Common Ground


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 98; 146, Leviticus 26:1-20, 1 Timothy 2:1-6, Matthew 13:18-23

Politically speaking, Christians are all over the map. Conservative, moderate, or progressive, we all believe the principles of our faith inform our decisions about how to vote. How can it be we vary so widely? The Southern Baptist Convention and the United Church of Christ read the same Bible, but arrive at very different conclusions about gay marriage. Jimmy Carter and Mike Huckabee are famously Christian, but agree on little when it comes to the moral implications of federal budget making. These organizations and people are passionate about their faith, but understand it in very different ways. How should we respond to such a polarizing environment?

If we are to find common ground, we need to start from the ground up, rather than the top down. For example, both conservative and progressive Christians should want to address poverty, since Christ tells us to take care of the poor and the sick. One side endorses a free market solution, while the other relies more heavily on social programs. Both approaches could benefit from insights of the other, but in the top-down scuffle to impose ideology on actual lives, the poor are treated more like turf than people. Whatever end of the spectrum we fall on, Christianity is not about winning, it is about serving, and the tribalism of politics make us lose sight of that.

The first letter to Timothy advises believers “that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.” When it comes to modern politics, “dignity” doesn’t exactly spring to mind. In a culture where winners say “respect the office” and losers claim “the officeholder is illegitimate,” the message remains revolutionary.

Even when a candidate we despise wins office, we should pray for them to be successful in serving the people well. Our actions in the public sphere should reflect a humility to serve, not the viciousness of campaign rhetoric. Christians have always disagreed. Our role is to model how to disagree with love.

Comfort: Standing up for your beliefs doesn’t have to mean alienating those who believe differently.

Challenge: Spend some time listening to or watching conservative or liberal radio or television – whichever one you tend not to agree with. Do so with an intent of discovering common ground.

Prayer: God of diversity, help me hear truth, even when it is spoken by those I am inclined to disagree with. Amen.

Discussion: Do you extend a fist or an handshake to those who disagree with  you?

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Listen Like an Ambassador


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 15; 147:1-11, 1 Kings 22:1-28, 1 Corinthians 2:1-13, Matthew 4:18-25

War – whether it be physical or cultural – is a failure of diplomacy. Diplomats bridge the gap between cultures whose differences might otherwise seem irreconcilable except through violent conflict. No embassy is a one-person operation. Usually the ambassador is supported by a staff of cultural, legal, press, military, and other diplomatic attachés. If we are citizens of heaven traveling in a foreign land, we need to determine whether we are tourists or representatives of a higher authority. If we are public about our faith, we have chosen to serve as representatives. That thought should be intimidating, but it doesn’t need to be, if we are observant of those who have served successfully before us.

One of the most important diplomatic skills – arguably the most important – is the ability to listen. When Paul first visited the Corinthians, he did not pretend to have all the answers to their problems. Instead he “decided to know nothing among [them] except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Paul knew that the mission of diplomacy is not to dominate and to impose, but to understand and relate. He didn’t even attempt to impress the Corinthians, but approached them “in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.” This may not sound like an auspicious beginning, but in the end he delivered his message successfully and established the church in Corinth.

Paul succeeded because he lived his core mission with integrity. People perceived no difference between his words and his life. Because Paul’s message was one of salvation through redemption rather than perfection, his flaws did not undermine that message. As Christian “attachés,” we should find two important lessons here. First, we should never present ourselves as perfected or somehow better than non-Christians. Otherwise, the first time we cut someone off in traffic while sporting a Jesus-fish bumper sticker, our message becomes one of hypocrisy. Second, we need to be serious about living lives that reflect the Spirit within us. Again this doesn’t mean unattainable perfection, but a heart full of the love, peace, mercy, and humility of Christ. A humble example is worth more than a million lofty instructions.

Comfort: Perfection is the enemy of progress.

Challenge: Each day, reflect on how your example could be better.

Prayer: God of the journey, give me ears to hear and words of love.

Discussion: What is the difference between diplomacy and politics?

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