Caityln Jenner, the Duggars, police officers, race-relations, same-sex marriage being debated at the Supreme Court and many other topics have shown us that public discourse has been tense and the air of conversation is feeling thinner than usual. I imagine things will worsen with the Presidential election season. Though I know so many whom have tried their best to opt out of the culture-war, it feels unavoidable these days and I lament this feeling.
As evidenced on our streets, our televisions and on our social media screens, societal anger is on high. Further, I cannot count the number of people whom I have been around whom have admitted, “I’m afraid to say anything anymore.” Me too.
These words have included my extroverted friends, some of my activist friends, and even some of my most prophetic-voiced friends. Some of us are tired of all the outrage and the feigned outrage, the trolls and the bullying in its countless forms. Some of us are also weary of the hurt that is being caused, including the hidden pain we might never know. I’m moved by this. As much as I want to speak truth in love and contribute to the conversation at large, will I get the words right? I want God to use my voice as part of the healing and reconciling, not to perpetuate the pain. As you might see, I haven’t posted on here in three weeks.
Here’s what I’m seeing. On one hand, there are some issues that are at a tipping point (or a new tipping point) and can no longer be swept under a rug or hidden in a closet. On another hand, we are in a highly-combative, agenda-driven culture. There’s a lot of preaching, self-righteous and moral high ground judging and much of this is not coming from pulpits.
Maybe you can relate to this. You hear of an issue or a controversial incident and go online to become more informed. You click on something that you think has the “other side” of the story but what you find is two warring parties. You keep reading, hoping there is a third way to land, only to find that there are actually some insisting that there is no third way and your silence is perpetuating the further pain of many. This is more true in certain issues and conversations then in others, but the rhetoric is becoming even more standardized (which again is a shame when it dilutes or distracts from some of the really needed conversations).
This Sunday night I’m preaching about Peter and John’s reaction to being arrested for healing a man (Acts 3-4). I don’t have a clever title and I’m not sure I have found the hook yet. But here are two guys that woke up one morning without an agenda aside from going to the temple to pray (not preach, not proselytize, not incite, they went to pray). Upon entering a paralyzed beggar asks for money. Peter, said these oft-quoted words, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have, I give you. Now in the name of Jesus Christ, walk” and the man was healed.
I’ll save you the sermon but the beggar starts celebrating, people gather in wonder, and Peter and John start preaching about who Jesus was. And when they got to the part of why Jesus was killed, they told the truth, and so the religious leaders had a problem with that so they arrested them. Then to paraphrase Acts 4:19, Peter and John filled with the Spirit boldly told them, “Do whatever you want, but we cannot help but share what we know is true.”
In short, they got arrested for healing a middle-aged paralyzed man. The establishment would say, “No they got arrested for speaking against us!” and would insist what they said was untrue and would present their side of the story. There would be commentary, controversy, reaction, experts and various witnesses pulled in saying all sorts of things. They may not have had Facebook accounts but according to the text, everybody heard about it, and thousands of people started believing in Jesus.
Upon their release, they are threatened with further punishment. They return to their friends and pray and we see their work flourishing throughout the book of Acts and throughout the pages of early church history. (I do love in the back half of Acts 4 how their prayer re-centers them around their Christian narrative, emboldens them and fuels their mission).
In my sermon I want to speculate if they were tired of all this fighting against the establishment. I can hear them saying things similar to what’s being said today, “We just want to help people. We just want to worship our God. Does everything need to be so overblown?”
As I’ve been processing and reading up on this passage, I’m reminded by their commitment to prayer, mission and love for people. We all have our opinions, our convictions, our frustrations and our hopes and it’s good we share them. We must find ways to speak kindly, find ways to speak passionately while still honoring the other (and those not amongst us), find ways to critique without vilifying, find ways to instruct, even correct with grace, love and humility. We won’t always get the words out exactly right and there will always be an appropriate set of reactions, as well as a number of over-reactions, we cannot control results of course, but as Christians, may we speak and model the words and love of Jesus in ways that honor God and help others.