Freely Disagree: Let’s Create Brave Space
Rachel Billups | Matthew 5: 43-48
Years ago, the transition away from the rocks, trails and hills of the Hocking Hills to the flat plains of Anderson Indiana for college life had a profound effect on me. I didn’t realize how much I would miss the hills – how essential the woods had become for how I experienced God.
Do you feel the same way about a particular space or place? Familiar…beautiful…home?
And just as there are physical spaces that renew our strength, there are emotional spaces as well.
Today, I want to explore what it looks and feels like to create healthy emotional space.
Have you ever heard of the term “brave space”? It’s a little different than “safe space”.
Let me explain…
Safe space is good and healthy, but it’s main objective is to protect; to feel comfortable and comforted. Brave space is courageous, where we lean into hard conversations. Brave space requires humility and listening and being comfortable with being uncomfortable.
We’re pretty good at creating division.
Redlining, Jim Crow laws, Apartheid, Holocaust… division, separation, and hate.
All it takes is a simple google search to learn that many in and outside of the religious world have great concern for the pervasive and deeply divisive partisan politics in the United States.
“The studies we’ve conducted over the past few years illustrate the increasingly stark disagreement between Democrats and Republicans on the economy, racial justice, climate change, law enforcement, international engagement and a long list of other issues.” (pew research)
Most people identify more with their political ideologies than they do with their religion. Do you agree?
Friends, this is dangerous territory.
We live in a call-out culture where we are ready to tell you why we are right, and you are wrong.
This or that, red or blue, with us or against us. And it’s into this brittle atmosphere of animosity we hear Jesus’ words from Matthew’s gospel chapter 5:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5: 43-48 NIV).
Jesus was inviting us to create brave space – space beyond us vs. them.
When Jesus says, you have heard it said, love your neighbor, hate your enemy, he was either using hyperbole, exaggerating, or he was naming a real issue of that day. The religious were encouraging their followers to create spaces of division; to hate their enemies (their occupiers, Rome). And the struggle would have been real.
Jesus flips the script and says, not so with you.
Not so with you, kingdom people!
Not so with you, followers of mine.
So, here are the steps to creating brave space, so we can welcome our enemies to the table:
PRAY FOR YOUR ENEMIES.
Prayer is powerful. Sometimes we dismiss prayer as some kind of passive excuse to acknowledge pain but do nothing about it.
Prayer is not passive, it’s the foundation of prophetic activity. When we pray, we are asking God to align our will with God’s will. We are saying, “God help me to see what you see, do a work in my heart and head as well as my enemy’s heart and head.” It’s real hard to hate someone that you are genuinely praying for.
MODEL THE CHARACTER OF GOD
“God causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5: 45b NIV).
In an agrarian community such that Jesus was speaking to, the sun and the rain were essential to sustainable life. Jesus is saying God’s raining down God’s blessing on them all.
There’s an inherit grace baked into all of creation. So, you and I must emulate and demonstrate that same character. Our challenge is to take the high road. When we feel someone else should get what they deserve, creating brave space means we must extend grace.
“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:46-48 NIV).
The Greek word there for perfect is, “teleios.” It doesn’t mean perfection, but rather whole, complete, or full. God wants to do a complete 360 healing through you…perfect!
CALL IN not OUT
Creating brave space, being kingdom-minded people means doing more than the bare minimum. Of course, we like to hang with people who are like us, we love to be with people who think and believe the way we do! Who doesn’t love the easier path! But Jesus says, it’s not the way of the Kingdom. This invitation into Kingdom living is beyond an us vs. them mentality.
In sermon, the Birth of a New Nation, April 7, 1957, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. painted a kingdom picture of what it could look like to be what he called beloved community:
“That’s the beauty of this thing: all flesh shall see it together. Not some from the heights of Park Street and others from the dungeons of slum areas. Not some from the pinnacles of the British Empire and some from the dark deserts of Africa. Not some from inordinate, superfluous wealth and others from abject, deadening poverty. Not some white and not some black, not some yellow and not some brown, but all flesh shall see it together. They shall see it from Montgomery. They shall see it from New York. They shall see it from Ghana. They shall see it from China. For I can look out and see a great number, as John saw, marching into the great eternity, because God is working in this world, and at this hour, and at this moment. And God grants that we will get on board and start marching with God because we got orders now to break down the bondage and the walls of colonialism, exploitation, and imperialism. To break them down to the point that no man will trample over another man, but that all men will respect the dignity and worth of all human personality. And then we will be in Canaan’s freedom land.” (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.)
Jesus is challenging his followers to be the alternative to the political rally. But where do we begin? At the table. Jesus eats with everyone.
“The political rally, in contrast depends on the making of an enemy to stir the crowd. The ones who gather gain their identity by being against something. If you took away that enemy, the crowd would fritter away because there would be nothing left for them to gather around. Their life would be empty to the core. This politic shapes us as an angry, coercive, and defensive people. The church, however, comes together around the presence of the living God. This presence comes together around the presence of the incarnate Christ becoming present by the Spirit among this people. This presence offers forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, and renewal by the Spirit….This politic shapes us as a peaceful people beyond enemies, a church beyond us vs. them.
The question for Christians everywhere, as we gather in church services amid the tumult of our times is this: is my church more like a political rally or the table of the Lord? (David Finch, The Church of Us vs. Them)
I believe we can create brave space: praying for our enemies, modeling the character of God, being a call-in community. Will it be challenge? Absolutely. Will this be the road less traveled? Every single day. But friends Jesus invited us to be kingdom people, to love and live differently. We are different and different is good.