A cashier in Decatur, Georgia, recently came to work and never made it home. An argument with a customer over wearing a mask – encouraged by the store – led a man to walk out to his car and return with a gun. He shot the cashier dead. A month earlier, in Flint, Michigan, a store security guard charged with enforcing the store’s “mask up” policy was shot in the head and killed. Three members of a family are charged with first degree murder. Official responses to the incidents have voiced some form of, “Well, masks are a sensitive matter and tensions are high.” Seriously?! The response in my mind is “Have you all lost your minds?”
I guess I should not be surprised. In what I have come to call, “The Middle-Finger-World,” where everyone’s response to everyone else is rude, self-centered, and so often violent; where we have made every, single thing we encounter in daily life a radical choice, a fight to be fought, a binary choice with no compromise or discussion allowed, we seem to have not only lost our minds but our souls. Peace, understanding, community, dialogue, discourse or even the attempt at these things is impossible. We’ve drawn so many lines in the sand we can’t possibly know where we stand – and yet we fight over ground that is unstable and undefined driven only by our anger over what we cannot, in reality, define. It may not always lead to murder, but it regularly leads to unfettered tongues, judgmental insults, and the assassination of character and communal life. Families break-up and friendships are lost over a Facebook post!
This, my brothers and sisters, is the context of faith for us. It is the place Christ has sent us to be the Beloved Community. It is not unfamiliar ground to Jesus Christ – his cross stands as a testament to the madness of the world. He suffers yet again for every store employee who gets shot for no good reason at all. His call is that we do something. But what?
Paul wrote to the Corinthian church about the call we received in baptism. First, he told them, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view…” (2 Cor. 5:16) Instead we see others as Christ sees them – people for whom we would die – instead of killing them! How can you insult, judge, ridicule, say an unkind word to – let alone shoot - one who bears the love of Christ? You cannot.
We are called to save this world by being the people who demonstrate love, grace, and mercy to others. If we don’t do so, we mock our Lord and prove to all that his gospel is a lie. If we can’t hold our tongues and be kind to one another, then we are no different than the middle-finger-world that puts our own desires, claims, and feelings ahead of all else.
Paul continues to name this ministry to which we have been called. “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ…” (2 Cor. 5:18-20) You, - yes, you reading this - and you all together, have been placed in this world to bring hope as you live and love. Do it.
While it may seem impossible, it is most important in this awful age to step up. Put on our big-person-pants, set aside our pettiness, our fear of rejection, our need to be right; swallow your need for revenge and retribution and instead reconcile. Forgive, bear with one another, let peace rule your hearts. If we cannot do this, we are lost.
Tim Olson – Lead Pastor