a citizen, you have a right to vote. Cast your ballot. Lift your voice. Give to Caesar what is Caesar's. But your fight is not against skin and bones. No. The people you're yelling at are hurt, broken, hopeful, people just like yourself. Remember this: the government can serve and protect. But it cannot love. Only we the people can do that. You and I. Protection and service? Yes. But no amount of bureaucracy can love the person next-door.
You and I have a job description that remains unchanged: a love for our maker and a love for our neighbor. Do not be distracted by the yelling and the fear. Listen to the still, small voice. Care for the sick, the elderly, the hopeless, the broken. Love the outcast, the marginalized, the disenchanted. Fight for them. Arm in arm beside them.
Does it surprise you that our world is flawed? Does it surprise you that human power is corrupted by humans? Yes, there are many frustrations within the political realm; and yet, the plank remains in my own eye. The anger, the hatred, the lust, the fear, the greed -- this is the darkness that lives within me. This is the trash that I take out. This is my daily work of surrender. And this work of mine has very little to do with who is in power.
Who is my neighbor? The one who needs me. This is true religion: to take care of those who are in need. And yet, we (you and I and the rest of the American church), are not known for our love. No -- we are known for our judgmental, close-minded, pretentious fears. This is to our shame! My friends, we cannot continue only loving the ones who look like us, who talk like us, who believe what we believe, and act like we act. We must reach across the aisle with love for the very people we disagree with. Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you. Let us live a life worthy of the life-giving self-sacrificial love we have been given.
I read the gospel like this: none of us deserve it. None of us have earned the right to call ourselves Christians. No, it is his grace alone. Which means that the murderers on death row are every bit as deserving of God's love as I am. And maybe you disagree with me? Maybe you think this kind of love goes too far, that Christ didn't die for everyone equally? You might have valid contradictions to everything I've said. You can call me names even. Call me calloused, cold, cynical, and jaded. And on the wrong day, you're absolutely right! Fortunately for me, I qualify as your neighbor. Your job is to love me. Your job is to give me a drink of water. Give me a place to stay. Give me a warm meal.
Oh church, who has blinded us?! Know this, it's not your hatred that makes you godlike. It's not your fear. It's not your political rhetoric tossed back and forth on social media. No. It's your love that makes you look like God. Your forgiveness, your open arms. It's your merciful embrace of the hurting, the broken, and the abused. The kingdom of the heavens is waiting in the wounds around us. In the conversation. In the homeless shelters. In the eyes of someone who disagrees with you.
This is the blood that flows in our veins: the blood of the Maker. Our strength is not in our control or power. Not in our violence or destruction. No, we were made in the image of the maker -- and in our endeavors of creativity and love we resemble our Father in heaven. Our job is to love with the self-sacrificial love of Christ himself. We have a debt that remains outstanding: to love our neighbor as ourself.