What the American Church can Learn from HersheyPark
Mark 12:31 – The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
I Love You
I mean that. No, really.
Just don’t make me mad. I might not love you very much.
Oh, and just don’t speak against topics I support politically and morally. I don’t have to love you then.
And you better never hurt me or my loved ones because I not only will not love you, but I may hurt you.
I am the American church (and, honestly, society as a whole).
I had a couple things happen over the past few days that got me thinking about love, getting along, and the Bible. First, I went to HersheyPark. Yes, it truly IS the sweetest place on earth. Beyond that, it is also a mash up of most likely every race, culture, and nationality in one small area. The next thing that happened was that I went to church this morning. One of my favorite modern preachers, Brit Fletcher (FYI, I only have about 8-10 modern preachers that I truly listen to), was preaching. His topic today was a very nice exegesis of one of the Beatitudes with 1 John 4. It tied very nicely with what I wanted to say in this blog this week, so I am pretty much going to steal what he wrote, put my own spin on it, and publish it to the interwebs because he said it much better than I ever could.
While at HersheyPark, the first ride we got on was the Comet. It is a wooden roller coaster built in 1946. Not only has it had a very long life, but the line to get on it was extremely long. About an hour and fifteen minutes we waited to ride it. As we stood in line, there were a LOT of different cultures surrounding us. About 20 people in front of us was a woman with her daughter that was in full dress, including a complete facial covering. The only time I saw any of her body was when she went to put her drink to her mouth and her chin was exposed. She did everything in her power to keep herself separate from other people. She held on to her daughter tightly and wouldn’t let anyone get too close to them.
Directly behind us was a group of people that sounded like they were from either Jamaica or Trinidad. They had absolutely no concept of personal space. If I took a step forward, you could almost guarantee that one of the group would not only be stepping on my feet but also rubbing up against me in some way. I should mention that even though they were all standing on top of each other (and me), that they had to speak to each other very loudly, sometimes yelling directly in my ear. But, when I said “bless you” to one of the ladies who sneezed, her face lit up with the biggest smile as she said, “thank you.”
Right in front of us were the PSL (pumpkin spice latte) white ladies. The each had a child and were talking to each other. One had asked the other how long the wait was going to be. When she replied with “I have no idea,” I figured since I had the app for the park that I would be kind enough to tell her. After I responded, they looked at me like I had 3 eyes, said a valley girl “thanks” and went on with their conversation.
After we rode the Comet (which, after going to HersheyPark since 1979, it is still my favorite coaster they have there), we went to get lunch. In line in front of us were two Hispanic women. One knew some English, but the other did not, so the one girl translated her order to the cashier. The Hispanic translator kept running back and forth to the table they were sitting at to ask everyone there what they wanted, leaving the Hispanic-only speaking woman to stare uncomfortably at the English-only speaking cashier. After about 5 separate orders, they had everything and were on their way. They method of speaking was very expressive. If a translation seemed lost, they used their hands. It was quite the spectacle.
Romans 13:10 – Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Then there were the 20-somethings who immediately cut right in front of us in a long line. Being gentler than the average Fred, I was apt to let this go. Mimi, on the other hand, not so much. At the end of the day, those young adults were simply people who had bad manners, foul mouths, and no respect for anyone around them.
I could go on and on about the stories there at the park, but you get the idea. It was a collection of people from nice to rude, black to white, refined to down-home.
But everyone seemed to get along. The park was crowded, and even late at night, as we were on one of our last rides and the operators were having troubles getting the ride turned on in a timely manner, no one really complained. Everyone simply waited, seemingly patiently.
The collection of people couldn’t understand each other linguistically, couldn’t comprehend their cultural ticks, and in many cases looked and acted very differently, but they made the best of their time together.
There are a couple more HersheyPark stories, these are sweeter. Like the one kid I saw fall down and a perfect stranger picked him up. No, this wasn’t anyone from the park staff. This was just a random stranger. A black woman who wasn’t speaking English went over to pick up a lilly white kid who had fallen to the ground. She smiled at him, dusted him off, and sent him back to his parents. Then there was an elderly man who was having trouble navigating the traffic in a motorized wheelchair. A Hispanic man reached down, touched the man’s arm, and helped guide him through the onslaught of people. They didn’t speak each other’s languages, but they knew how to communicate in love.
Matthew 5:46-47 – 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?
And that leads me to today. Pastor Brit (pB) preached about love. Do you realize that love is what proves we are a Christian? Jesus, in Matthew 5, teaches us that we are not only love those who love us. That would be too easy. We are to love everyone.
At the park yesterday, the love shown was not just an absence of hate, but a deliberate choice to make the lives better of those around us.
According to pB’s sermon this morning, love is not only one of God’s divine attributes, but it is a deliberate decision of His. In God’s perfect love, he sent His Son as propitiation for our sins. Jesus was the mercy seat that contained the offering for the remission of sin.
You might be asking yourself, “but what has God done for me lately?”
How vile of a question!
It isn’t what God has done for you lately! It is what God has done eternally!
Christ died on the cross FOR your sin. Even if He did nothing else in this world, THAT would be more than enough.
1 John 4:7 – Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.
1 John 4 gives us a couple of truths about love (and these are taken both from Scripture and from pB’s sermon this morning). First, with perfect love, we can come in boldness in the day of judgment. This means that we KNOW we are saved. There is no question in our minds.
Second, love knows no fear. If you are in a relationship that scares you, then that is not love. Is it due to abuse? Is it due to mistreatment? Is it due to a past that leads to not knowing how to love? Then that is not love.
The terrorist, the racist, the bigot, the hatemonger, the gossip, the slanderer, the cheater, and the people who bash others do so out of fear. Since perfect love knows no fear, those people cannot know a perfect love and those people cannot call themselves Christian.
On the other side of the coin, are you afraid to engage in a friendship or conversation with the terrorist, racist, bigot, hatemonger, gossip, slanderer, or cheater? Then, perhaps, you need to review whether you know a perfect love.
Finally, love cannot hate. In America, and especially the church, it is allowed to hate the terrorist. It is allowed to hate those of a different political party. It is allowed to hate those even in other denominations simply because of that denomination’s political tilt.
That is not love.
That is not Christianity.
I would question whether those people truly know Christ.
1 John 4:8 – Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.