As a pastor in the United Methodist Church the year of 2019 has started off a little rocky. Unless you haven’t been paying attention to the news then you know that the United Methodist Denomination is in a bit of family feud over who we believe should be allowed to be clergy, and also what couples we believe we should be hosting and officiating for weddings. It has not been fun; in fact, it has been painful to watch those with differing beliefs go after each other all the while not seeming to notice the collateral hurt, we are causing. All this leaving this Pastor wondering how do we handle this with love, and how do we move forward together? As in past times I did find help in the scriptures, when I asked the cliché question, “What would Jesus do?’
I found, in the book of Luke, in chapter 9: 51-56. a story of Jesus headed to Jerusalem for his crucifixion and resurrection. The direct path led through the Samaritan territory, not the safest route if you were Jewish. In fact, the Samaritans did everything they could to hinder and even injure any bands of pilgrims who attempted to pass through their territory. For Jesus to take that route would have been unusual, let alone to try to find hospitality in a Samaritan village. By taking this route he was offering a hand of friendship and peace to a people who were enemies of Israel. In the story, not only is hospitality refused him, but the offer of friendship was ignored. When James and John, two of Jesus’ followers offered to call in divine aid to blot out the village they no doubt believed, in their convictions, that they were doing the right and Godly thing. But Jesus would not permit them.
The conviction that our beliefs and our methods alone are correct has been the cause of more tragedy and distress in the Church than almost any other thing. We each have our own stories of how God found us, and how we came to God, and each story is as beautiful and unique as is the person it belongs too. God, in His fullness, will fulfill us in different ways as we come to Him, and no individual or denomination has a monopoly on how, when or where that happens.
So, how do we get along with the “Samaritans” of our lives, with those we may find on the opposite side of an issue and holding just as strong of convictions as we have? I believe, and this is intensely important, our hearts and our actions must not be based on indifference or anger but on love. We ought to treat each other not as though we could care less about them; but as though we look at the other person with eyes of love. Abraham Lincoln was criticized for being too lenient on his enemies and was reminded that it was his duty to destroy them. The President gave this great answer. “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”
As a first step to healing, even if someone, by your convictions and beliefs, is utterly mistaken in their religious, political, or even sports fandom beliefs, that person must never be regarded as an enemy to be destroyed as James and John saw the Samaritans, but as a strayed friend to be recovered by love, as Jesus saw the Samaritans. Perhaps, if we live, act and believe as Jesus does and not as some of his followers do then we will have a better chance of finding peace and more friends in our part of the world.
The writer is the pastor at Jackson Center United Methodist Church.