It is a few days late but here is my manuscript from a remembrance service on 9/11. I was asked to deliver the devotional message as an Army Chaplain and I am finally getting around to typing out the text. It is based on Romans 12:21.
Our world changed in a dramatic and sudden instant eleven years ago today on a morning not unlike today. In an instant, thousands of innocent people lost their lives in a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and one other flight. In an instant, our sense of security turned to one of fear. In an instant, we began to look at our neighbors a bit differently. In an instant, wars were launched that lead to the deaths of thousands of our brave military and still thousands more of our “enemies”. The world changed in an instant and it is that instant that has brought us here today to pray, to remember, and to reflect.
The challenge on such an occasion is to find the right scripture and the right message to mark the solemnity of the moment while challenging the listeners to act. The words from Paul’s letter to the Romans seem to fit the bill. Paul offers a challenge to not allow ourselves to be overcome by evil but rather to work to overcome evil with good. As I look out, I know what you are thinking: “But Chaplain, I am a good person who loves my Savior; I’m not overcome with evil.” I know most of you would not embrace evil intentionally but neither would many of my friends. I know people who are great Christians, leaders of their churches, moral and upstanding people who would not hesitate to give you the shirt off their backs, and who love their Savior fully. They would be offended if I even suggested that they were allowing evil to overcome them yet they are. I read their posts on Facebook and see them filled with hate towards followers of Islam. They condemn an entire religion and its believers because of the actions of a handful of extremists who do not represent the larger group. It is a fine line between fear and anger and hate. Yoda said it best in Star Wars: “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads suffering.” For eleven years, many of us have lived in fear and suffered for it. Rather than to let go of our fears, we have allowed them to fester and grow into a cancer that consumes us. It is not a pretty picture but it is a reality in many of our lives.
So what do we do?
We need to continue to remember the events of that day eleven years ago because those who fail to remember (and learn) the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. If we stop remembering, we will face an uncertain future. However, I believe we need to change how we remember the events.
In our remembering, we need to stop fearing people. How many of you can honestly say you understand Islam? There is a lot of information out there from the internet to Aunt Mabel’s hairdresser. I challenge you to go to the source. Talk a Muslim neighbor and ask questions about Islam as you share a meal. Better yet, find a mosque and share in Friday prayers. When we don’t understand people, we form assumptions about them and those assumptions can lead us to fear them and judge them wrongly. But when we open our eyes and our minds, we see people in a new light – not as enemies but rather as part of God’s creation, just as we are. We can learn from each other and love each other. If we are truly Christians, we need to reach out to all people and share the gospel – not with words but through our actions of love and understanding.
This challenging idea brings me back full circle to the events of eleven years ago. It is evident from watching the news that today still brings grief and anger to many people. It should. We have a calling to participate in building the kingdom of God in this world. The horror and death of 9/11 is not part of kingdom building but rather kingdom destroying. The terrorists did not want to build but tear down – literally – peace and security. We can stop it but working to build the kingdom of God in this community and beyond. How, you may ask. By refusing to give in to our fear. By refusing to give in to our hate. By refusing to judge others because of their religion, or their gender, or their race, or their sexuality. By working with our neighbors – whether they are Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Atheist, or some combination of all of them. When we do these things, we force our fear to the back of our minds and we begin to work to build a better world – God’s world. We stop seeing our neighbors as our enemies and we find we have so much more in common with them then we realized. In those moments, we are kingdom building and one step closer to “your kingdom come”.
Eleven years today, our world changed in an instant. We can accept that we live in a different world or we can stand up and work from change. I challenge you to join me in working for change. We know God is love, justice, and peace. We know God’s kingdom is coming so let’s work to overcome the kingdom killers by loving peace and loving each other. Let’s be kingdom builders as we remember and honor those who died. There is no better memorial than a world of peace, love, and harmony.
It seems the world is a crazy place right now. As a nation, we just marked the anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in our history and now we are reeling from the death of Ambassador Christ Stevens in Libya. Accusations and assumptions were quick to erupt on Twitter and Facebook and again, I find myself shaking my head at the reactions of my friends. I am saddened by their words of hatred.
As an Army Chaplain, I serve two masters. First and foremost, I serve my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as a Christian. My faith in Jesus Christ defines what I do and how I act. However, I am also the Chaplain to all Soldiers in my unit so I have to be aware of their religious beliefs and honor them as well. Perhaps, this is why I can step back and look at things from a different perspective. However, I do not wish to judge other people’s reactions either as scripture does say:
Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. ~Matthew 7:1 (NRSV)
So that brings me to the title of my blog post: at what point do we cross the line from being intolerant of violence (as in saying “I am not going to allow this to happen anymore”) to being filled with hatred. I am not going to judge the actions of those who attacked our embassies on Tuesday nor am I going to condone their actions. They have a belief system and they are reacting in accordance with their beliefs. There is also a mob mentality developing as well as people tend to follow the crowd. I will admit that as an American, I am upset to see fellow Americans attacked and killed and I am offended to see our flag ripped down and burned. I believe that is being intolerant of the violence and saying enough is enough.
It is the reactions of some of my friends (some of whom subscribe to this blog and will no doubt take offense to my words – none intended) on Facebook as they criticize not the doers of evil but the religion of many. Frankly there are crazy people in every religious group but the majority do not wish to be associated with them. I am a Christian and so are the Westboro Baptist Church folks. However, I do take offense to their actions and I would prefer not be considered in the same category as the WBC. In the same way, those who are attacking our embassies are one part of Islam. I think it is safe to say that every Muslim in the world is not attacking US Embassies and killing ambassadors. My Muslim neighbors are not storming my house to tear down my flag and burn it nor do I think there are mobs of Muslims anywhere in the United States. Sometimes we have to look at the cultural aspects of things as well and see that it may be more than just religion. I will not judge those who attack US interests around the world – not my lane to do so – nor will I judge my friends for their reactions. I will, however, challenge my friends to remember their baptism vows and remember that we are Christians in word and deed not just lifestyle. What we say represents what we truly believe. Would Jesus hate Muslims?
Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called that you might inherit a blessing. For ‘Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit; let them turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it. ~1 Peter 3:8-11 (NRSV)
It is easy to join in the mob mentality and we can see evidence of it on the news as our embassies continue to be attacked. People follow the crowd. Don’t be part of the crowd that hates – stand up and shout “Stop this!” Let’s stop hating and start loving. It has to begin somewhere so I am praying that it can begin with me. I am not going to hate or condemn or judge but I am going to love and pray for friends and enemies alike. They are no different in God’s eyes. My prayer comes from the Book of Psalms this morning:
How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! ~Psalm 133:1 (NRSV)
Today marks the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the US in 2001. This morning I challenged a congregation to remember differently as I preached from the scripture below. If we continue to remember in fear and anger, we will always react in fear and anger.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. ~Romans 12:21
I am amazed how a short scripture can challenge us in so many ways. Here are a few questions I raised this morning as I challenged my listeners during the remembrance service:
- How is it possible not to be overcome by evil?
- How is it possible to overcome evil with good?
- Where have you seen examples of people, communities, or organizations, by the grace of God, overcoming evil with good—particularly in response to September 11, 2001?
And finally, I offered a challenge as they went through the rest of today and beyond:
- In some small way, try to respond to something evil with an act of goodness, generosity, and genuine love. Let this be a practice that takes root in your life, not only this day, but every day!
PRAYER: God of all goodness, we rejoice that you have already overcome the powers of sin and death through the dying and rising of Christ our Savior. By the grace you have given us in Baptism, help us, day by day, to die more and more to sin and live more and more to your glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
In an 1858 speech, Abraham Lincoln famously said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” He was of course referring to the slavery issue that was dividing the United States and would ultimately lead to the Civil War in just a few years.
Sadly, his words echo today in our climate of vitriolic words of hatred that are swirling from all sides of the election. Supporters of both major party candidates for President are making cases why their person is the best for the job while attacking the other side as blind, misguided, and even stupid. Not the case, you think? Well, all you have to do is glance at Facebook this morning. I glance over the posts and words of people I have known for years and I am surprised at what they are saying about people who do not think as they do. Their keyboards are where their mouths are and I am surprised at what they are saying! What is going to happen when the election is over?
The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. ~Isaiah 40:8 (NRSV)
The day after the election in November, someone will be a winner and someone will have lost. We will go back to normal, so to speak, but things will have changed – relationships will be altered, friendships may even be ended. One thing that will not change is God’s word as Isaiah writes. In fact, God’s world has a lot to say about how we should be treating others. Here is just a sample:
- Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble ~Proverbs 24:17
- In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. ~Matthew 7:12
- This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. ~John 15:12
- Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. ~Ephesians 4:31-32
This is just a small sampling but my point is this: we cannot attack and tear each other down over small things like elections and they go back to normal. We need to abide by God’s word and love each other. More importantly, we need to see that politics is yet one more thing that divides in ways that make it harder to love each other. Let’s stop.
I wasn’t alive when man first stepped on the moon nor was I alive when man last stepped on the moon. Nevertheless, I am captivated like so many other people by the idea of setting foot on something other than our home planet and looking back towards to it.
Today, we lost a great American hero in the passing of Neil Armstrong. Here was a humble and private man who was the first person to set foot on another body in space and yet it never went to his head. He did not publicly seek limelight but rather went about living his life quietly doing what he loved to do. Despite all that he did in his career, I believe his desire to simply live his life made him a greater hero than anything else he could have done.
It seems today that we have so many heroes who are letting us down. Just this week, we heard of another Armstrong who is giving up the fight to clear his name. We have athletes, royalty, and politicians who are embroiled in some controversy or scandal. These were people you could once admire and they continually let us down.
In the end, we have just one person who will not let us down – Jesus.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. ~Hebrews 13:8 (ESV)
We never have to worry that Jesus will disappoint us or fail to live up to our expectations (I think it is the other way around). He never changes and he is always there. His life is a model that we should strive to achieve in our own lives and callings.
Yet once in a while, a true hero comes along. Someone whose life is one we can admire and emulate. One who does not seek riches or fame but rather to simply live as he or she has felt called to live. Neil Armstrong is a true hero to admired. His life inspired a generation of kids to dream beyond the impossible and may his life continue to be an inspiration to generations to come.
God speed, Neil.
Dear Fellow Christians (and others who read):
While I have shared some thoughts over the controversy surrounding same-sex marriage and especially Chick-Fil-a in the past few weeks, I want to share something with you specifically. Please note that I am an ordained minister in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and an Army Chaplain, however, the opinions expressed in this letter are mine and mine alone.
To begin, I want to encourage all of you to open your minds and your souls to new possibilities. Personally, I am wrestling with same-sex marriage and the Biblical definition of marriage and what this means to myself as a minister and as a Christian. I do not have any clear answers. I cannot sit here right now and say what I believe because I do not know. I pray to God to show me answers as I read Scripture. For those who point to Leviticus and Romans as clear answers, I wonder if you follow the entire book of Leviticus to the letter. I don’t so I choose not to judge. In the meantime, I continue to wrestle knowing I have good company since Abraham, Moses, Jacob, and even the Apostles all wrestled with faith (and one wrestled with God literally). So I encourage you to open your minds and to wrestle with what this means to you and to your faith. If at the end of the day, and after honest, deep soul-searching wrestling, you find that you are truly opposed to same-sex marriage because God has shown you it is wrong, so be it. But be open to wrestling and not because someone in a pulpit tells you it is wrong (remember ministers are wrestling humans as well).
Second, I want to share the fact that even though I went to Chick-Fil-a on Wednesday, it did not make me a Christian. It made me a consumer and nothing more. I chose where to spend my money but I still spent money and I most certainly did not engage in worship at Chick-Fil-a. Instead, I spent money to eat a meal even though I had food at home. I could have used the money for a better purpose or to share with someone else in need. I chose not to do that and so did you. Instead, we made some local franchise owners have a very good day. If I want to live out my Christian faith, there are better ways to do it like waiting in line to serve at a food bank, reach out to those who are homeless, or even lend a shoulder to someone in need. Jesus would have gone where people were in need and I should do the same. I encourage you to do the same as well. I will eat at Chick-Fil-a again, I do enjoy their chicken sandwiches and waffle fries, but because I choose to eat there, I am not a Christian. I am not proud that I ate there and I am not ashamed either.
Finally, I want to encourage you to put people first. I have admitted that I am wrestling with same-sex marriage and the biblical definition of marriage but I keep in my mind that it involves people. We all have humanity in common. I want to encourage you to remember that we are people who are Christian, there are people who are LGBT, there are people who are Muslim, there are people who are atheist, but most most importantly there are people. When we lose sight of the people and focus on the label, it is easy to dwell in hatred and condemn people. I am amazed at my fellow Christians who say that God will send gays to hell and they appear happy about that. What does God think of you attitude. When you stop and remember that each of these people you are condemning were also “ fearfully and wonderfully made” by the same God we profess to love. I do not understand how you can hate others but yet claim to love a loving God.
It all comes back to honestly wrestling with these questions and keeping an open mind. I don’t know what to believe, yet, but I will continue to love all people and reach out to them. I will not hate and I will not condemn. Jesus may not have agreed with everyone (ie the Sanhedrin) but he still loved them and tried to find common ground. With the example of my Savior, I will do the same. I will love in the name of Jesus.
Please know that I pray daily for all people and for God to show us the truth. I hope one day to know what God wants me to do and believe. I am sure some will take the time to tell me what they think God wants me to know and I encourage you to do so. I believe God speaks through others and perhaps one of you will be the voice of God to me.
In the meantime, remember the words of Mother Teresa: If you judge people, you have no time to love them.
The Rev. Timothy Baranoski
I strive to live my life according to God. I pray and I read the Bible. I reflect on how God’s word impacts my life and I work at following where God leads me. And I fail at it on a regular basis because I am only human. I know I am not perfect because I am only human.
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I handed them on to you. ~1 Corinthians 11:1-2 (NRSV)
As I said I work to be an imitator of Christ but then there are issues or events that I am not sure how to deal with. I am referring to the current debate swirling around same-sex marriage. As I have said before, I do not honestly know what to think. I do know I am not homophobic. I would imitate Christ but I am not sure what Christ would do. I take that back. I know that Christ would not criticize or spout hateful language towards the LGBT community. I know Jesus would love them and I do the same.
I already admitted that my family and I went to Chick-Fil-a the other day to eat. It wasn’t so much to make a political statement as we passed on on the way back to Nashville and there isn’t one close to our house. We happen to like to eat there. What I was shocked by were the Christians who were celebrating that they “were helping to stamp out homosexuality” and those who were questioning “where the gays are now.” These are people who claim to be Christians and they were not acting in a Christian manner!
I have friends who are homosexual and they are good friends. This does not mean I do not struggle with the issue of same-sex marriage and they know that I do. We are still friends. I am simply honest about it. I tend to straddle the fence on this issue – not because I cannot make up my mind; though I am still working on what I truly believe – but because it lets me hear both sides and see things from both sides. I am a person who reads and studies. I am currently reading a book called Qu(e)erying Evangelism which is about a church that reached out to the LGBT community. Do I think it will change my mind? I don’t know but it is an issue that I struggle with so I want to be better read and educated. I pray over this issue and seek God’s guidance as well. I do not believe the condemnation language that many Christians put out there. God does not hate. There is no discussion on that issue.
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’ ~Jeremiah 1:5 (NRSV)
I do believe that God has called us all to be prophets of some sort. I am a prophet who is being exceedingly honest when I say I don’t know what to believe right now. I would like to think that I am a voice of moderation or at least one who is the middle listening to both sides to learn and understand. I have probably let myself open to criticism from both sides and so be it. But understand this – I am being open and honest with my beliefs and my struggles.
Yes, I’ll admit it. My family and I went to Chick-Fil-a today for dinner. I am not sure it was so much a political statement as we like eating there from time to time and we passed one on the way home from Dinosaur World in Kentucky. In the back of my head I knew it was “Chick-Fil-a Appreciation Day” and I realized they were swamped once I pulled in the parking lot. I could have gone somewhere else but this is where we wanted to eat. Not out of a political statement but because it is my choice. So here are my thoughts.
First, I think it is silly that we have made Chick-Fil-a the center of a controversy. I am not going to come out and say specifically whether I agree with them or not. I will say that in the end, we are so divided as a nation already that it does not matter because those that agree will continue to support Chick-Fil-a (see the picture above) and those that do not agree will boycott. Judging by the crowds when I was there, the company is making out pretty well.
So what do I think? I need we need to find some common ground. To begin with, we are all children of God. We are all human. We have things in common and that is a start.
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. ~Galatians 3:27-29 (NRSV)
I have said before that I do not know what I think regarding same sex marriage and Scripture. I know what Scripture says but then I am human and I interpret Scripture from a certain world view (known as hermeneutics). I know other people view Scripture and read it differently so I think it is difficult for us to come to a consensus as to what God intends marriage to be. I don’t think it is an easy answer and we have drawn a clear line that is dividing us.
Same-sex marriage has become a political issue and like other political issues, it is contentious. We need to spend more time having dialogues and seeking the common ground that Paul refers to since we are all humans; all Abraham’s offspring.
While I welcome dialogue, discussion, and study of what the Bible says, I do not want this shoved down my throat or forced upon me. Let me consider what God says through a study of Scripture and through prayer. Let’s take politics out of this and most certainly, Chick-fil-a needs to stay out of this.
I know people have strong opinions and you are welcome to them. This is my opinion and mine alone. If you do comment, please be kind and refrain from attacking.
Here are some startling statistics:
- On average, 18 veterans in the US commit suicide every day.
- On average, there are between 130,000 and 200,000 homeless veterans on any given night in the US.
I don’t know about you but I found these statistics to be disturbing. Of course, it does not take into account the number of other people who commit suicide each day nor the total number of homeless. However, I am going to focus on veterans for this post.
You see, we train Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen to go to war to defend our rights and our freedoms. We cheer them on when they come home from war with parades and flags (at least recently – ask a Vietnam Vet how they were treated). Then we turn our backs when they need us. They have fulfilled a role and it is like they are expendable.
Unfortunately, I think this is a testament to the American mind. We use something while we can and then dispose of it once it is no longer useful to us. We are a culture of throwing things away including people.
There are great organizations out there that work with Veterans from the national level to the local grassroots level. I challenge you (and ask you) to find an organization that works with Veterans and help them with your time and/or money. After all, Veterans have done so much for us, it’s time to return the favor.
If that isn’t enough, let’s see what Scripture has to say:
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 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 25:34-40 (NRSV)
When Lord, when did I do this? What is your answer?
This morning as I watching the Olympics, a commercial came on highlighting the dedication of the athletes towards their training. Many of them work at their training every day and one even said he skipped dessert for the last two years. I am amazed at their dedication to the sport and they set a standard for many of us. Of course, as I thinking about this dedication, I cannot help but think what would happen if many of us did the same thing with our walk of faith.
Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified. ~1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NRSV)
I know this scripture verse was probably preached in a lot of churches this past weekend and I am sure it is showing up on church signs as well. It is one that we can relate to, especially in this country, since it deals with sports and athletes. As I mentioned above, many Olympic athletes dedicate themselves to working at their sports to achieve a gold medal. It is a worthy cause.
We as Christians should also dedicate ourselves to working at our faith and our relationship with God. Not for a gold medal but for eternal life. Of course, I am one of those people who believes that while eternal life is a great thing, it should not be our total motivation. Our relationship with God should come out in our relationship with others. People should be able to see God in us and through our actions and even through our words. The harder we work at it, the easier it will become and the more evident it will be.
I watched several world records fall in swimming and the athletes make it look so easy but I know there is hours and hours of training behind that one race. They didn’t get up that morning and go swim. In the same manner, we should spend hours and hours in God’s presence through study of Scripture and prayer. In fact, everything we do should be focused on God – including work and training.
If we follow the example of the athletes’ we can grow stronger in our faith and in our relationship with God.
Here is today’s sermon based on Acts 2:44-47. It was inspired by a recent drill weekend when my unit celebrated Family Day.
The other weekend, I attended my unit’s monthly BTA. Like many other things as of late, I am beginning a countdown of times I will drill with these Soldiers before we move to Fort Hood. This particular weekend, however, I noticed something or at least it occurred to me for the first time. I am part of this unit. I am accepted by the other Soldiers even though I am one of the newbies. I could make arguments why – we wear the same uniform; we have the same unit patch; we have the same mission. There are probably lots of reasons but whatever the reason, a community exists within the 332nd Medical Brigade HHC and I am part of it. It is good to be part of a community and it inspired today’s sermon.
Then amid the horror of the theater shootings in Aurora, CO, we witnessed a community developing as people came together to grieve, to heal, and to comfort one another. Perhaps in Colorado, there was not much of an existing community but they develop when the need arises.
I want to talk to you this morning not from the perspective of a minister, but simply as a member of a faith community, this community again as a newbie. The concept of “community” is not new by any means. It’s as old as time itself. It is more than just a group of people in a specific geographic area; it’s more than the physical placement of this place called Springfield, TN. Community is about relationships, specifically our relationships with each other. Scripture is far from silent on the topic of community. One of the foremost passages about community comes to us from the writings of Luke in the book of Acts.
In our passage of scripture this morning we see several aspects about the concept of community, these things were important facets of this 1st century community, and they are important to our own community today.
- In Community, we find diversity
- We are created by God to be individuals
- No two people are created the same (but wouldn’t it be nice if everyone was just like me?)
- Each and every one of us are unique creations of God, with unique gifts given to us by God
- Even people who are identical twins are different from one another
- Being uniquely created individuals we will see things differently than others do
- We will have differences of opinion
- Differences in likes and dislikes
- If 12 people in a room were presented with a problem, more than likely we would get 15 different solutions to that problem
- Even with our differences we can find common ground
- Those things that have separated Christians in the past for the most part have been merely matters of opinion
- We read in our passage that they “had all things in common” common means alike
- They were dedicated to the same thing, the spreading of the Gospel, and the growth of the Lord’s Church
- They were dedicated to leading others to Christ, so they might have a meaningful relationship with Him
- And these people were different as the day is long, Luke gives us 12 different and distinct places, each with their own culture, ideas, and upbringing, yet they were a “community” drawn together by their mutual faith
- When the Church was born on the day of Pentecost there was 1 church
- We have let our own differences of opinion separate us
- We must not compromise our core beliefs, but when it comes to matters of opinion we must be willing to accept differing viewpoints
- An old saying, In essentials – unity; in non-essentials – freedom; in all things love
- We can have unity within diversity, I believe as a Church we must
- Story: Chapel worship
- We are created by God to be individuals
- In Community, we find support
- Support for those who are down
- This speaks of Physical support
- When someone is in need this is when the community steps in
- We as a community are a supporting community
- Community is a place where people can find a stable place to stand in the midst of a storm of life
- We are encouraged to help those who need help
- Jesus’ words on this “when you have done it for the least of these you have done it for me”
- Story: Air Assault course
- Support for those who are down
- This speaks of spiritual support
- To help our brothers and sisters in time of need
- To pray for them and to pray with them
- To encourage them
- To let them know you care
- Community needs to be both types of support
- Sometimes we may be the giver and another time the receiver
- Support is one of the main threads that binds a community together
- Community extends beyond our towns borders, even our county and state borders
- The great humanitarian Mother Teresa was once asked by an interviewer: “What’s the biggest problem in the world today?” Without hesitating she replied, “The biggest problem in the world today is that we draw the circle of our family too small. We need to draw it larger every day.”
- As a community we are a family, and our arms need to reach out to each other and around the world
- Support for those who are down
- In Community, we find love
- Love for one another
- Love enough to meet the needs of those around us
- To support them
- To encourage them
- Its easy to love those we like, not always easy with those we are in conflict with
- We are called to love all people
- We see Jesus’ answer to the question about the greatest commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself”
- This command doesn’t have any disqualifying factors
- We are called to love each other, to be compassionate to each other
- The good Samaritan & the Golden rule
- The love of God should emanate from each of us to those around us
- God loves each one of us, he love us so much he gave all for us
- John 3:16 says it all
- We as a town are a community, we as Christians are a community
- A community where all are welcome
- Christianity has been compared to one beggar showing another where to find bread
- God’s love shines through his acceptance of each of us, he wants a relationship with each of us
- Our love for each other in this community should shine through that same love.
- Love for one another
The huge redwood trees in California are amazing. They are the largest living things on earth and the tallest trees in the world. Some of them are 300 feet high and more than 2,500 years old. You would think that trees that large would have a tremendous root system, reaching down hundreds of feet into the earth. But that is not the case. Redwoods have a very shallow root system. The roots of these trees are, however, intertwined. They are tied in with each other; interlocked. Thus, when the storms come and the winds blow the redwoods still stand. With an interlocking root system they support and sustain each other. They need one another to survive and to grow.
Community is interlocking our lives with others – whether they are exactly like us or not – not to be pushy or nosy but because we need each other. We need the love and the support and the encouragement and even the prodding from time to time. God did not make us to be alone with love and support. God is present in our lives through our community. Like the redwood trees, we need each other to survive and grow.
Here is today’s worship bulletin.
It has been a challenging week with the ever unfolding scandal at Penn State and the aftermath of the mass shootings in Aurora, CO. It is difficult enough to try to wrap your head around it without people spouting off and making silly comments.
I have heard (and I am paraphrasing these) some of the following comments:
- God is punishing the US because of abortion/homosexuality/same sex marriage
- God was there to save the victims (what about those who died?)
- God hates _____ (fill in the blank)
- God loved enough to save people
- The victims are in a better place now
All of this begs the question: “Where is God?” People have been asking this question this weekend as we come to grips with another loss of innocence from a shooting or the fallout of a major child-molestation case. Where was God? Why didn’t God do something about this?
I believe that in many cases we have done this to ourselves. Now, I am not saying that God punished the people in Colorado or the children at PSU but I believe we have made decisions along the way that laid the groundwork for these things to happen. Over the years, we have allowed the morality of our country to slide and what was immoral a decade ago is now perfectly accepted today. We look the other way for one thing and pretty soon we look the other way for other things as well. It is not long before we realize how far we have drifted and well it is easier to stay adrift than come back.
So where is God? God is there all the time. Scripture tells us that God is ever present as the 1st verse of Psalm 46 indicates:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
The problem is we only turn to God when there is trouble. I offered prayers for the victims in Aurora, CO and I continue to pray for the PSU community but I am reacting to the events rather than working to prevent them. We turn to God when troubles come but not before. I know Psalm 46 begins with God being our help in trouble but the 10th verse of Psalm 46 is better advice:
‘Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.’
How often are we still and pray to God? How often do we pause when things are going well and acknowledge God? I am guilty of it too. We react when troubles come and cry out to God (and yes even blame God) but God is still there to provide refuge and strength.
Imagine, for just a minute, what would if we cry out to God all the time? In good times and in troubles. Would this mean that our lives would be trouble free? Of course not, we live in a fallen world but if we begin to acknowledge God in all things, we are no longer drifting in our morals and we are beginning to turn back to God. We may realize the potential horror of our decisions and begin to work, together as a people, we can stop our immoral slide and make things better for all people.
It sounds hard but it begins with one person – me. I can do this by choosing to acknowledge God and follow God in all things. As I do it, I can influence the people around me – quietly and without confrontation – to follow my example. Slowly, we can make the world a better place for all people as we acknowledge the presence of God in our lives. It begins with me.
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. ~1 John 3:18 (NRSV)
I am not preaching this Sunday but I felt the need to write a sermon to address some of the emotions and words that are floating out there given the shooting in Aurora, CO. Here is my offering based on Matthew 5:43-46:
This is yet another hard saying of the Sermon on the Mount. I share this message today given the events of this past week as we watched in horror the reports of yet another mass shooting of innocent victims in this country. We also have reports of more dead around the world – all innocent victims. On top of this, the Westboro Baptist Church plans to head to Colorado and revel in the deaths of these innocent people to share their message. If we look at all of this, it is easy to want to lash out and hate those who hate but then we have this scripture from the Sermon on the Mount. Should we hate? Let’s take a closer look.
- Reasons to HATE: Our reasons to hate are as numerous as our reasons to take revenge. We can rationalize anything. Notice that Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” The part about hating your enemy is nowhere in the Bible. The part about loving your neighbor is from Leviticus 19:18. We come up with good reasons to hate people.
- Not my NEIGHBOR
- Since it was said that we should love our neighbor, some drew the conclusion, that we should only love our neighbor. The logical conclusion was then to not love someone who wasn’t a neighbor.
- In the OT mind, the neighbor was a fellow countryman. It meant that a neighbor was someone like us (in thought, appearance [dress, race], belief, etc.).
- My ENEMY
- An enemy is someone who is against us.
- An enemy is someone who is different from us. It could be our nemesis at work, school, or wherever.
- Why should we love someone who doesn’t like? What have they every done for us?
- My PERSECUTOR
- A persecutor is the one who picks on us for who we are. This goes beyond an enemy.
- This is the bully who puts threats into practice.
- Okay, so I shouldn’t seek to do the same to him, but why can’t I sit and stew about him?
- They are EVIL
- It was also considered noble to hate the enemies of God.
- Someone who is an evil sinner should be hated.
- The WBC preached, “God hates fags.” Their rationale was that since they were “evil” people, God hated them and so should everyone else.
- They are UNJUST
- The unjust are those who seek to do harm to others.
- Not my NEIGHBOR
- Rewards for LOVE There are rewards for loving others. Jesus said that greatest commandment was to love God, which few have a problem with. The second greatest commandment was to love your neighbor as yourself. Part of the problem is the definition of who our neighbor is. Who is our neighbor? Jesus defined our neighbor in the story of the Good Samaritan. If their was any group that Jews hated in Jesus’ day, it was the Samaritans, along with the tax collectors and Gentiles, which covered about anyone who wasn’t like them. In effect our enemy is our neighbor.
- To be a CHILD of God
- Jesus said that one of the benefits of loving our enemies (who really are our neighbors) is that we will be children of God.
- Children bear the resemblance of their parents. People say I look like my parents, and my kid looks like my wife or me. Sometimes we even see a resemblance between parents and adopted children.
- To be a child of God is to reflect his image. We were created in the image of God.
- The mere act of loving our enemy doesn’t make us a child of God, but it shows that we are a child of God.
- To become a child of God we must begin a walk with God. The result will be that we will love our enemies.
- To make new FRIENDS
- Another reward for loving our enemies is that we can make a new friend.
- Read Matthew 5:14-16.
- If we show genuine love to someone who hates us, it may well turn into a friendship, but at the least we will show them that we are children of God and that may bring them into a relationship with God.
- If we hate them and claim to love God, what does that say?
- 1 John 2:9 says, “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.” If you hate someone, are you really a child of God? We are called to…
- Real PERFECTION
- The last verse is a tough one. How on earth can I be perfect?
- Notice it doesn’t say to be as perfect as God is? This begs the question, “What is perfection?”
- To be perfect is meet our function. When we fulfill our function, we are perfect. We are perfect if we fulfill the design that God gave us. We were created to bear the image of God.
- To love our enemies is be a child of God, and therefore bear his image. God loves saint and sinner alike, and when we do that we are perfect in the NT sense. My car is perfect despite defects.
- Love as God LOVES
- God loves everyone, so we should love everyone. God sends rain and sun on all people regardless of who they are. God loves all his creation.
- As a child of God, I am created in his image.
- So is everyone else you could think of.
- Since we are to bear the image of God we should show love to all people.
- Live at a HIGHER LEVEL
- Even the worst sinner loves those who love those who love them.
- To be a follower of God, we are to live on a higher level. We are called to a better life. That doesn’t mean we get all puffed up.
- Growing to MATURITY
- Perfection has to do with our maturity. An 8-year old can play
- To be a CHILD of God
Who gets on your nerves? Who do you have good reason to hate? What does God want you to do about it?
I have a confession to make. I visit the Westboro Baptist Church’s website from time to time. Why? I want to know the message they are putting out to the world. I am not calling them the enemy but I think it is important to know what messages they are sharing in the event that other people ask. Another confession related to the WBC – I have to shower when I am done because I always feel so dirty.
I am bringing this up this morning because yesterday as the events of the theater shooting unfolded, I was reading messages on Twitter that people were saying that God hated America, God hates________ (fill in the blanks), or God is punishing people for sin. I was troubled (and still am) but these statements because (1) they are insensitive and (2) I believe they go against the Bible.
God is love. The Bible shows this time and time again. God is a being of love and therefore is incapable of hate. If God hated, then God couldn’t be God. The most commonly quoted scripture verse is John 3:16 which says (in case you forgot):
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. ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. ~John 3:16-17 (NRSV)
Read those words and concentrate on loved and saved. God desires a relationship with every person and sent Jesus to show the way to God and God did it out of love. There is no hatred in that statement. There is not condemnation. God loved.
Another passage that many people are quite familiar with (mainly because it is read at weddings) is 1 Corinthians 13. Paul talks about love and what it may look like. To me, the first verse sums up what sharing a message of love is all about: If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (13:1 NRSV) Yup. I can preach the Gospel and share God but if I do not do out of love, I might as well not bother. Those churches and people who go out (and in some cases gleefully do so) and share that God hates and God is punishing are nothing more than noisy gongs. They are making a whole lot of noise but doing little more than driving people away from God.
In my mind, I would rather love someone to God than scare them there. I would rather show someone the love of God through my actions towards them and how I treat them then to use words and scripture and hateful messages to scare them into accepting God. I would rather serve a God out of loving devotion than to accept a God out of a fear.
Any God that I have to fear (and I am talking fear and not a healthy awestruck trembling) because if I don’t accept God I will be punished is not a God for me nor is it a true relationship. I am in it out of fear. Rather, I would prefer to serve a God who despite my stubborn, flawed, sinful, arrogant, and imperfect nature still loves me and wants me to know him better.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. ~1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NRSV)
This morning, like so many other people, I awoke to the news of the horrible theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. It is another act of senseless violence that seems to fill our lives and society. The news is full of violent act after violent act. Examples of how humanity can do its worst against one another time and time again.
I am sure like so many other people, I am asking why does this happen? How can we let another shooting occur? When is the violence going to stop?
I am not going to be one of those people who say this is a message from God but in some ways I think it is. No, I am not saying that God caused those people to die. What I am saying is that we have lost sight of adhering to basic principles of living morally. We no longer love our neighbor. We no longer our families. We only love ourselves. We are so wrapped up in our own selves that the world is falling to pieces all around us and we don’t seem to care.
“The young killers of Columbine High School do not stand for the spirit of America. We can rise up and we can say No more. ” ~Al Gore (April 25, 1999)
I remember when the events of Columbine occurred and I remember Al Gore saying those words. They may seem idealistic but I believe it is possible. We need to stop worrying about ourselves and start caring about a generation that is losing itself to drugs, violence, and gangs. We need to stop worrying about whether a corporation is against us and worry about loving one another and embracing both our differences and those things we have in common (ie humanity).
I can accept that not everyone believes in God but I do and I have accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Regardless of whether you believe in God or not, there are basic ways that we treat one another. Violence and murder are not part of that way. We need to follow the Golden Rule and apply it to our every day living from work to home to family and even when dealing with those we don’t like or agree with. I know I am being idealistic but we have to start somewhere or we will simply watch our world grow more and more violent on a daily basis.
Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage. ~Psalm 33:12 (NRSV)
I don’t think it is too late for all of us to stand up and say “no more”. We can stop the violence if we focus on others instead of what matters to us. Let’s embrace one another in love and not hatred.
I come to you asking that you would comfort the family and friends of the victims of the theater shootings. Meet each of these people at the point of their need and speak the words only you can speak in order to be comforted at this moment. Let the families and friends bind together and be strengthened as they mourn the untimely passing of their loved ones. And for those who are injured, be in the hospital room with them right now. Be at their bedside and hold their hands. Impart healing energy into their room.. Be with their loved ones who are in hospital waiting rooms awaiting news. Be with the doctors who will treat them, giving those doctors knowledge, wisdom and discernment. Let everyone who will and can pray for the recovery of those who are wounded, the comfort of those who are mourning and even the remorse for the shooter. I pray all of these things in the mighty and matchless name of Jesus, Amen.
I begin with a caveat, the opinions expressed in this blog post are my own and do not represent the Army or my denomination.
I have read with interest the comments, feedback, and attacks against Chick-Fil-A over the past day or so since they have clearly stated their belief and opinion on LGBT issues. Like so many other entities in this country, including people, they are entitled to express their opinion and their view. If Chick-Fil-A has decided they want to support traditional marriage – as defined between a man and a woman – they are entitled to do so. It is their right. They are not discriminating against anyone – at least not legally – as the laws have not changed nationally.
Personally, I like Chick-Fil-A. I don’t eat there every day because it is not good for me but I appreciate the courtesy of the staff and the atmosphere. Will I stop going because they have expressed an opinion? Not at all. I can respect that they have publicly stated what they believe. Do we know what other corporate entities believe? Not really. Most companies are secretive and move money around between various groups and organizations so we truly do not know what they believe or support. At least Chick-Fil-A is willing to stick their necks out and go on record.
To those that are up in arms and ready to fight against a company, please do so. It is your right and I am proud that I am part of an organization that is guaranteeing that right. However, what I read and see people saying are vicious comments. They are attacking a company and people who support the company. We live in a country where money makes things happen – to be honest the best way is to stop eating at Chick-Fil-A if you are so opposed. It is that simple.
I am sure people will attack me and I am willing to take that risk. I thought this through before I wrote this post. To be honest, I am wrestling with the LGBT community and what it says in scripture. I struggle with the theology of all this as I try to determine what God would say. It is not easy and I am not being a coward by refusing to take a stand. I am being true to myself and my own theology as I read and study scripture and pray over this issue. I am willing to admit that I just don’t know.
What I do know is that we as a country are so divided over things that there is really no middle ground any longer. You can see it from the halls of government to our very neighborhoods. Either you are in support or you are opposed. Either you like me or hate me. Either you are with me or against me. Compromise and dialogue no longer seem to be an option. I try to have dialogues with other faith groups and people who view the world differently than me. Why? To understand what they believe and see but also to learn and grow as a person. I am not going to jump head first into a belief system. I want to wrestle with it and understand how people think and see if it fits into my own theology and what I believe God is telling me.
Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.’ ~Joshua 24:15 (NRSV)
I strive to serve God in all that I do from my work to my family time. I find there are times when I struggle with that effort but above all, it is my guiding principle. I am open to dialogue and conversation but those dialogues and conversation end with prayer and study of scripture. I am not closed-minded but rather open to possibilities as God shows me. I pray that we as a nation will be the same – that our minds will be open to what others may believe so we can meet and dialogue. Yes, this is my attempt to straddle the fence. I am not willing to jump on one side or the other because I believe both sides have worthy goals but a common dialogue is the only way. Not attacks. Not boycotts. Not harsh words but a meeting.
It’s Independence Day here in the U.S. For many it will mean picnics, concerts, friends, family, swimming, and of course fireworks. It is how we spend this day celebrating our “Americanness”. In my case, I get to add perform a wedding later. So what are my thoughts on this day of celebration and nationalism? I am glad you asked.
As I was reading comments and blogs this morning, I have noticed a lot of people pointing out that religion and nationalism do not mix. In many ways, I can see this argument. If we become too wrapped in our country, we tend to lose focus on God. It is the old argument of where your treasure lies so does your heart. I get that. I can see that. On the other hand, there is another extreme. Those who spend all of their time arguing that Christianity (read religion) and nationalism are strongly linked together and cannot be separated. What do I think? I think arguments like these are what today is all about. We have the freedom to debate (let’s keep it friendly though) because we are independent.
I admit I love being a citizen of the United States. I am a proud American who is willing to serve in the Army. I embrace many American ideals while I struggle with others. I will also admit that we are not perfect and we have a lot of work to do. We have homeless that we need to take care. We have moral issues that we need to solve. We have leaders who do not always lead us in the right direction. We are not perfect but we have the freedom to choose to work to make it better. We have the opportunity (unlike many countries) to bring about change – if we choose to do it.
However, I love God more than I love my country. There are lines I will not cross because I do not believe that God would lead me there. I strive to follow God’s lead in all I do and that includes serving in the Army. I began this day with prayer for our leaders and our nation and Scripture reading as I do every day but I especially prayed for our nation today. I know we are not perfect and I know in many cases that God has been pushed aside but I still love this country and the freedom we can enjoy. I can go to the church of my choice and I can choose to help the poor or not. In the end, every citizen has a choice about following God or not. I think rather than complain that we are not following God as a nation, those of us who are concerned should work harder to set an example.
John Adams is one of my favorite founding fathers (I share some personality traits with him). The quote below comes from a letter to his wife after the Declaration of Independence was approved by Congress:
“I am apt to believe it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.” ~John Adams
I plan to engage in all of them today (okay maybe not the bonfire) but especially acts of devotion to God Almighty. I pray that God will guide us in what we should do and give us the strength to make a better nation and ultimately a better world.
Happy Independence Day!
Today is the day I have for which I have been waiting a long time. I have been on a journey and today (or maybe tomorrow) I will know where that journey will lead.
For those who are confused, I have been part of the Army Chaplain Candidate program for the past 18 months and heading in this direction for nearly 3 years. I have put forth my packet to be considered for active duty and I will know whether that is happening later this week. If I am not selected for active duty, it is not the end of my military ministry – it will just change directions and focus. I will still be part of the Army and I will still have a chance to do ministry with Soldiers.
There would have been a time in my life when I would have worried about what was going to happen but not anymore. I have a friend who likes to remind everyone that it isn’t about me, it isn’t about you, it’s about God. It is a true statement (I even preached about that idea this past Sunday). None of this has anything to do with me ultimately – it is all for God’s glory and all part of God’s greater plan. I am privileged to be a participant but it isn’t about me at all. While active duty may be appealing (and I really, really want to go active duty), it may not be God’s will for me. I may be disappointed but I will keep going where God leads me.
Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved. -Psalm 55:22 (NRSV)
So what lessons would I share with you today based on my above ramblings? Good question and here are my answers.
- It is not about you; It is about God. It is that simple. Every single thing about this life is about God. We have a purpose on this earth and true joy and delight come from fulfilling that purpose. Happy are those who find their purpose and live their life according to God’s will!
- It will be okay. I remind myself of this all the time and I am reminded of this all the time. We may not be able to see what is coming down the road or see to the other side of our troubles or our waiting but God is already there and that is enough for me. As my supervisory chaplain reminded us in a sermon: “God is already in tomorrow.”
- Don’t worry; be happy! I am not naïve enough to know that being happy all the time is nearly impossible. However, when we worry less and trust more, happiness follows. This comes from a worrier at heart who struggles with doubt and worry on a regular basis. Believe me, I am worrying less and I am happier for it. Life still isn’t easier but it is better when I stop worrying and trust that God is in control.
So as I go through the next few days, I am waiting but I am not worrying. I may be on the edge of my sit waiting for answers (who among really does like to wait?) but I am not worried about the outcome because it will be exactly what God wants for me. I would appreciate a prayer or two but no worries here. It is all good.
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. -Romans 8:28-29 (NRSV)
“This flag, which we honor and under which we serve, is the emblem of our unity, our power, our thought and purpose as a nation. It has no other character than that which we give it from generation to generation … Though silent, it speaks to us — speaks to us of the past, of the men and women who went before us, and of the records they wrote upon it.”
— President Woodrow Wilson
In 1777, the Second Congressional Congress laid out thirteen stripes and thirteen stars, creating, in their own words, “a new constellation” — a banner to hang above their revolutionary new country.
In the years to come, our flag would be threatened by civil war, attract millions of immigrants to its promise, be raised triumphantly on battlefields, Olympic games, and the moon, and even be burned by those it protects.
On this Flag Day, let us remember what we salute at baseball games, pledge allegiance to in classrooms, fly quietly above our homes — a symbol of our founding principles … and the struggle of twelve generations to keep the American dream alive.
As you ponder and honor Flag day, here are a few links to enjoy: