Sunday, May 25, 2014

Passing Another Mile Marker

I passed mile marker 87 yesterday. Following the savage winter we had, the day was near perfect. I spent it in solitude quietly doing what needed doing, receiving the best wishes of friends, and sharing family intimacies with family members. I overslept this morning so went to second service instead of the usual first service, but was glad that I went--although I found it difficult to sit through the clatter and bang of this younger generation. I’ve endured the mixed bag of worship at our church for 17 years since retiring. I stayed because I found challenge in the pastor’s preaching and solid friendship in our peer-relationship, a time in which he helped us through some stressful times. He has been gone a year now, during which he has served as regional pastor ministering to congregations across the state in all levels of difficulty.Currently he is an Interim pastor in Indiana and Susan is an Interim at another place.

Our new pastor has been with us for one year now. At times he shows a real flair for being a very good Bible teacher but in my view he is tied to the latest technologies, which bore me and are more than I can afford. I like his life applications but I view his sermons as canned so they can be coordinated with the videos he loves to use. Now I do not go to church to watch videos, so I am “unattracted” to them, or their humor. Today, once I endured my way through the overly-loud bass guitar and the so very insistent drumming of the too loud music (I grimace without intending to), I did find satisfaction in the sermon.

I get the point of what Pastor was saying  as he read the story of Paul in Athens when trying to introduce his new discovery of Jesus to an already very religious crowd of Jews, Greeks, Epicureans, Stoics, and what have you (Acts 17:16-34). Their reaction was typical and no different than today: “What is this babbler trying to say?” Paul was hoping to introduce his discovery of the resurrected Jesus he believed he had met, but some thought he was advocating “some new god.” There were some others who asked to hear more.

Most of us would have begun by telling the crowd how wrong they were; they were pagans. Paul chose to look over their multitudes of idols/gods/philosophies and observed very astutely that altar inscripted to “an unknown God.” With that common ground, Paul suggested, “Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you” (17:34). Knowing they were very religious already, he reminded them “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth.” He doesn’t just live in buildings or on a shelf as an idol. He made all of us as human beings and in him “we live and move and have our being.” Thus, Jeff made the point that Christians are people who are provoked to choose engagement over condemnation, grace rather than judgment. Christians seek common ground for engagement in restoring our world to some of the sanity with which God created it.

While Jeff applied his thoughts to our relationships with friends and neighbors, I was seeing some of those neighbors as who they are today. Paul was speaking as a Jewish Christian to varying ethnic people (Jews and Greeks) who also included Epicureans and Stoics, various philosophies et al. Today our neighbors may be Jewish, Muslim, Sikhs, or Hindu’s. There may be a few atheists, probably more agnostics. Most of those who brought “their faith” with them are devout to some degree. Yet, I see much evidence on Facebook of Christian hostility toward those of other faiths; granted, America was founded with a Judaio-Christian heritage. We tend, for example, to categorize all Muslims as radicalized terrorists, shoe-box bombers, although many of them are here fleeing from that past.

Muslims, for example, have a very different faith than Christianity, although we share common origins. Muslims only have five basic rules, but most are very devout in those few rules, one of which is the praying at regular hours. Rather than remind them that “we are a Christian nation” and they are ethnic foreigners and terrorists, why can we not befriend them as people God created, recognize their devotion, and then enrich our devotion by being who we say we are and practicing what we preach and be friends whose devotion to our faith matches their devotion to their faith. Then, we may be ready for further engagement (dialogue). I don’t know that Muslims have the assurance of God’s forgiveness and grace that Christians enjoy, but I’m told many of them would like to experience it.

One of the things we want to avoid as Christians is becoming Christian Pharisees. We have a world with a multitude of opinions, convictions, beliefs and what have you and at this stage of my life I would like to make every day count. I don’t want to spend my days polishing the picture window in the front of my house that overlooks a beautiful yard and peaceful lake, bordered by picturesque mountains. I understood Jeff’s illustration from Eugene Peterson. The owner of the house took pride in looking out of that window but got distracted by the visiting children whose dirty imprints on the window clouded the view. The church has invested so much time, money, and pride in keeping the window of holiness, unity and spiritual purity clear that it has sometimes perverted the purpose of the window – to reveal the beauty of the yard, the lake, the mountains et al and focused on keeping little visitors hands off. We end up window polishers, without friends with whom to share our beautiful view.

John 3:17 says, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him (italic added). I want to be among those restorers of God’s world who seek engagement rather than condemnation, who offer grace rather than judgment. This is at Warner’s World.

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