By Matthew Lautz
President Obama spoke today at the memorial service for the five officers killed last week in Dallas during a protest against police violence. And whatever your attitude towards the president or towards the violence, we should pause and make note of the prayer for which the president called. He said…
“I confess that sometimes I too experience doubt. I’ve been to too many of these things. I’ve seen too many families go through this. But then I am reminded of what the Lord tells Ezekiel. ‘I will give you a new heart,’ the Lord says. ‘And put a new spirit in you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.’ That’s what we must pray for. Each of us. A new heart. Not a heart of stone. But a heart open to the fears and hopes and challenges of our fellow citizens.”
I was genuinely surprised when I heard this. Not that I doubt the faith of our president, but I am often cynical of religious language used in public discourse. Too often politicians and other public figures throw around scripture like Pharisees. But in the president’s use of Ezekiel, there was a genuine call for transformation of the heart of our nation. This wasn’t a boast. It was repentance.
The heart of our nation needs to be changed because every person has a heart that needs to be changed. This isn’t judgement, it’s truth. We are all living with hearts of prejudice and self-centeredness. We guard what is ours and keep out those we don’t know. This is human nature.
And this is what leads to our ruin.
Ezekiel called on the people of Israel to look inside themselves and see the evil that had taken over. This is what the prophet does—reminds us of our sin.
So what is our sin?
We are proud. We are vengeful. We are murderous. We are idolators. We are adulterers. We are coveters. We are hostile.
We are bad neighbors.
That’s our sin as people of this country. We are bad neighbors.
Ok, so what does that mean?
In Luke 10, Jesus is asked what the definition of neighbor is. In response, Jesus tells perhaps the most famous of his parables, “The Good Samaritan”. We likely all know the story (otherwise read it here) about a man who is beaten, robbed, and left for dead only to be saved by the Samaritan man.
This story presents us with an image of what Jesus means by neighbor. And what is the answer? It’s actually pretty simple. In fact, he could have saved the trouble and just said, “Everyone is your neighbor.” But instead he tells the story of a man who is helped by his enemy to show that the word neighbor draws a circumference around the whole human race. Neighbor encapsulates everyone, he is telling us. Even our enemies. Especially our enemies.
So while I live in a duplex in San Jose, California, according to Jesus, an Islamic terrorist from Syria is my neighbor. While I’m on the side of eradicating racial bigotry and prejudice from our culture, according to Jesus, the leader of the KKK is my neighbor. While I am against abortion, according to Jesus, the nurses and doctors at Planned Parenthood are my neighbors. While I am and will always be a Green Bay Packer fan, according to Jesus, people from Chicago are my neighbors.
The president is right. As a nation we do need a new heart. A person with a heart of stone is someone that calls other people their enemies. A person with a heart of flesh is someone that calls other people their neighbors.
Jesus went to the cross, not for his enemies, but for his neighbors. He died on the cross for us because he loves us. And by his resurrection we can receive the same heart that he has. By his power and grace we can receive his spirit so that we might stop looking at others as enemies or foreigners or aliens or criminals, and instead see others as neighbors, as friends.
So I pray, along with President Obama, that we would receive this new heart of flesh, this new Spirit, from the one who has offered it to us by dying on the cross. I pray that we would stop being enemies. I pray that we would start being neighbors.
In Jesus name I pray.