Before some of my readers get either agitated or excited (depending on your point of view), I have NOT been invited to dine with President Obama. Nor, do I anticipate receiving an invitation anytime soon. However, should lightning strike and someone in the White House read this blog post and feel so inclined to ask me to dinner, guess who would come? That’s right! I would not hesitate to accept an invitation to eat with the President. Here’s why.
First, it would be a great honor to break bread with the President of the United States of America, regardless of his political party. Second, it would afford me an opportunity to share the love of Christ with President Obama. I think Jesus told us that we were to love our neighbor as ourselves. In fact, it was the second greatest commandment, following right behind loving God with all that we have. Although the President might be the most powerful neighbor in America, he is a neighbor nonetheless. Third, an invitation to dine at the White House would have to be a sovereign act of God.
There is absolutely no way that someone with no significant political connections could score such an awesome invite. For most Americans, both Christian and non-Christian, the probability of eating with President Obama or Vice President Biden is slim to none. So, why ask the question? Because we have the opportunity every day to fellowship and interact with folks who are, in many profound ways, much different from us. They are our ordinary neighbors with whom we live, work, and rub shoulders everyday. And, regardless of our religious, political, social, or philosophical differences, we can choose to either build bridges to our neighbors or we can continue to live in our bubbles, shielded (or so we think) from the contamination that we are liable to be exposed to whenever we venture outside of our comfort zones. Building bubbles, where we can hang out with other like-minded “true believers” is safe. But, it is also sterile. In such an environment, we stagnate. And, when we stagnate, we become embittered to the world that is outside the bubble.
Building bridges is much more difficult and much more messy. It is dirty. It is anything but safe. But, it is what we must do. For Christians, we are called to be “in the world, but not of the world.” What does that mean? It means that we, like Jesus and the Apostles, and the early church, are given the commission to go out into the culture to build bridges. The primary bridge-building materials should be love, grace, and truth. All three are equally necessary. Unfortunately, many Christians today want to hammer out a bridge with materials long on truth and very short (if they exist at all) on love and grace. It should not be surprising that bridges will never be built to unbelievers when our attitudes, actions, and words scream truth, but fail to proclaim love and grace.
This principle was brought home to me after listening to a story from Christian Comedian Chonda Pierce at a recent Baptist Convention of New Mexico Evangelism Conference earlier this week. Chonda shared that she had been invited to be a guest on The Wanda Sykes Show. Following her appearance, Chonda shared that she had received the most hateful, vile letters and emails ever — from CHRISTIANS! Why? Because Chonda actually deigned to sit down and talk with a black lesbian. To top it off, Wanda told Chonda at the conclusion of their time together that she (Chonda) was the first Christian who had ever been nice to her. Wow! What a sad commentary on those Christians who had previously interacted with Wanda.
I wish I could say that I am surprised, but I am not. It seems that far too many Christians do not exhibit a Christ-like love toward their neighbors. We must think that Jesus included an “opt-out” provision in that whole “love your neighbor” bit, but the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) does not allow for that kind of unloving attitude. Just like the lawyer (why is it always a lawyer?), we try to justify ourselves in avoiding loving our neighbor. We will love our neighbor if he or she looks, believes, and acts just like us. But, we would rather ignore — or even hate — those neighbors who are the least bit different from us. Jesus called the lawyer to task at the end of the parable when He said:
Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
In 2014, what does it mean to “go, and do likewise with that undaunting purpose so well-befitting manhood?” It may not mean accepting an invitation to attend a same-sex wedding, although it could entail eating with your openly gay neighbor. It might mean sitting down and talking with a lesbian talk show host or being open to eat with President Obama were the invitations ever to come. Of course, that will mean that we embark on a bridge-building mission, not content to stay in our bubble. Who is your neighbor? Or, rather, who isn’t your neighbor? How you answer those two questions will determine whether you will build bridges or expand bubbles.