Vitriol and Light

I flipped open the cover of Word and Way magazine and there was Martha DeVries. I texted her a congrats, and she quickly replied, “That can only mean one thing… more hate mail. This time from Missourians.”

During the Fall’s political season turmoil, with the threats of bans on muslims and fears of worse actions, Martha watched the Muslim students in the hallways of her high school. As a guidance counselor, she worried over these students. As a Christian Martha wanted to demonstrate the love of Jesus.

So after prayer and consulting with former students who were Muslim, Martha decided to wear a head scarf every Monday. The scarf brought questions and opened conversations. For Martha it is was not a religious symbol, but a sign of solidarity.  In every conversation Martha declared, far from becoming Muslim, she was demonstrating the large love of Christ. His love refuses to ban and instead embraces and sacrifices, for all humanity.

By February Martha’s story was in the news; first Baptist News Global, then Religion News Service. As expected, the comment sections filled up with terrible rhetoric. But I was surprised when an email showed up in my inbox. Then a phone call at the church office. I was urged to correct my wayward member.A conversation with Mike, Martha’s husband, revealed I was not the only one receiving emails and phone calls. There were multiple emails and calls to staff at the High School.

It is hard to be surprised by the vitriol online. Still, the addition of quoted bible verses was a little strange. And the effort to uncover phone numbers and emails… was troubling. Yet this is our angry society. I might hope conversation between fellow believers would be different, but it is not.

The whole situation brings many thoughts – for instance, where does the Great Commission fit in a society of walls? – At the core the discussion reveals our inability to love those with whom we disagree. And this is a fundamental problem for Christianity.

The book of Revelation begins with brief letters to churches. Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7) is praised for its ability to hold to the truth against inside and outside attacks (false apostles and Nicolations). Yet Christ is still threatening to take away their lamp – the light that is a symbol of each church. This brings back the message of Matthew 5, where the church is a city on a hill, a light that can not be hidden. The light of Ephesus is about to be extinguished, why?

“You have forsaken the love you had at first.” (v4)

Battling for the truth of the gospel, so focused on holding the line against heresy and falsehood, the church of Ephesus forgot love. When love ceased, so did the church.

This is a warning for the church in America. A warning to the church we attend. We must be built on love. The world will know us by our love, John 13:35. Love is our light.

I agree with Martha’s decision, but even if I didn’t – even if you don’t – we are called to love her. And this is true not just of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. We are called to light the world with the love of Christ.

“For God so loved the world, he sent his son…” God became human to reach us with Love. He broke the sabbath to heal. He dined with sinners – in such a way that He was declared a glutton and drunkard. He reached out to the woman at the well. He let another woman wash his feet. He praised a mom for her faith. It did not matter if they were a Samaritan or a prostitute or Syrophonecian — He reached out of heaven, put on our flesh and then continued to reach in every direction, because He loves us.

Every Monday Martha puts on a scarf. She is reaching with the love of Christ towards Muslims. Let us celebrate – Jesus loves her. Let us rejoice – Jesus loves those she is reaching out to. Let us Love – because Jesus first loved us.

In Love we will be the church. A city on a hill, the light unhidden, shining the message of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Shining the message of Love. Amen.


1 Correcting my wayward member — This is laughable on so many levels. First, that I would want to correct Martha. Second, that I – a Baptist minister – would have the power. It is like asking today’s husband to keep his wife in line.

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