Do not withhold your mercy from me, Lord; may your love and faithfulness always protect me. For troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me. Be pleased to save me, Lord; come quickly, Lord, to help me. Psalm 40:11-13
It was one year ago today that the Boston Marathon reached a horrifying and premature conclusion. When the bombs went off, I was right there with you in my response: “Who would do such a thing?” “How could anyone just kill and maim innocent people like that?” With those questions and so many others like them, we begin trying to re-order our world by categorizing the good people and the bad people. It brings us some comfort. It is how we deal with otherwise “inexplicable evil”. We find some solace in drawing those distinctions and in placing ourselves on one side and “those kinds of people” on the other side. Honestly, it helps us sleep at night, doesn’t it? We feel better about ourselves and about our world when we can identify evil, point it out as clearly “other” than us, and come to terms with the comforting reality that we are, in fact, better than those kinds of people.
But scripture does not help us with that worldview.
Scripture does not paint a picture of a world divided. If we go to our Bibles and read the stories of our heroes and heroines and hope to be able to place David and Joseph and Moses and Peter and Paul and you and me all on the side of “good”, and then place the murderers and adulterers and rapists and terrorists all on the side of “evil”, we …
You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”…While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:51-53, 59-60
Learning to show love to a lost and broken world is hard enough for us as individuals…that challenge is magnified a hundred fold for the church corporately. We, the church, must live in the tension between standing for holiness (separateness, not giving in to the ways of the world) and loving the broken people around us, who are still well-entrenched in the ways of the world. It is tricky, isn’t it?
When I read Stephen’s amazing sermon in Acts 7, and I see him brilliantly making the case for the pattern of rebellion throughout the history of the Jewish people (it is very much like an intervention…laying out all the evidence in a rational and indisputable way) and then leveling his charge against the church leaders of his time by associating them with that same pattern…I think to myself, “Now THAT is definitely going against the grain and calling out an entire culture!” I have seen churches who have no problem with walking against the grain…railing against our culture, screaming at all the sinners in the world and telling them they’re going to burn in hell, even telling them that …