In the city, it was a bright summer afternoon. A few fluffy, white clouds rolled overhead, but otherwise dotted with only a few of the flying sort. Crisp blue sky everywhere seemed so warm and inviting. No rain, no storm, no gray. It was blue—bright blue—with a few feathery, painted clouds. Amazing how weather can affect moods! And that day, the friendly sun had good effect. It warmed the lives and hearts of the citizens of the city.
Women were outside strolling through the marketplace. Cantaloupe, red grapes, and juicy strawberries were in season. Vegetables also were brimming with flavor. The green-leafed varieties were as crisp as ever. The tomatoes were full and firm, not too ripe or spotted. The women made their purchases (with a little argument about the prices). These groceries were about to become family dinners later in the evening.
The men were still working outside. Friendly chatter filled the site of construction for the new church. Much of the brickwork was already finished. A few legs dangled from the roof where the final nails were being pounded. Down the street, beyond the jeweler’s and the watchmaker’s shops, the town doctor was relieving a few young children with the wonders of modern medicine. A few cuts and bruises- nothing serious. The baker was serious, though. An important task it was to make sure that the lovely aroma wafted into the street to lure unsuspecting customers inside to order some of his pastries and breads.
The rest of the community was busy as well. The blacksmith and cobbler labored hard, making music with the sounds of their hammers. Children played; dogs ran a muck through the alleys. Grandmothers visited while the wise men of the city kicked back to spin story after story about the fish and deer that seem important at the time but are forgotten the next day. A busy marketplace, thriving shops, and the sounds of laughter. This is the first tale.
The tale of a city that prospers so well, even the streets are scrubbed clean. Our own church life can be that way. God promises blessings for those who live well in unity with one another. These blessings are so marvelous and dear, even some silly tale about a picture-perfect day in a spotless, happy town cannot compare. Life in the church, the body of Christ, is supposed to be like that. God’s love to us, being reflected through us towards each other, in turn reflecting our relationship with God himself. The blessedness of that life we must desire with all our hearts. And the church will receive this when the heart is turned for God and His righteousness. It is a sworn promise from God who created heaven and earth by the power of His Word. But, things can get ugly.
The clouds that had danced lazily across the midday sky were beginning to pile up. Cumulus clouds can do that, you know. They can fracture and wisp away as fair-weather clouds, or begin to gather and hint of a coming rain shower. Well, the “hint” was unmistakable.
Hammers started to land on thumbs. Bread in the ovens burned to a crisp, leaving only blackened shells. Stray dogs bit the children, spreading screams and disease throughout. Lemons rotted in the baskets while lettuce wilted in the heat. Worst of all, rumors began flying. The breeze was kicking up a little dust, and was all too willing to fling around those rough accusations along with the rest of the debris. Some of the wealthier shopkeepers bore the brunt of this attack. The rumor was that they had been overcharging for their goods and hoarding the town’s economy to themselves, creating poverty for the rest. True or not, the word spread like wildfire. And each person who heard was quick to add his own little tidbit to the rumor.
The good jeweler had done nothing wrong. He was as honest as the day is long, and yet his reputation was shot to pieces. He friends treated him like dirt. Families sided with families. Extended families bonded together and the whole city became as polarized as night and day.
Things might have been better had they kept to themselves. Travelers passing by the city might have had no inclination concerning the feud taking place inside the city gates. Yet, strange behavior that it was, the matter soon became public. Instead of a calm, just settlement, irrational thought took over. Instead of realizing that the injustice was minor and repairable, hurtful darts replaced soothing words. Instead of maintaining the integrity of the city, the aggressors (or victims? —it was too hard to tell) took it upon themselves to cement the hard feelings.
Then, when it seemed as though it could not get any worse, the oddest thing happened. Reeeeeaaaaally odd. Whoever had an empty hand grabbed paint. Buckets and buckets of paint. Dashing outside the gate with it, they vandalized their own city walls with clashing colors. Names were painted in dishonor- reputations marred. Graffiti and revenge marred that lovely afternoon. All around the city wall, names were scarred by such labels as “idiot,” “moron,” “cheater,” and “bum.”
Never mind that the paint had been intended for a useful purpose (the interior walls of the church). Never mind that the paint could have at least been used for something constructive. No. it was used for a more permanent and deadly job.
What was the point? Who knows? What it did accomplish was to show everyone on the outside the sin on the inside. Disarray, disorder, and hatred: supremely evident to all.
This is the second tale. To go back to the first tale (which we all want) we need to add a happy ending. Even when sins toward one another are committed, there must be forgiveness. Forgive! When a party is sorry and desires peaceful, godly agreement, forgive. Forget that the sin was ever committed. Forgive! When they apologize and cry, treat them as if they were perfect all along. That is how God treats His own. He remembers not their sins and imputes to them the righteousness of Christ. He sees all we do, of course, but in judgment through Christ’s blood, he sees us as sinless. Sinless like our joint- heir Jesus Christ. Life in the church is meant to reflect that relationship in an earthly way. We need to live with a lot less pride. Without forgiveness, notice what happens. A feud doesn’t bury itself. Accusation burn and infect and we end up vandalizing our own city walls for all to see. Not only do the church members witness the atrocities, but outsiders as well. That is no way to witness. That is no way to shine for Christ’s Spirit that dwells within us.
Is the town in the story make-believe? Not really. The city of two tales is Hebron. In Holy Scripture, the name Hebron has both historical and spiritual significance. Its title signifies “communion.” The city’s name means “to be restored to fellowship with God.” Remember when David sinned by taking a second wife? Going from bad to worse, David then disobeyed God’s guiding hand and fled into Philistia to escape Saul and his gang. Sin after sin after sin. No plea for forgiveness; therefore, no forgiveness. But when David was brought to his knees in acknowledgment before the merciful God, he was restored. Returned to favor, David was sent to Hebron for his first coronation, as king over Judah.
Young people, be restored to communion with each other and with God. Forgive and be forgiven.
Tom is a member of Hudsonville Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan