Her words were well-timed, well-aimed, and they cut deep. Emotionally hobbled, I left embarrassed, ashamed, and accused. In her opinion, she was right, I was wrong. She wasted no effort in telling me so. My sister in Christ turned away from me, confident and assured of her own convictions.
Some of the most hurtful interactions I’ve ever experienced have been inflicted by members of a church. Christians, who defend their position – whatever that is – to the death. Debating, arguing and accusing.
Within my own church, I’ve encountered envy, gossip, slander, judgment….even bullying. It’s a hard, shameful thing to even put into words. But, it’s true.
Conversely, some of the kindest, most generous people I’ve ever known are not members of any church. They are kind and generous simply for the sake of being so. A friend of mine recently told me of her neighbor, an unchurched unbeliever. When this woman’s daughter encountered bullies at school, how did she respond? She sought out their parents, of course. And, she invited them to her home. She organized play dates and other encounters, cultivating a friendship where there was once animosity. She turned her daughter’s enemies into allies. She taught her daughter that, more important than having friends is being a friend.
We claim intolerance for tolerance, under the guise of our righteous sword, and we slay those “sinners” who are trying to do what we should have done first….loving the outliers, the disenfranchised and broken of our society.
At what point, did we forget and start to get things wrong? At what point did we begin reading Jesus’ words as a call to point fingers, accuse, and judge?
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13: 34-35
Every Wednesday night, I sit out on the patio with a few other women and we study the stories of Jesus. Every week, I am left with more questions than answers. Every week, I see a Messiah who did not accuse, did not judge. He did not reprimand, or chastise, or castigate.
He stopped in his tracks. He touched them. He looked them in the eye. He interacted, personally and intimately, with the bottom-dwellers, the lowest of the lowly. The scoundrels, thieves and prostitutes.
If only we could treat each other the same way. We look at those who don’t look or act like us, who believe, or parent, or worship a little different, who interpret and infer a slightly different scriptural meaning and we scream, accusing finger pointed: “You can’t love my God like that!”
I guess we're all a little afraid that if God's presence is there, then it cannot be here. It’s one thing to pat ourselves on the back for our efforts in Africa or Haiti. It’s entirely another to embrace a fellow believer along with all of their flaws, failures, differences and inconsistencies. To accept that they are really, no different than we. Not better, not worse. Still sinners. Still saved.
The word for love in John 13 is from the greek “agape”. Strong’s explains agape as of the love of person to person; especially of that love of Christians toward Christians which is enjoined and prompted by their religion, whether the love be viewed as in the soul or as expressed.
Perhaps when we begin to agape our fellow Christians and all mankind, then, and only then, will the world know that we are His disciples. We will preach the good news with our actions, not our words, and they will know.
“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light.” ~ St. Francis of Assissi
Adelle Gabrielson Assistant to Children’s Ministry Campbell Church of Christ Campbell, CA