Barcelona: Thoughts on responding to hate.

Matthew 5: 21-22; 38-48
21 ‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister,* you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult* a brother or sister,* you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell* of fire.
38 ‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
43 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,* what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
It was Sunday morning, August 13.
My family and I were vacationing in Barcelona, staying in a part of the city called the Barri Gotic, a part of town built in the middle ages that attracts many, many tourists.
I decided to check my phone for a message from my son, who was on a medical mission trip in Nigeria.
Then I checked the news.
It was all about Charlottesville.
My Sunday morning was ruined.
Here it was 2017, and in the United States there were people marching like paramilitaries, carrying torches, automatic weapons, Nazi flags while screaming racist, fascist, Nazi and anti-Semitic slogans.
And then one of them drove a car into a group of opponents, injuring many and killing a young woman – Heather Heyer.
A bit later, in a local coffee shop, I confessed to my wife and daughter that I was distraught over the events of Charlottesville.
Actually, I was more than distraught.
I was outraged.
How could someone do such a thing? Read more…



Peace and Unity

Click here to listen to the sermon

Colossians 3:12-17

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

 

The story is told of two men riding a tandem bicycle up a steep hill. After much effort, they finally made it to the top of the hill. The front rider said, “That was a tough ride.” To which the second rider replied, “Sure was, and if I hadn’t kept the brake on we might have slipped backwards.”

 

Peace and unity.  Peace and unity.  Peace and unity.  These are the words that resonate in my heart today.  These are the things that God calls us to strive for in our lives.

I had written a sermon on Psalm 51 that I planned on preaching this morning.  I was all set to go and was feeling pretty good that I had finished it well ahead of Sunday.  However, as I sat on my couch yesterday watching the news I felt my heart sink into my chest.  It was hard to watch and as it continued to unfold I couldn’t help but think “How did we get here”?

Certainly, this is a very difficult and long answer.  Of course, the answer will differ depending on who you talk to and what they have experienced.  How did we get here as human beings?  How did we get here as American citizens?  How did we get here as Christians?  Where is our peace and unity?

As of 1:30 last night there was at least 1-person dead and a little over 30 people injured.  The injuries are a result of skirmishes between a white supremacy march around a statue and counter protesters.  There were fights, people pepper spraying, rocks and bottles thrown, and you can only imagine what was said.  I watched as I watched people chanting terrible things and giving Nazi salutes.  In an instant 1 person drove a car into a crowd of counter protesters sending people flying into the air.  How did we get here?  Where is our peace and unity?

As I searched for answers I came upon this passage.  I was immediately struck by verse 12, in fact I was struck by the first word “therefore”.  This word sets up the entire rest of this section of scripture.  We are told to clothe ourselves in kindness and compassion.  Colossians tells us to put on love and seek out peace.  The “therefore” tells us why we should do it.

We must go back to the beginning of the chapter to understand the “therefore”.  “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God”.

We are called to peace and unity, love and compassion.  We are to do these things not because we think it’s the right thing to do or because others want us to do it.  We are called to peace and unity because Jesus died for us and we now have God’s grace.  We should strive for peace and unity because we belong to Christ.  The therefore means do these things because you are God’s children.  It isn’t saying do these things because you are a democrat or republican, rich or poor, northerner or southerner.  Yesterday had nothing to do with political affiliation and everything to do with hate and brokenness.  You see while our opinions can be subjective, God’s word is not.

Don’t get me wrong there are people who will twist scripture to make it fit their narrative.  There is a long history of the kkk and nazi party trying to use scripture to justify their wicked crusade.  However, nothing I saw yesterday could be confused with peace, love, or unity.  What I saw yesterday was based in fear, pain, and hate.  Where is our peace and unity?

As I continued to watch the news yesterday I felt largely disgusted and helpless.  In my mind, I continued to run thru appropriate Christian response is to the racism I saw on the news yesterday and the racism I see in our world today.  Will we look back at this time decades from now and wonder why we didn’t do more.  I often wondered how I would have responded to things like the civil rights movement or Japanese internment camps.

It made me think of an ethics seminar I recently attended.  The speaker (a Professor from Columbia Seminary) gave us the example of the good Samaritan.  He explained the ethical morality of the story being helping a stranger.  As Christians, we are called to go out of our way to help those we don’t know, not just help but go to the extreme to love them.  The Samaritan man takes the beaten man and puts him on his donkey.  He then bandages him and takes him to an inn where he tells the inn keeper to continue the care and he will pay for incurred costs.  We all nodded our heads agreeing that this is the appropriate moral and ethical response from a Christian.  He then asked us what our moral and ethical response should be if we arrive while the man is being accosted.  Should we intervene to our own possible injury or even death?

Certainly, this pushes us further as human beings.  We now go from giving up comfort to giving up safety.  While the morality may stay intact we have much more to lose.  It got me thinking about the step prior to the mugging though.  What can we do before these tragedies happen.  I am not saying terrible things will not happen, but can our love and unity change lead to future peace?  Can we change the culture that leads people to love further?  Can we unify in a way that leads young men and woman to understand that racism and things like the Nazi party are about nothing but hate?  Maybe a simple act or voice could change a young man’s mind.  Certainly, we as a culture are doing something wrong if a 20-year-old man drives from Ohio to Virginia to a white supremacy rally and decides to ram his car into a group of counter protestors.  Where is the peace and unity?

All of this brings me back to the “therefore”.  We belong to God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Our freedom was not bought with a small coin but with the precious blood of Christ.  Freedom always comes at a great cost and evil is rarely defeated with little effort.  Therefore, because we are bought with the blood of Christ we must strive for unity and peace.  We must stand up to evil and racist stances.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “In the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”.  At different times in history the Presbyterian Church has sought unity, but has also stayed deafeningly silent.  There are times in our history when we were sending Japanese Americans to internment camps.  Some Christian denominations like the Quakers responded by trying to feed and care for those imprisoned.  Other churches agreed it was wrong but stayed quiet in the distance.  Other times the Presbyterian Church has stood in direct observation of evil.  In our book of Confessions, we have the Barmen declaration.  A statement declaring opposition to the Nazi party and the churches subordinate to the state.  Though here we are a little over 80 years later watching young men on tv doing a nazi salute.

So how do we as the Church respond to what we saw yesterday.  While I unfortunately don’t have any definitive solutions, I do have some thoughts on how we can start working toward peace and unity.

First, we need to seek out conversations from people that don’t look like us.  We need to hear how they experience things and see the community.  How do government policies affect them differently than yourself?  We may be pressing the brakes on the bike so we don’t slide down the hill and not realize that we are creating a lot more work for others.

Second, we need to speak out against evil in this world.  It can be easy to get caught up in political rhetoric where we feel the need to be on one side or the other.  God calls us to stand for peace and unity.  God calls us from the “therefore”, responding from the cross.  We cannot sit silent in the face of injustice.

I will say lastly for this sermon, but of course there is so much more to peace and unity.  Peace and unity can only be achieved through love.  This can be hard as Christians because we are not only called to love the victims on these terrible events, but also the perpetrators.  We will be fighting for unity when we stand up for injustice.  However, unity can only come from loving everyone.  When Jesus calls us to love our enemies he understood how radical of a commandment it really was to his followers.  Peace and unity come from us praying for the victim’s family and speaking out against racism.  Peace and unity also come from praying for these confused racist men and sending prayer cards to the young man in jail who ran his car into the crowd.  The “therefore” lets us know the sacrifice that was given for our lives.  As a church how will we respond to the sacrifice?  Will people watch us and feel loved, or will they say where is their peace and unity?  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Inside and Outside: Thoughts on the ever-present God who loves us and esteems us no matter what, because we belong to God.

Psalm 139

To the leader. Of David. A Psalm.
1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.


7 Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night’,
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.


13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
15   My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end
*—I am still with you.

In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow described his “Hierarchy of Needs”.

These needs are those that must be met for each of us to reach our highest wellbeing.

Right in the middle of this hierarchy is the need for belonging, love, and esteem.

Without belonging, love, and esteem, Maslow says, we are simply not complete.

Another way of putting it is that we need to belong in some way to a relationship where we can share our lives, love and be loved, and feel valued, no matter what.

These are deep, trusting and lasting relationships that give our lives meaning and value.

But such relationships are hard to come by, particularly in this age of superficiality and business.

Listen to how Pastor Deborah Ann Meister describes our current search for meaning and value:

[O]ur pictures and bios posted on the Web sites of work places or social networking Web sites; our preferences and online purchases duly captured and analyzed by the engines of marketing; our political role assigned to an advertising category, be it “soccer mom” or “brie-eating progressive.” And yet we remain perhaps less known than at any point in history: distanced from friends by an economic system that requires its workers to be mobile, our lives fragmented between work and sport. Our civic identity reduced to a Social Security number, until many find their most intimate forms of communication on line with “friends” they have never met in person.

Here is another comment by Danah Boyd, principal researcher at Microsoft Research.

 

One of the anxieties I heard whenever I was out in the field was, … “Oh my gosh, kids these days. What’s wrong with them? Why don’t they just go outside like we did when we were kids?” … When I would talk to teenagers, they would look at me and be like, “I would love to have the freedom to just go out and play with all my friends, but I can’t.” And then they’d start listing off all of these different reasons. … And all they want to do is just hang out with their friends. … And along comes this technology. And this technology all of a sudden is like, “I know I can get to my friends and my broader peer group, even when I’m stuck at home, even when our timing is slightly off because of our structured schedules being slightly different. And I know that they’re there.”

Boyd is saying that kids look to social media for community and relationships.

But most of the time, those relationships are superficial and shallow.

There is no true “belonging, love and esteem”.

Only “likes” and “friending”.

That lifestyle does not really fill the need described by Maslow.

We need someone in our lives that we can call when we have a problem.

Someone who supports and encourages us.

Someone who accepts us, no matter what.

Someone who helps you to cope when the stuff hits the fan.

Someone you trust … completely.

Such relationships are pretty powerful.

And they are hard to find.

We need to search and explore.

We need to test and learn.

They are certainly not found on Facebook.

But sometimes such a relationship is overwhelming.

Sometimes we need to just get away.

How many here like, or even crave, periods of solitude?

There are times when I just like to be alone.

Some time back I watched a video that described the male brain.

In a man’s brain, there are many boxes of subjects and secrets.

If you want to get to know him, you must get him to open the boxes.

There is a particular box in his head that is his absolute favorite.

It’s his nothing box.

In that box, there is nothing at all.

When a man needs solitude, that is where he goes.

So, when he is asked what he is doing, and he says “nothing”, he is telling the truth.

It is often a good thing, in small doses.

Because if a man stays there too long, he will soon feel the emptiness of his unfulfilled need to belonging, love and esteem.

But there is a different type of solitude.

One that is not so good.

It happens when we withdraw because we feel somehow unworthy, guilty, ashamed, defective, or different.

We fear judgment for what we have done, or who we are.

And so we flee.

What we need though, rather than distance, is someone who will stand with us, encourage us and love us.

Someone who will be trustworthy, no condoning our poor choices, but not abandoning us either.

Someone who will be present in the darkness.

Someone who knows us, inside and outside.

And this brings us to Psalm 139.

A Psalm about how God fills our need for a relationship where we can share our lives, love and be loved, and feel valued.

So what is the background of this Psalm?

It appears it was written by the Psalmist who is in a time of distress.

The Psalmist seems to have been accused of conduct that deserves judgment.

An accusation that the Psalmist is somehow unworthy, guilty, shameful, defective, different.

But rather than fleeing, the Psalmist turns to the one person who he knows he can trust to stand by him

God.

And he sings this beautiful song.

A song about a deep, trusting, personal, intimate relationship with God.

How does it go?

God has examined him.

Searched his soul and knows him intimately.

God knows what the Psalmist does and says.

God surrounds him and lays a hand on him maybe the way a friend puts a hand on your shoulder to comfort you.

It is all beyond the Psalmist’s ability to comprehend.

And God is always there!

There is no place the Psalmist can go where God is not with him.

In his nothing box, God is there.

In death, God is there.

In the farthest reaches of the universe, God is there.

In the darkness, God is there.

There is nowhere the Psalmist can go where God is not.

Even if we try to flee.

It makes me think of one of my favorite children’s books.

Margaret Wise Brown’s, The Runaway Bunny.

A little bunny tells his mother that he is going to run away, becoming variously a fish, a rock on the mountain, a crocus in a hidden garden, a bird, a sailboat, a circus acrobat, and finally a little boy.

Each time, his mother says that she will go and get him, whatever it takes.

Finally, the little bunny resigns himself to stay where he is and remain her little bunny.

That is what the Psalmist is saying.

Wherever I go, and for whatever reason, God will be there beside me.

Why does God do that?

Because God made us.

And we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Part of God’s wonderful works.

Just as God planned.

In good times and bad.

All the time.

God is with us from the time we were formed until our breath returns to God.

And even then, God is still with us.

I don’t know about you, but I get a great deal of comfort from Psalm 139.

It’s about belonging, loving, esteem.

How we need it and God gives it.

It is the kind of comfort I want to pass along!

Today we baptized two children.

This year we have baptized seven children.

We have six more coming over the next couple of months.

When we baptize these children, this is the lesson we need to teach them.

God is not in some far off unreachable place.

God is nearby, beside them, below them, above them, behind them and in front of them.

God will keep his hand on them and give them peace.

But these words are not just for children.

They are for us as well.

God will stay with us, no matter what.

Martin Buber was an early twentieth-century Jewish philosopher.

He wrote a book called Tales of the Hasadim.

In it he offered these words concerning the relationship between God and us that reminds me of Psalm 139:

Where I wander – You!
Where I ponder – You!
Only You, You again, always You!
You! You! You!
When I am gladdened – You!
When I am saddened – You!
Only You, You again, always You!
You! You! You!
Sky is You, Earth is You!
You above! You below!
In every trend, at every end,
Only You, You again, always You!
You! You! You!

Psalm 139.

A Psalm of belonging.

A Psalm of love.

A Psalm of esteem.

A Psalm about the miracle of our relationship with God.



 “Do this in Remembrance of Me” Sunday 17

Communion will be severed on Sunday Sept 17 at both services.  All are welcome at his table, come taste eternity.  “Do this in Remembrance of Me”.