The Language of Life and Faith

Tracey

 

Language Fails

How many of you have lived in or traveled in in a country where you did not speak the language? Some of the confusion can be pretty funny, like when I meant to say that I had lived on bread and cheese when I was visiting France, but instead said that I had loved on bread and cheese for a week.  Or when the Russian Orthodox bishop asked me how hard it was to stand during their long worship services, and I thought he was asking me how warm my boots were, and told him they kept me very warm.

My favorite though is a story told by Mark Twain in his essay The Awful German Language. In German if you have good luck, you say you had a pig. “I had a big pig today,” means I was very lucky today. So Twain was at party, and a man asked him if he had had the opportunity to dance with his wife yet, to which Twain replied, “Nein, dieses Schwein hatte ich noch nicht.“” No, I have not had the pig yet.

Language

Language is one of the most basic elements of human life. Although other animals can communicate, it is generally thought that we are the only species that has raised language to an art. I hear that whales communicate through song, but I would bet nothing they say is half as interesting as The Brothers Karamazov or even the Letters to the Editor page in the Mail Tribune.

Language defines us.

The way we speak a language forms how we think. In German, for example, the verbs often come at the end of the sentence–and they have some wicked long sentences in German! So when you listen you learn to bracket things along the way. Chinese is a tonal language. Each word can be said with a rising tone, a falling tone, a rising and fall tone, or a flat tone. As it turns out the Chinese are able to discern tones in music much better than non-Chinese speakers.

And language separates us. One of the issues for the Basque separatists, a small regional group in Spain who advocate seceding from Spain, is the language. They speak Basque and not Spanish, and they don’t want to be identified with those Spanish speakers. You can tell how well an immigrant is assimilating into their new home country by how well they speak the language.

I have heard people say they were with someone who spoke a different language, and “Even though we couldn’t speak each other’s language, we still communicated!” to which I say, “But you have no idea what you really communicated. One of my colleagues at the Alaska legislature had a tattoo of a Japanese word on his leg. I asked him what it meant, and he just laughed. “Well, I got it in Japan,” he said. “I asked them to tattoo the work for ‘peace’ on my leg, but a few days later I was at a Japanese bath, and one of the other bathers, a Japanese man, asked my why I had the word for peanut butter tattooed on my leg. I thought he was pulling my leg, but every other Japanese person who saw it told me it was the word for peanut butter.”

Pentecost

On the day of Pentecost, many strange things happened. There was the sound from heaven, “like a rush of violent wind.” Flickers of flame seem to rest over their heads. The experience was so powerful they appeared to be drunk–all boozed up at nine o’clock in the morning. But the thing that got the attention of the crowd around them is that they were all speaking in different languages–the languages of the many people who were visiting Jerusalem from all over the known world, to make their sacrifice at the temple.

Jewish Pentecost

Christians did not invent the feast of Pentecost. It was originally a Jewish festival called Shavuot, a harvest festival celebrated seven weeks and one day–fifty days–after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which was loosely tied to Passover. It was also called  “The Feast of the First Fruits,” because on this day people could bring the first fruits of their harvest to the Temple to be offered in Sacrifice to God.

Later, after the destruction of the Temple by the Romans, when people could no longer bring a sacrifice, the day took on a totally different meeting. Instead of being a harvest festival, it celebrated the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. The feast was given the name Pentecost, which means fifty. Whether it was the feast of the first fruits or the giving of the law, it was celebrated fifty days after.

So on that Pentecost, the year of the death of Jesus, there were Jews from all over the known world, who had come to offer the first fruits of their harvest to God. There were “Parthians, Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt parts of Libya, as well as  visitors from Rome.  And they saw something that stretched their beliefs.

Christian Pentecost

But for the Church Pentecost has a difference significance. It is the birth of the church, so today is officially the birthday of the Church of Jesus Christ. It signifies the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Church. In Acts chapter one, just before Jesus ascends to heaven, he has a little encounter with his disciples. They ask him, says, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus gives one of those cryptic answers: “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

It does not sound like he is answering their question. “Jesus, now that you all resurrected and everything, don’t you think this would be a good time to kick out the Romans, and start our own little country?”  Jesus replies, “Well, the timing of all this will surprise you, and the way it happens will surprise you even more, but yes, something is going to happen along those lines and its going to happen fairly soon. It will happen when God’s Spirit comes down, and surrounds your life. When that happens, that will be your source of power. You want political power, but you are selling yourselves short. I want to give you the power to be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven.”

So Pentecost goes from the being the feast of the first fruits of the harvest of local farmers, to the feast of the first fruits of the Church of Jesus Christ.  Those early disciples didn’t bring first fruits–they were the first fruits.

The spirit came down on them, and changed them.They went from being an unorganized, rag-tag group who just lost their leader to a committed and powerful group who went on to change the world the message of God’s love.

Pentecost Today

But what does Pentecost mean for us today? How is this event, which happened almost 2,000 years, important for us today? How does that remarkable experience of the early disciples affect who we are and what we do today? Or, to put it another way, as I heard one pastor ask his congregation, how has the Holy Spirit affected our church? If the Holy Spirit was somehow taken away from us, what would change? Would we be any different?

I started this sermon by talking about language, and I want to pick that up again. I said that language separates us. At Pentecost we see that separation completely overcome. It is no accident that the fire that comes upon the people comes as tongues of fire that unite the people in spite of the language. They are all hearing the Word of God in their own language. If there is any proof of the presence of the Holy Spirit, it is this–people who are different from one another experience unity. The miracle of the tongues referred in Acts is more about how the walls of division, and in fact one of the highest walls, is overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit came upon the disciples and suddenly they were speaking in other tongues.

Different languages of faith

I think that still happens today, but not necessarily the same way as what happened in Jerusalem 2000 years ago.  We have our differences today, differences that need to be overcome. And by we, I mean both the world-wide church of Jesus Christ that includes everybody from Bible thumpin’ fundamentalists to middle of the way Presbyterians to High Church, smells and bells Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians. We are all in this together, but there a a multitude of ways we are divided.

I also mean the group of people who gather here and call ourselves the First Presbyterian Church, or in any other congregation. When it comes to our spiritual life, many of speak different languages. For example, some people best experience God through prayer and Bible study. Others through music and worship. Others through service to others, for some acts of compassion and for others in advocating for people. Some experience God though fellowship with other Christians, while others feel closer to God is solitude and silence. Some through reading and studying, and some through discussion. When it comes to our relationship with God, each of us speaks a different spiritual language.

I remember in my second church we started an early service, that met before the Sunday school hour. We only had fifty minutes for the service, so we could not replicate the full service we had at 11. Some things had to go, and part of the time savings came through cutting the amount of hymns we sang. When of the long time members of the church came to me after we had been doing the service for about a month and said, “I really love this service. There’s not much singing and I hate music.” I pressed him on that, and asked, “you mean you hate singing hymns. Right?” and he said, “No, I just hate music.”

Now I have to say, I do not understand that at all. How can someone hate music? Not a type of music, but all music. But God made us all different, and that’s the way God made him.

We are all somewhat to a great deal different from one another. We have different ways of experiencing and expressing our spirituality. What makes us a church is when we accept and affirm one another in spite of our differences. What is when we know the Holy Spirit is truly at work among us. It is tempting to think everyone is just like us, that their spiritual life should look just like ours, but that is not the case. We are all different. When it comes to spirituality, we speak different languages. And that is ok. What is not ok is trying to get other people to fit into our mold.

The Greatest Miracle of All

The Holy Spirit came down to the disciples and drew them together as the people of God, as citizens of the Kingdom of God. We are all part of the people of God, citizens of the Kingdom of God. What brings and knits us together is not what we have in common, but how we let the Holy Spirit work through our differences. You see, none of have the market cornered on spirituality. We all have things to learn, and we learn from one another. That is also the Holy Spirit at work.

On that Pentecost day 2000 years ago, miracles happened. But the greatest miracle was, and continues to be, the knitting together of the random batch of people who go by the name Christian into the Body of Christ.

Amen.

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Soaked in the Story

“Sanctify them in your truth….”  John 17:17

 

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In the summer of 1982 I managed to get a summer job working in a tobacco warehouse in Durham, North Carolina. Argentina had invaded the Falkland Islands, and apparently they grew a lot of tobacco there. As soon as they took control over the islands they shipped all the tobacco to the R.J. Reynolds International warehouse in Durham. The influx of foreign tobacco meant they needed an influx of summers workers, and I was one of them.

Over the course of the summer we saw a lot of people come and go. It was hot, dirty work, and not everyone is cut out for work in a tobacco warehouse. One the regulars, Steve, had an interesting tradition. Every time we got a new worker, he would ask them, “So, what’s your story?”

Me? I was a newly married graduate student who needed to make some money and didn’t mind the hot, gritty work in a tobacco warehouse. Jason wanted to be a trucker, but was having a hard time passing the driving test. The Hulk, who got his name from his physique, was a baseball player, and needed a day job. He could throw a line drive from the right field to third base. Steve, the guy who asked the question was a college dropout, who ended up driving a fork lift in the warehouse.

What is your story? What are the events and circumstances that made you who you are today? Because that is what our story is. It is the series of events that made us who we are today. We all have a story, and each and every story is more complicated than James Joyce’s novel Ulysses.

This congregation has a story, a long one that started before any of us got here, and which is on-going and changing. Our country has a story, an even longer one that started long before Columbus ever arrived.

Our stories form who we are. The events of our lives which form our story affect us, and affect how we deal with future events and how we understand past events. When I worked at the warehouse, I met Solomon, who was a DJ for WUNC, the public radio station in Chapel Hill. He was also a Jazz lover, and we ended up talking about music during our breaks. Because of those conversations I started listening to Jazz, and because I started to love Jazz I got the gig as a DJ for a Jazz show on the Public Radio station in Alaska, and because of that, when Robin mentioned doing a Jazz Vespers I was all over that like white on rice.

You see how our stories interact with the stories of other people. Those who who attend Jazz vespers can thank a DJ who was bored at work and started talking to a co-worker, in Durham, North Carolina in the summer of 1982. There are people and events who have affected your story that you are not aware of, things that happened to other people which caused things to happen to you.

By now you should be asking what any of this has to do with either of this morning’s texts. Well, I’m getting to that.

The Gospel Lesson records a prayer, the prayer of Jesus just before he was arrested. There are a lot of interesting things in the prayer, but I want to point out one phrase in particular–19And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”

That they may be sanctified in truth.

What does that mean to you? Can you imagine what it means for you to be sanctified in truth? It may sound a little scary for you. Or it may be that those words don’t really mean a lot, because they are words that are hard to understand. What does it mean to be sanctified? And…what is truth?

I could try to explain it all to you. I could say, “The word ‘sanctified’ is the same Greek word that is used for the word ‘holy,’ so to be sanctified means to be made holy. And the word ‘holy’ means to be set apart for a special use.” You may find that a little helpful, but probably more in a theoretical sense than in a practical way.

I could say that, but frankly all that makes me think that if I let God sanctify me in truth, I am going to end in a monastery, sleeping on a wooden mattress with a wooden pillow, eating a small amount of gruel once a day, and praying bitterly five times a day, memorizing a long list of rules from the Bible, and complaining about how unsanctified all the other people are.

So let me try it another way. I said earlier how our stories intersect the other people’s stories, and when they do, the trajectory of our stories change. I’m a single guy in Juneau, I meet this gorgeous redhead, and the next thing I know, the arc of my story has completely changed. Of course it is not always that dramatic. I meet someone in a coffee shop and he recommends a new book, I read the book, and I understand some things that I didn’t understand before. I chance upon a review of a new album, I download the album on iTunes and now I have some new music to listen to.

The Bible is a story—a series of stories actually. And when we read the Bible, our stories intersect with the stories of the Bible, and…we are changed by that. As we let the Biblical stories inform our stories, we become better disciples of Jesus. As we let the trajectory of our story to be changed by the biblical story, we are changed—we are made better, we are better able to love God, we are better able to understand God and we are better able to reach out to others with the love of God.

Now here I should say a word about the stories in the Bible. They are true stories. When I say that, I do not mean that every event in the Bible happened exactly like the Bible tells it.

I am not saying they are literally true. Some of them are. If a man named Jesus Christ never lived, or died as a fat, happy carpenter and father of five, then we seriously need to change the name of our Religion. Call it Be Goodism, or Tiny Meal Religion, but not Christianity.

When I say the stories are true, I mean there are deep, serious, life-changing, life-enhancing, meaty truths that are embedded in the stories. The story of how we end up doing exactly what we know we are not supposed to do, and then blaming someone else for it, is a true story whether or not Adam and Eve existed. The story a sense of paradise that exists in our hearts, a place where things are as they should be, where there is no shame, and where we can know God is a true story, whether or not the Garden of Eden ever really existed. The story of someone who suffers the injustices of life for no apparent reason is a very true story, regardless of whether or not a person names Job actually existed.

The way Jesus taught us to live, through parables and through other more conventional means, is a true way, and when we allow the story of Jesus, and the other stories in the Bible, to touch our lives, to mold and shape our lives, then we are being sanctified in the truth. To put it another way, we soak ourselves in the story of the Bible. The better we know that story, the more we are soaked in it, or sanctified by it.

When we read of David dancing as the Ark of the Covenant was brought into Jerusalem, we can dance like David danced as we experience happy events. (I mean that metaphorically of course. They say Dance like no is looking. The ONLY time I dance is when no one is looking!) When we see injustices in our community or in the world, we can pray like Amos, to let justice roll on like a river, right living like a never-failing stream! When we go through suffering, we can sit in ash heap with Job, and rail against God. When we see someone in need, someone hurt, someone laying by the side of the road after life has mugged them, we can be the good Samaritan, who binds the wounds and finds a doctor. And when we have messed up royally, when we have transgressed, when we have sinned, and strayed far from God, we can play the prodigal, and learn what it is like to be welcomed by our Heavenly Father with ever open arms.

Be sanctified in truth, or soaked in the biblical story does not take away from our lives—it adds a whole new flavor to them.

The hard part of this is that you have to commit to the process. Two Christmases ago I decided I was finally going to finish War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. It is a massive novel, more than 1300 pages. I had started it about four of five times before, the first time when I was a sophomore in college. (And for some strange reason, I always started it at Christmas time.) I had tried and failed before, but this time I committed myself. I bought a new translation, and I have had a copy on my E-reader so I didn’t always have to carry it around with me. I downloaded the 1812 Overture to put me in the mood. It took a year, and I did take a few months off somewhere around page 800. But I finished this January. I committed to that story.

In a different and more important way we commit ourselves to the biblical story. In the case of War and Peace I committed my time. When it comes to the Bible, we commit our lives. We commit ourselves to hearing the story, and then allowing it inside of us, to inform us, disturb us, delight us, and finally to sanctify us.

Sanctification. It’s not about rules. It’s not about depriving ourselves. It’s not about being any better than anyone else. It’s about letting God and the Word of God into our lives. Its about interacting with one another, so that we can benefit from the process they are going through and they can benefit from the process we are going through.

In the end it is simply this—joining up with Peter, James, John, Thomas, Andrew, Nathaniel, Simon, Paul and the all the countless others who have followed Jesus over the centuries. We join with them, and follow Jesus.

Amen.

 

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The Service of God

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In both the Old and New Testament lessons, we hear the word “Servant.” In the Isaiah passage, the prophet is describing the servant of God, and in the Luke passage Mary says she is the servant of the Lord.

 

In order to get a handle on what is going on in these two passages, I am going to do something I don’t normally do in a sermon. I’m going to explain some grammar to you. Some might say “inflict” grammar because not everyone appreciates grammar, but I dare to go where angels fear to tread, so here goes.

 

In Greek and Latin you have your verb tenses and moods, but you also have noun declensions. Nouns are either the subject, the direct object, the indirect object or possessive. The formal terms are the nominative, accusative, dative and genitive. It is the last, the genitive that we are concerned with today. Well at least I am. I hope you are.

 

The phrase “Service of God” or in Greek λειτουργίᾳ Θεοῦ is in what is called the genitive case. Normally that indicates possession. I might talk about “this sermon of mine,” and the words “of mine” are in the genitive. That means it is my sermon or my words. If I say, “This church of ours,” the words “Of ours” is in the genitive, meaning this is our church.

 

So in the phrase “Service of God” the words “of God” are in the genitive case. Here is where it gets interesting, at least for a grammar geek. There are different types of genitive cases. Among them are the objective genitive and the subjective genitive.

 

What’s the difference, you may ask, if you are still awake. Well, I’ll tell you. In an objective genitive, the genitive noun is the object of the verbal idea contained in the noun it modifies; But in the subjective genitive the genitive noun is the agent of the verbal idea contained in the noun modified.

 

Did you get that? Because its very important. It will be on the test.

Let me put it another way. In the Objective, the main noun is doing the action, in the subjective the main noun receives the action.

 

Assuming you are still with me, and just mentally ticking off your grocery list right now, or wondering if I have gone off  my nut, let me tell you why this is important for today’s message.

 

Today we are talking about the service of God. If we look at the phrase as an objective genitive, we are talking about the ways God serves us. We get that in the Isaiah passage. But if we take the phrase, “the Service of God” to be a subjective genitive, we are talking about the different ways we serve God, which we see in the Gospel passage.

 

The service of God, objective genitive—how God serves us.

The service of God, subjective genitive—how God is served by us

 

So let’s look first at the objective genitive, as found in the words of the prophet Isaiah. We start with the prophet introducing God’s servant to us. Now here when I say “God’s servant,” I mean here is the person who was chosen by God to represent God’s service to us. Here is the man who God has ordained to serve us.

 

And what does he do? In the words of Isaiah, he brings justice to the nations. Last week I talked about how we can look around and see what is wrong with the world. Its not hard to see at all. The servant of God comes to bring justice to the nations, to help put everything right. Now anyone who has studied history should be very careful when they hear that. In the French Revolution, they wanted to put everything right. 40,000 deaths later, almost everyone realized that things were worse than they were before. The Bolsheviks in Russia wanted to put everything right. 60 million deaths later, the regime finally fell, and it not much different now than it was before the October Revolution. Mao had the same goals for China, and ten years of the Cultural Revolution in China only produced chaos and an estimated 1.5 million deaths.

 

No, whenever the justice is coerced, it ends up being oppression, even when it is the church that is doing the work. The crusades, the Inquisition, witchcraft trials—the many times in history that the church tried to bring about justice through coercion ended badly for the church and for the people the church was supposed to be serving.

 

But the servant of God is different.

 

So how is the servant of God different? Listen to what Isaiah says;

He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;

This is truly God serving humanity. God understands that many of us are bruised reeds, damaged by life in various ways, and we don’t need someone coming in and yelling at us about how we need to shape up our lives. We do need to shape up our lives, but the way to that is not at the sharp end of verbal whip.

 

A smoldering wick he will not snuff out. God knows that we don’t always burn bright with the desire to do the work of God. Sometimes, at best we are smoldering wicks. But does the servant of God look at us with disgust and say, “You call that a fire? A lightning bug has more fire power than you do.” No, the servant of God is not there to castigate, coerce, or cajole us by shame into being better people.

 

What does the servant of God do?

 

“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

 

The servant takes us by the hand and leads us to justice, to righteousness. The servant molds us, forms us into the image of God, and we become the means to bring justice, by living it out ourselves. The servant does not overpower us, nor does the servant call us to overpower others. We are a light. And we all know that when a light is overpowering, it is blinding, and serves no useful purpose.

 

We open the eyes of the blind by being a gentle light of righteousness ourselves. We show, in our lives, the joy of God. We serve God. And that brings us to the subjective genitive. (You thought I forgot this was a sermon about grammar, didn’t you? Or at least you were hoping I did!)

 

We are involved in the service of God, by being served by God, but also by serving God.

 

The words of Mary, 38 “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled,” are our words to God as well. We are your servants. Now there were a few words that Mary said that precede these words. “How can this be?” she asked, thinking that God was calling her to do the impossible–in this case bearing a child. Perhaps those are our words as well. How can we serve God. We just want to be a happy, thriving little congregation, doing our part here in our little part of the world. We don’t need…we don’t even want prophecies or miracles, virgin births, visiting angels, visitations in the night by strange groups of shepherds.

 

All of that sounds remarkably… unpresbyterian. And yet, that is how God works sometimes. And as servants of God we partake in the miracles God sends us. Sometimes our service to God is that of being faithful in the face of overwhelming odds. Do you know how few churches in our position are doing as well as we are? We are a downtown, mainline church that does traditional worship, and most downtown mainline traditional churches are dying. But we are faithful in the face of those overwhelming odds.

 

Sometimes the service is to accept the miracles of new birth that God brings us, as Mary did. Behold we are the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto us according to thy word. We are at your service, O God.

 

But how do we serve God?

 

We serve God the way a farmer serves the soil. A farmer has a symbiotic relationship to the soil. The soil sustains the farmer, but the farmer also has to respect the soil. The farmer is subject to the fertility of the soil. Farmers do not force things to grow. They nurture them into growth. They understand the soil, and the miracle of growth. They understand certain things grow best in certain soils; others are just a waste of time. They weed the soil. They understand that the soil is bigger than they are, and the soil is where the real miracle of growth occurs. So they shape the rhythms of their lives around the soil. There is a good time for planting, a time for watering and a time for harvest. The soil, and what grows from it tell us when then those times are.

 

We serve God the same way a musician serves sound and rhythm. The musician who ignores sound and rhythm is just making noise. In order to make music, the musicians have to give themselves to the sounds and rhythms of the universe. They have to serve the elements of their craft.

 

And so, in the end, we serve God even as God serves us. The grammar tells us so.

 

 

The Texts:

Isaiah 42:1-9 

The Servant of the Lord

42 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
    he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”

This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

“I am the Lord; that is my name!
I will not yield my glory to another
or my praise to idols.
See, the former things have taken place,
and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
I announce them to you.”

Luke 1:26-38 

The Birth of Jesus Foretold

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

 

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How to Spell Presbyterian

 

 

 

 

 

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In 1517 a renegade monk named Martin Luther let loose his frustrations with the Church, at that time the ONLY church, and nailed a piece of paper that had 95 different statements that showed his disagreement with the Mother Church onto a church door in the town of Wittenberg Germany, where he was a professor of Old Testament.

Luther’s primary beef with the Church was over the practice of selling indulgences. An indulgence is “a way to reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo for sins.” If you had committed a sin, in Luther’s day, you confessed to a priest, and the priest would tell you to pray the Lord’s Prayer a certain number of times or to do a good deed for your neighbor, visit a sacred site, or give a certain amount of money to the church. That was your indulgence, and when you earned your indulgence, your sins were forgiven. But in 1506 Pope Julius decided to build a new basilica in Rome, and he needed some money to finance the project. A German Bishop named Albrecht came up with an ingenious fundraising scheme.  He would sell indulgences to the people.

An enterprising monk named Johann Tetzel was a wonderful salesman for the indulgences. Are you worried about a loved one who has died? Do you want to assure their place in heaven? Simply put your coins in the box, and their soul will spring toward heaven. Have you committed a sin? Simply put your money in the coffers, and you will be forgiven. Is there a sin you are contemplating committing? Again, put your money in the box, and forgiveness is waiting for you.

Well, Luther’s study of the Bible led him to a very conclusion. Forgiveness for sins does not come because we have earned it, through indulgences or any other way. There is nothing we can do to earn forgiveness. God bestows forgiveness on us through his love for us. We cannot earn it. That, Luther said, is what grace is.

And the only way to receive God’s grace is through faith. Because we believe, we can have a relationship with God.

While he was monkeying with the idea of forgiveness, Luther also looked at how doctrines were developed in the church. In the Catholic church, doctrines sprung from the traditions of the Church, one of which was the Bible. Luther believed that the doctrines of the church should only spring from the Bible.

From these convictions sprang three catchphrases of the Reformation—sola gratia, sola fides, sola scriptura. We come to God only through grace, only through faith, and only through what we have learned in the Bible.

When Luther was nailing his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg door, a precocious eight-year was starting school in Paris, France. This young man eventually became a lawyer, and then fled Paris for the city of Strasburg after he was involved in a protest march against the Catholic Church. This young man, named John Calvin, had become a follower of Luther’s teachings, except he felt Luther did not go far enough. Where Luther merely wanted to reform the Catholic church, Calvin wanted to be the theological architect for the new church which developed from Luther’s initial protest.

Calvin is considered the founder of the Presbyterian Church, and what we call The Reformed Tradition. The terminology is a little confusing because Luther started the Reformation, but Calvin started the Reformed Tradition. If we say a church is a Reformed style of church, we mean its roots go back to John Calvin.

All Presbyterian Churches are considered Reformed Churches, from the various Presbyterian churches in the United States, to the Dutch Reformed Church in the Netherlands and South African to the Church of Scotland.

So why are we not called The Reformed Church? Why “The Presbyterian Church”? What does Presbyterian mean?

The word Presbyterian comes from the Greek word Presbutos, which means elder. This is at the heart of who we are. We are a church dependent on the leadership of a group of people—the elders of the church. In the Exodus story Moses is trying to do everything, but is overwhelmed. His father-in-law suggests a new way. Gather together some people who are capable, faithful, and trustworthy, and give them power. Don’t let all the power reside in one person. Spread it out among many people.

John Calvin used that principle, but to be honest he also had another motive. He believed that power tended to corrupt people. He saw what happened in the Roman Catholic church with the Pope in charge, and he felt that many of the problems in the church were due to people in power misusing their power. So he proposed a system where power was distributed among a group of people, elders in the church. This insight by Calvin, by the way, inspired the people who designed the political structure of the United States. That is why we have the separation of powers in our government.

There is no way to summarize what either Calvin or Luther believed in one sermon. Books and books have been written about this. This is Calvin’s magnum Opus, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, originally intended as a catechism for children who were joining his church.

But here are the major thrust of Calvin’s understanding of God and our relationship to God.

Calvin believed in the complete sovereignty of God. The ways of the world all whirl around the will of God. For Calvin nothing was left up to chance. Now this gives rise to his doctrine of predestination, which is way too complicated for a sermon, but which has been modified over the years, especially by the theologian Karl Barth.

Calvin believed in the overall pervasiveness of sin. While we are certainly capable of doing incredibly good deeds, we are also, at the same time, unable to escape our baser instincts. Calvin would not be surprised that even the best human being also has weaknesses. And what is worse, we often do not see our own wrongdoings. How many times have you seen someone who seems to be totally unaware of their faults? That should make you wonder what you don’t see about yourself.

 

This is what Calvin called total depravity. Total depravity does not mean that we are worthless in all we are. It means that no one part of us is as good as it could or should be.

That is why Calvin felt that having one person in complete control of anything was a big mistake.

But Calvin also believed firmly in the power of grace—a power that can transform us into children of God. The power of grace overcomes every sin. Grace, for Calvin was not just an individual good. It is not just individuals humans who are saved, but whole communities. And not just church communities. The virtues of those who believe in God are to have an effect on the whole community of humanity, not in ruling over them, but in showing the love to God to all peoples.

To the extent that the Gospel affects society as a whole, we would do well to remember the Gospel lesson this morning: 28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

When Gospel becomes a means for social righteousness, and Calvin believed it should, it should affect people by giving them rest. The Gospel was never meant to be a burden. It is meant to take our burdens from us.

In the end, we have to ask a hard question. Was the reformation a good idea? On the one hand, it spawned the Protestant churches—Lutheran, Presbyterian, Mennonite, and all the offshoots of those branches. This church would not exist without the work of Luther and Calvin. On the other hand, if Luther and Calvin could have foreseen the results–the proliferation of denominations, the multitude of church splits would result over the years, the rise of a Church where people chose their god, and not where we believe God chooses a people—if they could have seen this, would Luther have nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg door? Would Calvin have written his Institutes of the Christian Religion?

I think so, but with a qualification. The twentieth century theologian Karl Barth popularized an old Latin saying that was originally attributed to St. Augustine: “Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda.” The church reformed, always reforming.

The Reformation of Luther and Calvin did not solve all the problems of Christendom. The Reformers did not create The Perfect Church or even The True Church. What Luther did, what Calvin did were not the last word in how to be a Christian.  The Reformation was a needed corrective to the abuses of the day. The church, they felt, had strayed from what it should be. God’s church had gone off course, and she needed to be brought back.

And there were many times when the new Reformed Church went off course. For example good Lutherans marched into battle during World War I and World War II wearing belt buckles that said, “Gott mit uns”—God with us. Calvinism was used to justify slavery in the American South and apartheid in South Africa. In spite of the best intentions of Luther and Calvin to reform the church we constantly find it still needs reforming.

Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda.” The church reformed, always reforming. When we celebrate Reformation Sunday, we are essentially saying that the Church of Jesus Christ is not perfect. She needed to be reformed, and still needs to be reformed. Sometimes we need to be reformed because we have strayed from God’s original intentions and design for the Church. I look today at how political the church has become, and how easily at major part of the church is identified with Right wing politics—and in some cases with left wing politics, and I see the need for a new Reformation. I look at how divided we have become, how we isolate ourselves from people who are not like us, and I remember that the Church of Jesus Christ is supposed to be the means to tear down the dividing walls between peoples. Instead it seems sometimes like we have just created more of them.

And sometimes the church needs reforming because the times change. When Gutenberg invented the printing press, and books became readily available to a much wider group of people, the church, which previously had been the caretaker of Holy Scripture, was now in a place where the Bible could be in the hands of people who were not priests or bishops or popes. It took a long time for the Church to adapt to that change. With today’s technology, and today’s innovations, how do we need to change? What does today’s reformation look like?

And how can we be a part of it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ten Ways to Love

ten_commandments_hebrew_stone

A rabbi was asked if it bothered him that Christians had taken the Ten Commandments from the Jews. “I don’t mind that they took them,” he said, “I just hope they can keep them.”

 

We can try to understand the Ten Commandments as a list of rules we must follow, similar to the traffic laws of Medford, or the legal code of Oregon. Often I read of people who want to display the Ten Commandment in court rooms because they are a historical example of an ancient legal code.

 

But I think they are more than that. Yes, they have historical value that way, and yes there is a strong sense that they represent legal norms, but they are much more than that. To think of the Ten Commandments as merely a divine legal code is to demean the overall importance of their meaning.

 

In Hebrew they are actually called the Ten Sayings, and the first saying is not, Thou shalt have no other gods before me. The first is, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”

 

I can see how some people think of them as a legal code. In the history of our country there has been people, and there still are people who believe the Ten Commandments are the basis for all legal matters, and should be the law of the land. True, some of them, like thou shalt not steal, or thou shalt not kill, look a lot like a legal code. Every society that has ever had a legal code has included those two laws in it.

 

Some of the commandments are well suited for universal laws. Even though the still represent a covenant between us and God and each other, they still work in terms of a legal code. Thou shalt not kill comes to mind. Thou shalt not steal. These are more than just good ideas. In almost every society that has ever existed, these have been the law.

 

Do you remember what you felt when you first heard about Las Vegas? I felt like an essential covenant had been broken. At very least we have the expectation that we will not randomly kill our fellow citizens—or anyone for that matter. That was broken that day as a man tried to see how many people he could kill.

 

If you have ever had someone break into your house or car and steal things, what you might feel is more than just sadness at the loss of your material things. Many people feel violated. We know we are not supposed to do that. It is an promise we have with each other as fellow human beings.

 

The prohibition against bearing false witness is also important, and works in a legal sense. We have a crime called perjury, and it is an important thing to remember.

 

How many of you have heard of the Spanish Inquisition? How about the French Inquisition? The Italian Inquisition? The German Inquisition? The English Inquisition?

 

I realize that the idea of an English Inquisition boggles the mind, but these all existed. There were French and German and Italian and even English Inquisitions. But the Spanish Inquisition is the one we think about. Why?

 

Well in the Spanish Inquisition, they added a little something to the mix. If you accused your neighbor of heresy, and they were eventually convicted, you got all their property. That started out as an incentive to get people to turn in heretics. But it went horribly wrong. It turned neighbor against neighbor. If your neighbor had a nicer house than yours, or a nicer horse, or had a lot of earthly goods, all you had to do to get their stuff was say to a local authority, “I think I saw my neighbor say a curse, then turn around and spit three times. They may be a heretic.” The inquisition comes and arrests your neighbor, they torture them until they confessed, which is usually what happened, and then you walk off with a nice new house.

 

There ought to be a law against telling lies about your neighbor, especially when it does him great harm. Ironically in Spain, it was the Church itself who instituted a policy that made it advantageous to tell lies about your neighbor.

 

 

Other parts of the commandments, well are a bit more questionable.  For instance, how many of you remember Blue Laws? In order to help keep the Sabbath holy, shops were forbidden from selling certain items on a Sunday. I remember once trying to buy model glue on a Sunday, only to find out they could not sell it to be because of the Blue Laws. I guess someone thought building model airplanes on a Sunday was not properly honoring the Sabbath.

 

And others are almost impossible to enforce. How does a government enforce something like, Thou shalt not covet? I mean, if you think about it, most ads are based on getting you to covet something—whether they are selling cars or breakfast cereals, most ads are aimed at getting you to want something you don’t have. So you would have to eliminate all advertising, but then are we going to have Thought Police who wander around neighbors, and arrest people for looking too longingly at their neighbors green lawn. Sir, it looks like you are coveting your neighbor’s nice green lawn. I’m afraid you are under arrest.”

 

If we cannot do that, how are we going to enforce something like having no other gods, or taking God’s name in vain? Does anyone want people thrown into jail because they thought more highly of their country, or of football than they do God?

 

 

So if the Ten Commandments are not really meant to be the basis for a society’s legal code, what are they meant to be?

 

At a conference of rabbis held just after Jerusalem was sacked by the Romans, and the Jews realized that they were no longer people of the land, no longer a people of the Temple, but now were people of the book, they started a discussion on the Old Testament that actually is still going on today. Since their faith would now revolve around the book and not the land or the Temple, they had long discussions on how to interpret the various books of the Bible. They debated what should go in their Bible.

 

When they were debating the section that contained the Ten Commandments, they got hung on a phrase. It says, when Moses went up on the Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, the mountain hovered over the people. The rabbis took that literally, believing that the mountain lifted up, and actually hovered over the people. Why did it do that, the rabbis asked. One person said it was to show the power of God. One person said it was so that if the people rejected the law, God would bring the mountain down on them, and kill them. Finally one rabbi said, “The mountain was a marriage canopy. The law is the vows we give to God, and which God gives to us.” And that was the interpretation that won the day.

 

The commandments are vows that we make to cement our relationship with God and with each other. It is a covenant promise we make to God and to each other. The first part of the commandments pertains to how we treat God. The second part, how we treat each other. The Ten Commandments show us ten ways we can love God and love our neighbor.

 

There is a communal aspect to them. The Ten Commandments, and the rest of the Hebrew law for that matter, was given to a community of people. The intent was for that community to show the world who God was, and what the people of God are supposed to look like. They were designed to show the world how to love God and how to love our neighbor.  If we are serious about the Ten Commandments, and as Christians I believe we should be, we should be serious about helping others keep them. But not in a legal way. The way to help others keep the commandments is NOT to turn them into some kind of secular law with penalties if you break the law. That is the not the way of love.

 

We do it differently. Many years ago I was helping my Dad move, and I opened up a closet and found a .22 rifle. “When did you get a gun?” I asked him. As far as I knew, my father never owned a gun before. “Oh, that,” he said. “I had almost forgotten about that.” He was in a convenience store one night, and this kid came in with the rifle. He pointed it at the clerk and said, “I need you to give me the money in your till. I don’t want to do this, sir, but I have to feed my family.” Dad looked at him, and saw he was more scared than the clerk, and he said to the kid, “How much do you want for the gun?” He gave the kid $75 and the kid gave him the rifle, and one of the commandments was not broken that night. My father helped him keep the commandment about not stealing.

 

If we are serious about these as a community of faith—not as a civil community, but as a community of faith—we will help each other keep them. So we won’t pass laws to make it illegal to shop or eat out on the Sabbath, but we will act in such a way that helps others keep the Sabbath. We don’t pass laws making it illegal to covet, but we look at what and how we desire things, and live that out. We don’t pass laws about taking God’s name in vain, but live a life that shows the love of God, and makes people want to honor God. Like most other societies we might pass laws against stealing and killing and bearing false witness but we also live in such a way that other people can easily keep them. When we create inequalities in society, and structures that keep people impoverished, we are not exactly making it easy for them to keep the commandment about stealing.

 

Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” and he said, “Love God and love your neighbor.” The Ten Commandments are ten ways we can show our love for God and for our neighbor. We take them seriously, not as law, but as guidelines for love. Against these there is not law.

 

Amen.

 

Texts

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20

1Then God spoke all these words: 2I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3you shall have no other gods before me.

4You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

7You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

8Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work.

12Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

13You shall not murder.

14You shall not commit adultery.

15You shall not steal.

16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

18When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, 19and said to Moses, “;You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” 20Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.”

Matthew 21:33-46

33“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 39So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”

42Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? 43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 44The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”

45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

 

 

 

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Breaking out of our Cultural Comfort Zones

Westward Bound

While I was visiting a parishioner in the hospital, her daughter’s pastor, a prominent African-American pastor, also made a visit.

We were making small talk, the kind pastors generally make during a hospital visit, and I asked Pastor McCormick how long he had been in in Alaska.

“My family came here in 1944,” he said. I knew that during that time a lot of African-American soldiers were sent to Alaska to work on the Alaska-Canadian highway. “So your dad was in the military,” I said.

“No, we came up to homestead,” he answered.

“That’s funny,” I thought. “I didn’t know that Black people homesteaded.” Fortunately for the situation I did not say that out loud, because I would have greatly embarrassed my parishioner.

It was not only a stupid thing to think, it was out and out racist.

I certainly did not mean any harm in what I thought—in fact, as soon as I thought it I knew it was NOT something I should say out loud. And if I had, I am also sure that Pastor McCormick would have been gracious in his response, because he had a great soul within him.

But that is not the point. It was still a racist statement, even though I meant no harm by it. Not all racism is intentional hurtful. I don’t have to hate people of color to be racist. I just have to be ignorant and prejudiced, and in this case, I was. Of course African-Americans can homestead, and many did. In fact, the Homestead Act of 1862 was updated in 1872, and it explicitly stated that there could be no distinction “on account of race or color.” (Revised Statutes of The United States, 43rd Cong., 1st sess. (1873), Sec. 2302, 424.)

Racist speech is not always hate speech. Sometimes it is just ignorant speech. When I assumed, wrongly, that all the homesteaders had to be white, I was making an ignorant assumption. It would be easy to write this off by saying I didn’t mean any harm, and that would be true. But how often do we have to write off ignorance?

Why did I assume all homesteaders were white? I have only seen pictures of white homesteaders, so it is understandable that I assumed all homesteaders were white.

History has a pervasive sense of being whitewashed, showing only the dominate culture and our story. For example, around one fourth of all cowboys in the Old West were Black. It is possible that the term “cowboy” was a derogatory term for Black cowhands. Given those odds, you would think that Black people might show up in movies about the Old West. But does John Wayne ever deal with people of color in any of his movies? From Hollywood’s perspective the only people of color in the Wild West were Native Americans, and their portrayal was hardly historically accurate.

I said earlier that my belief about homesteaders stemmed from ignorance. I like to think that I am a broad-minded, fairly educated person. Yet I have this huge lack of knowledge. Prior to writing this article I had never heard of Claudette Colvin, Onesimus, Bass Reeves, Esther Jones, Bayard Rustin, or Bessie Coleman. (And to be honest, I still don’t know a lot about these people.)

But it is more than that. How many books do I own written by people of color? (And I have A LOT of books!) How many histories have I read that feature people of color in a prominent way—or that feature them at all? I am a pastor, and I own a bevy of books concerning theology and religion. And how many of them are written by people of color? Probably less than one percent. (Even the majority of books I have on Buddhism were written by White Americans.)

Whether I want to admit or not, I live in a very White bubble. And I know I am not alone in that bubble.

Now at this point I could say, “If you find yourself in that same White bubble, then go find a person of color and have them educate you.” But I am not. Let me make this clear. It is not THEIR job to educate you. You’re probably a pretty smart person. You have the wherewithal to educate yourself, at least to some extent, on these issues. A lot of it just means you keep your eyes and ears open, and you listen a lot more than you speak. So how to you hear people of other cultures?

For me that means starting at my bookshelf. To be honest, I am not sure what comes after that. Along the way I hope to meet with a variety of people who can open my world, but if I am making friends with people of color because I feel guilty about living in my white bubble, then I am only using them.

So I am going to start by making my reading more multi-cultural. I am going to start with Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It’s a small start, but it’s a start. I plan to have at least every third book I read be something that takes me out of the comfort zone of my cultural bubble.

I also want to issue a challenge and a request. What bubble are you in? You may not think you are, but I didn’t either when I made the remark about homesteading. The challenge is to figure out what bubble you are in, and then find a way out of it.  There are many different ways of doing that. I am starting with my library. I realized, while writing this, just how White it is. You may want to follow suit, or maybe join a Facebook group where people of color write about their issues. Perhaps you can find an ethnic restaurant where you are the minority, and go there enough to get to know the owner and other patrons. I have known people who changed churches so then can deepen their understanding of other people.

 

What can you do to expand your world? I am looking for suggestions that we can all share and benefit from. I can post what I am reading, and I welcome other’s suggestions, but also more than just reading. What can we DO to get us out of our bubbles?

Please, if you find something that works, share it with the rest of us!  That includes activities, reading lists, and those “aha” moments like I had with Pastor Otis.

People of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your bubble!

Readers will notice that I go back and forth between the terms Black and African-American. That is also a part of my own lack of knowledge. I have heard both terms used by people of color, and to be honest, am not sure which is preferable these days.  

 

 

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No Room for Hate

170815-charlottesville-protest-se-1258p_9af72f9f4a7e77875b3de0d5de556c33.nbcnews-ux-2880-1000

 

When I was in the seventh grade I attended a lily-white high school. We had, as far as I knew, three minorities—two Roman Catholics and a Jewish girl.

The next year that same school was around 45 percent African-American. We integrated, and we did it without incident. There were no khaki-clad marchers carrying tiki torches chanting racist slogans. There were no white power rallies. Sure there were individual skirmishes around the state, but for the most part, most people recognizes that education should be equal for all people.

Having grown up in that environment, perhaps it is understandable that I thought racism was mostly dead in America. Sure, there are a few fringe groups who advocate hate against African-American, Jews, Roman Catholics, and anyone else who is not pure White and Protestant. But those people are far out on the fringes.

This weekend was a wakeup call. The sight of white supremacist marching through the streets of Charlottesville, openly and proudly, was distressing. The fact that the President of the United States made no moral distinction between racists and those who opposed the racists was even more distressing.

As a pastor, I find it even worse that many of these people claim to be followers of Jesus Christ.

I should not have to say this, but I will. Anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ, but who feels that someone is inferior because of their skin color, nationality, sexual orientation, or even their religion, has rejected the Gospel, and has embraced a false version of Christianity. One cannot be a neo-Nazi, white supremacist, or ultra-nationalist and still follow the way of Jesus Christ. Again, I should not have to say this, but it seems the world has gone crazy, and the obvious needs restating.

There are times when we need to be tolerant of the beliefs of others. But this is not one of those times. The New Testament is so clear on this issue that there should be no question. From the beginnings of the Church at Pentecost, where the Gospel was preached in many tongues, to the inclusion of outcasts, such as eunuchs, Samaritans and Gentiles, the love of Jesus has known no boundaries. Those who preach a gospel of hate are betraying the very God they pretend to serve.

Christianity does not stand alone as the only religion that rejects racism as a core value. Malcolm X learned that Islam was not a racist religion while in Mecca. The civil rights movement in the South had many Jewish supporters, some of whom died defending the rights of all Americans to have equal rights. Gandhi was a Hindu who worked tirelessly to see the rights of all upheld. Buddhists, Baha’is, Sikhs, and many other religions teach and practice that all are worthy and that no one should be discriminated against because of race or national origin.

Like Christianity, many of these religions also have narrow-minded adherents who cannot see beyond their own prejudices. But it is time to set the record straight. I do not speak for other religions, but I can say this: There is no room for hate in Christianity. There is no room for white supremacists, neo-Nazis, or anyone who feels they are superior simply because of where they were born or what color their skin is. No room at all.

 

This was first published in the Medford Mail Tribune on August 20, 2017.

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