Under God? Week Four
Today we are going to conclude the sermon series that we started last week--a series that is going to take us all the way through the month of November...
Which just happens to be the month where we begin our year-long trek to a national election that could be one of the most contentious in American history.
So there's that.
But there's hope... and that's what we're going to be spending the next several weeks focusing on--the hope that we can find when Christians actually do what Christians are called to do when it comes to healing the divisions among us.
To that end, this series is focused on how those of us who call ourselves Christians can be peacemakers in a culture that seems hopelessly divided and at war with itself.
Today we are going to be taking on perhaps one of the biggest obstacles to our becoming the peacemakers that God would have us be in the world.
Let me ask you a really big question...
Would you rather be RIGHT or HAPPY?
Oh, everybody says that they would rather be happy... but we've been programmed to believe that being right is more important.
I have to admit... I enjoy being right about things. There's nothing more satisfying to me then when I am able to prove my rightness after being told that I was wrong.
And there's a pretty good percentage of us here today who believe that it's only being right that will make us happy. If we win the argument... we're happy.
It doesn't matter who we hurt along the way to get to that win, mind you... if we win that argument, have the right answer to the question, come up with the right solution... we believe that it will make us happy.
When you tune in to cable news shows you will typically see a split screen with a host in the middle and two people on opposite sides of an issue squaring off to argue with one another.
And both of them think that they are right. And they are instructed to demonstrate their rightness by talking over one another, saying outrageous things, fling as many soundbites as they can to the TV audience in under two minutes, and then smile broadly before saying "thanks" to the host, who will move on to the next segment... where there are two more antagonists ready to spar.
But what if we flipped this? What if we valued who asked the best question as opposed to who gave the "right" answer?
What if... the way we gauged a good conversation was not on whether we were able to argue better than the other person... or if we succeeded in convincing ourselves that we were right...?
What if... what if we gauged a good conversation based on whether it was full of the kind of questions that left everyone feeling as though they needed to dig deeper... learn more... listen better...
What if we were able to come to then end of such a conversation, having asserted our beliefs, put forth our opinions, delivered our thoughts and then because the questions were so good we left feeling less certain about them than we were before... and we celebrated it!
Sounds impossible, right? Because ALMOST NONE of us do this with great skill... at all.
BECAUSE in order to do this we would need to give up some things. We need to give up our need for certainty. We would need to give up our need to be right. We would need to give up our pride...
It is pride in the end that keeps us from saying the four most powerful words you can say in these kinds of conversations: I... Could... Be... Wrong... more on those in a moment.
Okay... Let's get something out of the way right now.
There's a kind of universal agreement that we can make no matter how we feel about certain social issues and the agreement is this: There are certain things that are just wrong. Injustice, Racism, Gender Inequality, Homophobia, Meanness, Bigotry, Stinginess, Violence, War, Addiction... We all can agree on these things.
There are even things that we can all agree on when it comes to big social and politicized issues like Abortion, Climate Change, Gun Violence and the like.
We might disagree as to how we go about resolving these issues, however.
And there are times when we need to admit that we might not have all the answers. That's when we have to be willing to say: I could be wrong.
This is what I want us to focus on today as we journey through this together:
We become peacemakers when we admit we don't know everything.
Our conversation partner today comes to us from Matthew's Gospel--a familiar passage to us because it's a passage we taught from not too long ago when we taught on how we need to get rid of our images of a demanding God.
The part of the passage that we're going to focus on today, however is the last bit. But let's read the whole thing first:
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
5 “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries[a] wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.
8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Say a bit about the Pharisees again...
Say something about why the Pharisees needed to be certain. That their very existence depended upon it--in their minds.
Jesus takes on the certainty of the Pharisees teaching and instruction---they had become smug and self-righteous in their "rightness." They were insufferable. Always needing to win the argument. And their need to be right was keeping people from seeing the truth.
And Jesus reminds them... You don't know everything.
So what do we learn from this?
God doesn't need us to be smug in our certainty. God needs us to be filled with humility in our unknowing.
So how do we make this a reality? How do we practice this in our own lives. Well, it's going to take some humility on our part, and a willingness to change.
First, how we speak needs to change.
The question you need to be asking is simply this: "How is my need for certainty shaping my speech?"
Do you recall that old saying, "It's better for a person to be silent and believed to be a fool, than to open his mouth and remove all doubt."?
Sometimes our need for certainty causes us to run our mouths when we should keep them shut. I know I struggle with this from time to time. Okay... I struggle with it a lot.
I remember this time when I was talking some trash with a friend of mine on social media about how terrible his football team was (It was the Florida Gators, just so we are clear). I made the mistake of maligning the quarterback of his team, who happened to be Tim Tebow.
You would have thought I had sad something terrible about Mother Theresa. I got so much hate because of that--I finally had to delete the entire post.
Here was my problem. I didn't think about my context. I didn't think about who was listening, where I was speaking, how what I was about to say would be construed. I didn't care because I was full of certainty.
And that's how you can change the way you speak. Calibrate for the moment.
Before you say what you are about to say, think about how it will be received. Think about who is in the room--who might be wounded, who might think less of you, who might think less of God if you say what you are about to say...
It doesn't mean that you don't speak the truth. We've talked about this. It means that you season your speech with salt, as the Apostle Paul exhorted. You speak your truth, but you do it in love. You calibrate for the moment.
Second, how you act needs to be transformed.
You need to be asking yourself, "Am I living my certainty?"
We've all known people who live most of their life this way. They know everything. They can one-up you at every turn. They also seem to go out of their way to find moments to share their certainty, to make sure that you know just how right they are.
Are you living in such a way that people are drawn to you? Do others want to hear what you have to say? Are they going out of their way to ask your opinion? Are you the person that seems to bring peace to arguments, reason to conflict?
Or are you the person that seems to clear the room when you open your mouth? Do you cause more conflict than you resolve? Do you live in an antagonistic way? Do you find yourself just listening enough to people who are sharing their opinions with you so you can hear a pause for you to begin telling them how they are wrong?
How's that working for you?
Maybe a better way to move in the world would be to Live The Questions.
Remember what we said at the beginning of all this about valuing the best questions? If we are being honest with ourselves, there are more questions than answers when it comes to the really big issues that we struggle with, including issues of our faith and the way we interpret Scripture.
When we are able to live with the questions, to be okay with not knowing, to let ourselves be willing to accept uncertainty... Then we will also find that we are more open to listening, to hearing, to allowing others to draw closer to us... to find common ground... to be peacemakers.
Here's your homework:
Practice shaping your speech--even when you are alone.
For every opinion that you want to form--create two questions.
Because we become peacemakers when we admit we don't know everything.