For almost all of 2013 I have been preaching through the Gospel of Luke. That’s how I typically approach sermon series. I pick a book of the Bible, and then we work our way through the entire thing. I do it because I’m not creative enough to come up with catchy sermon series like “Here Comes the Sun” or “Pharisectomy.” I even had to google sermon series to come up with those two. I also do it because it forces me to deal with hard texts.
So anyway, we are walking through the book of Luke and something has jumped out at me. Much has been made about Jesus relationship with the Pharisees. We are quick to point out that Jesus directly challenged the religious establishment’s hollow, behavior focused practices and, to our delight, did not spare them a tongue lashing.
Christians often point to the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees as justification for calling out other Christians. We use rhetoric that seeks to undermine the position and credibility of those opposite the lines we have drawn. And we proof-text Jesus words of “white-washed tombs” and “brood of vipers” to say that this is, not only justifiable, but righteous. After all, are we not being like the one we claim to follow?
Maybe. But I don’t think so.
Jesus still broke bread with Pharisees.
As we have walked through Luke, I am struck by the number of times Jesus is sitting at the table with Pharisees. Where was Jesus when the sinful woman anointed Jesus’ feet? A Pharisees house for dinner. In Luke 11 Jesus speaks 6 woes to the Pharisees and scribes while sitting at the table with them. In Luke 14 Jesus is eating at the house of “prominent Pharisee.” For all the tension between Jesus and the Pharisees, there was a relationship.
They broke bread.
In the day of the internet breaking bread isn’t a common practice. Drawing lines in the sand and lobbing rhetorical bombs is common practice. It’s easier than ever to label those you disagree with as “pharisees” or “liberals” or “fundamentalists” or “Bible-haters” or “anti-gospel” or whatever words will make it easier to discredit those holding different views.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t engage other Christians about bad theology and harmful practices. There needs to be ongoing dialogue about what it means to be a follower of Jesus in a changing world. But those conversations need to take place in the midst of relationship.Thanks to the internet, it is far to easier to paint people as the straw-man we like to take snipes at across Twitter and the blogosphere. But if the church is ever to display the unity Jesus prayed for, then we better work on our relationships with one another.
I believe in unity. Not just unity in our tribes; unity in the body of Christ. I do not believe it is a naive, fanciful idea generated by hippy Christians who refuse to defend truth. I believe it is an idea born in the heart of God, prayed for by Son of God, and being worked out by the Spirit of God.
I believe that when the church engages the hard work of unity it becomes a source of hope for the world that shalom, harmony, with each other is possible. A new way of being with each other is possible.
I fear the church isn’t showing society a new way of being. In many ways, the church is simply capitulating to the way the world operates. Many leaders of the church will only break bread with those who are a part of their camp. There is a growing propensity to only interact with those who think like me, talk like me, and act like me. Diverse worldviews are seen, not as an opportunity to walk with someone and grow in empathy, but are seen as a threat. Even if those holding diverse worldviews are other Christians. They become the opponent. They become the enemy. They become the ones perverting the gospel and we must hold the line. Cut ourselves off. Refuse to compromise. Tenaciously hold our ground until they compromise their beliefs and come to our side we will not talk with them.
Kind of like congress.
See what I mean?
The church isn’t showing a new way to be human and be with other humans. We are not . We are a microcosm of society at large. We are not a city on a hill. We are a neighborhood in a city.
And we wonder why the church is losing influence in society. To influence culture we would have to be different. In this day and age, there would have to be a compelling reason for society to see how the church is needed. In our current situation, society doesn’t need the church to show it how to draw lines in the sand and refuse to converse with outsiders. It already knows how to do that really well. In our culture, a city on a hill would be able to help groups like congress come together and have productive dialogue.
My fear is that the church doesn’t have the ability to do that.
The increased polarization of society, and the church, is an immature response to the anxiety that comes with change. It is time for us to be mature, and willingly sit down at the table with those we disagree with. It is time for us to stop trying to be understood and start the hard work of understanding.
It’s time to start breaking bread with one another.
After all, that’s what Jesus did.
Image Credit: by timsamoff