By the Right Rev. John T. Tarrant
A s I was preparing to celebrate the 150 anniversary of Our Most Merciful Savior Church in Santee Nebraska this past December, I reread parts of Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve’s book, That They May Have Life.
In the telling about the conflict between Samuel Hitman and “other white protestant missionaries at Santee” she quotes from Roy Meyer, History of the Santee Sioux who writes, “a difficulty seems to have arisen between them and it is notorious in the tribe that the missionaries themselves, have of late years, not been upon terms of ordinary civility and courtesy with each other.”
It struck me that this could be a description of the church in recent years. It is expected that at times we will find ourselves in disagreement or conflict, but there is no excuse for not showing “ordinary civility and courtesy” toward each other. In fact, when we allow our disagreements to become rude and disrespectful, at times even vile, we reject Jesus’ commandment to us, “to love one another.” We show ourselves to be no different from the world to which we are called to witness.
Jesus told his disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” If we think we are honoring God by our angry and disrespectful comments, letters, emails, FaceBook posts, etc then we ought to reintroduce ourselves to the one we claim to follow who from the cross prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
Jesus understood that our greatest witness to the world would be how we loved one another. He tells us, “I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you… If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.” Do we hold ourselves to a higher standard than much of the world seems to embrace?
St. Paul tells us that ‘love’ is not the way you feel, but the way you behave. In his letter to the church in Corinth he would write, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
To be a Jesus follower and live the Christian ‘way’ is not an easy road. We will regularly fall short, but I believe it is a path worth following and so I do. I miss the mark far more than I wish I did, but I have learned that the first step toward following Jesus is to understand that there is a ‘mark’ to aim for…
“Peter came and said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” Repentance and forgiveness goes hand in hand. Peter well knew that there were times when he was the member of the church that had sinned against another. If we want our faith communities to stand as a light in the midst of the darkness of the principalities and powers of this world then we might follow advice of the 18 century Anglican priest and one of the founders of Methodism John Wesley, who wrote in a sermon, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all God’s children may unite, not withstanding these smaller differences.”
Forgiveness, repentance, patience, kindness, loving friend and enemy alike and even praying for those who persecute us is all part of the ‘way’, the ‘path’ of following Jesus. And this path certainly includes offering ‘ordinary civility and courtesy’ toward each other. Conflicts and disagreement within our world, country, and church are not new. From Peter to John Wesley to our present age we have struggled as people to live in harmony with each other and God. As followers of Jesus we see that struggle worth engaging. The opportunity for the church is to witness to a way of life that moves from being self centered to being God centered; that moves from self righteousness to surrender to God’s love. In short, our opportunity is to live as if we believe what we say.