You have heard it said, but I say …

Published 5:38pm Tuesday, March 18, 2014

By Rev. Jonathan Yarboro

Greetings from the corner of Bridge and Bridge! It is another rainy Monday morning as I write this week’s column. I could have sworn there was a law against rainy, gray Monday mornings. I will have to go back and check!

In my opinion, one of the most powerful teachings contained in God’s written word is found in the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. Commonly referred to as the Beatitudes, this chapter features what I believe to be one of the Bible’s greatest sermons. Jesus preaches and teaches gospel truth in simple, straightforward, everyday language.

Midway through the sermon, Jesus shifts from highlighting the paradox between human understanding and God’s understanding of blessing. At verse 21, Jesus begins a series of clarifications. He highlights specific human understandings of laws and practices and shares God’s contrasting perspective.

Every child of God should become intimately familiar with these exchanges. Even people unsure of their relationship with God should commit these teachings to heart. They speak volumes about how to be at peace with one’s self and to live in peace in the earthly kingdom. Let me give you a couple of examples.

As a religious leader, Warren Jeffs makes my blood boil. I have no issue with his Mormon tradition. I am incensed by what I perceive as yet another example of a person using religion to satisfy sexually deviant behavior with minors.

It is because of pastors like Warren Jeffs that, as a pastor, I am encouraged to never be alone with female parishioners. I should not hug on teenage girls because it might send the wrong message. I should never give young people in the church I serve rides anywhere without another adult present.

Fred Phelps, founder of Westboro Baptist Church, makes me crazy. I am appalled by anyone who uses the institution of the church to spread hate. I do not condemn his views per se, but his means of expressing them completely contradict the gospel he claims to follow.

As a pastor, I spend way too much time trying to undo the damage done by people like Fred Phelps. Many people searching for God’s redemptive love will follow anyone willing to tell them how to find it. Too often, good people are led astray by pastors with agendas that have nothing to do with God’s redemptive love.

I have every reason to detest these two men. In fact, I have every reason to be happy that Warren Jeffs is ill and Fred Phelps is dying. I have all the justification I need to lift what is happening to these two men up and proclaim it as divine justice being carried out.

There is only one problem. If I do that, I become the very thing I detest. More importantly, if I condemn either of these men and celebrate their suffering, I distort the gospel I claim as my saving grace. If I feel justified in judging them, I must repent and beg forgiveness.

In the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, the God who created everything that exists uses Jesus’ sermon to set the record straight. The people of God everywhere are to pray for their enemies, resist the temptation to judge others and be more concerned with sharing the love and mercy shown to them by God than anything else. Sounds like a plan to me. What do you think?

 

The Rev. Jonathan Yarboro is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Wetumpka.

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