If anybody is paying attention to the news in politics and faith it is quite certain that we are in a crisis right now. I wasn’t old enough to remember the Nixon administration but I believe that we are in a much more critical point in our history right now. Our government is caught up in one scandal after another. And this is not just typical politics. This is a crisis of integrity, leadership and ethics on a scale I have never seen before. But then we look at the church and in several pockets we see the same type of crisis playing out. Willow Creek, a very influential church to the global church community, is in one of their own scandals as well as the Catholic church having yet again another pedophile ring that was covered up. This is not about being a republican versus a democrat or a protestant versus a Catholic. Instead, what I am seeing is a massive failure of leadership on a national scale. Our government is a mess, (and if you don’t believe that your ignoring facts and labeling it as fake news), and I would say the church in America is a mess also.
So what are we to do?
Take sin seriously. The first thing we need to do is to understand how our sin can be a major factor in not only harming ourselves but in harming others. Our culture is rampant in creating a culture of fear. We see this in immigration, we see this in our idolatry of the gun, we see this in politics, and on and on. We must be afraid of “the other”. If they infringe on our rights we demonize those who disagree with us. Jesus states in Matthew 18:6-9 that:
If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! 8 If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.
This passage is not necessarily endorsing killing perpetrators or self-mutilation. Instead Jesus is making the case that we need to take sin very seriously. What we do will have ripple-effects and consequences. I am reminded of the incident in which King David took it upon himself to rape Bathsheba then cover it up by murdering her husband. He suffered the consequences for those action when the prophet Nathan confronted him, but little did he realize his children were watching all this play out. The very sins of David impacted his children as they too became complicit in rape and murder. We need to take sin seriously by realizing the importance for us to be examples for the next generations. And if all we do is harm others through hate, fear, violence and division then it would be better to have a large millstone tied around your neck and drowned in the sea.
Also when we see sin taking root in our own lives Jesus doesn’t mince words in that we need to CUT IT OUT. By all means take it very seriously and get help to stop it in it’s tracks so that it doesn’t lead to destruction.
Now this may seem contradictory, but the second thing we need to do is humble ourselves and realize we are sinners in need of the mercy of God. In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus tells a parable about two people in the temple. Here is what happened:
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
All to often we want to look at ourselves as better than others. With social media it is even easier now to compare and contrast everything about you in relation to others, hoping that you will get more likes than you last post. Many of us portray the perfect image of ourselves. We like to think that we are basically a good person. But when we look at this parable we see the Pharisee gloating in his own self-righteousness while the tax collector begged for God’s mercy because he understood the heart of his problem, he was a sinner. Imagine if the church made it a practice, just like many say the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday, if we also said the tax collector’s prayer, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” First of all this prayer does not shy away from the root issue: we are sinners. But also, it is a merciful God that takes care of us. We need more humility and more mercy. We also need to be people who show mercy to those affected by sin, especially victims of sin.
And finally, we need to be people of unity and peace. Paul says in Ephesians 2:14-18
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Jesus has brought peace and unity creating within us a new humanity. We need to stop giving into generational categories or political categories or any categories that separate us and cause us to judge others. Jesus came to unite the Jews with the Gentiles thus creating a new humanity that demonstrates peace. We are called to be people of peace. The church of all places needs to be a place that people know they can receive mercy and grace. Yet too many feel that the church today is too judgmental, and too political, and too self-righteous. This should not be who we are. Those who are struggling with sin and those who are victims of sin need to find a safe place for confession, repentance and restoration. We must get back to the roots of who we are as the people of God, people of grace, mercy and peace where there is no more division but unity among one another.
May God have mercy on me, a sinner.