I recently read 366 Days in Abraham Lincoln’s Presidency by Stephen A. Wynalda.
Even though I have read many books on Lincoln, this one included a quote I was unfamiliar with. About his ideal church, Honest Abe stated, “When any church will inscribe over its altar the Savior’s condensed statement of law and gospel, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind, and love thy neighbor as thyself,’ that church will I join with all my heart.”
I experienced the practical benefits of this as a chaplain at Cook County Jail in Chicago, Division 5. One Monday night just before I left for Chicago, the other chaplain, Ed, called me with some disconcerting news. He said the lieutenant on duty had intercepted some notes indicating that a gang fight was planned to take place during our service.
After I arrived, the 125 inmates began filing in. We welcomed each one. It was very apparent that many of these men, some we had come to know fairly well, were distressed. After they had taken their seats, the lieutenant warned, “I heard there was to be a fight here tonight. When any disturbance happens, I will grab the chaplains and take them out, then I will lock the doors. If anyone is standing after the fight, I will deal with you.”
Ed announced that for our first hymn we would sing “Fight the good fight with all thy might.” I was incredulous! Later, Ed told me that he had chosen that song to help all of us understand that the fight we need to be engaged in is changing hate to love, disrespect to understanding, and fighting to peace. As we sang that hymn and continued on through the service, I could feel the tension in the room melt. So could the inmates. After the service, they stood and applauded – something they had never done before.
You could say we felt Lincoln’s “church” that night – a place where loving God with all our heart, soul and mind and loving our neighbor as ourselves brought peace to what could have been an ugly situation. No matter the situation we face, we can strive to love God and our neighbor and feel the peace, love and justice of God in our lives.