What would they learn?

When visitors come to a worship service in my own religious tradition, a great deal depends on how warmly they are welcomed and whether they feel included or excluded by what they hear during the whole time they are with us. We may have exactly one shot at communicating who we are to people who know nothing about us–or who think they already know a lot about us–but who, in either case, will remember us as the embodiment of out entire tradition, the prime exemplars of our faith.

Barbara Brown Taylor in “Holy Envy”

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I had a friend who said “you may be the best Christian someone knows.” That is a scary thought. What do the people around us learn about Christianity from how we behave. Do we live up to what we say?

Out of the box

Following the rules can be good but sometimes the rules can be stifling. We have to learn when the rules keep us in a safe place and when they need to be discarded. In our religion rules can be either. Discernment is needed to see when they are helping us to follow Christ’s way or when they are holding us back. Throwing out the rules in favor of heeding Christ’s word can be scary. Sometimes doing so can be disruptive and does not show respect for those around you. When, where and how must be chosen carefully. Much prayer and listening is needed but there are times when stepping out in faith is important.

out of the box

We can end up  in a box created by rules. The rules are supposed to allow us to move closer to God. Some of the rules seen in ritual can help us to “center down” and experience God. Bowing at a certain time, in some faiths taking  your shoes off in a holy space, genuflecting,  saying the proper responses can make you part of the experience.

However, some rules that are more related to following Christ’s actions may not be for you. These are not true of all Christian denominations but each denomination has their own set. Rules that keep us from reaching out in compassion to all others by condemning them do not seem to be Christ’s idea. He treated all people with love.

Some ideas block us in and make us feel unworthy: You are not knowledgeable enough. You are not educated enough. You are not holy enough. Most of all you must believe what those around you believe. You must see the same God that they do even though in truth none of us see the same God in our minds. These things keep us in the box.following

These things can be meaningful if we do them because they move us in an emotional way closer to God. They can make us comfortable. But if we are doing them just to follow the rules then they put us in a box. In the box we must follow the rules in order to be accepted by God but the truth is that we are already accepted by God’s grace. There is nothing we can do to make us perfect enough to reach the level of God. No matter how hard we try.

I don’t remember anywhere in the Bible that Christ told anyone they could not heal or bless. He encouraged his disciples to baptize in the name of the father. He never said anything about forming a church or setting people apart from others. He encouraged us to go and make disciples of ALL. He said we could do all these things on our own. He never said you needed anyone’s permission except that you follow the 2 great commandments; love god, love one another. I will do my best to follow that.

 

It’s not fashionable

Today it is fashionable to talk about the poor. Unfortunately, it is not fashionable to talk with them. –Mother Teresa

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This is so true! Most of us would prefer to avoid the homeless or those begging on our streets. We see them as “less than” us. It’s as if we are concerned about becoming contaminated by them. We have to begin to look through Jesus’ eyes and see them as children of God just like us. Then we will be willing to talk with them.

Compassion is learned

Suffering is a journey deeper into the heart of life.  From the movie The Human Experience

 

How shallow we can be if we have had very little problems in our lives. We just float through each day wondering why other people seem to struggle so. Compassion for those suffering is hard to grasp since we have nothing to measure it against. Travail in life is not what we would choose. But the fire of its pain brings the beauty of understanding and love for those who suffer.

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Compassionate God, you sent you son to suffer and in so doing chose to experience our pain, sorrow, and  grief. Help us to use what we have learned in our own trials to ease the path of others.

 

Show your love

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not 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

I Corinthians 13: 4-7

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We hear this so often at weddings that I don’t think we really pay attention to it any more. But these are words to live by. How many times am I arrogant or rude or boastful? How many times do I insist on my own way? I need to wake up and smell the coffee. These words apply directly to me!

 

Prayer:  Forgiving God, I am guilty of letting these words slide right by me. Help me to take them to heart and live by them. Amen

 

Dignity

Sometimes I wonder if anyone has the ability to speak kindly. Dignity is a forgotten word. I can’t imagine Jesus being undignified. Angry yes, as he was with those selling at the temple. How close are we to being able to dig deep into our Christian life to withstand the frustrations that beset us. We must call on God to help us maintain the dignity expected of us as Christians.

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Think

Psalm 19:14

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable to you,
    Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

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A lot of preachers use this verse before beginning a sermon. I imagine that most of the time they have a plan about what they will say. That is not always true of the rest of us. Too often we don’t think about what we are saying. The words just rush out and we often wish we could take them back. Our hasty words can injure others. My father used to say “put your brain in gear before you put your mouth in motion.” Wise words indeed.

Patient God, help us to think before speaking so that our words can be acceptable in your sight. AMEN

Be a steward

Nature is perfect, wherever we look, but man always deforms it. ———J.C.F. von Schiller

God made us stewards of the earth. He made us and then expected us to care for everything else. Instead we listened to the part about being in charge and forgot the rest. If we can’t learn to be stewards (dictionary: manage or look after another’s property) before long there will be nothing to manage.

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Abundant God, your plan was for us to care for your creation. Help us to do just that. AMEN

Journey

The only sin which we never forgive in each other is a difference of opinion—————–Ralph Waldo Emerson

We are so good at sticking to our own opinion and rejecting the opinions of others. Each of us is on a journey toward God and each of us is at a different place in that journey. Be mindful of the thoughts of others and be careful not to put rocks in their path. Your thoughts may be good ones but they may not be ready to hear them.

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Amazing God, help each of us on our journey toward you and remind us not to hinder others. AMEN

Can we be inclusive?

It is important to remember that if we take as our model of the church the hospitality extended to the stranger, it can in no way be a community of like-minded friends but must have at its very heart the inclusion of the others, the different.————Sallie McFague in Models of God.

Too often if someone appears at our church who is radically different from us we choose not to welcome them. We are called to do the opposite. Do we include those dressed poorly, someone obviously homeless or anyone else who doesn’t seem to fit?

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Inclusive God, we are your creation and we are all yours. Help us to remove our fears and welcome all to our worship. AMEN