With all of the chaos of the past political cycle, I will admit to feeling some anxiety about the divisiveness in the country regarding race, sexuality and religion. There have been debates, protests and an ongoing dialogue of hate and violence being spewed from both sides of the aisle. There are conversations that are dividing people even on social media that has lead to Facebook friends un-friending each other because of differing opinions. As Americans, we fully embrace the rights afforded to us, ALL OF US, under the Constitution, and by these principles we are all different but equal under the law. Knowing that we live in a great country with freedom to speak up for what we believe, the freedom to practice religion without any threat as well as the freedom to cast our votes for the candidate of our choosing should be enough to unite us rather than divide us. I have grown weary of the disagreements, debates and meanness of some of the rhetoric that I hear daily so I have been thinking a lot about unity and how people like you and me can change our behavior and attitudes to help ease the divisions and offer hope and peace.
In the early Christian church, these new Christ followers were united in building a faith-filled community under the leadership of the Apostle Paul who encouraged them to treat each other with the love of Christ:
“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” Phil 2
When we pray in community, we are united in our prayers for one another, the larger community and the world. When we sing with each other, we are praising God in one voice supporting the whole church family in whatever they are feeling or experiencing at the time. All of us face battles everyday whether depression, addiction, abuse, death, which often drives us inward with a lot of time to self-reflect. The churches are filled with hurting people who feel unworthy and alone. When stepping into a sanctuary, you are stepping into a community of believers who join with you in your hurt and lift you up with their prayers and praise. At some point, everyone has experienced pain, sorrow, or guilt, and yet we can come together, standing side-by-side to focus our thoughts and praises on the God hope and second chances. In worship, we are no longer focused on ourselves and our relationship with a personal God, but with the God who opens his arms wide inviting all of us to come and rest in his grace and peace regardless of our brokenness.
Paul’s words encourage us to step outside of ourselves, in humility and see others in their need and serve them. In this divisive time, can we set aside what we want, what we need and reach out to our neighbor and find some common ground rather than dwell on what divides us. It was in a gathering of believers, who came to share their hurts, habits and hang ups and support one another, that I was reminded of a the words of the author C. S. Lewis; “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” As Americans, what can we do to stop the hate, fear, self-interest and all that divides us and see beyond ourselves to what our neighbor’s need? As Christians, how do we show the same compassion and sympathy, as the early church believers, to encourage people with a love that unites us together? A good place to start might be to pray the same words the Lord taught his disciples to pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your Name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.