Thursday, August 30, 2012

If I have not love, I am nothing

From the Republican party platform: "The unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed."  Which prohibits abortion even in cases of rape and incest.  Which leads me to conclude that love is no longer the highest value in the conception of children.  Life supercedes love.  Which means 1 Corinthians 13 is a mistake.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sacred space

Psalm 84; 1 Kings 8: 1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43
First Church of Christ, UCC, Woodbridge, CT
August 26, 2012

          In the Celtic spiritual tradition, pilgrims often drew a circle around themselves before embarking on a journey.  The pilgrim would point her finger outward and rotate in a clockwise direction until she completed the circle.  This practice of faith, the “caim” or “encircling”, reminded the traveler that God surrounds him wherever he goes.  Despite the danger that threatens personal safety, despite the valley of weeping and death that we read in the psalms, the pilgrim is constantly within the circle of God’s protection, the everlasting circle of divine love.


Circle me, Lord.  Keep protection near and danger afar.  Circle me, Lord.  Keep light near and darkness afar.  Circle me, Lord.  Keep peace within.  Keep evil out.  Circle me, Lord.  Keep hope within.  Keep distrust without.


          But can God’s presence, God’s love be contained in a circle around us?  Just as Solomon acknowledged that even heaven and the highest heaven could not contain the Creator of the universe, much less the great temple, the house of God that Solomon had built, we recognize that in this ritual it is we who are contained in God’s limitless presence and power.


          What makes a space sacred space?  What makes this church building a sacred space?  Were the lumber and nails and bricks and mortar blessed by prayer?  Is it because of the floor plan, the placement of pews and pulpit and communion table?  What made the temple in Jerusalem a sacred space?  Was it the presence of the Ark of the Covenant?  Was it the priests and their presiding over the sacrifices and burnt offerings?


          When 1 Kings was written, it was centuries after this dedication ceremony had taken place.  The temple had been destroyed, Jerusalem was in ruins, and the people of Israel were in captivity.  God’s people needed to remember whose they were, what it meant to have a sacred place in which to worship and around which to center their lives, and to renew their hope that one day they would return to their holy land, the place where God first spoke to them and joined with them in covenant.


          Imagine what it would be like for your congregation if you no longer had a sanctuary in which to worship or around which to center your lives. 

Imagine living separate from one another, from your sisters and brothers in covenant and feeling separated from God.  This week will be seven years since Hurricane Katrina and the storms that followed.  So many churches were damaged or destroyed.  Ten Catholic churches still stand sealed and empty.  Many church members were forced out of their homes or moved away.  Some died.  Pastors and church staff members had to minister while under heavy burdens of recovery themselves.  Worship space and practices had to take different forms in order for congregations to remain viable.  What we think of as sacred space may be out of sync with our brothers and sisters on the Gulf coast. 

If there wasn’t a church building for a church, what then would define sacred space?


          In the history of the Congregational church the place where we worship is referred to as the ‘meetinghouse’ instead of ‘sanctuary’.  It goes back to our Puritan mothers and fathers, who stripped the worship space of all adornment and symbols.  The building was used for town meetings as well as worship.  It is not the cross or the Bible or stained glass that makes this place holy.  These and others are reminders of the divine presence.  It is what we do in this space that makes it sacred.  God’s presence is very real and palpable when we express that presence in our worship and in our life together.


          One of my favorite church songs as a child (and still is) is the song “I Am the Church” by Avery and Marsh.  If you know it, sing it along with me:


I am the Church/You are the Church/We are the Church together!
All who follow Jesus/All around the world/Yes, we’re the Church together!

The Church is not a building/The Church is not a steeple/
The Church is not a resting place/The Church is the people!


We may have all heard this before, but yes, we are the Church:  you, me, everybody!  And not just the people we like and agree with, but the people we don’t like and disagree with; they are the church too.  And those who have yet to be welcomed, those who are on their way here, they are the Church too.  It is what we do in God’s name that makes a space sacred; it is we the Church, the people, who create sacred space wherever we are.


A few years ago Tony Campolo, an American Baptist minister and author, flew to Hawaii to speak at a conference.  He checked into his hotel and tried to get some sleep. Unfortunately, his internal clock woke him at 3:00 a.m. The night was dark, the streets were silent, the world was asleep, but Tony was wide awake and his stomach was growling.


He got up and prowled the streets looking for a place to get some bacon and eggs for an early breakfast. Everything was closed except for a grungy dive in an alley. He went in and sat down at the counter. The guy behind the counter came over and asked, "What d'ya want?"

Well, Tony wasn't so hungry anymore, so eying some donuts under a plastic cover he said, "I'll have a donut and black coffee."

As he sat there munching on his donut and sipping his coffee at 3:30 in the morning, in walk eight or nine provocative, loud prostitutes just finished with their night's work. They plopped down at the counter and Tony found himself uncomfortably surrounded by this group of smoking, swearing, scantily-clad women.  He gulped his coffee, planning to make a quick getaway. Then the woman next to him said to her friend, "You know what?  Tomorrow's my birthday.  I'm gonna be 39."  To which her friend nastily replied, "So what d'ya want from me?  A birthday party?  Huh?  You want me to get a cake and sing happy birthday to you?"

The first woman said, "Aw, come on, why do you have to be so mean?  Why do you have to put me down?  I'm just sayin' it's my birthday.  I don't want anything from you.  I mean, why should I have a birthday party?  I've never had a birthday party in my whole life.  Why should I have one now?"

Well, when Tony Campolo heard that, he said he made a decision. He sat and waited until the women left, and then he asked the guy at the counter, "Do they come in here every night?"

"Yeah," he answered.

"The one right next to me," he asked, "she comes in every night?"

"Yeah," he said, "that's Agnes. Yeah, she's here every night. She's been comin' here for years. Why do you want to know?"

"Because she just said that tomorrow is her birthday. What do you think?  Do you think we could maybe throw a little birthday party for her right here in the diner?"

A cute kind of smile crept over the man's chubby cheeks. "That's great," he said, "yeah, that's great.  I like it." He turned to the kitchen and shouted to his wife, "Hey, come on out here. This guy's got a great idea.  Tomorrow is Agnes' birthday and he wants to throw a party for her right here."

His wife came out. "That's terrific," she said. "You know, Agnes is really nice.  She's always trying to help other people and nobody does anything nice for her."

So they made their plans. Tony said he'd be back at 2:30 the next morning with some decorations and the man, whose name turns out to be Harry, said he'd make a cake.

At 2:30 the next morning, Tony was back. He had crepe paper and other decorations and a sign made of big pieces of cardboard that said, "Happy Birthday, Agnes!" They decorated the place from one end to the other and got it looking great. Harry had gotten the word out on the streets about the party and by 3:15 it seemed that every prostitute in Honolulu was in the place.  There were hookers wall to wall.

At 3:30 on the dot, the door swung open and in walked Agnes and her friends. Tony had everybody ready. They all shouted and screamed "Happy Birthday, Agnes!" Agnes was absolutely flabbergasted.  She was stunned, her mouth fell open, her knees started to buckle, and she almost fell over.

And when the birthday cake with all the candles was carried out, that's when she totally lost it.  Then she was sobbing and crying.  Harry, who wasn’t used to seeing a prostitute cry, gruffly mumbled, "Blow out the candles, Agnes.  Cut the cake."

So she pulled herself together and blew them out.  Everyone cheered and yelled, "Cut the cake, Agnes, cut the cake!"

But Agnes looked down at the cake and, without taking her eyes off it, slowly and softly said, "Look, Harry, is it all right with you if...I mean, if I don't...I mean, what I want to ask, is it OK if I keep the cake a little while?  Is it all right if we don't eat it right away?"

Harry didn’t know what to say so he shrugged and said, "Sure, if that's what you want to do.  Keep the cake.  Take it home if you want."

"Oh, could I?" she asked.  Looking at Tony she said, "I live just down the street a couple of doors; I want to take the cake home, is that okay?  I'll be right back, honest."

She got off her stool, picked up the cake, and carried it high in front of her like it was the Holy Grail.  Everybody watched in stunned silence and when the door closed behind her, nobody seemed to know what to do. They looked at each other. They looked at Tony.

So Tony got up on a chair and said, "What do you say that we pray together?"

And there they were in a hole-in-the-wall greasy spoon, half the prostitutes in Honolulu, at 3:30 a.m. listening to Tony Campolo as he prayed for Agnes, for her life, her health, and her life with God.  Tony recalled, "I prayed that her life would be changed, and that God would be good to her."

When he was finished, Harry leaned over, and with a trace of hostility in his voice, he said, "Hey, you never told me you was a preacher.  What kind of church do you belong to anyway?"

In one of those moments when just the right words came, Tony answered him quietly, "I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning."

Harry thought for a moment and said, "No you don't. There ain't no church like that. If there was, I'd join it. Yep, I'd join a church like that."

Space is made sacred by what we do in it.  When we celebrate, when we pray, when we give and forgive, when we open our hearts and our doors with love, when we offer an extravagant welcome to any and to all, when we feed the poor, when we share in the Lord’s Supper, when together we live in God’s house singing God’s praise, when we trust each other and trust God, when we proclaim Christ’s gospel of peace by living peaceably in the world, when we believe when belief seems foolish, when we take risks for the sake of furthering Christ’s message of love and compassion; when we do all this and more, we are the Church, we become the sacred space.

We still suffer under the illusion that we are a group comprised of individuals.  But as a Church, as a Body of Christ, we are no more an individual than a hand or a foot.  What Tony Campolo did in that dive in Honolulu, he did as part of the Church, as a servant of Christ, not as an individual.  And he invited others to join him in showing God’s love for those whom most forget, ignore, or disdain. 

He drew God’s circle of grace and love not only around Agnes but around everyone at that party, turning a greasy spoon into a place of prayer, redemption, and witness.  Wherever we are, we are the Church in the world, making every space sacred when we draw others into God’s circle of love and grace.
Sacred Space, by Kevin Chasing Wolf Hutchins, 2010

What makes this space, First Church of Christ, sacred?  How have you been called forth from this place to be the Church in the world?  What strides have you made to draw others, even those considered foreigners and strangers, into God’s circle of grace and love?  What does it mean to you to gather in worship and prayer each week?  How does this sacred space, this tangible reminder of God’s presence, inspire you to give and to forgive?

(Invite everyone to stand as they are able.)

I invite you all to join now in this ‘encircling’, to point your finger in front of you and to draw a circle around yourselves.  Imagine that the circle does not end at the tip of your finger but encircles your brothers and sisters, both here and absent today.  This circle is limitless and extends far beyond the walls of this church, even beyond the horizon, the boundaries of our nation, across fences and border patrols and oceans and wars and poverty and disease and famine and even death, that all this earth and all its inhabitants are sacred space, contained in God’s limitless presence and power through Jesus Christ.  Let this be our prayer without ceasing.  Let this be the redemption of the world.  Let this be our witness.  Amen.  

Monday, August 20, 2012

When good people do bad things

Psalm 34: 9-18; 1 Kings 2: 10-12, 3: 3-14
First Church of Christ, UCC, Woodbridge, CT
August 19, 2012

In the spring of 1967, in suburban southern California, a high school history teacher by the name of Ron Jones conducted a weeklong experiment with his sophomore Contemporary World history class.  The current subject was Nazi Germany and fascist regimes.  Most of Jones’ students could not believe the claims that the majority of the German population was unaware of the concentration camps; neither could they comprehend such a thing could ever happen again, that humanity was now more enlightened.  To prove his point, Ron Jones organized his class with rigid discipline, rules about behavior, armbands and membership cards, even a hand salute, and a name for their movement—the Third Wave.
 Ron Jones, 1967.

Even though his class was now organized around an authoritarian structure, he found his students more alert, more responsive to questions and eager to participate, and more compassionate to those around them.  Many students outside the class asked if they could join.  In three days more than 200 students were members of the Third Wave and enforcing members to comply with the rules the experiment or suffer consequences.  One student even went so far as to volunteer as Mr. Jones’ bodyguard.

By Thursday Jones was exhausted and wanted to conclude the experiment.  Things were getting out of hand.  The Third Wave was become the center of students’ lives.  Jones found himself slipping into his role of dictator even when it was not necessary.  He couldn’t let the experiment continue but neither could he just end it abruptly.  Students who normally were bullied were now enjoying an equality that gave meaning and purpose to their lives.  All the participants were vulnerable to the potential for extreme self-doubt and humiliation.  Something had to be done.

Jones assembled his class, which had now swelled to 80—students were cutting other classes to join his.  He told them that the Third Wave was not just an experiment but a national movement to discover young people who would be willing to work for political change, a national youth movement.  He announced that there would be a rally the next day, on Friday, for Third Wave members only.  A national candidate for president of the Third Wave would be making an announcement about the formation of a national Third Wave youth program.  1000 other youth groups would be receiving the same message and would be asked for their support.

From the 1981 TV movie "The Wave".

At noon on Friday, over 200 students assembled in the school auditorium.  On the stage was a television set to air the supposed national press conference.  Jones gave the hand salute and led the members through their recitation of the Third Wave motto:  Strength through discipline.  Strength through community.  Strength through action.  Strength through pride.  Jones then turned on the TV set and everyone waited with expectation.  After a few minutes, nothing appeared on the screen.  Students began to realize that there wasn’t any leader, there wasn’t going to be a national movement.

Jones then turned on a rear projector and scenes from one of the massive Nuremburg rallies played on a white drop cloth behind the TV set, illustrating just how far the students might have gone had the Third Wave continued and gained momentum.  Jones apologized for his manipulation, and for, to an extent, abandoning his role as teacher.  After a protracted and stunned silence, students began asking questions and breaking down into tears.  Among his comments to his students were these words:  We have seen that fascism is not just something those other people did. No, it's right here, in this room.  It’s in our own personal habits and way of life. Scratch the surface and it appears.  It’s something in all of us.  We carry it like a disease: the belief that human beings are basically evil and therefore unable to act well toward each other; a belief that demands a strong leader and discipline to preserve social order.”
Nuremburg Rally, 1936. 

We endow our leaders with all sorts of expectations, that they be good, righteous, honest, forthright, humble, kind, compassionate, knowledgeable on a wide range of subjects, and to possess a certain amount of wisdom, besides many other qualities and abilities.  King Solomon, in this morning’s lectionary passage, has long been regarded as one of Israel’s most beloved leaders, a philosopher king whose wisdom is world renown.  When God essentially offers to grant any wish he desires, Solomon asks not for riches or fame or victory over his enemies.  Instead he asks for an understanding mind, translated another way, a listening heart so he may govern God’s people and be able to discern between good and evil.

Being able to discern between good and evil is the essence of biblical wisdom.  In many of the verses in the book of Proverbs we hear that the righteous do one thing but the wicked do another.  One action comes with blessings, the other with consequences.  One brings us closer to God, the other creates a rift.  One brings God’s good favor, the other God’s anger.  Since we human beings are basically pleasure-seeking, pain-avoidant creatures, one would think we would be able to discern the difference between good and evil by now.
The Dream of Solomon, Luca Giordano, 1693.

One would also think that Solomon, being gifted with a listening heart and an understanding mind, would also be able to grasp that crucial difference, since he did say this is what he wanted.  Yet not two verses before we hear that Solomon loved the Lord, it reads that he took a foreign wife in the form of a marriage alliance with Egypt, which was forbidden under the laws of Moses.  Before he ascended to the throne, Solomon had killed those who would challenge his right to rule.  Later in his reign as Israel’s king, Solomon married more foreign wives and worshiped their gods and imposed heavy taxes and forced labor upon his people.  Like his father David before him, Solomon earned the narrator’s line “he did evil in the sight of the Lord”.  And from this came the split of Israel into northern and southern kingdoms, and eventually the victory of the Assyrians and the Babylonian exile.

But Solomon also had built the great temple in Jerusalem.  His wisdom was known in other lands by kings and queens.  It was said that the whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind, bringing gifts such as gold, silver, weaponry, spices, and horses (1 Kings 10: 24-25).  His reign was reasonably the last of a golden age.  Solomon was not a bad man; at times he just wasn’t a very good king.
 Solomon's Temple, David Sharir, 1988.

Of the forty kings and one queen to rule Israel, from King David to the Babylonian exile, in 400 years only two of those rulers—Hezekiah and Josiah—did what was right in the sight of the Lord.  The prophet Samuel warned Israel what having a king would mean—tribute, taxes, a trickle-down economy, with all the best going to the king and his courtiers—but Israel wanted to be like other nations.  God wanted to be their king yet somehow this wasn’t enough.  God made a covenant with God’s people and continued to renew that covenant yet it wasn’t enough.

In order for God to be king, to be the rightful ruler of our lives, we must first acknowledge that we need God.  And there’s really nothing better for that than the first four steps of the twelve:  We admitted that we were powerless, that our lives had become unmanageable.  Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.  Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.  Made a fearless and searching moral inventory of ourselves.  We have relegated these spiritual steps to those who are addicted to substances and behaviors, yet we all can become addicted to our own point of view.  We all have the ability to become the fascist dictator, the fervent follower, the zealot run amok, requiring that others see the world as we do.

A Facebook friend named David Hayward put it this way:  “We can only see things through our own eyes. We can't help it. But the first step in wisdom is acknowledging this.”   Others have their own eyes, their own wisdom, their own way of seeing things.  The second move toward wisdom is admitting we could be wrong.  The third is acknowledging that wisdom is found not solely on one’s own but in community, with our brothers and sisters, and not just with those who are like-minded. 

His holiness the Dalai Lama has said that “developing concern for others, thinking of them as part of us, brings self-confidence, reduces our sense of suspicion and mistrust, and enables us to develop a calm mind.”   It also brings a sense that we are all in this together, with our strengths and our limits, our gifts and our flaws.  The gift of community is to be absolved of the burden to be complete.

We are wise when we know that we need each other and we need God.  We are wise when we know we need the balance of freedom and restrictions because there is good and evil in all of us.  In truth, we can’t always trust ourselves to do the right thing. The psalmist reminds us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, that we be humble and respect that there is a greater wisdom than our own, and that wisdom is a gift from God as much as from our individual and collective experience.

Solomon did have it right, that we ask God for an understanding mind and a listening heart, especially when we are confronted with juxtaposing views of reality and of our life together as a community.  In what ways can you take a step back and see the wider picture in this church, at work or home, in our society?  Are there any unrealistic expectations of leaders, colleagues, friends and of yourself that may be causing resentment?  Unity could be described as sharing the responsibility for both the good and the bad in community life—how does this church measure according to this form of unity?

The humblest prayer we can offer is this:  “Forgive them.  Change me.”  May we all have the understanding mind and the listening heart to pray this prayer each day.  Amen.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Better to be kind than right

(I've got a new gig.  I'm the Sabbatical Replacement Pastor at First Church of Christ, UCC in Woodbridge, CT, from now through the end of October.  So you'll at least be seeing a weekly sermon from me.)

1 Corinthians 13; Ephesians 4: 25 – 5: 2
Rev. Cynthia E. Robinson
First Church of Christ, UCC, Woodbridge, CT
August 12, 2012

            Elwood P. Dowd is a hero of mine.  Perhaps you’ve heard of him, or his infamous friend named Harvey, from the movie and stage play of the same name.  Harvey is a six-foot 3 ½ inches tall, invisible rabbit who accompanies Dowd in his daily goings-on and his evening trips to the local pub.  Dowd—Elwood P. that is—goes through his life with a gentle smile and peace in his heart, greeting everyone with a kind word.  And most of Dowd’s demeanor can be attributed to the presence of his friend Harvey and the love of his mother.

            Years ago Elwood’s mother used to say to him, and she always called him Elwood, “In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.” Well, for years Elwood was smart. Since Elwood met Harvey he recommends pleasant.  And you may quote him.


            In this morning’s scripture lessons the apostle Paul is also recommending pleasant over smart to the churches in Ephesus and Corinth.  Both faith communities were having problems getting along and to a certain degree, were difficult to recognize as followers of Jesus.  Most of the New Testament was written before 100 CE, so those listening to these words would have been Jews who followed Jesus as the Messiah and converted gentiles.  They would not call themselves Christians until much later.

            The early Church began as a house divided, and there was much heated debate as to how two seemingly disparate groups were supposed to live in community with each other.  Jews had been infamous for avoiding any contact with Gentiles or pagans, and they weren’t too crazy about Jews either.  Now they were followers of Jesus together—you could say the old guard and the newer members—and factions were being formed.

            Most of it boiled down to people wanting to live their same old lives in the way they were used to and be disciples of Jesus at the same time.  Jews were still following the dietary laws, circumcising their baby boys, and thought everyone else should be a good Jew if they were going to follow Jesus.  The people of Corinth had a reputation of being unruly, hard-drinking and having, shall we say, loose physical boundaries, and even though they followed Jesus, still kept up a busy weekend life seven days a week.  The church in Ephesus was comprised of Jews and gentiles, with the Jewish faction insisting that gentile converts be circumcised and follow a kosher diet, plus all the rest of the laws of Moses.  You can imagine how well that might go over.

            These letters address similar problems in different ways.  With the Corinthian church, Paul is pastoral to the point of being poetic.  Paul ministered this church for over a year, helping them get established, and showing them what it meant to live a changed life because of Jesus.  Sometime after he had left, Paul received word that things were falling apart in the Corinthian church; folks were going back to their old selfish habits.  1 Corinthians is Paul’s response to this fragmented faith community.  He begins by speaking in the first person, always a good place to begin when breaching a conflict.  Rather than pointing out their bad behavior, wagging a finger and saying “you”, Paul admits his own limits if he has not love.  And because he goes on so eloquently after, we know how much he loves this church.

            From Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase, The Message: 
   Love never gives up.
   Love cares more for others than for self.
   Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
   Love doesn't strut,
   Doesn't have a swelled head,
   Doesn't force itself on others,
   Isn't always "me first,"
   Doesn't fly off the handle,
   Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
   Doesn't revel when others grovel,
   Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
   Puts up with anything,
   Trusts God always,
   Always looks for the best,
   Never looks back,
   But keeps going to the end.
   Love never ends.

            I always find it interesting that many, if not most, couples choose this passage for their wedding service.  Though it appears to be a moving exposition on the subject of love, it was actually intended to soothe a congregation in conflict.  Which, when you think about it, are actually perfect words for a wedding; on the difficult days, when they are no longer newlyweds, couples will look back on these words hopefully for the strength they need.

The church in Ephesus gets a more stringent message:  Don’t.  Be angry but don’t sin, don’t use your anger for revenge.  Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.  Don’t make room for the devil in your life.  (According to Jewish tradition, the devil wasn’t some creature with horns on shoulder, whispering tempting thoughts.  The devil was synonymous with the cosmic forces of evil.  When we get angry and hold onto it, we make room for cosmic forces of evil—something we definitely don’t need more of.)  Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes we need the pastoral message of love.  Sometimes we need sterner stuff or what we call tough love.  But both are still love.  Neither is meant to be abusive or to be used to make a point.  The purpose of both of these passages was to unite a community, to remind them of their bond in Christ and of all Christ did to bring down walls of hostility.

Hear Eugene Peterson’s version of earlier verses in Ephesians:  “You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly.  You have one [Teacher], one faith, one baptism, one God and [Creator] of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all.  Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.”

This doesn’t mean we are all intended to think the same, act the same, feel the same, look the same, or speak the same way.  Because of Christ we are permeated with Oneness.  Christ reminds us who we are and Whose we are, whether we are gathered or scattered, worshipping in the meetinghouse or talking in the parking lot.

Elwood P. Dowd said it best when he described how he and Harvey spent their time together.  “Harvey and I sit in the bars... have a drink or two... play the juke box. And soon the faces of all the other people they turn toward mine and they smile. And they're saying, ‘We don't know your name, mister, but you're a very nice fella.’ Harvey and I warm ourselves in all these golden moments. We've entered as strangers - soon we have friends. And they come over... and they sit with us... and they drink with us... and they talk to us. They tell about the big terrible things they've done and the big wonderful things they'll do; their hopes, and their regrets, and their loves, and their hates; all very large, because nobody ever brings anything small into a bar. And then I introduce them to Harvey... and he's bigger and grander than anything they offer me. And when they leave, they leave impressed. The same people seldom come back; but that's envy, my dear. There's a little bit of envy in the best of us.”
One could say the same about church.  We enter as strangers—soon we have friends.  We tell about the big terrible things we’ve done and the big wonderful things we’ll do, our hopes, and our regrets, and our loves, and our hates, all very large because nobody ever brings anything small into a church.  And then we’re introduced to a Friend, One who’s bigger and grander than anything we can offer each other.  And when we leave, hopefully we leave impressed.  And remember, there’s a little bit of envy even in the best of us.

But that’s a movie, we say.  Life isn’t like the movies.  Yet in trying to live out the gospel we wouldn’t say “But that’s the Bible.  Life isn’t like the Bible.”   And yet our actions do not always match our words.  Life, reality, is what we make of it, and each of us has a different take on it—one no better or worse than another.  We can only change a situation by changing ourselves, by trying to see our life together from someone else’s point of view.

So I’d like you to reflect on these few questions.  How have you been hurt by being a part of a church, any church, and what part of that hurt are you still holding onto?  What if during the passing of the peace we actually made peace by saying we’re sorry and asking for forgiveness?  In what areas of church life and in your own life are you insisting on your own way?  What makes it difficult for you to let go of the outcome and trust God?  And most importantly, what is it that you love about this church and keeps you coming back?

Will people remember us for our facts, for when we got it right or will they remember when it was that we were kind to them?  Apologizing does not always mean we are wrong and the other person is right.  It just means we value a relationship more than our ego.  That’s what love is, and that’s what love is for.  Amen.