In the light of the events in Charlottesville, and then Boston, over the past couple of weeks, I posted on Facebook the following simple, yet profound, words from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” Eph 4:29–32. (Holy Bible: New International Version, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984)
It received more “Likes” and comments than I was expecting from the simple posting of a Scripture passage. Maybe it hit a nerve.
How does it strike you? If you’re like me, perhaps you see the images on your favorite news channel or online and wish that the people in Charlottesville or Boston (or any of hundreds of others places where overheated rhetoric is the norm) would simply listen to these words and take them to heart. What’s wrong with them? And—
What’s wrong with us? When dealing with issues of racism, hatred, white supremacy, the meaning of historical monuments and symbols, and the violence that ensues, do our words build “others up according to their needs?” Do they “benefit those who listen?” Do they ooze with kindness, compassion, and forgiveness? “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
Prov. 15:1. Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984)
And how about as we deal with one another in the church? The same standard applies—at least as much, if not more. Various groups, blogs, and websites in their zeal engage in overheated rhetoric that bears no resemblance to the Pauline injunction. Sometimes we even do it face-to-face. And oftentimes it’s done under the cloak of righteousness that insists, “The most compassionate thing I can do is point out how wrong he or she is.” Well, maybe. Or maybe it’s just being a jerk. And that’s the nicest thing that can be said about it.
Regardless of the issue, if the attributes of building up, benefit, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness are not obvious to those with whom we are communicating, we have missed our opportunity to maximize our Christian witness.
Yes, Jesus spoke quite directly to people as he sensed the need. He did so perfectly—an attribute that we lack. So did Martin Luther (though not perfectly, of course).
Yet the Luther that I have been reading in this year of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation had far more to say about the sweet love and compassion of Jesus than any words of rebuke. And Christ himself—well, his words speak for themselves. Of the very ones who crucified him, he said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
So then, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
By Rev. Jon Braunersreuther
Mission and Ministry Facilitator, Area D