With Malice Towards None

The following is my reflection for the Midweek Vespers service. You can watch the video below.

“Be tolerant with each other and, if someone has a complaint against anyone, forgive each other. As the Lord forgave you, so also forgive each other. 14 And over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.”

Colossians 3:13-14

It’s almost over.  We have still have a few states that are still yet to be called, but hopefully, in the next 24 hours or so, we should know for certain who is going to be the next President of the United States.  

Even though I’m a pastor, I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t have a favorite in this race.  I did.  But I don’t want to talk as much about the election than about what happens afterward.  How do we live together as a nation?  How can the church be a Christ-like example to our nation and world?

We are a nation that is bitterly divided ideologically.  Liberals and conservatives look at each other with open contempt and as a nation, we seem to have less and less in common with each other.  We don’t understand each other.  I have to be honest, I’ve had my moments where I wondered if I should bother to reach out to those that planned to vote for the other candidate. It’s not any better in the church.  Churches tend to line up around politics.  More often than not, we tend to mirror the world instead of providing an example.

I’ve seen a number of people, including pastors that tend to downplay the calls for unity believing them to be a way of ignoring injustice. 

God of course, calls us to do justice.  The issues we have talked about including the separation of immigrant children from parents demand that we speak out.  But God also calls us to love our enemies. Paul’s letter to the Colossians calls us to be tolerant and forgiving.  Even after a hard-fought campaign, we who are followers of Jesus are called to tolerate and forgive others and at the end of the day be united in Christ.

As Christians, we have to be agents not just of justice, but of reconciliation.  We have to find ways to heal the bonds that have been broken by politicians and even by ourselves.  Sometimes that means going beyond who is in the White House and figuring our what is God calling us to do.  Yuval Levin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, notes that some of what needs to be done rest on what we are being called to do at a local level. He writes in the New York Times:

“It can begin with a simple question, asked in little moments of decision: “Given my role here, what should I be doing?” As a parent or a neighbor, a pastor or a congregant, an employer or an employee, a teacher or a student, a legislator or a citizen, how should I act in this situation? We ask that question to recover relational responsibility.”

We live in a time where we are so divided that we want the other guy to be responsible.  But we are responsible for each other.  We are our sister and brother’s keeper.  

I’ll end today with the last paragraph from President Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, given a month before the end of the Civil War and his assassination because it seems so fitting at this moment.

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the

right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we

are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the

battle, and for his widow, and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and

cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

May it be so.

Should We 86 2016?


I wrote the following for the church website and I’m cross-posting it here.
“Let’s 86 this year.”

That’s something I heard a lot about 30 years ago in 1986, especially in the days following the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger some 73 seconds after liftoff.  A number of events took place early in the year that made people want to just get the year over with.

Three decades later, I’m hearing a 21st Century version of 86-ing.  Go on Facebook and you will see a number of people saying that 2016 was the worst.  The reasons we see this passing year as a dumpster fire ( a very 2016 phrase) is because of the election and the deaths of several well-known celebrities, including David Bowie, Prince and most recently, Carrie Fisher.  We want 2016 to be over and done moving on to the next big thing in 2017.

But was 2016 really the worst?  Well, it really was the worse for those living through the Syrian Civil War.  It was the worst for people in Venezuela who see their economy melt down and find it hard to purchase food.  It was the worst for people living in parts of Chicago who are dealing with a rising number of homicides.

2016 did see an unusual number of high-profile deaths and for the fans of musicians and actors it can be a little heartbroken.  I for one will be watching Episode VIII of Star Wars with a hint of sadness, seeing Leia and knowing Carrie Fisher is no longer with us.

But 2016 doesn’t have to be the worst.  Whenever I couldn’t sleep, my mother would tell me to read Psalm 121.  This psalm is one that could be used as a blessing before car trips to Louisiana to see relatives.  In fact it was used many times before we pulled out of the driveway. “I raise my eyes toward the mountains.
Where will my help come from?”  We know the answer.  The psalmist tells us that no mater what we do, God is there with us.  None of this means bad things will never happen, but it does mean that we never face them alone. God was with us through the election.  God was with us as some of our favorite artists passed from the scene.  God was with us when a parent or grandparent died.  No matter what, our help comes from God above, meaning that the world can throw its worst, because we know God is there to help us face down the powers that seek to oppress us.

Was 2016 the worst? Before I answer that, let me tell you a story of a death that many of you might have forgotten.  The death of Bob Ebeling.  Most people wouldn’t know Ebeling.  He wasn’t a singer or actor, but an engineer who worked on the Space Shuttle program.  On January 27, 1986, Ebeling and four other engineers made a plea for the shuttle launch scheduled for the next day be cancelled.  The knew it was going to be very cold the next morning and they were worried that the O-rings on the fuel tank would fail causing an explosion.  NASA didn’t listen to the engineers and on January 28, the Shuttle exploded.

Ebeling blamed himself for the disaster and carried that shame for the next 30 years.  As he neared the end of his life, he shared this pain with the listening audience. Because of this people from around the nation wrote in to give Ebeling encouragement.  But what really lifted his spirits was when officials from his old company and NASA absolving him of any blame.  He died a few days later, but without the burden of shame.

Was 2016 the worst?  I don’t know. It didn’t seem that way to Ebeling. Yes, he died, but he did without the guilt he carried for decades.

But I do know that God was there even during the “worst times.” I do know that no matter what might be thrown our way God will not leave us abandoned.

I hope 2017 is a better year.  But everything is good when God is the author of our faith.

My help comes from God, Maker of Heaven and Earth.

Dennis Sanders
Pastor

Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing

Mark 6: 1-29

When I was in my 20s, I spent eight months working at a non-profit on Central American issues in Washington, DC.  I went one time to a meeting on Capitol Hill in one of the office rooms.  As the meeting went on, a slender woman smartly dressed with dark hair came and sat down next to me.  The woman asked me some questions about the event as she tried to get a good view.  I was a bit annoyed because I thought this woman arrived rather late.  I gave her a rather curt reply to her questions.  She stayed a little longer and then got up from her seat and left.

When the meeting ended, a young woman who worked at another non-profit came up to me rather excited.  “Did you know who you were sitting next to?”  I nodded that I didn’t know. “That was Bianca Jagger!”

I sat next to the former wife of Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger. The Nicaraguan-born former actress was also involved in human rights issues taking place in her native Nicaragua and the rest of Central America, so it would make sense that she would show up to this event.  But I didn’t know any of this.  I just thought she was a pushy well-to-do woman when she was so much more.

Jesus has the opportunity to speak to a hometown audience in Nazareth.  You might think that Jesus would be welcomed in his hometown and that there would be pride at the things they heard about him. But instead of praise and pride, Jesus got rejection.  They townsfolk thought they knew Jesus. They knew he was a carpenter, just like his Dad.  They knew he was Mary’s boy.  They knew his brothers and sisters. They thought they knew him.

And yet they didn’t.  They didn’t see that Jesus was much more than the hometown kid from Nazareth. They didn’t realize that he might be something more.

God and the things are of God are not always so visible.  Sometimes God blends into the scenery, hard to find.  It means that we must keep our eyes- and our hearts- open to what God has to say.

We learn that because the people didn’t believe, Jesus couldn’t perform any miracles there. The people missed out, not because God was punishing them, but because they couldn’t see where God was active.

I pray that I will always be on the lookout for God, waiting to see where and how God will show up. May that be your prayer as well.

And if I ever see Bianca Jagger again, I promise to be a lot nicer.