Much divides us human beings. Every group and sub-group flies its flag, demands its rights, champions its cause, seeks its own funding, honors its fallen heroes, and nurses its grievances.
Travel this August to the eastern United States, and you won’t go far without a reminder of the Civil War. Those brown National Park Service signs announce names like Antietam and Bull Run and Chancellorsville. Visit one battlefield and you’ll learn about others: Ft. Sumter and Richmond and Chickamauga. Slide your fingers south on a map. Can you locate Mobile Bay and Shiloh and Vicksburg? Each has monuments and museums, shops and tours. Meet guides, historians, biographers, and re-enactors dedicated to helping a seeker experience the story of the great divide between North and South.
One starts out as a tourist, carrying sunscreen, map, and camera. Along the way, something changes. Questions are asked, memory is engaged, opinions develop. Somewhere emotion gets involved. I am learning about my country, my neighbor, myself.
What traveler leaves Gettysburg without envisioning himself among the troop movement, sweat, and sound? In our imaginations a dozen different kinds of guns bark, crack, rattle, and bang in a din of sound. From every point come human voices: shouted commands, cries of pain, cries for help. Tourists in souvenir T-shirts estimate the level of their own courage—or lack of it—at the advance of a blue or gray adversary.
What a panorama! Anxiety, pain, division, and confusion spread out as far as the eye can see. Who’s fighting against you? Who’s fighting with you? One answer is, “Look for flags.”
The battlefield is one aspect of the Christian experience. Once God baptizes you into his family, your battle begins. You now have a passionate and antagonistic enemy. Jesus once said that Satan is master and commander in this place.
The kingdom of God and the kingdom of the devil don’t use bullets against each other. They use ideas; they speak words. So we teach, tell, write, print, preach, witness, and publish about Jesus. The content of our message is not a secret. These are our creeds and confessions. They are like regimental flags. In the confusion and fear and death that is the battlefield, our flag is out there, flapping and flying.
Some are going to shoot at it, and some are going to run to it. Our flag will inspire fury, while for others our flag will inspire hope.
Our This We Believe will not be needed in heaven, but it is needed here. Our church body is small and insignificant in the eyes of the world. But we still maintain that the words we share are the old, authentic, original Christianity. The reason that not everybody rallies to our flag is that it draws too much fire.
Visit a Civil War battlefield by foot, book, or Internet. You will bring home a lesson learned by U.S. citizens of old. Sometimes it becomes impossible to continue working together when the price is agreeing to disagree.
In heaven the divisions and flags will fall away. But here on the battlefield, it is our duty to fly our flag, to rally the frightened, the lost, the hurt, the dying to come to the message we treasure: Christ for me. For now, we contend for the faith once entrusted to us. Much divides us human beings. But we know two things that unite us under our flag: “In Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).
Living Hope Lutheran Church, Omaha, NE