Not Ashamed of the Gospel

For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith. Romans 1:16-17

I am not ashamed of the Gospel.  None of us should be ashamed of the Gospel.  I am however ashamed of how some Christians have used the Gospel more as a weapon than a healing balm for the people.  Sometimes we forget that we are all sinners and in need of God’s grace and that our mission is to make disciples or lead people to Christ, and then get out of the way and let God do what God does.

But this passage is even more remarkable because when Paul was writing this, he had been imprisoned in Philippi, chased out of Thessalonica, smuggled out of Beroea, laughed at in Athens and Corinth his message was foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews.  With all of that in his past, it is surprising that he would declare that he was not ashamed of the Gospel.  I don’t think anyone would blame him if he had said the opposite.

One thing we can learn from what Paul has written is that we cannot give up no matter how difficult things might get for us.  Jesus never promised us that we would be loved by everyone and that our lives would be perfect if we followed him, in fact, he preached the very opposite.  However, the one thing Jesus did promise, and the thing that Paul held on too as he was going through his trials, was that no matter what we are going through, not matter what desert we might be crossing, God will always be with us.

That is the promise I hold on too, and that is what allows me to proclaim in a loud voice that I am not ashamed of the Gospel.

Lent as Training in Resilience, Practice of Resistance

The Progressive Redneck Preacher has some good tips for his fellow Progressives about approaching Lent.  Here is a little sample:

This week begins the season of Lent.

For many in the progressive Christian world, Lent can feel a bit weird. It can feel like a return to the guilt-ridden life in churches of our childhood, as if we are being made to feel guilty for pleasure, for joy. We can ask ourselves “what is the point?”
As I reflect on the beginning of this year’s Lenten journey, a few ways of approaching this season stand out as positive ways to look at this season.

First, we can make this season focused on reordering our lives to better emulate Jesus. One often hears in progressive Christian circles that a problem in the wider Christian world is that we are so busy worshipping Jesus as God, we fail to pay any attention to how he says to live our lives. Progressive Christians, by and large, deeply identify with the human Jesus of Nazareth, a man like us who struggled to live out a life of compassion and justice. Beginning with focus on Jesus vulnerable in the desert, being tried by his own inner demons and the dark psychological forces at the heart of society, Lent calls us to deeply identify ourselves with the struggle and life of Jesus.

Read the Rest Here

Ash Wednesday a Time of Reflection

Ash Wednesday is not just a time to meditate on our mortality or to confess our individual sin and failings, but it is also a time when we should focus on our social sins and sins against other people in the things we have done and the things we should have done and the things we left undone.

Ash Wednesday is a time when we are reminded that in the Lenten Discipline God’s desires for us have nothing to do with what we “give up” but has everything to do with taking on a more disciplined concern for meeting the needs of the afflicted concretely.

Isiah makes it clear that the worship God desires is both inescapably social and compellingly personal. Lent calls us to “loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke… to share our bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless person into our homes…

“Authentic worship is not a matter of elegant ritual of self-congratulatory piety. It is a matter of both social justice and costly personal concern for the bruised and broken world.”

Psalm 51 reminds us that Lent is a time of self-reflection and penitence, a time to acknowledge our sinfulness and the constant need for God’s grace and mercy in our lives and the lives of others.

The Psalm reflects our reality as Christians. We are sinners. We do things that drive us away from God, and we do things that hurt others in our lives.

This time of Lent is to be a time of thoughtful reflection and penitence.  Although we practice this all throughout the year, Lent lends itself to a more careful examination. We are called to confess the ways we “have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.” We need to come to the realization of our utter dependence on God.

The recitation of Psalm 51 is a central part of the service of Ash Wednesday as well as a Litany of Penitence or a Prayer of Confession. The Litany and Prayer are reminders to us of the ways we have separated ourselves from God and one another.

Almighty God, we confess that we are often swept up in the tide of our generation. We have failed in our calling to be your holy people, a people set apart for your divine purpose. We live more in apathy born of fatalism than in passion born of hope. We are moved more by private ambition than by social justice. We dream more of privilege and benefits than of service and sacrifice. We try to speak in your name without relinquishing our glories, without nourishing our souls, without relying wholly on your grace. Help us to make room in our hearts and lives for you. Forgive us, revive us, and reshape us in your image. Amen.

May the Almighty and merciful God, who desires not the death of a sinner but that we turn from wickedness and live, accept your repentance, forgive your sins, and restore you by the Holy Spirit to newness of life. Amen.

The culmination of the Service of Ash Wednesday is the imposition of ashes with the minister making the sign of the cross on each forehead with the words, “Remember thou art dust and to dust thou shall return.”

Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth. Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, so that we may remember that only by your gracious gift are we given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

As we begin this season of self-reflection let us follow the Psalmists example by focusing on how we are failing to live as God calls us to live and how we are in constant need of salvation and redemption that can only come from God.

Shrove Tuesday

 

The practice on the day before Lent begins is to use up all of the items that will be fasted from during the season of Lent.  This day is known as Shrove, coming from the word shrive meaning to absolve, falls just before Ash Wednesday.

The period prior to Ash Wednesday is referred to Shrovetide and prior to the Reformation lasted for an entire week. The practice of making and serving pancakes on this day dates to the 16th century and according to “Ecclesiastical Institutes” from around 1000 AD “In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive (absolve) him as he then may hear by his deeds what he is to do [in the way of penance]”.

Rich foods such as butter, milk, and eggs would often be given up for Lent and so these items needed to be used up prior to the start of Lent so they would not go bad during the time of the fast.  Making pancakes was the easiest way to use up all of these items.

But, like most everything in Christianity, these forbidden items also carried a spiritual significance to them. In a 2015 article in the International Business Times, Philip Ross writes that in addition to an easy way to use up rich food items such as butter, eggs, and milk, pancakes also represent the four pillars of Christianity, “four pillars of the Christian faith—eggs for creation, flour as the mainstay of the human diet, salt for wholesomeness and milk for purity.”

So when you are eating your pancakes today remember the spiritual side of each bite and enjoy it for tomorrow we fast.

Commentary: Living into Our Legacy

February 16, 2017
Written by John Dorhauer

Rev. John C. Dorhauer

Since the election of President Trump, the United Church of Christ has collectively engaged in an ongoing effort to maximize the impact of our agency. We have been, throughout our history, one of the most powerful agents for social transformation this country has ever known. There have been few times when that agency has been more necessary.

As I travel around, I am hearing the pain and fatigue of leaders from across this denomination who must endure daily assaults to our religious commitments, spiritual sensitivities, and justice orientation. An Executive Order banning refugees, preferring Christians and casting the Muslim as a terror threat; appointments of people to key positions who have strong ties to white supremacist organizations; a historic and blatant disregard for ethics and conflicts of interest; public humiliation of women and people with disabilities; and public speech from the highest office in the land designed to cast doubt and aspersions on the integrity of our judicial system all conspire to make religious leaders committed to a just world for all feel beleaguered, battered, and weary.

The temptation in these days is to adopt a defensive, reactionary posture. To be sure, we cannot refuse to react when an Executive Order is written that closes borders to seven countries. We cannot fail to respond when the President brags about his history of sexually assaulting women who, by his own words, want him to do it because of his celebrity. We cannot not speak out when religious freedom is threatened as a means of discrimination against women who exercise their reproductive choice options or to protect bigots and homophobes who don’t want to hire or sell to LGBT folk. In all these matters and more, we will respond, react, and speak out.

That cannot, however, be our default mode. There is a calculation to this that heavy hitters on the political right, including and especially the architects of this madness (Steve Bannon, Rex Tillerson, Betsy DeVos, Kellyanne Conway, et al), are using to wear down and distract their progressive antagonists. We play right into the hands of their machinations if every day we make note of what has happened and express our righteous anger and outrage. Again – we can’t not respond. But we soon must move from a defensive posture in which we expend our energy and resources articulating what we stand against; and start expending our precious time, effort and energy declaring what we stand for.

Let love of neighbor motivate us.

Let a commitment to build a just world for all catch us all feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and providing sanctuary to the immigrant and refugee among us.

Let a proclamation of a gospel of extravagant welcome recreate the world in the image and likeness of a God who shows no partiality.

Let clear, courageous, and passionate commitments to radical hospitality be as evident in this time as whatever rhetoric we develop to address the madness that issues forth from our nation’s leader.

In other words, let us be the United Church of Christ – a body built to love neighbor and create a just world for all.

John C. Dorhauer is General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ.

View this and other columns on the UCC’s Witness for Justice page.
Donate to support Witness for Justice through the Neighbors in Need offering. 

Click here to download the bulletin insert.

Sermon: Dazzling Reign

A Sermon on Matthew 17:1-9

Each year, during the time of Lent, I like to get away for a few days of retreat.  The first real retreat I ever participated in took place at the Jesuit retreat center at Eastern Point in Gloucester.  This place is fantastic; it is an old mansion house that sticks out into the ocean and is surrounded by water on all three sides.  Now I am not sure about you, but I love being near the water.  One of the things I missed most when I was in Worcester was not being near the ocean; there is something peaceful about watching the waves.

Eastern Point is a silent retreat house except during times of worship and when you meet with your retreat guide.  The silence is had to get used to when you first begin.  Up to this point in my life, I had never really been in a place where the only noise was natural or beyond my control.  No radio, no TV, no internet, just the sound of the ocean crashing against the rocks outside the building.

Silence gives you a lot of time to think about stuff and trusts me when I say this, all sorts of stuff come flooding into your mind.  The first few days of this five-day retreat was spent just trying to quiet my mind and slow my thoughts down.  Our brains run at 90 miles per hour all the time, and there are so many thoughts that always fly around, but retreat is a time to try and slow that down, and like the water crashing over the rocks outside the window, it is a time to let God wash over you with his love and his guidance.

You also tend to sleep a lot those first few days.  I remember saying to my retreat guide, “all I seem to do is sleep.  I try to read; I fall asleep, I try to pray, I fall asleep.”  He told me that it was normal, that this is my body slowing down and that sleep is restorative so let it happen.  I did, and after a day or two balance started to set in and was refreshed and ready to go.

One of the interesting parts of a silent retreat is meal time.  For me, meal time has always been a time when the conversation happens.  I look at Scripture, and most of Jesus ministry revolved around the table where he taught those who were with him.  But at Eastern Point, there is no conversation.  Soft music plays in the background, and there is this massive wall of windows.  The dining hall looks directly out on the ocean.  It was January, and the ocean was rather active.  Everyone sat on the side of the tables looking out at the glory of nature and sat in silence, music playing in the background and the crashing waves to look at.  The funniest thing was even at the evening meal when it was pitch black, we all still sat on the side of the table, looking out those massive windows, but now instead of seeing the majesty of God’s creation, we saw the mystery of the darkness.

The retreat continued, and I could feel the presence of God in a way that I had not felt before, and I wanted to stay right there forever, but, I had to leave and go back to the real world.

We see the same take place in the Scripture passage we heard read this morning.  The passage focuses on the Transfiguration of Christ on the top of the mountain. Very often, Jesus would retreat by himself especially after a time of intense ministry.  I think we often forget that Jesus was human like us and he needed his rest as well.  So he went off with two of his apostles to the top of the mountain.

While they were there an extraordinary event happened, and Jesus face shone like the Sun, and his garments became dazzling white, he was transfigured, or he was changed.  Moses and Elijah appeared to him, and they heard God’s voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him, I am well pleased; listen to him!”

Jesus was not the only one that was changed on that mountaintop, Peter and John were also transformed, and so powerful, so glorious was the event that they wanted to stay there, on that mountaintop, with Jesus forever.  Peter wanted to build three dwellings, or as some translations have it three altars, but Jesus told them they could not stay there for their mission was not on top of the mountain, but down in the valley.

I understand how Peter and John felt for during that retreat I was on the mountain top and all I wanted to do was to stay right there in the warmth of God surrounded by the majesty of his creation. But, the reality is we cannot only dwell on that mountain top, we eventually have to come down.

There is no mistake that this passage comes the Sunday before we start the liturgical season of Lent.  Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and is a reminder to us that we are mortal and that life is short, and we have much to do. But Lent is also a time for us to slow down just a little and settle our hearts and minds so we can begin to hear that still small voice of God.  That voice that we do not always hear when our world is racing at 90 miles per hour.

I am often asked if there is anything I miss from my time serving in the Orthodox Church and I often say that I miss Lent and by that, I miss the Liturgical services that would be held during this period of the year.  Like our schedule here at Bethany, we had one service each week on Sunday morning, but during Lent, we would add a midweek service to help us settle our hearts and minds.  The church would be almost in complete darkness, and we would hear from the Book of Genesis and the Prophesy of Isaiah.  These were mountaintop experiences that came in the middle of the week to help us get to the next one. But they were also times to slow down and listen, listen to God’s word and pray.

These moments of transfiguration, these moments of change are necessary for our lives, and we need to take every opportunity we can to have them.  Sure, I understand that our lives are super busy but how much time are we spending on the things of this world and how much time are we spending on the things of the world to come?  How much time do we spend in meaningless conversations that we do not care about, and how much time do we spend in conversations with God? How much time do we spend reading the latest book, or watching that television program and how much time do we spend with The Word or reading other spiritual books and publications.  We have time for just about everything, except for God!

We are living in a fracture mixed up world right now, and sometimes it ‘s hard to navigate the every changing landscape.  From one day to the next it seems that life is shifting and the harder we try to hold on to things the further away things get.  The story of the Transfiguration of Jesus that we heard this very morning is not about Jesus face and his clothing but a reminder to us that we need to focus on what matters and who matters in our lives.  It is also a reminder that no matter how much we wish to stay on that mountain top, we eventually have to come back down for this is where the mission is.  I wanted to stay at Eastern Point, but I knew that my mission was not there, but it was out with God’s people.  I was transfigured there, but now it was time for me to help transfigure someone else.

Just like our bodies need food and drink to keep us going; our souls need spiritual food and drink.  Not all of can take a week and go to a place like Eastern Point so we have to try and find those times when we can steal a few moments, and Lent is a perfect time to begin a new habit.

It has been said that if you do something every day for thirty days, it will become a habit.  Lent is forty days, so you will be left with a few days to spare.  Make this time a time for reading Scripture.  It does not have to be a large amount of time each day take five minutes.  Every few months we put a supply of little devotional booklets out at the entrance to the church and on the table outside the Allen Parlor.  These are great little books that you can carry in your pocket and pull out when you have a spare five minutes, and that is all it takes.  Take one with you today and each day, pull it out and read the page for the day.  If you have time, read it in the morning, and in the afternoon you will be amazed at how you start to see your life transformed.

There are many other resources available to you just ask Pastor Bill or me, and we will help you find what might work for you.  The idea is that the forty days of Lent need to be different than the forty days that come before it and the forty days that will come after it.

Another aspect of my time serving in the Orthodox Church I miss the Sunday before Lent begins is called Forgiveness Sunday, and this is the day that we ask for, and grant forgiveness to those we may have hurt during the past year.  In the congregation I served, we would line up and one by one we would look into each other’s eyes and ask for forgiveness.  The last time I stood here I talked about how important that forgiveness is to us and others.  We have all hurt people intentionally or unintentionally this past year; it is time for us all to forgive.  If you can approach the person and ask for their forgiveness that is great but if you cannot, the simply ask God to help you.  We also need to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt us, and this is a very good time to do it, forgiveness is transformative, and we need that change in our lives.

Midweek Meditation: The Nature of Christian Love

1 Corinthians 13

Much of my preaching and teaching is centered on the idea of showing love to everyone.  Love is at the very heart of Gospel, and it is a requirement of those who claim to follow Jesus.  The Saviors commands us, in several places in Scripture, to love God, love neighbor, and to love our enemies.  With those three commands, there is no one left who we are not supposed to love.  We are to love our God with our whole heart, mind, and spirit, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, and we are to love our enemies because it is easy to love those who love us back.  This is one of the most difficult parts of being a follower of Jesus Christ.

In the 13th Chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes specifically about what Christian love is supposed to look like.  Very often this is read at weddings as a reminder to the couple what sort of love they should be showing to one another, however important this is to the newly married couple, it is vitally important to followers of Jesus Christ.

In his commentary on the Letter’s to the Corinthians, William Barclay reminds his readers that Paul points out fifteen characteristics of Christian love, I will summarize over the next two Midweek Meditations.

Love is patient ~ The Greek word used here always describes patience with people and not patience with circumstances. It is used for people who are slow to anger, and it is used to describe God in his relationship with humanity, that he is slow to anger with us.

Love is kind ~ Origen the 3rd-century scholar wrote that this type of love means love is “sweet to all.”  There is so much about Christianity that is good, but there is also a lot that is bad.  Phillip II of Spain was one of the most Christian kings in Europe, but he launched the Spanish Inquisition because he felt that God wanted him to kill those who did not believe the same way the king did.

Love knows no envy ~ There are two types of envy, one that covets the possessions of others, and this type is very human and very hard to avoid, and the second is type is one that wishes that others did not receive what they received, in other words, this kind of envy cannot be happy for the success of others.  Christian love rejoices in the blessings of others and hopes in our blessings.

Love does not behave gracelessly ~ There is a graciousness in Christian love which never forgets that courtesy and tact and politeness are lovely things.

Love does not insist upon its rights ~ There are those who insist upon their privilege and those who always remember their responsibilities; those who always think that life owes them something and those who never forget what they owe life.  Barclay reminds us that “Whenever we start thinking about ‘our place,’ we are drifting away from Christian love.”

Love never flies into a temper ~ Christian love never become exasperated with people, when we lose our tempers we lose everything.

Love does not store up the memory of any wrong it has received ~ The Greek word for “Store Up” comes from an accountant entering things on a ledger so that they can be recalled later and not forgotten.  Many people hang on to their hurts and nurse their anger until they cannot forget. Christian love has learned the great lesson of forgetting.

Verse of the Day

Leviticus 19:9-10

 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:9-10

Midweek Meditation: Trial and Temptation

Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. Do not be deceived, my beloved. James 1:12-16

From the very beginning is has been our first instinct to blame others for our own sins or for things that happen to us in our lives.  The writer of the Book of Genesis telling the story of the first sin in the Garden of Eden writes about Adam being challenged by God about the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and Adam responds by blaming the woman, but only the woman, the woman that God gave him.

“The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Genesis 3:12

The great Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote:

“Thou know’st that Thou hast formed me with the passions wild and strong; and listening to their witching voice has often led me wrong.”

Humanity has always been good at blaming others.  “God made me do it,” if often heard from the lips of people even today.  The blame I laid on God, on others, on everyone but ourselves.  But James rebukes those who would do this and urges humanity to take responsibility when we do wrong.  For James, the only person responsible is the person himself and our own evil desire.

But the great value of this passage is that it urges us to take personal responsibility for our actions, and it also shows us that God will never leave us, God does not send temptations or trials along our path, but when the trials come, and they will, God will be there with us.

From the Heart

A Sermon on Matthew 5:21-26

Our words have consequences sometimes when we don’t even know it.  A passing comment, a snide remark, a joke, to the person listening, these words can be like daggers to the heart.  Sure, it’s all the rage now to say whatever we want and then print a retraction, “I really didn’t mean it,” or some other such thing but the reality is, the damage has already been done.  It has been said that we sometimes say things that we do not mean, but again, the reality is if we did not mean them the words would not even form on our lips.  Not every thought need to be given voice, but when it does, Jesus provides us with the answer to what we are to do.

“So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”

May years ago I encountered a family that had suffered a death in the household.  I knew some of the family members but not all of them.  There were two brothers that had not spoken to each other for a very long time, so long in fact that when one brother met the other brother’s teenaged grandson, he did not know who he was because he had never seen him before.  After the funeral, all the people gathered at a local restaurant for a meal as was the custom.  One brother’s family sat on one side, and the other brother’s family sat on the other, and there was this enormous gulf between them.

As the dinner went on it was revealed that something had been said by one brother to the other brothers many, many years prior, so long in fact that no one could remember what the remark was.  I sat there thinking how stupid this was, two brothers, the only family each other had, and because of some words, it ended with this.

So words how power and words have consequences.

As both Pastor Bill and I have mentioned in the last few weeks, we are living at a time of harsh words on both sides of political as well as the religious spectrum and although I like a good political discussion Lets just focus on the religious words.

A lot of attention has been paid to religion in the last year and a half or so and not all of it in a good way.  Lots of judgments have been made about who is and who is not a Christian, who is and who is not worthy of preaching the Word of God, what the Word of God is, would Jesus be a Republican or a Democrat, a conservative or a liberal?  All of these question and accusations are thrown around by friends towards other friends, by family towards other family and where does it end?  With one part of the family on one side of the room and another part of the family on the other.  And for what?  To be quite honest with you I am sick and tired of it, all of it, politics using religion and religion using politics.

This passage comes in the middle of what we call the Sermon on the Mount.  So important is this one chapter of the teachings of Jesus that the people who put the lectionary readings together separated this section out over several weeks of readings.  However the common thread in all of this is how we act towards each other, and in the end, the last five verses are about loving not only your neighbor but your enemies.

Jesus preaches or teaches I guess the better way to put it, from his heart.  The chapter starts with him standing on a dune teaching the masses but it ends with Jesus speaking with a smaller group of his followers, and the message truly comes from his heart.  I would ask that you read all of chapter five and spend some time meditating on the words spoken by Jesus.  This is a very intimate moment that is shared between Jesus and his followers and he is talking to them, and to us, from the heart.

In the end, it is not about following some set of rules, in the end, it is all about how we treat one another, like it or not, we are all in this together.

So back to the brothers.

More time had passed, and still, the brothers remained apart, and nothing I could do would bring them back together.  I tried everything I knew and asked others advice on how to handle such situations, and nothing worked.

Then the inevitable happened, one brother got ill and was in hospital.  There was resistance from all sides on seeing each other.  Usually, I respect the wishes of the sick person, but this was too important to let slide.  So I was able to arrange a meeting between the two.  It was tense at first, and there were others in the room to carry the conversation, and the brothers just sat there, not looking at each other, and the tension in the room was heavy.

Then one of the kids asked what the hell this was all about?  It was as if the air was sucked out of the room and time stopped.  I was trying to find the nearest hole to climb in as I was the one that brought them all together.  I had visions of a fight breaking out right there in the hospital room.  After what seemed like hours, it was only second, but everyone was waiting for someone to say something.  Now keep in mind this is where I would usually inject some humor but I was paralyzed, and it was as if I could not speak.

Then the brother who was not sick said, you know, I really don’t know but whatever it was is not worth all of this nonsense, and got up, walked across the room, and gave his brother a hug and just like that, it was done.  They had been estranged for almost 20 years over something that no one could remember or even cared about anymore.  An entire generation had grown up while these two men were apart from each other over something no one could remember.

This is not the only story I have like this, there are many, and not all of them ended like this one did but I use this story as an illustration about what is being said in today’s Scripture passage.

For a first century Jew making a sacrifice in the temple was a way of atoning for their sins. Depending on the sin, and the ability of the person to afford the sacrifice, a different sacrifice was presented in the temple.  So important was this sacrifice that people would save up money and goods they could trade and then travel many miles to make it, and Jesus is telling them that if you have an issue with someone leave the sacrifice, go and make up with that person, and then come back.  He is saying that if we hold anything against another person, God will not accept the sacrifice until the situation had been cleared up! Just let that sink in for a moment, God will not accept our sacrifice if we hold something against another.

We are at a tense time in our country and in our community.  Lots of words have been said and will be expressed in the coming days, weeks, and months.  How we respond tells something about us, do we want to be part of the problem or do we want to be part of the solution?  I for one would like to be part of the solution, and I think that is the role of the church to build bridges and not walls, to bring people together not to make them take sides and further alienate people.

It is not our job to judge who is and who is not a Christian our job is to love everyone unconditionally, we don’t have to like them, but we do have to love them.  We are not better than anyone else, we are all sinners, and we all need God’s grace and they words we say could lead someone to salvation, or it could lead them away.

In the Orthodox tradition, I came from before arriving here, the pastor of the church was charged with the spiritual care and well-being of the congregation that God had entrusted to them.  So deep was their belief that it was taught that the pastor would be called on judgment day to answer for everyone that God had placed in their trust.  Called to answer for each person, each soul, that was put into my care.  Did I help them to become a disciple or did I turn them away?

It has been said that we might be the only Bible many people ever read and that the words we speak and the actions we take will determine the destiny of someone else.  Are we the hands and feet of Christ?  Are we serving those on the margins as Jesus did?  We are feeding, clothing, housing, and welcoming the stranger?  Are we bringing people together or are we forcing them apart?  Only you can answer that question for yourself.