Easter Sunday 2020. Today, there are some churches determined to hold meetings despite local government stay-at-home orders. They believe they are being faithful to God by defying the government. Even if scientific evidence warns that their actions will perpetuate the virus, will endanger the vulnerable among them, still they will gather. Some believe God will protect them. Others say if they die from the coronavirus, they are going to a better place. Many believe their leaders’ assertions that the government is infringing on their constitutional right to “religious freedom.”
Onlookers may wonder at the churchgo-ers’ apparent naivete. Less generous terms include “stupidity” and “Darwin award winners.” That’s an easy generalization, as dismissive as it is condescending. Most of us who see so clearly the error of these followers fail to see our own participation in this scenario.
How can “those people” deny scientific reality? How can “they,” who purport to be loving, be so selfish? Don’t “they” see the manipulation, how those ambitious leaders are seeking their 15 minutes in the spotlight?
“They” are foolish. “We” are wise.
And so we divide ourselves. Coastal elites and Midwest pragmatists. Democrats and Republicans. Christians and pagans. Black and white and brown. The one percent versus the ninety-nine. Traditional versus progressive. Every label carries a connotation. Are you with us or against us? Are you them or us?
I have heard many sermons on Jesus’ parable of the wide and narrow gates. Most of them focused on how our behavior as Christians must be set apart from “the world.” What I find interesting is that in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, this analogy directly follows Jesus’ admonition to “do unto others what you would have them do to you.” It also directly precedes Jesus’ warning to beware of false teachers and to not become one of those who do all manner of religious performance without really knowing the will of the Father. Jesus sandwiched our choice to act between preferring one another in love and seeking His heart despite all appearances. Most people will settle for the appearance of good.
In today’s world, it is indeed a narrow path to find those who treat everyone with the same love. Fear divides us but love truly does unite us. Only God has the capacity to judge who is listening, who is following His heart. Those loving souls are in the Southern Baptist church, in the Pentecostal church, in the Catholic church, in no church. Despite many a preached warning, I believe they are in temples and mosques and Greenpeace meetings. No denomination has an exclusive domain on hearing God. Jesus told us to look at the fruit of a person’s life, not at how righteous they appear.
In my formative evangelical years, I was told to beware of unity. “He who is not for us is against us.” Except Jesus also said, “whoever is not against us is for us.” Huh…????!!! In these sermons, there was even quite a bit of creative epistemological convolution to justify why “us versus ‘the world’” was Jesus’ primary objective. It was not a far jump from there to how the practice of condemning and ridiculing others was actually “loving them into the kingdom.”
That’s some pretty sour fruit.
How have we come so far from Jesus’ good news? How have we turned the invitation of our Creator to join in a fellowship of unconditional love into a judgmental condemnation of human behavior? How have we allowed ourselves to once again become so embroiled in legalism and the appearance of righteousness while taking advantage of the least among us?
Jesus had some chilling words regarding millstones that all of us who have been Christians for any length of time need to consider. Are we leading astray children in the faith (of any age)? Are we teaching anything beyond what Jesus taught? Are we adding our own prejudice to His words?
Today is Easter. Resurrection Sunday. He is risen.
He is risen indeed.
What is He saying to you?