Sermon: The Fallacy of Divine Retribution

Last week I stood here, and I asked you to pray for those affected by Hurricane Harvey.  This week I stand here, and I will ask you to keep all of those affected by Hurricane Irma in your prayers. At this very moment, in Florida, people are hunkering down as Category 4 Irma, the most powerful storm in recorded history slams into their neighborhoods. I ask you to keep the people of the tiny Island nation of Barbuda in your prayers. I had never heard of Barbuda before the news reported that 95% of the structures on the island have been destroyed and that as of yesterday, the entire Island has been evacuated. Just for some perspective, the population of Barbuda is 1,638 people who are now homeless. This is a dangerous storm that is not over yet.

I have been encouraged by the outpouring of offers to help from the people right here at Bethany. Last week I sent a letter to all of you asking for donations and we will take a special offering today for Disaster Relief, and all week, people have been sending in checks to the office for us to add to what will be collected and blessed this very day.  While storms are still raging, we are doing what we can. We have a plan in the works to assemble kits that will be sent by our partner Church World Service to devastated areas to assist people in cleaning up. The need will be great, and this will not end anytime soon.

But I have also been rather dismayed by the chorus of Christians blaming this on God’s divine retribution and twisting they’re theological understand for some fundraising or political means.  Keep this in mind, people are literally, as we speak, fleeing for their very lives and fine Christian theologians and preachers are telling people this is God’s anger unleashed on them.  Well let me make this clear, that is a load of you know what!

Here are just a couple of examples; One “Pastor” has said that God is systematically destroying America over the homosexual agenda. An on air personality, and devout Christian, when asked about climate change in relation to Harvey said that Houston’s election of a lesbian mayor was a more credible explanation of Harvey than climate change. And just so you don’t think these people are only on the right of the theological spectrum, a Tampa University professor tweeted, during Harvey by the way, that Harvey was God’s punishment on Texas for voting for President Trump. He was fired. By the way, the other two examples I used, they are both still employed.

Now I am not sure where these folks received their theological training, but I was taught that God is love. The pages of the New Testament are filled with stories of love, not destruction. Now I know what you’re thinking, what about the Old Testament there are lots of stories of smiting and what not, sure let’s look at one, the bog one if you will, the story of Noah found in the 9th chapter of the Book of Genesis.  We all know the story, God finds the righteous man Noah, he builds the ark. All the animals come in. The rains come. The earth is flooded. Only Noah’s family and the animals survive.  Now I have some issues with this story but putting that aside for a moment we tend to skip over that last part of that story;

“I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” Genesis 9:11-16

“Never again will I destroy the earth.”  NEVER AGAIN!

That is the 9th chapter of the 1st book of the Bible.  We don’t have to wait long before we hear God say. NEVER AGAIN WILL I DESTROY THEY EARTH! 9th Chapter!

Not enough evidence? Let’s look at a few more.

“For this is like the days of Noah to Me, When I swore that the waters of Noah Would not flood the earth again; So I have sworn that I will not be angry with you Nor will I rebuke you. Isaiah 54:9

But He, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity and did not destroy them; And often He restrained His anger And did not arouse all His wrath. Psalm 78:38

I will not execute My fierce anger; I will not destroy Ephraim again For I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst, And I will not come in wrath. Hosea 11:9

Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last because in them the wrath of God is finished. Revelation 15:1

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. John 3:16

God sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world, and he watched him die.  He could have smited the lot of us, but he did not, he sent his own Son to show us the way and even after we killed him he continues to show us, love.

Our human minds want to find answers to questions about why things happen, and sometimes there is no explanation, and sometimes things happen because of the choices that we or others make. If we put this all on God reduces God to the human condition, and when we do that, God stops being God!

If we think that God punishes us then logically, we have to believe that God is the source of that punishment which is evil and therefore God is the source of evil. But if we read the Bible we see that God is love. If God wanted us to suffer if God inflicted suffering on us, why would he have sent us his son?

Suffering is part of the human condition but it is not God’s divine retribution and to say that is it is to deny that God is love and to say that God participates in evil.

So where is God in all of this? God is right in the midst of it. God is the one in the boat that comes and rescues people. God is in the science that can predict these things to give people warnings to get out. God is with you when you place your hard earned money into the offering plate to assist others. God is in the midst of the suffering bringing us peace and bringing us strength. I have no idea who the God of Pat Robertson is or the God of Jim Baker, but my God sent his Son not to destroy but to love, and that is the example he has left for us.

Prayer in the Time of Natural Disaster

O God, you divided the waters of chaos at creation.
In Christ, you stilled storms, raised the dead,
and vanquished demonic powers.
Tame the earthquake, wind, and fire,
and all the forces that defy control or shock us by their fury.
Keep us from calling disaster your justice.
Help us, in good times and in distress,
to trust your mercy and yield to your power, this day and for ever.
Amen.
The United Methodist Book of Worship

UCC leaders saddened, angered by DACA elimination

September 05, 2017
Written by Connie Larkman

dreamers500.jpgThe leaders of the United Church of Christ will continue to stand with and speak out on behalf of more than 800,000 young people in this country who have applied for and received protection from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a program eliminated today by the Trump administration.

“The United Church of Christ has a long history, seen in our General Synod resolutions, of supporting and welcoming immigrants in our midst, which is part of our moral responsibility as people of faith,” said the Rev. John C. Dorhauer, UCC general minister and president. “The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program is a tremendous achievement that has created relief from deportation and work opportunities for nearly 1 million young undocumented people who are part of our communities and our congregations. We are extremely disappointed by the Trump administration’s decision on DACA, but are united in our faith to renew and recommit in this struggle for justice alongside the undocumented community.”

The program, created in 2012 by President Barack Obama, amounted to a work permit and a promise to DACA recipients, known as Dreamers, that they would not be targeted for removal by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Many of these young people, brought to this country as children, can’t remember any other homeland. They now depend on Congress to act on immigration policy that addresses their future in the U.S.

dreamersvert500.jpgA diverse group of faith, labor and student leaders took to the streets outside the White House today calling on Congress to pass legislation to protect the Dreamers, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the DACA program. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said there will be a six-month delay in enforcement and those with current work permits will be able to continue their employment until they expire, with renewals accepted until Oct. 5. But DHS will no longer take applications and will stop processing any new applications as of today.

That directly affects a member of the Shadow Rock UCC community, in Phoenix, which welcomed Jose into sanctuary on the last Sunday in August. He had an application in process, according to the Rev. Ken Heintzelman, church pastor.

“Jose’s attorney said all pending DACA cases will be adjudicated,” Heintzelman said. “We are sad and angry about how this will affect so many others in the near future.”

“This is the time for our faith to launch us into swift, prolonged, won’t-take-no-for-an-answer action on behalf of the 800,000 law-abiding, hardworking, DACA-protected young people, and future DACA applicants in our country,” said the Rev. William Lyons, conference minister, Southwest Conference UCC.

“We call on the United States Congress to immediately introduce and pass legislation that permanently guards the protections and opportunities these hardworking students and workers have received through the program,” he continued. “And we call on every member of our churches, every voter in our land, to overwhelm every member of the U.S. House of Representatives and of the U.S. Senate with calls, emails, and letters supporting ‘the Dreamers’ until such laws are passed. Our calls are consistent with numerous resolutions adopted by the General Synod of the United Church of Christ since 1981.”

Sermon: Spirit Led Life

Sermon on Romans 12:9-21

At a confirmation retreat, the sixty teenagers involved were asked to create a “covenant” that would govern their behavior towards ones another during the course of the three-day event. The room erupted in laughter when one teen shouted, “No drama!” as the first suggestion. Other ideas followed quickly: Do not talk when others are talking. Respect the leaders. Participate fully in activities. Soon the page was filled, and each teen came to sign his or her name in agreement. Over the next few days, both leaders and participants had occasion to remind the group of what they had signed as a corrective to behaviors outside the covenant’s boundaries.

The words that we head read this morning written by Paul to his Church in Rome would function perfectly as a group covenant for any gathering of people of faith.

I do not know much about the craft of weaving, but I do know that the first step in the process is to create what is called the warp; this is the base of yarn upon which the weaver will weave a pattern of weft. What we see here in Romans could act as the warp, or the base to the differing gifts Paul outlines in the previous chapters, and we spoke about last week. This is a covenant that lays the basis for the intricate pattern in the tapestry of life of a faith community. Like the Ten Commandments, this covenant functions as the structure, the core values on which all the activities and ministries of the Church, and of us as individual Christians, are built.

Early on in the days of Church websites, it was important to have a page dedicated to what the individual church believed.  This could be a statement of faith, such as we read today, it could be a point by point list of things and what we believe about them like; baptism, Lord’s Supper, Scripture, Ministry, etc. However, the trend over the last few years is to move away from strict statements about beliefs and more towards what our core values are as a community. What we say are our core values will say far more about us a community than a simple statement of faith. What we believe becomes less important that how we put what we believe into practice and action.

This covenant that Paul puts forward this morning contains everything that we would expect and a few more things that are put there to push us past where we feel comfortable. Paul tells us to “hate evil.” He reminds us to “persevere in prayer,” and to “celebrate with the joyful and weep with the grieving.”  All of these are values that none of us should have any trouble with. But then he throws a curveball at us. He turns his attention away from those that we love to those that we find hard to love.

Paul tells us that our covenant, or core values, should not only be extending hospitality to strangers but blessing, feeding, and refusing to take vengeance on enemies. These very statements may make some of us uncomfortable, but this passage is not a greeting card slogan but a call to what Detrick Bonhoeffer calls, Costly Discipleship.

I think it is safe to say that we were all moved this past week by the images coming out of Houston. Pictures of the complete devastation of “biblical proportions” moved many people to do extraordinary things. Men and women were coming from all over the South to help people they did not even know simply because they were in need and they could help.  Guys with boats, they called themselves the Cajun Navy, came and rescued people stranded in their homes. The owner of a furniture store opened his store as a shelter during the early hours of the flooding, and multitudes of stories.  It seemed that any issues one group might have had with another were washed away by the flood waters.  We say real humanity in action this past week, and it was a good thing. Now the cynic in me just knows that before long we will go back to sniping at each other, but the person of faith in me wants to believe that we will be changed, even just a little, by the outpouring of generosity that we have witnessed these last few days. This generosity cost people time and money, and they did it without thinking of their security and their safety, which is radical love and costly discipleship in action.

We see in the first two verses of the passage today that the tone gets set for the rest of what Paul has to say:

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.

This type of love that Paul is describing is energetic and profoundly optimistic and is counter to the culture that we live in. As I mentioned last week, the world calls us to do whatever we can, no matter the price, to get ahead of the next guy even if it means lying and cheating to get what we want.

I am a big fan of the TV show Big Brother. I like it for its competitive nature but part of the game is lying and backstabbing, and I think that is why the show is so popular as it shows the real sense of what our culture is calling us too, get ahead regardless of the cost. It should come as no surprise when we see people leaving their homes and going to help others in Texas, this should be as natural as walking down the street, but because our culture is calling us to a radical sense of individualism, we are surprised when we see this outpouring I mentioned earlier.

Paul’s core values that he expresses in the first two verses might best be summed up in a phrase used by Dr. Paul Farmer in the book Mountains beyond Mountains. Dr. Farmer travels the world establishing clinics to treat chronic diseases in areas of severe poverty and inadequate health care. In doing this, he has to deal with not only the medical establishment but bureaucracies and local traditions. His approach is what he calls a “hermeneutic of generosity.”

The hermeneutic of generosity means evaluating people’s actions from an assumption that their motives are good even if, at first glance, one might suspect the opposite. To honor people such as Paul exhorts, which includes, by the way, attitudes and actions such as not being haughty, being hospitable to strangers, and taking thought for what is noble, reflects an underlying hermeneutic of generosity toward those to whom we relate to inside and outside of the church. When presented with this hermeneutic, the teenagers on the retreat included this challenge in their covenant and had cause to refer to it as inevitable conflicts arose during the weekend.

Adopting a covenant including Paul’s exhortation and also a hermeneutic of generosity as core values have an impact on the growth of a Christian community and the work of making disciples. When visitors attend worship for the first time in a congregation that torn by conflict, they are unlikely to return. Growing churches often report that those who join a community after a time of visiting did so because they found in the community a spirit that attracted them by its power of love and hospitality, not just in the way they were treated by church members, but also in the way church members treated each other. Churches are practice fields for living the covenant Paul describes, if we cannot live it inside the church, there is no way we can live it outside the church.

Paul makes it clear that the Christian is called to live a life by a different standard in all parts of their everyday lives. The hermeneutic of generosity is meant to extend to the person driving too slowly in front of you on the highway, the cashier at the supermarket, your coworkers, classmates, family, and even our enemies.

I think we would do well to adopt these verses as our core values here at Bethany not just in lip service and a nice sign, but in our core as individuals. The values of the individual are reflected in the whole so if we each adopt these core values, then the community will adopt them, and change will start to happen.

My Response to the Nashville Statement

On August 29, 2017 a group of Evangelical Christians (you know the ones who voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump) calling themselves the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood released a hate filled screed against anything that they believe is against the biblical view of human sexuality. I will not be posting a link to this document rather I will post a response that is filled with love.

This group of concerned “Christians” was formed in 1987 after, what they considered the rise of secular feminism in the Church and in the United States.  I guess the biblical men were afraid of strong independent woman that they could no longer keep in the kitchen.

The statement says nothing about condemnation of white supremacy, in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia and was released on the very same day Americans in Texas were fleeing for their lives from Hurricane Harvey.

So my response is this, we shall call it the Quincy Statement:

God loves everyone unconditionally!

End of Statement.

Prayer After a Disaster

Prayer After a Disaster

Gracious God, through your Son you have taught us that nothing in life or in death is able to separate us from your love. Look in mercy on all to whom great sorrow has come through Hurricane Harvey. Help those who are injured, support those who are dying. Strengthen the members of the emergency services and all those who bring relief and comfort. Console and protect those who have lost loved ones. Give your light in darkness to all who despair, and assure them that you hold all souls in life; through Jesus Christ our risen Lord. Amen.

Book of Common Order, Church of Scotland

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Sermon: Do not be conformed to the World

A Sermon on Romans 12:1-8

There are words, everyday words, whose meaning has changed over time and sacrifice is just one of those words. In the opening verse of the passage we heard read to us today, Paul urges us to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice.”  The way we approach this passage today is much different than the way those who were listening to this being read to them shortly after it was written by Paul.

Most of us, sitting here today, have no point of reference for presenting a dead sacrifice to God. Sacrificing animals by way of atonement for sin or as a gift of thanksgiving is so removed from our experience that we have to redefine this term for our present understanding.

When we think of this word, sacrifice, we often come up with negatives in our minds. Parents of athletes often sacrifice time and treasure for their children. Employees are sometimes asked to sacrifice benefits when their company falls on hard times. A heroic soldier sacrifices his or her life for their comrades. Of course, this last example is one of the few times, sacrifice, is used involving the physical body and in this case, can mean death or severe injury.

But Paul calls on us to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice.” For Paul, this does not indicate that we are to “take up our cross” in the manner that we will have to die physically in the course of our discipleship, but he also does not rule it out. What Paul is doing is trying body, and living sacrifice to discerning and living into the will of God. Connecting the body in the way Paul has done pushes us past an emotional or intellectual response to “serving God” and causes us to look at the implications for our very bodies when we live out our discipleship to God.

Paul indicates that this may mean we need to do things that will put us outside the norms of behavior for our society, wrapping our minds around what we do day to day in our lives that express God’s will.

The passage goes on to spell out some of those of those expressions. We are called, each according to our gifts, to use our bodies as prophets, ministers, teachers, exhorters, givers, leaders, and in acts of cheerful compassion. In verse 3 Paul paints a picture for us that the world does not revolve around us as individuals. “It is not about you.” Paul seems to be saying, “and that includes your body.”

We are all about our individual rights. They are spelled out for us in our founding documents, free speech, freedom of religion, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, etc. All of these freedoms, essential freedoms, involve me, my freedom, not yours, but mine. The world spends a tremendous amount of time telling us how we should live, projects unhealthy body images on young men and women. The world says we have to do whatever we can to get to the top to get the big car, the big house, the 2.5 kids, etc. all the while it is telling us not to care about the person next to us. We are walled off in our cubicles, we sit on the train or the bus with ear buds in our ears, and before the older generation gets all self-righteous, we used to do it with books and newspapers.

So individualistic has the world become that we have no issues with how others are treated as long as we get to do what we want when we want to do it, and how we want to do it.

Friday night I officiated at a wedding of a young couple. They have their whole lives before them. The place was picture perfect, right on the water, the sun was setting behind them, the dress, the tuxedos, the food, the drink, everything had been planned down to the minute.  When I told them that marriage was a sacrifice, I used the word martyrdom, and they looked at me a little surprised. I reminded them that in marriage we no longer live for “I, ” but we live for “we.” We do not lose who we are as individuals but now rather than one person; we are two. Sure, we still have and do the things we like, but tiny sacrifices are made each day, and in an authentic sense we become martyrs for each other, we lay aside what I want for what we want.

The same happens in a community such as church. We, as a community, are on the threshold of a new generation, a reformation if you will. We are in transition and, with the help of God; we have to determine what the direction is that we will take. We have to conform our church body to the will of God, and that means that it is not about what I want, it is about what we want.

All of us have gifts to be used for the building up of the kingdom.  Paul reminds us that we are all part of one body and that if that body is going to function properly, then all of the parts have to work together. Each part of the body works, not to being glory to itself or to meet only its needs, but to ensure the healthy functioning of the whole system. Each of our gifts is be used for the common interest.

A healthy community is a community that can speak openly and honestly about issues that the community has without fear of one another or bullies, and yes, there are church bullies.  A healthy community exists where each person, and their opinion, is valued on equal footing. A healthy community is where one does not need to submit anonymous suggestions in a wooden box, but can speak openly with the leadership of the community and talk about their concerns and their desires.  Discernment comes in many forms, and if we believe that God is still speaking and leading, then we have to listen to every voice because we never know what voice God is going to use. I will remind you that God does not call the equipped, he equips those he calls.

Paul’s instruction to us to not think of ones self-more highly than another ought to help foster an atmosphere where communities may work together harmoniously and productively.

But the opposite may also be true, just as there are those who like to think too highly of themselves there are those of us who might think that their skills and not “good enough” to contribute to the working of the community. Paul’s metaphor challenges us to consider that everyone – every member of the body of Christ in the church – has a gift to contribute to the functioning of that body.

Discernment can be scary, stepping out can be scary, but we do so with faith, and we do so with the knowledge that if we are following the will of God, all will be right and the mission will succeed.

 

 

Let us pray:

Almighty God, whose compassion embraces everyone, gather the outcast and the lost, heal the wounds of fear and distrust, and make us a community of reconciliation that we may embody your merciful love and rejoice in your astounding grace in Jesus Christ. Amen.

What is the Point of Christianity?

Mother Teresa

It may sound a little strange for a Christian minister to be asking such a question, but I have indeed begun to ask myself this question over the last few months.

I know there have always been bad apples in the bunch, and maybe it is due to the rise of social media the last few years, but I am disgusted by the way many “Christian” leaders are acting and doing it all in the name of Christ. So I am seriously asking, what is the point of Christianity?

In an essay appearing on the Sojourners website from October of 2016, Stephen Mattson asks the same question but with a different spin, have we forgotten the point of Christianity? In the essay, and I highly recommend you read it, Mattson asks questions about what the point is given several examples.

What’s the point of Christianity if during a historical refugee crisis, Christians refuse to protect, accept, and help refugees?

What’s the point of Christianity if believers actively oppose immigrants from pursuing a better life, and promote humans beings that are created in the image of God to be detained, separated from their families, arrested, and sent back to impoverished and violent conditions?

What’s the point of Christianity if people who worship the Prince of Peace also vigorously support policies that vilify entire people groups, actively seek death, and kill tens of thousands of people each year?

What’s the point of Christianity if people who pray to the King of Kings also seek wealth and privilege at the expense of the oppressed through corrupt systems that maintain and promote systemic financial, educational, and racial injustice?

What’s the point of Christianity if people who worship a Jewish Messiah from the Middle East also discriminate and legislate against people who have different religious, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds?

What’s the point of Christianity if Christians — who celebrate a man who was crucified on a cross by an authoritarian government partly for being an ethnic minority — refuse to stand up and defend the rights of those facing persecution because of their skin color, ethnic background, gender, or political beliefs?

For me it comes down to how we treat others, especially those “least” that Jesus mentions in Mathew 25:

“for I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger, and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'” Matthew 25:35-40

Maria Skobtsova, also known as Mother Maria of Paris, was a Russian refugee that fled to Paris, France in 1923 as the Russian Revolution raged on.  Maria became a nun in the Russian Orthodox church and spent the rest of her days until she was murdered in a concentration camp in March of 1945. She had been arrested by the Gestapo and sent to prison. Her crime, issuing baptismal certificates to Jews to help keep them alive.  Mother Maria, canonized a saint in 2004 by the Russian Orthodox Church, believed in the Gospel command to care for those less fortunate and that as a Christian she had an obligation to obey this command, even if it meant sacrificing her life. This is what she said about the point of Christianity.

The way to God lies through love of people. At the Last Judgment I shall not be asked whether I was successful in my ascetic exercises, nor how many bows and prostrations I made. Instead, I shall be asked did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners. That is all I shall be asked. About every poor, hungry and imprisoned person the Savior says ‘I’: ‘I was hungry and thirsty, I was sick and in prison.’ To think that he puts an equal sign between himself and anyone in need. . . . I always knew it, but now it has somehow penetrated to my sinews. It fills me with awe.

I do not see this kind of commitment or sentiment from many people today and surely not from many in the Evangelical world who claim that Donald Trump has been “raised by God” (Paula White, Religion News Service, August 2017.) I do believe that God raises people up, but he raises people up to build other people up not to break them down, not to put them down, and not to keep them down.  We are called not to build walls but to build bridges, that is the point of Christianity not this thirst and quest for power, Jesus never wielded any power except that to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and give hope to the hopeless.

Sermon: The Real Goodness & The Real Evil

A Sermon on Matthew 15:10-20

Another moment of confession; when I chose this passage and sermon title over a month ago, I was going to take this in an entirely different direction.  Although I am going to cover some of the same ground I was going to cover before recent events took over the preaching calendar, this Gospel passage is very applicable to today.

Jewish dietary laws are as ancient as, well, as people.  Every Jew would know what they could and could not eat, when they could eat it, and how it was to be prepared and served.  Eating was a complicated ritual for many Jews, and now Jesus is telling his followers that it is not what goes in but what comes out that is the problem.

Jesus is striking at the very heart of tradition here. Those of us in the Reformed Tradition of Christianity like to think that we eschew tradition. However, tradition is anything that we have done in church more than once.  Now, not all tradition is bad. Tradition can provide a solid, yet flexible, foundation for faithfulness, but it can also function oppositely.  Tradition, and the idea that “we have always done it that way,” can become and idol that will hinder growth. This idol can become a hindrance not only to our spiritual growth but the growth of the community both spiritually and numerically.  Just because those that came before us did it, does not mean it will work in the contemporary world we live in and that is exactly what Matthew is writing about today.

Matthew is writing at a time when the Christian community had become radically diversified.  The Community in Matthew’s day is no longer just a Jewish community it is a blend of Jew and Gentle and there is a struggle to determine how best to make it all work.  Matthew is speaking to those who, based on Jewish tradition was included in the community, but he is also speaking to those who, because of that very same tradition, were excluded from that very same community.

Jewish liturgical and spiritual law and practice was focused on the externals of daily lives.  The animal sacrifice in the temple removed the sins without actually have to do anything other than purchasing the appropriate animal at the right time of the year.  The dietary law was meant to keep one clean, on the inside, the washing ritual was intended to keep you clean on the outside, but what about the spiritual?

For Jesus, religious purity and faithful discipleship are not measured ultimately by how many perfect attendance badges one earns for Sunday school or worship, how often one has read the bible from cover to cover, or how much money one contributes to the church treasury (Jesus obviously never had to maintain a church structure such as ours) Purity and faithfulness are shown ultimately by how the church speaks and lives out the radical hospitality and love of Christ.

Last week, we were all reeling from the events that had taken place just the day before, in Charlottesville, Virginia. I stood here and publically denounced hate and violence in all forms and called on others to do the same.  This past week many of us have been having a conversation about how our community, along with those in Braintree, Weymouth, Hingham, and rest of the South Shore should respond to these incidents, and, I am afraid to say, events like it in the future.  Clergy from all Christian denominations and all faiths have been coming together to witness and support each other and our community in these days; it has been a beautiful experience.

Shortly after Charlottesville, it was announced that a “similar” rally was being planned for Boston and that the city had granted a permit to the organizers.  Boston’s mayor and police commissioner warned those coming to Boston that there was no place for hate in the city and that violence would not be tolerated.

The call went out for clergy to come to the city to pray and support those who would be marching not for hate but love.  I struggled with going or not going and ultimately decided that God was not leading me in that direction so I remained home and prayed for, and supported my brothers and sisters who did go.

On Friday night, there was an interfaith service at one of the Temples in Boston attended by many many members of the clergy of all faiths as well as the faithful. The message was clear; hate will not win, love will.  Early Saturday morning, Old South Church in Copley Square held another interfaith service. Again hundreds of folks came to worship and pray together because we all know that before undertaking any work prayer is what is called for.  There were prayers for the safety of all those who would be marching, regardless of what side they were on, and prayers for police and others that would be keeping the people safe.

Then they left the church and joined hundreds of thousands of others, Boston Police estimated 25 thousand people, and they began the three mile march to Boston Common.  When they arrived there were about 100, I will call them “other” protesters, assembled on the band stand.  It did not appear organized, and the police had cordoned off the area so the two groups would not clash. After about 20 minutes, they left the band stand and dispersed.  I received a text from one of my friends that were present and the text read, “it is over, they have gone!”

What a different story from just the week prior.  Sure, there were acts of violence towards the police by a tiny number, and I will say again, that I denounce violence under any flag regardless of the reason.  Violence, like hate, has no place.

But let’s return to the Scripture at hand, Jesus says that it is not what goes into our bodies but what comes out that defiles a person.  Last week I mentioned that what we say, even in a fit of anger, comes from inside, from our hearts.  We do not “just say things.” The things we say have to reside inside of us, festering, good along with the bad and on occasions, if they are not guarded, will bubble to the surface and come out.

But sometimes it might be something innocent.

We have all heard the juicy bit of gossip about someone that we could not wait to tell the next person about.  Sometimes we are bursting at the seams to tell someone, and we do not even know if the story is true.  We are confident that it is based on who told us the story in the first place, but we are not sure.  But we pass it along anyway.  If it is not true, that is what Scripture calls, bearing false witness and is one of the top ten no no’s of the Christian life.  Even if we know it might be true, what is the purpose of passing along that story, is it to build up or break down another person?  Will it bring edification to the Christian witness or will it bring shame? One little story, one little falsehood can pull on the thread that unravels the entire thing.

Earlier this morning, as I was finalizing these words, I came across this quote:

“At the end of this day, the world with either be a more or less kind, compassionate, and loving place because of your presence. Your move.”

We spend so much time on the externals, reading the bible, studying the words, coming to worship, serving on church boards and putting money in the collection plate.  But if it is not changing you inside, if we are not doing the interior work that is required of Christians, and we are spreading hate with our words, then it is all for naught.

As Christians, everything we say should build up the kingdom of God here on earth.  Our job is to go, make disciples are we doing that?  We have to speak the truth in love, and that truth is that hatred, under any flag, is not a Christian value. Demonizing a group of people because they believe different about the direction of our country or because they chose to worship, or not worship God differently than we do.  Demonizing the poor and calling them lazy, building walls that exclude rather than bridges that bring together. Sitting on the sidelines sniping at church leadership rather than rolling up your sleeves and getting involved to make things better. Always complaining about what is happening in the church and the world without offering any real and workable solutions. What have you done today to make your sphere of influence a little better? Have the words that have come out of your mouth helped or hurt another individual?  Have they harmed or brought praise to the Christian witness?  You must ask yourself these questions.

Words are powerful. God spoke, and the world came into being. Jesus spoke words of healing and love as did his apostles. But sometimes words can hurt and even kill.  A young woman was recently sentenced to prison because she urged on her former boyfriend to kill himself, and he did.  Words have power, the power to hurt and kill and power to lift up and to save.  It is not what goes in but what comes out that defiles a person, and it is not what goes in but what comes out that reveals our hearts to the world. You have a choice to make today, are you going to make the world a better place by our presence or a worse place by our presence. Your move.