Will they know I’m a Christian?

I was sitting in the Daily Prayer for Peace service recently–it’s a short service my faith community holds 365 days a year in our Temple…one in which we pray for a different country each day (and for peace in the world). There is always a congregational hymn, and one day’s hymn raised the question that is the title of this blog.

Here is a video of the accompaniment with the lyrics–take just a couple of minutes and listen to it. Perhaps even sing along…

And then ponder the question for yourself…

Do I live my life in such a way that my actions will show that I am a follower of the Christ? That I am walking the path of justice…peace…acceptance that he did?

I can talk about being a Christian all I want. But if my actions are in contradiction to my words…well, my dad had a saying that he often used when he saw that happening. “Your actions speak so loudly that I can’t hear a word that you’re saying.”

And so…

Will people know that I’m a Christian by the love that I show daily?

God hates no one…

I was saddened in the last day or so to hear a young boy whom I know get into an argument with another (homosexual) friend of mine using–as part of his argument–the phrase “God hates fags.”

That kind of language is distressing whenever I hear it, regardless of the age of the person saying it, but I find it especially sad when it comes from the mouth of a young person.

The God I know and worship doesn’t hate anyone. There are things that we do–all of us–that distress God…but from my reading of the scriptures and my experiences with God, I haven’t found anything that says that God hates any of God’s creation. We are created in God’s image–how then could God hate us?

I think I’ve probably mentioned it before, but hearing this statement makes me think of a key song in the musical South Pacific:

Children…the ones that Jesus embrace and called us to be like…don’t know hatred. We adults are the ones who teach hatred of “the other”…of anyone who is different.

When will we learn? When will we learn to see God in the faces of each other? When will we teach our children love instead of hate?

I pray for the day when the song from South Pacific becomes just a remnant of a past that we look back at…and wonder how we could be so blind.

God’s family

I preached yesterday in my congregation. Yes, that’s right–not only am I a preacher’s kid, I’m also a minister myself!

Our theme was taken from Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus–with an emphasis on us having been made one family through Christ. As I was preparing, the thing that kept coming into focus for me was that we are all God’s family…that God is the one who makes the decision as to who’s going to be part of the family–not us. God doesn’t turn anyone out of the family (although sometimes we may choose to leave).

I’ve sometimes laughingly and lovingly described the congregation I attend as a congregation of misfits. We have some incredibly dysfunctional families…homeless people…ex-cons…people dealing with addictions…in general, people who do not find themselves welcomed in most of our traditional congregations. We do not wear masks–we know many of the struggles each other deal with. Not all, because there are some things that need to be kept private for people’s safety or for legal reasons–or they’re not ready to share yet. But we are much more open than I’ve found in any other congregation I’ve attended.

Anyway, as I was preparing for my sermon, I kept thinking that God’s family isn’t built on “Thou shalt not…” but instead on the law of love–a foundation that allows us to pick each other up in difficult times…to affirm each other…to encourage growth and support positive change in each other. This is basically what Jesus said when he said that the greatest commandment was to love God with everything we have in us–and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

Creating this kind of family isn’t easy. It means we have to put aside our own prejudices, our own certainty that we know what’s required for someone to become part of the family.

And…because we’re human beings…we’re going to squabble sometimes. We’re going to disagree…get mad at each other.

But if we’ve been able to build on this foundation of love, then we will be able to work through those disagreements. If we see each other as brothers and sisters–all part of God’s family–then we can work together to show how people from different backgrounds / lives / understandings can learn to live together in harmony, delighting in the diversity God has created.

Praying for peace

My faith tradition holds a short prayer for peace 365 days a year. It takes place in our Temple, a building that was dedicated to “peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit.”

Sometimes there is a large group present; more often it is a small group…sometimes only ten or fewer. It doesn’t matter. The prayer for peace is held.

But a friend of mine (who helps provide the ministry of music when he is in the country) raised a question. He is aware that it requires preparation on the part of the leader and the musician–even though there is not a lot of music…a hymn and a closing ministry of music. He wondered why we bothered. Why do we go ahead and hold the service–even on Sundays and holidays–when there are few in attendance? Why do we ask people to take the time to practice and prepare when there are often few in the pews? We have the service online; why isn’t that sufficient?

It’s a fair question, and a valid one. I don’t know how someone else would answer his question, but here’s my take on it.

  • I believe in the power of prayer–and I believe that even when there are just two or three gathered together, there is a synergy and an energy that is created.
  • I believe that honoring a commitment we have made to God is important. We dedicated this place to focus on peace and reconciliation, and I believe it is important to do anything we can to help bring that about.
  • There may not be many in the pews, but those who are present in the building are joining their prayers with those who are unable to be physically present–who are in many places in the world. The Temple serves as a focal point for those prayers for peace.
  • I do enjoy it when others are present to hear me play–but that’s not the primary reason I offer ministry in this service. I offer it as a gift to God–an acknowledgement of the talent God has given me.
  • God is present in that place. I believe God is present anywhere we are prepared to experience God–but again, this is a focal point (at least for me), and I find joy in preparing the best I have to offer God in this place and this time.

Our world is so in need of peace. Peace between individuals…peace between nations…peace between humans and the earth…

Anything we can do to help bring about peace…reconciliation…healing of the spirit–in any place and in any form is an important ministry we can share together.

It doesn’t matter where you are or what your faith tradition is. If you want to join me, let’s pray for peace together.

Miracles Still Happen

How many times have you heard someone say that miracles don’t happen today? Yes, they do. We just have to open our eyes to them.

They may not always happen like we think they should…or like we expect them to. But miracles are all around us.

I attend a small congregation that reaches out to the unchurched…the hard living…the homeless…those who wouldn’t be accepted in your typical congregation. Some of our members help serve at a weekly community dinner, where many (including a number from our congregation) are able to get at least one good meal. They average about 170 people in attendance.

The Wednesday before July 4,  an announcement was made that there would be no meal there the next week–but those in attendance were invited to our congregational picnic. Yikes! That is normally a casual potluck with hamburgers and hot dogs, fellowship…and then watching the city fireworks. But this year it was going to turn into something else–and we had had no notice of preparation!

We do have an event where we plan on feeding about 200 every year–and we have a couple of months to prepare. This time we had less than a week–and no clue as to how many would be there.

We panicked…and then we prayed…and then the miracle began.

We had offers of help from coworkers, from other congregations, from others who had heard about the upcoming event and wanted to know what they could do. We began putting together a list of the offers and figuring out what we still needed…

By the time July 4 came, we felt prepared. We still didn’t know what to expect…but we were prepared.

It was HOT and we know that probably kept some folks home. But we still fed about 70 people who would not have had a meal otherwise…and we had enough food that everyone felt free to take what they wanted.

And…just like the miracle of the loaves and fishes, we had food left over–food that we will share in a potluck this Sunday.

You can say that miracles don’t happen today–but I won’t agree. I see them happening whenever we step out in faith to touch the lives of those we meet.

Called by Name

There’s a song by Dan Damon that I have come to love–“I have called you by your name, you are mine…”

There are a number of concepts in the song that have been meaningful to me for various reasons over the last few years–but over the weekend, the first line of it triggered some thoughts.

“I have called you by your name…”

God knows us by name and calls us by name! What a wonderful thought–that the Creator of all that was, that is, and that shall be knows us individually and calls us by our names!

If God does that, then what does that say about what our relationships with each other should be like?

I remember many years ago (when I first worked at the workplace I have returned to) there was a woman who made sure that the women’s bathrooms were kept clean and well supplied. She was a quiet-spoken woman; as I look back from the perspective of many years, I think she probably didn’t want to make waves…we were not all that far past the turmoil of the Civil Rights movement. But I didn’t think of that. I just knew that whenever I went into the restroom, it was clean and neat–and it was thanks to Myrtle. So I made sure that I let her know that I appreciated her.

Since I’ve returned to this workplace, I’ve again become aware of those individuals whose primary work is behind the scenes, but who keep the facilities clean–and I’ve made it a point to call them by name…to ask about family situations.

Why?

I think it goes back to what my dad both preached and lived–and what my faith tradition also says (although still having trouble living out completely)…that all people are of worth. If all are of worth, then all are worthy of being called by name…and if God calls each of us by name, then we need to know each others’ names as well.

I’m reminded of the story of a test that a college professor gave one time.

During my second month of college, our professor gave us a pop quiz. I was a conscientious student and had breezed through the questions until I read the last one: “What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?”

Surely this was some kind of joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, dark-haired and in her 50s, but how would I know her name? I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Just before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our quiz grade.

“Absolutely,” said the professor. “In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say “hello”.

I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy.

Can you call the people you work with…go to school with…attend church with…shop with…can you call them by name? God can.