(…continued) There are those who firmly believe that one of the solutions to the trouble in our society today is to get rid of Jesus. I believe the opposite. I believe the main problem is our society is that we have already gotten rid of Jesus all too much. I know all about mixing church and state, but that’s not what I am talking about here. I am talking about the personal faith and integrity of individuals, and the inner moral character that a society needs in its people in order for us to live together in peace and order.
Within our own Lutheran churches the trend is obvious. Each succeeding generation is less and less interested in Jesus, and pays less attention to matters of God and morality and eternity. And Jesus says, be careful, (verse 43), or “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you” and given to someone else, “to a people who will produce its fruit.”
Our nation is indeed a “house divided.” We cannot agree even on what the problem is, but we do all agree that we are in trouble. And this trouble comes not only from mass murderers, but from such a disheartening breakdown in civility, respect, decency, manners, and morality (no matter how you define all that).
I will describe just one snapshot of this breakdown. This is not a big deal like murder, just some little thing that happened to me a couple weeks ago. I was coming home from an evening meeting at church, and it was dark. I was going through town, not far from my home, and I suddenly saw a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye. It was a boy on a bicycle, coming across from a side street. I am on the main road, and he has the stop sign. But he doesn’t slow down and he’s not even looking. It is dark, he’s wearing dark clothes, and there are no lights or reflectors on the bike. I see him just in time and I slam on the brakes, and he just keeps on going across ahead of me. And then he looks at me scornfully, and shows me one of his fingers. I could not believe it. If I hadn’t paying attention, he could have been killed. But from him, there was no gratitude and no shame; just defiance and disrespect.
So what is going on there? This would be a perfect opportunity for an old guy like me to go on a rant about all that is wrong with the youth of America; but it is way more than that. That same defiance and disrespect and lack of shame is seen in adults all over the place– in politics (on both sides of the aisle, all the way to the top), in sports, in entertainment, on the news, on social media, in neighborhoods, and in religion.
So what can be done? The only thing I know very much about is the Bible, and the Bible doesn’t give any outlines for reforming all of society. But God’s Word does have a great deal to say about reforming the individual, so it is to that we need to pay attention. There is much in the Bible about civility, decency, respect, kindness, gentleness, love, forgiveness, forbearance, patience, service to others, obedience, gratitude, and reverence. There is also much in the Bible about accountability, about grace, and about judgment and short and long term consequences. The Bible was not written for governments, but for individuals and our relationship with God. And when we are right with God, and do what God says, many good things are given the opportunity to take root and grow, including good citizenship and good relationships with one’s neighbors.
In Deuteronomy 8:1 Moses says in his farewell address to the people, “Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors.” “Follow every command,” Moses said. Why?—so you can be judgmental and look your nose down on neighbors and go to heaven? No, but simply so that that things may go well with you. That is the purpose of God’s commands: to show you how life can best be lived, so that our life together can be good.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law” (Matthew 5:17-18). God speaks to us as individuals and God wants us to obey His law, and by individual obedience the whole society is blessed.
There is an old German proverb that is very much in line with these verses: “Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean.” The entire community and nation is strengthened by every truth told, by every promise kept, by every act of service, by every kind word, by every act of obedience, and whenever we bear each other’s burdens. But at the same time, the entire community and nation is weakened by every lie told, by every broken promise, by every act of disrespect and disobedience, and by every unkind word.
In the same way, trust is built up, or torn down, in a community. The act of one shooter in Las Vegas destroys such trust, but the acts of those who risk their lives to save and help others can restore that trust. That was also seen in Las Vegas, and Houston and Florida.
Believing in and obeying God has everything to do with death and the life to come. It also has everything to do with the life we are living with each other right now.
Give us courage, O God, to face the fears and insecurities with which we build walls between ourselves and others. Give us the wisdom and patience to work at better understanding the people whom you surround us with. Let our words and actions show forth your love. Amen.
–Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Southeastern District