Dear Church Family,
As I head into the final week of my preaching class through Course of Study, I want to thank you for responding to my request for questions and suggested sermon topics for the coming year—which was part of my homework for class, but has become a permanent part of my planning. I took all of your suggestions to heart, and can tell you that you’ll be seeing them throughout the next year.
Some of the suggestions were ones you might expect (“What’s up with the Book of Revelation, anyway?”) and some were not (“If Joseph isn’t Jesus’ biological father, how is Jesus of the House of David?”), but when I look over all the responses, these things stand out:
• The word “love” in one form or another appears at least ten times
• The word “trust” appears four times
• More than a dozen responses make reference to the communities in which we live
• At least half a dozen responses have to do with acceptance—of one another, of others who are different from us, of strangers…
I think this is great—and not a surprise.
It tells me that in the midst of all the strife in the world today—all the conflict and the name calling, the outright hatred that we see flare up time and time again—the people of our faith communities are struggling to work against the flow. The people here have read and heard the words of Jesus, held them up as a measuring stick against the world as it is, and have found the world wanting. Wanting in love, wanting in trust, wanting in civility and justice and peace.
Knowing that, what is the appropriate response? To change the world, of course.
And we change the world by first changing ourselves—measuring ourselves against the very same words against which we measure the world, and finding where we have fallen short. Jesus preached a message of radical love, grace, and hospitality, encouraging us to understand and accept one another in ways that don’t come easy.
It’s easy to love and accept someone who agrees with you—and not so easy to love someone who is so obviously mis-guided as to disagree. It’s easy to be accepting of someone who looks and speaks like you—but a little more difficult for someone who looks different, speaks a different language, comes from a different culture, etc. There seems to be a deep impulse to classify “different” as “strange,” and “strange” as “dangerous,” whether it’s the result of thousands of generations of the genetic dance of human evolution, or the Fall of Humanity in the Garden of Eden.
In today’s world of immersive communication and the echo chamber of social media, those impulses are magnified—and only love, acceptance, and understanding can work against them. Once we have found those within ourselves, we then begin to share them in our immediate community—and “community” in this case includes the online communities of which we are each a part: resist the impulse to argue with someone who posts something you disagree with; don’t share, or respond to, posts that insult or degrade others; when the choice is between arguing and ignoring, ignore; when it’s between ignoring or uplifting, lift up; when the choice is between skipping over something because you know you disagree with it, or reading and trying to understand it, try to understand.
All of which is not to say that we should do nothing in the face of hatred or intolerance—Jesus wouldn’t have done that, either—but it is to say that we should choose our battlefields, and engage with love as the ultimate motivator. Silencing bigotry or hatred with a louder voice—even if it’s possible—still leaves it to fester. Instead, approach it with love and reason…and patience. It’s not a quick fix, which makes it unpopular in today’s world of instant gratification, but it is a permanent fix, when we can turn a heart to love and acceptance by engaging, educating, and modeling what we preach.
And this is the way the world is changed—one heart, one person, at a time.
See you in church.
(Earlier A Word from the Pastor messages may be found in Newsletters.)