Gospel: John 8: 31-3631Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." 33They answered him, "We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?" 34Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
Just about everyone knows what is happening this Tuesday. It’s election day, and if the experts are correct, voter anger will carry the Republican party to retake the House of Representatives and make substantial gains in the Senate. It’s a stark change from two years ago, when, once again, voter anger, carried the Democrats to win the White House and a super-majority in Congress. The prior election cycle, voter anger carried Democrats to win power in both the House and Senate, which they had not held since 1994. Are you seeing a pattern here?
In each of these elections, voter anger seems to be the key, and, with the exception of Texas (at least according to the Houston Chronicle), voters are angry. All you have to do is turn on the television to see it. Lines are drawn. Ideology reigns. Even though I believe most folks are actually quite moderate when it comes to how they would like to see this country run, it is the extremes which grab the headlines. You are either liberal or conservative. There is no middle ground. You are either for us or against us.
Can such anger be good for our nation? I mean, on the one hand, anger can be a tremendous motivating force. It can propel us to do the right things. It can give us the impetus to make a difference when we see things that aren’t right. For instance, the other day, Dawna and I took our kids to a park to let them run off some energy. While we were there, I witnessed something that made me angry. There was a little boy playing at the park who obviously had some mental issues. I won’t go into all the details, but he did several things that made it abundantly obvious that he suffered from mental illness. There was another kid at the park who was being absolutely merciless to him. I watched this other kid put the mentally challenged kid in a headlock and hurt him. Then, as the two of them were swinging next to each other, the kid went up to the mentally challenged one and without cause, hit him in the back.
Anger boiled up within me. I looked at him and said, "Do you really like being a bully?"
The kid was shocked. "I do it all the time at home," he said.
I looked at him and said, "That doesn’t make it right."
At least for the rest of the time I was there, the kid made no more moves to harm the mentally challenged kid. Anger can be a force for good.
But let me be quick to say, anger can be a force for good only if it is tempered and motivated by compassion. I think that’s what my anger was motivated by. I was angry because I had compassion on the kid getting picked on, and I think I was being compassionate on the bully as well. Bullies have to learn to curb their behavior or else they are looking at a lifetime of trouble. Perhaps I made this kid think for just a few moments–at least I hope so.
Unfortunately, I think much of the anger we are seeing in our society today is not driven by compassion. Much of the anger I see is driven by the desire to control and have power. I know most would probably argue with me about that comment. But I will stand by it. Why would I say such a thing?
Well, let’s take one hot button issue that Congress dealt with this past year: healthcare. Those who were in favor of it would argue vehemently that they were coming from the perspective of compassion. "It is a travesty," they would say, "that folks are being denied healthcare because they cannot afford it, and people are losing everything because of health related costs." Now, I can’t argue with such a statement. It indeed is seeped in compassion. However, if you ask many of these folks what the would say to someone who doesn’t agree with their stance, how do they respond? Do they respond with understanding and compassion toward those who have a different take? Or do they tend to name call and berate them as hard hearted and callous?
But, now, let’s swing to the other side of the issue. There are many who did not want any of the healthcare reforms, and on what basis did they argue? There was the call that government tends to be extremely inefficient, and that would dely care to those who need it. Pointing to other governments who have installed such healthcare, they point to waiting lines for treatment that most folks can get immediately easing suffering and pain. And there is an argument for cost since our national debt is climbing. They argue that having such healthcare is meaningless if our country goes broke trying to implement it. It could be said that each of these arguments is indeed based in compassion. Yet, how do such folks react when confronted by others who have a differing viewpoint? Do they act with compassion or call the others idiots who want to destroy the best healthcare system on the planet?
I would argue that those who are coming from a perspective of compassion seek not only the best for all who are suffering, they also seek to understand and have compassion for those whom they disagree with. Yes, you heard me correct: those who are angry with compassion not only seek to correct perceived wrongs, but they act compassionately towards those who disagree with their perspectives. As hard as it may be, they do not name call or shut down conversation. They willingly hold onto their own position but freely allow someone else to disagree. By enacting such a stance, their anger continues to motivate them to do the things they believe as right, but they do not become a slave to their anger. I personally believe many who are angry today are slaves to that anger.
Contrast this with what Jesus says in John chapter 8, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." 33They answered him, "We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?" 34Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed."
Anger which is not seeped in compassion is sinful. It causes a person to demonize the other and leads to polarization. This is probably why Jesus taught us to love our enemies. He knew how anger can enslave us.
Unfortunately, even our churches are governed in anger. Many are polarized as people draw lines over issues within. People can no longer disagree or criticize each other. "If you don’t agree with my position, I’m not going to talk to you, work with you, give my offering to the church, involve myself in any activities, etc." Honestly, is this kind of anger condoned by Christ? Is this the kind of action we wish to put forth as the church?
What if, just what if the church operated differently? What if the church was a place where folks from different sides of the political aisle, where folks from both sides of the ideological spectrum could come together and interact together without animosity? What if the church were a place where folks could talk about issues, lay out their arguments, disagree vehemently, and still walk away knowing and loving those with whom they disagree? What kind of an example could we set for a nation that seems to be polarized over issue after issue after issue? Can the church be a place where anger is tempered with compassion and where liberals and conservatives can hold onto their respective ideology and yet worship together in one accord?
493 years ago, today, a German monk by the name of Martin Luther nailed several pieces of paper to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. He was concerned about a church that was not being faithful to Scripture. It was abusing its position of power by taking advantage of people–by scaring them into believing they were headed straight to hell. In order to avoid punishment, they could buy their way to heaven. Luther called for major reforms to get back to the basics of what the church was called to proclaim. Salvation did not come by buying one’s way into heaven. Instead, it came solely by the grace of God. The call for reform took root in the church, and the church continues to strive to be faithful to the one who calls us and claims us as his own.
I believe we need to continue to recognize this. I believe as a church we need to be a reforming church, and perhaps, just perhaps one of the ways we are called to be reforming in this time and place is by showing how folks from all ideological backgrounds can come together in one accord, united by something greater than personal ideology. We are united by the love and grace of God. We are united by our heavenly Father. We are brothers and sisters. Let us disagree. Let us be angry, but let us be governed by compassion as we seek to be God’s people in this time and place. Amen.