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Writing about what I have been reading and encountering in the media.
#981667 added April 21, 2020 at 2:37am
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Stand in Your Faith
Stand in Your Faith
The message of April 19, 2020, for
The Church of the Brethren, Cabool, Missouri.

May the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be pleasing in your sight Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Ps.19:14
As I prepared my message for today, in honor of the 50th Earth Day coming on the 22nd, I reviewed some speeches by environmentalists. In honor of the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. April 4th, I reviewed his Christmas Sermon of 1967 and some of his other sermons. I also reviewed the scriptures presented here. I was most impressed with the King sermon and Psalm 16. I hope that I can put my impressions together in some orderly way.

I remember vividly the death of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. I assume many of you listening remember as well. The story of those events in my life is of little use here, but my reaction to it was complex and heavy and that day, I became physically ill.

A source of wisdom, Dr. King gave me a sense that although the problems we face are numerous, complex, painful and longstanding, they can be addressed constructively. He taught us to work together, side by side, rather than to compete. He demonstrated how to act on Faith as Jesus had acted. And, like Jesus, he walked forward knowing he would not live to finish the work he had set for himself to accomplish.

As I look back, I wonder if my feelings about King’s death were something like the feelings the Apostles experienced after the death of Jesus. I wonder if they felt confused about what to do next. Did they feel afraid after the crucifixion as they had on Good Friday? Did they stay together the whole time between Good Friday and the gathering to which Jesus presented himself, or did the group fragment into two or three here and there? Did anyone go off alone in their despair and weep and ask God why?

In the Gospel lesson, we learn they were together when Jesus came to them. It says they were afraid of the Jews. It is important to remember; they too were Jews. They feared their own kinsmen who had turned on them rather than listening and trying to understand what they were saying.

There is no doubt in my mind, those same Jews felt Jesus and the disciples had turned on them. The division in their community was deep and violent. It was in this context the Disciples grieved.

They grieved the death of the leader they loved and believed in. They grieved the death of their connection with kinsman who had killed him. They grieved their sense that they could count on their community to love and support them. They grieved a sense of security that was present when Jesus was with them. I have no doubt they felt powerless and lacked a sense of direction.

In their grief, even if they had separated for a few hours, they came together to jointly hold the flicker of faith that remained theirs. It was in this context of togetherness that Jesus came.

What did he say? “Peace be with you.” He said it twice. “Peace be with you.” He showed them that it was truly him by having them examine his wounds, the evidence of his suffering. He could have done a miracle. He could have given a great speech. He could have told them all how wonderful he was and convinced them with words. But scripture says he did none of that. He just offered them peace.

Then he said a most profound and central thing, right up there with “Love your God with all your hearts and all your minds and love your neighbor as yourself.” He said, “As the Father has sent me, so am I sending you.” Then he told them they have the power to forgive and to retain sins. He didn’t say who’s sins. He didn’t say others. He didn’t say their own. He just said sins.

There are so many things he could have said. I am confident that each of us could come up with some suggestions. However, he did not. He breathed the breath of the spirit into them and sent them with the directive to forgive and retain sins. That’s it.

Here we are, you and I, receiving this directive. Forgive sins.

Today finds us, as Dr. King said that last Christmas in his church with his home folks and kin, we are “a rather bewildered human race. We have neither peace within nor peace without. Everywhere, paralyzing fears harrow people by day and haunt them by night.”

Today, we fear a disease that is killing thousands and could kill us. We fear the destruction of the ecosystem that sustains our physical selves. And, like the Disciples, we fear each other. It is sometimes hard to tell who will help and who will harm in this political environment.

Dr. King said to us: “If we don’t have goodwill toward men in this world, we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own instruments and our own power.”

He told us: “our loyalties must be ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective. We are interdependent.”

I recall the members of the Charleston Church, who when faced by a gunman, stood in their faith. They offered the gunman love. They offered this stranger forgiveness even before he did anything wrong. They offered him fellowship. It did not change his behavior. However, they died in communion with their God. They died in faith that their path was the better of the paths before them. They died in peace as they were living when he walked in those doors. He did not have the power to take that from them. He could take their bodies, but not their souls.

I have noticed a number of people are using this stay-at-home-time to assemble complex puzzles. When my niece was a child and learning to put puzzles together, she turned the pieces over so she could see the shapes better. Sometimes, the picture someone else has of a situation can distract or confuse us in our search to discover where we fit in.

Sometimes, like Martin Luther King, Jr., the environmentalists of the last century, and Greta Thornburg, the place we fit seems less like fitting and more like:
Standing up, and speaking out
Speaking up and standing out.

How do we do this when weighted down with fear and grief? Sometimes it just seems too hard to face. I have known times when I wanted to scream and run and never notice if my fears were well-founded. So, have we all. In times like these, it is hard to believe in a positive outcome. It is hard to find the good in the middle of our fear and grief.

Governor Cuomo said last week that he just wants it to be over. Then, he said what he really wants is for us to succeed. This means “staying the course” as President Bush was fond of saying.

What about happiness? Is it possible to be happy in the midst of so much sadness? Is it even okay to be happy while the world is under the pall of a pandemic?
The Psalmist, David, found happiness in his faith. He said:
“A fair heritage is indeed my lot!
I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel,
Who even at night directs my heart.
I keep the Lord before me always;
With him standing at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
And so my heart rejoices, my soul is glad;
even my body shall rest in hope.”

What does faith give us? I think it gives us internal integrity, a sense of direction, and a battlement against powers that may overwhelm us, or even kills us. Faith protects the most important part of us from destruction.
What is that most important part of us?: The capacity to connect, to act in the best interest of those around us, to feel empathy, to reach out when we are our weakest selves. The most important part of us is our life source. We are born with it, it is ours to care for, enjoy, and share or just keep to ourselves. No one can take it from us. No one can ruin it. It is always good, and it is always ours. The fact is, living in the context of faith, of connection to our life source, brings us a kind of joy unavailable any other way.

Recently, Nancy Pelosi said she prays for President Trump. She explained this in terms of her Christian faith. She didn’t say she is trying to change or influence Mr. Trump. She is merely living in her faith in a way that gives her solid ground from which to do her work.

Is faith a feeling we can depend on; a sense that we are loved even when we feel alone? Yes, but it is more than that. Faith is a sense of direction when the guide is lost. Faith is an awareness that good is always available even when things look hopeless. Faith shows us the power we have to make things better when we all work together. Faith does not protect us from grief; faith helps us grow through it. Faith does not stop our fear; faith helps us grow through it. Faith gives us the one thing no one can take from us: the capacity to live joyfully, no matter what.

Gov. Cuomo said Tuesday, April 14, 2020, “whatever we do today changes the infection rate tomorrow.”

It isn’t up to some specialized “best Christian,” or some distant leader to solve what worries us.
It is up to us to stand in our faith and do what is needed in our lives.

When we stand in our faith we stand with Abraham, David the Psalmist, St. Peter, Thomas the Twin, St. Francis, the ecologists, Martin Luther King Jr. and the individuals who nurture faith in us. We experience and express the power that gave us each other and that maintains the stasis of gravity and other natural forces that hold existence together.

We Christians call this power “the peace of God that passes all understanding.”

May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.


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