In the last generation it seems that virtually everything has devolved in partisan fighting. The partisan nature of the fighting isn’t only in the political sphere. It happens in the church. It happens in school board meetings. It happens in the online space. While the arguments are different in detail, there is a common thread that runs through many of them. This is the tension between the common welfare and individual freedom. Nowhere did we see this more fully on display than in the controversy over masking during the pandemic. The question of mandates was a thorny issue; but how did it even get to that point? Why should it even need to be mandated? In the face of a public health crisis, with a virulent, deadly respiratory virus circulating, one would think that out of an abundance of concern for self and neighbor we would voluntarily do everything we could to prevent the spread. Reality was a very different story. I am still mystified as to how this happened.
Do Facts Still Matter
Due to the influence of a minority political movement in this country, we have been transported into the world of ‘alternative facts’. Some have referred to the time we are living in as a ‘post-truth’ era. For a minority of our citizens, it appears that no amount of truth-telling will steer them from this course. What’s more, they feel empowered to burn down the whole system rather than engage honestly in the marketplace of ideas. In the history of public interaction, it feels like we’ve never dealt with something like this. What can we do when civil public discourse and mutually beneficial, honest compromise for the public good no longer seems to be valued? This is a question that will occupy us for a generation. This is not a quick fix. It won’t be solved in a single election cycle. As we confront this new reality, as people of faith, what resources can we draw upon as live faithfully into our identity and call to be followers of the risen Christ?
We Have More Resources Than We Think
It bears remembering that the church began in a time of empire, violence, and persecution. Carrying the message and work of self-giving love was no small effort. They didn’t have the benefit of 2,000 years of Christian thought and practice. They did not have the great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us. With all that was before them, with what we might characterize as meager resources, how did this early community of faith survive? This community did have three important elements working for them. First, they had their own relationship with Jesus, or with the people who knew Jesus. The strength of those relationships was a very powerful factor. Second, they had a deep sense of trust in how the promise of God’s grace had continued to unfold in their lives. Third, they experienced the presence and power of the Holy Spirit at work in their lives. The Spirit’s outpouring at, and beyond, Pentecost would be the catalyzing factor in every generation to come. These three elements are still available to us, even if not exactly in the same way. Even though we didn’t benefit from first-hand experience of Jesus, it is still possible to know Jesus, and to see him in the world today. This relationship informs our capacity to trust in God’s promise at work today. The power of the Holy Spirit at work in and through people of faith is the same today as it was in the generations before us. From this wellspring, we can experience a rebirth of hope that will guide us through this tumultuous time. This rebirth will enable us to bear a consistent witness to Christ and the beloved community even in a world that is hostile to it. Join us, in person or online, this Pentecost Sunday as we dig deeper into this promise.