Tag Archives: differences

In Christ there is no East or West

In Christ there is no East or West,
in him no South or North,
but one great fellowship of love
throughout the whole wide earth.

In Christ shall true hearts everywhere
their high communion find;
his service is the golden cord
close-binding humankind.

Come, brothers, sisters of the faith,
whate’er your race may be:
Who serves my Father as his child
is surely kin to me.

In Christ now meet both East and West,
in him meet South and North,
all Christly souls are one in him,
throughout the whole wide earth.

Words: John Oxenham (1908)
Tune: MCKEE (adapted by H.T. Burleigh, 1939) based on African American Spiritual, Jubilee Songs (1884)

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Pope Francis and the “Culture of Encounter”

On Wednesday, Pope Francis gave a riveting homily, reflecting on the words of Jesus in Mark 9:38-40:

John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone throwing demons out in your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.” Jesus replied, “Don’t stop him. No one who does powerful acts in my name can quickly turn around and curse me. Whoever isn’t against us is for us. (Mark 9:38-40 Common English Bible)

The type of faith that Pope Francis describes in his homily is the type of faith that, I believe, Christ calls all of creation to. A faith that unites all of creation into unity with God’s plan for us…not converting all people to “Christianity” so that everyone believes the same thing. Not requiring all people to say a prayer of conversion or confession and becoming “saved.” “‘Doing good’ is a principle that unites all humanity, beyond the diversity of ideologies and religions, and creates the ‘culture of encounter’ that is the foundation of peace.”

After discussions of Pope Francis’s words online, someone brought a verse from the Qur’an to my attention. I find it also quite beautiful and poignant to this discussion:

Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve. (Qur’an 2:62)

This week, in my hometown of Louisville, the Dalai Lama visited. He spoke about human understanding and love and peace and compassion, and spoke about these things surpassing all religions and creeds.

I find it so very refreshing to see these discussions being had among people of the same faith tradition and between people of different faith traditions. I hope and pray that people will be more open to stepping outside of their boxes in which they were raised and in which they live, and view the world through fresh, youthful eyes, to see the absolute wonder in all of creation and the way in which God manifests Godself to all of us through a myriad of ways.

Read more of Pope Francis’s words on the Vatican Radio website here:

http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2013/05/22/pope_at_mass:_culture_of_encounter_is_the_foundation_of_peace/en1-694445

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Wind of God, dynamic Spirit

Wind of God, dynamic Spirit,
breathe upon our hearts today;
that we may your pow’r inherit,
hear us Spirit, as we pray:
Fill the vacuum that enslaves us,
emptiness of mind and soul;
and, through Jesus Christ who saves us,
give us life and make us whole.

Voice of God, prophetic Spirit,
speak to every heart today,
to encourage or prohibit
urging action or delay:
Clear the vagueness which impedes us.
Come, enlighten mind and soul;
and, through Jesus Christ who leads us,
teach the truth that makes us whole.

Fire of God, volcanic Spirit,
burn within our hearts today;
cleanse our sin. May we exhibit
holiness in every way:
Purge the squalidness that shames us,
soils the body, taints the soul;
and, through Jesus Christ who claims us,
purify us, make us whole.

–Words (Acts 2:1-4) Copyright Michael Saward, Jubilate Hymns, Ltd.

Download a photo of the score here.

Sung to the tune Abbot’s Leigh.

Here’s a version of Abbot’s Leigh on organ:

Here’s a version of the tune on piano:

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The Church’s One Foundation

As my church’s triennial convention comes to a close today in Indianapolis, I’m reminded by the words of this famous hymn about the fact that Christ is our sure foundation and we have “one Lord, one faith, one birth” in Christ. Though we may not always agree liturgically, canonically, biblically, or otherwise, it is the liberating message of Christ’s Gospel which binds us together and leads us forward in unity of love for Christ and our neighbor. We are truly blessed. Thanks be to God!

(the italicized stanza is not sung in this version)

The Church’s one foundation
is Jesus Christ her Lord;
she is his new creation,
by water and the word:
from heaven he came and sought her
to be his holy bride;
with his own blood he bought her,
and for her life he died.

Elect from every nation,
yet one o’er all the earth,
her charter of salvation,
one Lord, one faith, one birth;
one holy Name she blesses,
partakes one holy food,
and to one hope she presses,
with every grace endued.

Though with a scornful wonder
men see her sore oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder,
by heresies distressed;
yet saints their watch are keeping,
their cry goes up, “How long?”
and soon the night of weeping
shall be the morn of song.

Mid toil and tribulation,
and tumult of her war
she waits the consummation
of peace for evermore;
till with the vision glorious
her longing eyes are blessed,
and the great Church victorious
shall be the Church at rest.

Yet she on earth hath union
with God, the Three in one,
and mystic sweet communion
with those whose rest is won.
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
like them, the meek and lowly,
on high may dwell with thee.

Words: Samuel John Stone, 1868
Tune: Aurelia by Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876)

–From the album The World of Favourite Hymns, sung by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge.

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The Story of the Ethiopian Eunuch

One of our lessons today at church was the story of the Ethiopian eunuch from the Acts of the Apostles 8:26-40:

An angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
   and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
   so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
   Who can describe his generation?
   For his life is taken away from the earth.”

The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

I had heard this story once or twice before, but never really thought much about it until recently. This story is one that you really have to understand within its cultural and historical context to be able to understand just how amazing of a story it is.

In ancient times, certain men were chosen to live lives of obedience to a king or queen (as a guard, a food taster, treasurer, etc.). To ensure obedience, and to prevent the man from marrying anyone else and having a family of his own (and also to ensure the man didn’t “sleep around” with anyone from the king’s court), these men were often castrated. The term “eunuch” literally means “bedroom guard,” from the ancient Greek word eunoukhos, defined in the New Oxford American Dictionary as “a man who has been castrated, especially (in the past) one employed to guard the women’s living areas at an oriental court.”

So, eunuchs were castrated men. They were men without their genitals. They were men who had no testosterone flowing through their bodies. They were men who were deemed “ritually unclean” by the Jewish priests, and therefore excluded from temple worship. They were men whose lives were intended to be lived in servitude to another person. They could not have a family of their own, nor would any women want to be with them.

Today, we cannot relate directly with the story of what a eunuch must have gone through. It is no longer socially acceptable in our culture to castrate a man to ensure his obedience and servitude to another person. That is unthinkable. However, the struggle for acceptance that the eunuch must have gone through can be likened to the struggle of gays and lesbians, and those “sexual others” in our society whom people shun and distrust. The message from Acts couldn’t be clearer: Jesus calls us to accept and welcome everyone into the fold of God’s love.

So our castrated official has come to worship in Jerusalem, but he has undoubtedly been turned away; his racial and sexual identities have put him outside the worshipping community. In this light, do you feel the full pang of the question he asks as the chariot passes some water? “I have just been rejected and humiliated in Jerusalem, but you have told me of a man who, like me, has no ph ysical descendants, a scarred and wounded man who like me has been humiliated and rejected. Is there a place for me in [God’s] kingdom, even though I have an unchangeable condition that was condemned forever by the sacred Jewish scriptures?

Philip doesn’t speak. Nor does he leave for Jerusalem to consult with the apostles there, nor does he convene a five-year committee to study the subject. Instead, he simply acts. The audacity of his action is seldom appreciated, I fear. As the horses are reined in and the chariot comes to a stop in a cloud of dust, he leads the eunuch down from the chario and into thwater, and there he baptizes him. The sign of the kingdom of God that began in Jesus—a place at the table for outcasts and outsiders—continues in the era of the Acts of the Apostles. The poor are accepted, and the sick. Samaritans are accepted, and Gentiles, including Africans, and here, even the “sexually other,” those considered “defective” who will never have a place in traditional religion or in the traditional culture based on the “traditional family.” The old “other-excluding” sanctions—against the uncircumcised, against the “defective”—even though they were claimed to be in effect “throughout their generations”—have been buried in baptism, left behind as part of the old order that is passing away. As Philip and the Ethiopian disciple climb the stream bank, they represent a new humanity emerging from the water, dripping wet and full of joy, marked by a new and radical reconciliation in the kingdom of God.

–Excerpt from A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren, p. 181.

The mystery of the depth of God’s love cannot be fathomed. God loves all of creation…those of us who make wrong choices, and those of us born a different way. Those of us whom society shuns, and those of us who abuse and misuse their wealth and resources in greedy and injurious ways. I pray that all of creation rejoices in the knowledge of that love, regardless of what anyone (including other Christians) has said contrary to that!

In closing, I invite you to watch a sermon reflecting on this story by the Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope of Washington National Cathedral. Click here to watch the sermon, or click here to watch the entire worship service.

Thanks be to God!

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A Reflection on “The Way of the Cross – A Walk for Justice”

Today, on Good Friday, I observed the stations of the cross in a unique way. I attended an event that, for its sixteenth year, has marked the stations by reflecting on them through the lens of social justice today. The event, called “The Way of the Cross – A Walk for Justice”, is organized by a group of several Christian denominations (Catholic, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Baptist, etc.), and walks the streets of downtown Louisville, Kentucky while stopping periodically to reflect on one of the sixteen stations.

The words of the stations reflect the passion in a way that the writers of each reflection approach the gospel call to care for the people of the world who are abandoned, abused, oppressed, or forgotten. The words are designed to create a sense of compassion and attention to those whom society easily forgets, but the words also call us to faithful responses to Jesus’s call to solidarity with all of God’s people and creation.

One station’s reflection that particularly spoke to me was the reflection for station VI, “Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.” I share this particularly moving reflection with you below:

A Reflection on the Suffering Caused by Inadequate Healthcare

Today Jesus is one of the working poor earning minimum wages without health insurance. He has heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, or HIV. And he is being denied the tests and treatments necessary to save his life.

Robert*, who is HIV+, developed cancer and needs a specific type of chemotherapy to treat his cancer. Manufacturers, putting profit before people, limit the amount of this chemo produced, and make it extremely expensive. If he had insurance paying for the treatments it would not be so bad. But Robert works for minimum wage, isn’t sick enough for disability assistance and has no health insurance. He can’t receive the treatments that would save his life.

It’s the same with the CAT scans he needs to monitor the spread of the cancer. Without health insurance his options are to pay 70% up front of the cost and get the scan in 2 weeks or wait 7 to 9 months if he can’t pay up front. In 7 months an undetected development could be fatal. The average cost of a CAT scan is $1500. For Robert, 70% up front (approximately $1050) would consume nearly six weeks’ total take home pay, and eliminate money for rent, utilities and food for his family.

Lack of healthcare means lack of life, while Wealth equals Health in our economic reality. Today we are called to be Veronica and offer comfort to Jesus by supporting healthcare justice for all people.

A prayer in response:
Loving Healer, you show yourself to those who are vulnerable.
You stayed in the homes of the poor, tired and weak of this world.
Give comfort to all who struggle to stay healthy and provide for all their needs.
Open the hearts of all the legislators who can help us.
Give courage to all who fight for justice and who are dying because of lack of good health care.
Unite us all as one as we fight the disease and fear of all who suffer from HIV/AIDS, poverty and inadequate health systems. AMEN.

*Name changed to protect privacy

Written by Jacqueline Aceto, SCN, and Celeste Anderson. Sr. Jacqueline’s community “The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth” serves the sick including those with HIV/AIDS in the U.S. and four other countries. Ms. Anderson is a counselor with AIDS Interfaith Ministries of Kentuckiana, INC (AIM).

Find out more about this event by reading this news article.

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How are we supposed to live with people with whom we fundamentally disagree?

In this poignant sermon by the Rev. Dr. Renita Weems, renowned preacher in the African Methodist church and writer about women’s spiruality, we are posed with the question: “How are we supposed to live with people with whom we fundamentally disagree?” Dr. Weems reflects on the lessons of the day from the book of Genesis, where the brothers of Joseph conspire to kill him; from the Gospel of St. Luke, in which Jesus tells us to love your enemies, and do good to those who curse you; and on the preachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Click here to enjoy this fantastic sermon by Dr. Renita Weems, who preaches at Washington National Cathedral on the observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Day.

How do you love your enemies? We disarm them with love. … How different the church would be, how different our world would be, if we would realize that Jesus does not call us to the Table to celebrate a bastion of sameness; be that sameness in regard to race, ethnicity, economics, social class, ideology, politics, or polity; these are the things of our human invention. But the Bible understands that we are not homogeneous. We are different. And yet we are invited to the Table. To work out our differences? To agree? To overlook? Jesus gives us no answer. He just says … “Do this in remembrance of me.” … Just keep coming to the Table.

Or, click here if you wish to watch the service in its entirety.

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From “Why Faith Matters”

Many years ago when my faith in God was dwindling, I received a rustling at my door that turned out to be a note from a church community that has become a major part of my life of faith. Today, I tell my friends that I think it was God rustling at my door, using the hands of the people from a local church (who have turned out to be beautiful friends of mine). Since then, I’ve grown an appreciation and interest in learning about other people’s faith journeys. One thing I believe is true about God universally is that God is not only visible to us in one way…God is visible and accessible to us in a multitude of ways. For some, God is found in a sunset. For some, God is found in Jesus Christ. For others, God is found in music, and yet for many others, God is found in all of creation. May the God of all creation speak to you in your own way, and may your faith in God’s love for you increase in a multitude of ways.

This excerpt from the book “Why Faith Matters” speaks to this subtle diversity in which, I believe, God makes Godself known to humankind.

“What is true of human beings is true of God. How can I meet God if I venture out into the world weighed down by the purposelessness and emptiness of it all? To be open, to be humble, to seek—these are the preconditions to find something that simple reason alone will never yield. Deuteronomy 6:6 reads, “and these words which I command you this day shall be on your heart.” The Rabbi of Kotzk, a nineteenth-century teacher, asked why the Bible states “on your heart” when it really wishes the words to be “in your heart.” His answer is that hearts are not always open. But if you place the words on your heart, when the heart is more receptive, they will sink in and there unfold their deeper meaning. This is true of all great messages in life, which take on their deeper shades only when we are ready. Clichés that mean nothing in youth suddenly become profundities as we age. Similarly, the idea of God can seem pale and distant when we are remote from sources of spirit. Later, a moment of faithful intimacy can change our lives forever.

Devotional literature, prayer, a religious community, an appreciation to the wonders of the natural world, an open heart to the testimonies of others, can help develop our capacity for faith. We develop that capacity not through argument but through openness: Two people look at the same ocean; one is spurred to poetry. Two people look at the same sky; one is called to prayer. The difference is not in the weight of evidence, but in the receptivity of soul.”

From the book Why Faith Matters, by David J. Wolpe. © 2008, excerpt taken from pp. 117-118 of hardback edition.

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Romans 12

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

(New Revised Standard Version). Read more here.

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It Gets Better: Dan and Terry

No good thing will God withhold from those who walk with integrity.

–Psalm 84:11

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