Tuesday, June 4, 2013

They'll know we are Christian by . . . what was that again?

I read a post on a progressive blog today titled "Republicans aren't Christians."  For quite some time now some on the right have been writing articles titled "Liberals aren't Christian."  Really?  Is this really the position we want to take with each other?

It's time to stop all the finger pointing and name calling and hostility in the name of Christianity.  All of it flies in the face of what Jesus tried to teach us.  "Love your neighbor as you love yourself", he said.  "Love one another" he said.  And "Do not judge so that you may not be judged."

"Love one another" sounds pretty straightforward.  It means love one another.  It means care about the other, about their well being and about their feelings.  It doesn't mean agree with everything the other says, but it does mean show love for the other as a person.  It doesn't mean accept everything the other says as Capital T Truth but it does mean allow others to have their own opinions on matters of importance to them.  Love one another means having respect for the beliefs and opinions of the other.

"Do not judge sounds pretty" sounds pretty clear to me.  It says to me that I don't get to decide if your way is right or wrong.  If I believe that God has a preferential option for the poor and that therefore it is the role of government to care for all of its citizens, and you don't believe those things in the same way that I believe them - I don't get to say you are wrong and I am right.  That would be judging.  I can say I don't agree with you, but I don't get to call you names.  I can keep working and lobbying and praying for the result I desire . . . and so do you.  "Do not judge" means I need to believe that your opinions and beliefs are every bit as valuable as mine and vice versa.

Yes, I get frustrated when I see politicians putting the desires of people with money ahead of the needs of the poor.  But that has always been the way of the world. Politicians, business owners, even church leaders have always looked first to pleasing the folks with deep pockets and if there is anything left, scattering some crumbs for the poor.  True, not all politicians or CEOs or Church Leaders are like this.  We have a rich history of many good, honest men and women in leadership.  But too many are impressed by wealth and power.  This is human nature.  James even found it necessary to warn church leaders in his time against treating the rich with more respect than the poor (James 2:3-4).

I get even more frustrated when I see Christians, or people of any faith tradition trying to force others to comply with their own religious convictions.  It was to avoid that very thing that so many came to this country in the first place.  It was to keep that from ever happening here that religious freedom was written into our constitution.

If, for example,  I believe it is wrong for a Christian to do business on the Sabbath, then I don't do business on the Sabbath.  I don't try  to make you stop doing business. That's between you and your God. My responsibility is simply and always to obey God the best way I can.  I can certainly tell you what I believe and even why I believe it, but your choices are not for me to judge.  Your actions and stated beliefs might make me crazy, but I don't get to tell you that you aren't Christian because we disagree.

Here's the thing.  Love one another means I respect your beliefs and choices, even especially when I do not agree with you.  It means I speak respectfully to you and about you.  Do not judge means I avoid evaluating your beliefs, words and actions as right or wrong, better or worse when compared to my beliefs, words and actions.

Love one another.  Do not judge.  These are simple, easy to understand instructions.  These are also really, really difficult instructions to carry out.  It is not expected that we will do these things perfectly, for which I am grateful.  But it is expected that we will try.  We will give it our best shot.  If we fall, we get up and try again.  That's what is to be Christian.

The title question?  They'll know we are Christian by  . . .?
Answer:  They'll know we are Christian by  our love.  But you knew that.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Saturday thoughts or "off topic things that pop into my head while sermonizing"

(this piece was found in the middle of a sermon already in progress following some other random and off topic thoughts) 

. . . .   as long as I’m in sidebar mode, a bit about my process.  Obviously, I spend time during the week pulling books off my shelves and searching through them for ways to understand what I’m reading.  I spend possibly an equal amount of time on the internet doing pretty much the same thing, researching and chatting with other preachers about what on earth we’re going to do with this one.   Saturday morning I  set all the sources I plan to use on my desk and settle down in my home work space for the duration - that is, for as long as I can keep coming up with words that I think I can use.  All around me are other items that help me work - candles, books of prayers and stories, stones to hold while I think, something from Starbucks.  

Directly in front of me are quotes that I check often.  A couple of years ago a preacher named Lindsey posted this, which resonates with me every week:  “Trying to write a sermon on Luke...wishing I could be doing something else. It’s hard to write a sermon when you don’t know what the parable means.  That may be where I’m going with this:  that the Bible isn’t an instruction manual but an invitation to be in relationship with God.  Sometimes that means thinking some hard thoughts.”    Next to that is a quote from another preacher - one of the RevGalBlogPals, I think: “A good sermon is one-half of a passionate conversation . .  and a place to meet Jesus.”  And from Soren Kierkegaard, “When you read God’s word, you must constantly be saying to yourself, “it is talking to me, and about me.”   All of those help me focus or get back on track when I wander into sidebar land.  

Running through my mind the whole time is that line from the 19th Psalm that many preachers pray just before they begin their sermon on Sunday morning, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, Lord, my rock and my salvation.”   I’m never quite sure why they pray these words before they read a manuscript.  I would think this prayer is most appropriately prayed before I start writing the manuscript.  Which, now that I think about it, probably shouldn’t be called a manuscript at all, as it is neither handwritten nor on paper, but synced to an iPad mini which I hold so I can “preach while walking around” and not get too sidetracked from the topic.

Some of what I write on Saturday shows up in my sermon on Sunday morning.  Some (like this piece) gets posted to my blog.  Some I file in my “miscellaneous writing” folder to flesh out later.  A lot of it just gets deleted.   And, as most of my congregation and friends already know, more often than not I’m up at 4 am on Sunday to re-write the entire thing because the Spirit has written something different on my heart overnight.