Martin Luther King Jr. once preached these words, “To our most bitter opponents we say do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail and we shall still love you.
Bomb our homes and threaten our children and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us, and leave us half dead and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.” From sermon Loving Your Enemies
Did you catch that, “We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you.” I think he was talking about more than winning opponents and skeptics over to the civil rights movement. As in so much of what Dr. King wrote there is a call to know God, trust Him and live out a life of sacrifice and love that impact the community around us.
Philip Yancey tells the story of his alcoholic friend who explained to him the difference between church and AA. “When I show up late to church, people turn and look at me. Some scowl, some smile a self-satisfied smile—See that person’s not as responsible as I am. In AA, if I show up late the meeting comes to a halt and everyone jumps up to greet me. They realize that my desperate need for them won out over my desperate need for alcohol.” Vanishing Grace p. 76
I think Yancey’s friend may have over exaggerated just a bit about his reception in church but the point is well taken. At AA the people understand what desperate struggles take place in his life and support and encourage him in his battle to stay sober. They cheer him on and don’t condemn him for his failures. The Message paraphrases John 3:17 “God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending His Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.”
All around us are people who face desperate struggles; cancer, loneliness, guilt, a lack of love, poverty, injustice and a hopelessness in their lives. Why is it that they so seldom turn to God for help? Is it because, unlike Jesus in the Message’s paraphrase, we do point fingers?
A pastor friend of mine sent me an email a couple of days ago that hit the nail on the head, he wrote, “Instead of looking for God’s image in people we do the opposite of what Jesus taught, we judge.” I know I am guilty of that. How many times have I made conclusions about someone based on my “gut feeling” only to be pleasantly surprised when the motives or actions of the person were nothing at all like I imagined?
Tim Keller in his amazing sermon, Daring to Draw Near: Jacob and the Wrestler points out that Jacob’s problem was that he had always thought his biggest problem in life was his brother Esau. But in reality his problem was he had spent his life wrestling against God. Esau was not the problem but instead Jacobs lack of trust in God, his deceptions, his continual calculating and manipulations were the problem.
Yet, in spite of all his faults, Jacob was the Messianic representative through whom one day the true Messiah would come. And God one night came to him and wrestled with him to the breaking of the dawn. It is only through that wrestling match that Jacob wakes up to the reality of his life that he has been wrestling against God. And when that truth dawns on him he suddenly finds himself no longer wrestling against God but wrestling for God. He cries out, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me,” Genesis 32:26 It is then that Jacob becomes a new man with a new name “Israel” because the old Jacob that wrestled God now clung to Him.
I think that we Christians need to remember that our communities are filled with people who are wrestling with God but really want to cling to Him and hold Him and be held by Him. A survey once given in the United States asked, “What statement do you most wish to hear?” The top three answers were, “I love you”, “I forgive you”, and “Dinner is served”. You know what is amazing about those three longings are they unfold the Gospel for us. God loves us, forgives us unconditionally and invites us to the communion table to partake of His grace, mercy and love.
Around us everywhere are people who are not evil. They are broken, but we are all broken in some way when we God touches us. They need a helping hand, a word of encouragement, knowledge that God loves them and doesn’t condemn. Yancey’s friend said when I come late to an AA meeting everything, “comes to a halt and everyone jumps up to greet me. They realize that my desperate need for them won out over my desperate need for alcohol,”
God could probably use more Christians that jump up to meet the desperate that are searching for meaning, love and grace. Yes, we have to get up out of our comfortable chairs, shake hands and say welcome, but is that really a sacrifice? Is it really that difficult to wrap our arms around someone and whisper in their ear, “God loves you with all His heart, welcome home?”
* Please remember to pray for the Christians who are suffering persecution for their faith in many countries around the world. There is a great evil settling on this earth and we must be vigilant in our prayers and stay close to Christ. Our hope is in Christ and he is faithful to his people. Please take the time to read about what is taking place in the world around us at http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/ there is much more on the internet…