What is this? Division, discord, and rupture have been around since the dawn of biblical time. Cain killed Abel out of jealousy of his brother. When Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, refused to lighten the tax burden for the other tribes, the nation was divided into two kingdoms, Judah and Israel. Fellow missionaries Paul and Barnabas separated over a serious disagreement regarding personnel (Acts 15). The Great Schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Church of 1054 was basically the formal end of a bad marriage. Three of the four congregations I have served as a pastor have had their own church split. Churches, families, friends, and nations are all subject to such division. Our nation is as divided as it has been in my lifetime. The rupture is everywhere and it’s surpassed the usual Democrat vs. Republican, Pro-life vs. Pro-Choice, and Christian vs. Secular separation. Now we must demonize and demolish each other; Black Lives Matter and Law Enforcement, President Trump and the media, haves and have-nots, Judge Cavenaugh supporters and Dr Ford advocates, evangelicals and main-line Christians, nationalists and migrants. As a nation we just experienced the bomb scare targeting Democratic party leaders and the mass shooting at Tree of Life synagogue, resulting in eleven deaths. Nevertheless, as the mid-terms approach, the vicious campaign rhetoric is escalating, political parties blame each other, and its more difficult than ever to a civil conversation around the kitchen table or in the fellowship hall.
What does this mean? In my opinion, part of the problem is when one side comes at a complicated and emotional issue with a sense of absolute certainty. It shuts down any possible dialog. Few things irritate me more than pastors who publish their own version of a voting guide. I told my people I was planning to send out my own voting guide this year and they couldn’t stop laughing. It is equally absurd for a pastor to preach her politics from the pulpit, that is the ultimate one-way communication. I am just another citizen with a right to vote. Or at least, I didn’t get that gift of political revelation. Now, to preach against injustice is one thing, something we/I don’t do often enough, be prophetic. Sadly, sometimes our differences of opinion lead to family or friends terminating the relationship. This happened to me in the past year, when a friend of twenty-five years, essentially ended our friendship because he did not agree with my views on same-sex marriage. After a couple of long-winded lectures via email, he stopped communicating and I haven’t heard since. I confess that broke my heart because this guy was/is a brother in Christ to me. All I can conclude is being right was more important than being in relationship. In the current political climate, when our church faces difficult issues and positions are hardened, I challenge the brothers and sisters to see this as an opportune time to witness to the world, what it means to be Christian sisters and brothers. That may be the most persuasive witness of the day.
What is the takeaway? First of all, today is All Saints Day, a day in the church year when we remember all the saints, living and dead, who have been baptized into the body of Christ. It is not a spiritual hall-of-fame, it’s the collection of God’s peculiar treasures, that great cloud of witnesses the book of Hebrews claims surround us. The prayer of the day says “whose people are knit together in one Holy Church”. Since we are “knit together”, it means we are connected, attached, related, and bound up in this life together. Part of our responsibility is to treat each other like this is the baptismal reality and operate like we belong to each other. Christ’s life and death emphasizes that, for God, being in relationship is more important than being right. Jesus said it, but it doesn’t get near enough attention, “blessed are the peacemakers”. I see a peacemaker as a bridge person in a community. They have the intangibles, personality, and inclination to have the respect of all parties. This is not a people-pleaser, but someone who takes seriously their stewardship to work for community. They listen carefully, speak when needed, often a real truth-teller, have the courage to challenge the congregation, and yet (SOMEHOW) makes it clear they value all sides. As a pastor, I’ve been blessed to see peacemakers repair, restore, even bring reconciliation to a divided community. My All Saints Day challenge for you is to get out there and play the role of a bridge builder. I believer many people in the church have this gift, but have not exercised the power. Today is a good day to do just that, take serious your stewardship to work for community. Some of us aren’t even sure if we have that specific talent. Only one way to find out, PRAY, TAKE COURAGE, AND BE THE BRIDGE!