“Put your hands in the hand of the man who stilled the water. Put your hands in the hand of the man who calmed the sea. Take a look at yourself and you can look at others differently. Put your hands in the hand of the man from Galilee.” – Lyrics by Gene MacLellan, sung by many
About six months ago (or so it seems), I was driving down Beechmont Avenue and noticed the new electronic sign in front of St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church. (Yes, like ours, the old, red and white Ken Sill sign is gone!) Streaming along with their church messages I noticed their tag line, “God Loves You, No Exceptions!” Those words caught my attention. Good stuff! I loved the sense of unconditional welcome. Secret be told, St. Timothy’s didn’t develop the saying. It is the tag line of the Episcopal Church and I first read it last summer in their Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry’s book, Crazy Christians.
So I have been wondering lately; in the ELCA and especially at LCR we claim to love others, we welcome all of the downtrodden, we want everybody and anybody to be part of our family, right? The Covenant that we all signed in December, the covenant that we all make with each other begins with this article, “Because God loves us unconditionally, we will strive in the same way to share our Christian love through acceptance, forgiveness, and understanding to others as well as our fellow members.” (emphasis added)
So I have been thinking lately; maybe sometimes it’s easier to love and welcome the stranger than it is to love and welcome our fellow members! You may get tired of me talking about this, but I am not going to stop because I don’t think the divisive, polarized, energy-charged air that we breathe is going to get cleansed any time soon. (I attribute much of our problem to political gerrymandering. Our voting districts are so one-sided that our legislators have no concern about taking radical, uncompromising, polarized stances without having to be accountable. Is there no room for centrist compromise in our nation or community anymore?) Will we love each other? Will we be the “big-tent” church that makes room for all on matters other than salvation?
I was struck by the contrast of events last week and I want you to be aware of them and reflect on them. On January 16 our nation commemorated Martin Luther King, Jr. day. The commemoration reminds us that we are not yet the Beloved Community that Dr. King envisioned. On Friday of that week, we inaugurated President Trump to great fanfare. On Saturday, there was great, worldwide protest. Meanwhile, meanwhile, the focus of our worship last weekend was our disaster trip to West Virginia last fall. I remind you that the presidential election took place during the trip. Not everybody on our team was of one mind on the election results but we continued to pound nails and pray as the one Body of Christ! Meanwhile, meanwhile, last Sunday afternoon
LCR hosted the Christian Unity worship service. Clergy from five denomination led worship and at least eight congregations were represented in the worshiping assembly! It was a joy to bring together 100 Christians with a common mind to be in unity with each other.
“Take a look at yourself and you can look at others differently.” I believe that this is a time when every one of us might benefit from spending more time with our hands in the (nail-scarred) hands of the man from Galilee! I read an interesting tidbit in Crazy Christians about two of Jesus’ disciples; Matthew the tax collector and Simon the Zealot represented both ends of the political spectrum in Jesus’ day. In other words, Jesus called the modern equivalent of the most right-wing Republican and the most left-wing Democrat to come follow Him!
Let’s have healthy debate about issues. Let’s listen closely to the other. Let’s tell our own stories about how policy affects us. Let’s try to discern what our faith and the Scriptures offer to the debate. Let’s walk when we need to walk, but always respectfully. While we are walking, let’s try to walk in the shoes of the other too. Let’s do all of that while recognizing the spark of the Divine in each other. And from this Neanderthal’s perspective, let’s do it in the incarnate presence of each other rather than through impersonal and often misunderstood digital and electronic media.
There are many reasons that I have stayed with the church my entire life. Among them is my resolute belief that the Gospel of Jesus is the answer to everything that is wrong with the world. We are broken and sinful. We sometimes say and do the wrong things that can be unloving and inhospitable. But when we put our hands in the hands of the man from Galilee and covenant to love unconditionally and forgive often, we plant the seeds of the Kingdom.
The good news is that God Loves You, No Exceptions! Then the hard work begins, To Love Your Neighbor, No Exceptions!
Trying my best alongside of you,
About the Author: Pastor Henry Zorn is Co-Pastor of Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Cincinnati, OH. A vibrant and welcoming community of faith and a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.