“Does Our Faith Rock the Boat?”

This was the title of the October 14th sermon by Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Senior Pastor, Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen.

Preparing for the Word

 The first part of the service—“Preparing for the Word”—included the congregation’s reciting the following unison Prayer of Confession led by Associate Pastor Alana Simone Tyler: https://www.westminstermpls.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/1030am_10-14-18_Final.pdf

  • “Lord our God, you call us to proclaim the gospel, but we remain silent in the presence of evil. You call us to be reconciled to you and one another, but we are content to live in separation. You call us to seek the good of all, but we fail to resist the powers of oppression. You call us to fight pretensions and injustice, but we sit idly by, endangering the lives of people far and near. Forgive us, O Lord. Reconcile us to you by the power of your Spirit, and give us the courage and strength to be reconciled to others; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Savior.”

Listening for the Word

The second part of the service—Listening for the Word– included the reading the Scriptural passages for the day and the sermon.

The Scriptures:

Exodus 5: 1-9 (NRSV):

“Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.’ But Pharaoh said, ‘Who is the Lord, that I should heed him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go.’ Then they said, ‘The God of the Hebrews has revealed himself to us; let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness to sacrifice to the Lord our God, or he will fall upon us with pestilence or sword.’ But the king of Egypt said to them, ‘Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their work? Get to your labors!’ Pharaoh continued, ‘Now they are more numerous than the people of the land and yet you want them to stop working!’ That same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people, as well as their supervisors, ‘You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as before; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But you shall require of them the same quantity of bricks as they have made previously; do not diminish it, for they are lazy; that is why they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ Let heavier work be laid on them; then they will labor at it and pay no attention to deceptive words.’”

John 5: 1-13 (NRSV):

“After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.”

“Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’ The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Stand up, take your mat and walk.’ At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.”

“Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, ‘It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.’ But he answered them, ‘The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.” They asked him, ‘Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there.”

The Sermon:

“There’s a scene in [the 1950 musical comedy] Guys and Dolls at the Save-A-Soul Salvation Army mission where one of the characters, a gangster named Nicely-Nicely Johnson, offers testimony in the form of a song. The song tells of a dream Nicely has in which he’s on a ship sailing to heaven but is standing on the deck with gambling dice in his hand. ‘Sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down” the rest of the passengers in the dream sing. “Sit down ‘cause you’re rockin’ the boat.. . .”

“The song becomes, in a way, the center of the musical. The pious faithful at the Salvation Army, it turns out, rock the boat of the gangsters. By the end of the show they reform their ways. … [It’s] also a story at least partly repeated many times over in real life: the awakening of faith that can cause transformation. Go to any Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous meeting and you’ll hear about it. People’s lives can take a different tack when they stop and go deep and discover a power higher than themselves and gain perspective on how they’ve been living.”

“Christian faith, it turns out, changes lives, in ways big and small. . . .”

Does our faith rock the boat? Not only in little ways, but sometimes in life-altering ways? . . . .”

“Jesus is in the boat-rocking business. In today’s parlance he’d be called a disruptor. He subverts the way things are – not only systems of injustice, but also in much more personal ways in our lives and our relationships. If our Christianity doesn’t destabilize and challenge us then we might not be paying close enough attention.”

“Our faith should knock us off balance, at least once in a while. Whether that’s in the gestures we make or the language we use, the attitudes we have or the way we spend money, how we exercise power or how we live with our neighbors, Christianity is anything but passive. It’s a faith we practice, and put into real life and use, and it changes us.”

“There’s a rebellious quality to our faith. Jesus displays it most obviously when he breaks the Sabbath law by healing a paralyzed man. One of the Ten Commandments declares that Jews were to ‘remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.’ For centuries that had been interpreted as doing no labor of any kind on the day of rest. Some Jewish congregations and movements still view the commandment like that today.”

“But Jesus turns the law on its head; for him, to heal someone is holy whenever it happens, and it takes precedent over tradition. Keeping the Sabbath is not limited to maintaining a ritual simply for the sake of following the rules. What can be more holy than healing a person suffering paralysis?”

“Here’s how John tells the story:

  • ‘A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’
  • ‘The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.'”

“Imagine that: for 38 years, trying to drag his paralyzed body into the healing waters of the pool but being bumped out of the way by able-bodied people. Over and over, day after day, for nearly four decades. Out of compassion Jesus says to him,

  • “‘Stand up, take your mat and walk.’
  • “At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.”
  • “Now that day was a sabbath.  So the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been cured, ‘’It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.’”

“In other words, ‘Sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down. Sit down ‘cause you’re rockin’ the boat.’”

“Rules can cloud our vision sometimes. It happens still today. We Presbyterians are really good at it. We are known for being sticklers on order and process and protocol – which sometimes causes us to miss the point of faith. And when that happens we don’t take many chances. We become risk averse. Faith like that doesn’t rock many boats, or change many lives, or alter many systems.”

“Jesus is not the first boat-rocker in the Bible. In fact, scripture is full of them. Moses does it ages earlier, when he goes with his brother Aaron to visit Pharaoh to ask for a three-day break for the Hebrew people so they might worship God.”

“The request unsettles the peace that has kept things in balance in Pharaoh’s Egypt, and causes turmoil that had been kept to a minimum on the backs of the Hebrew people. But Moses pushes the boundaries for the sake of his oppressed people. The king gets angry and doubles down on the work required of his Israelite slaves, making it impossible for them to meet their quota. In effect, telling the Hebrews to sit down and stop rockin’ the boat. Leave the status quo alone.”

“That injustice is too much, and the die is cast. Pharaoh’s treatment of the Hebrew people turns the tide toward the liberation movement that becomes the Exodus. The request of Moses for a three-day retreat in the wilderness turns into the demand to’ “Let my people go.’ Period. It’s a defining moment for the Hebrew people. The dominant order is about to be overturned. Subversion has commenced. The boat is rocked.”

“Moses and Jesus are both on a mission from God – arising out of an encounter with the Almighty at a burning bush, in the case of Moses, and coming after 40 days in the desert, for Jesus. Everybody else – the enslaved Hebrew people, the disabled man at the pool in Jerusalem, all of us – everybody else is simply doing their best to be faithful and avoid any problems and keep their head above water. Like so many of us.”

“But in each instance it’s the common believers that take the brunt of the anger. The Temple leaders vent not at Jesus but at the man he heals, for standing and picking up his mat on the Sabbath. Pharaoh takes it out on not on Moses, but on the Hebrew people, whom he accuses of being lazy and defiant when they can’t meet their work quota.”

“In other words, even if we keep our head down and try not to rock the boat, following our faith may eventually land us in trouble.”

“Moses and Jesus are disruptors, but most of us are not. Most of us are rule-following, law-abiding citizens, religiously and politically, and that’s a good thing. A peaceful social order depends on that. We live by accepted, shared cultural norms, and we keep pursuing those norms even as it gets harder and harder. Most of us are not boat-rockers out to disrupt the present order of things. The status quo is working well for most of us. The world may need disrupting and we may need it in our personal lives, but those aren’t easy places for us. . . .”

“Yet, sometimes our faith pushes us in that direction. Westminster has learned this and has stood up on public issues. Our congregation has spoken up against current gun laws. Westminster took a stance in support of marriage equality. Our congregation has supported legislation for affordable housing and changes in the criminal justice system.”

“Christian faith changes lives – and systems – in ways big and small.”

“Our church has taken positions on public issues and policies that we feel do not reflect God’s intentions for the human family, as discerned through scripture study and prayer. We have rocked the boat and worked with others for justice. But that doesn’t mean we’re comfortable doing it.”

“Most of us – and I am in this category, too – prefer a quieter, more nuanced Christianity, a comfortable faith that doesn’t ask too much of us. A little voice inside tells us not to rock the boat, whether it’s working against systemic inequity or making changes in our personal lives. We’d just as soon stay seated.”

“Yet Jesus expects more from us. Those places in our lives where we need to change – and we all know where they are – are waiting for us to face them with courage, and then to act. And the injustices we see all around us in the city and the nation and the world cry out for transformation and call us to join with others in working for change.”

“The good news, the good news, is that Jesus has already given us all we need to make the change we sense is required in our world and in our lives – to stand up and rock the boat:

  • faith that gives us strength and courage,
  • hope that one day will be fulfilled, and
  • love that cannot be stopped.”

“Thanks be to God.”

Responding to the Word

The third and final part of the service—Responding to the Word—included the Pastoral Prayer and The Lord’s Prayer; the Moment for Stewardship; the Offertory; the Charge and Benediction; and the Passing of the Peace.

Reflections

Again this sermon reminds all of us that Jesus demands that we speak out and take action against injustice. This sometimes mean we have to break with order and process and protocol. We need to stand up and rock the boat!

“Is One New Humanity Possible?”

Sunday, October 7, was World Communion Sunday at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. This was celebrated with global music, including pieces from African-Americans (“McKee” by Matthew H. Cori and “In Christ There Is No  East or West”), Japan (“Here, O Lord, Your Servants Gather” by Isao Koizumi), Taiwan (“Search Me, O God”), Argentina (“Glory, Glory, Glory”), Jamaica (“Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ”) and South Africa (“Thula Sizwe”).

The sermon, “Is One New Humanity Possible?” by Senior Pastor Tim Hart-Andersen explored this global theme as well.

The Scriptures

Ephesians 2:11-22 (NRSV):  

  • “So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by those who are called ‘he circumcision’—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body[ through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into dwelling place for God.”

The Sermon

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near…that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two.”

“The problem in Ephesus 2000 years ago was a divided humanity and the animosity that came with it – not all that different from the times in which we live, in many ways.”

“So Christ Jesus came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.”

“From the Jewish perspective the population of the ancient Greek city of Ephesus was split in two, those “who were near’ – Jews, members of the covenant community of God’s people – and those ‘who were far off’ – Gentiles, outside the circle of the covenant community. ‘Near’ and ‘far off’ are not geographic terms; they refer to neighbors, co-workers, fellow students, people you see in the store, between whom there existed, in the words of Ephesians, a ‘dividing wall of hostility.’”

“In Ephesus those not sharing the same faith tradition or language, culture or politics did not share the same humanity. They were separated. They were other. They were alien. They were far off and someone else was at the center.”

“The problem of ‘the other’ is as old as humanity itself. It was there in Ephesus, and it is here, among us, today. It appeared in a variety of guises back then; the world was divided into male and female, slave and free, Jew and Greek. There was always the other.”

“It’s no different in our time. Racism grows out of an othering based on skin color. People with differing abilities become the other. Or people making minimum wage. Or immigrants. Or people of wealth. Or people living on the streets. And on and on it goes…rural-urban, left-right, Republicans-Democrats, men-women.”

“Sometimes we’re the other; sometimes we do the othering. We all tend to conjugate humanity into what we perceive to be its constituent parts – as if that will solve something or somehow satisfy us.”

“On the contrary, that tendency, if left unchecked, will be our undoing. That’s true not only in our national life, but on the global stage, as well. If we continue to approach the world and life in our communities as if our particular group or nation . . . [was] at the center, isolated from others not like us, that center will not hold. The dividing walls of hostility between them and us, if not dismantled, will ruin us.”

“The response of the Christian Church in ancient Ephesus was to use their imagination and develop a dream of an utterly different world in which people celebrated and welcomed the other. The followers of Jesus referred to it as a new humanity, and they saw it as God’s intention in Jesus Christ. The goal was not to do away with differences or cover them over or negate them, as if they weren’t real, but, rather, to learn to live with them, and to see them as a strength…in fact, places where God might be found.”

“’So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,’ the writer of Ephesians says, ‘But you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.’”

Václav Havel argues that only by transcending the self – which is the goal of religious traditions – will we overcome our tendency to deny the humanity of the other. He defines transcendence as…“A deeply and joyously experienced need to be in harmony even with what we ourselves are not, with what we do not understand, with what seems distant from us in time and space, but with which we are mysteriously linked because, together with us, all this constitutes a single world.[1]

“One new humanity.”

“At the conclusion of one of the most rancorous and dispiriting and painful weeks in recent American history, and a month away from a pivotal, acrimonious election, one new humanity seems impossible to attain – almost ludicrous to consider, even laughable. Political culture has been debased to a take-no-prisoners approach in which survivors of sexual assault are mocked, opponents are bullied, and lying has become acceptable.”

“As followers of Jesus we’re committed to a moral vision for our life together, but it doesn’t look like that.”

“One new humanity will not abide division based on race or economics, gender or social position or power. It will insist on the inherent worth of every individual. It will never stop asking how to make the world more just. It will seek to sustain the one, beautiful planet we have. And it will reject fundamentalism of any kind, because fundamentalisms, whether religious or political, are always declared at someone else’s expense. They thrive on an ‘other,’ who is wrong, who is outside, who is not included.”

“This is not a secular vision, devoid of spiritual content. It’s a religious vision – our religious vision. Ephesians is clear about this, and we should be, too. For us, Jesus Christ is the wellspring of one new humanity. To follow Jesus means to enter into the difficult work of learning to live together with all our differences and disagreements. Our faith in Jesus compels us to speak the truth, yes, sometimes with righteous rage, but always in love, trying not to let anger over injustice turn us into that which we protest.”

“One new humanity. Small steps matter. It will take disarming imagination to do this, like that of a seven-year old. We’ll need a new way of seeing the world, born of our religious conviction and counter to everything the world tells us. We’re going to have to resist and reject the way the world is and offer an alternative vision.”

Václav Havel says a divided, rancorous, hostile world calls for transcendence that refuses to let the way things are, be the way they have to be. Can we not dream beyond the ugly reality that has such a vice-grip on us and then work together toward that dream, that vision that emerged from Ephesus so many years ago?”

“The monk Thomas Merton described a vision, . . . so moving and so descriptive of the essence of what we’re trying to do with a religious vision that reaches past the otherness in which we dwell. It happened to him on March 18, 1958, in Louisville, Kentucky. ‘At the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district,’  Merton writes,’I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.’”[2]

“Our nation is desperate for such a vision to begin to remove the dividing wall of hostility – not to make us all the same and agree on everything, but to teach us to live with our differences in a way that honors them and respects them, and each one of us. I’m not talking only about political differences, although they may be uppermost in our mind these days. But I’m also thinking about race and socio-economic status, and education, and geography, and where we live in the city.”

“The old order was based on fear, and when we are afraid of one another we turn each other into enemies. The new order that comes out of the gospel is based on hope – and, as Maya Angelou says, ‘Hope and fear cannot occupy the same space.’”

“E pluribus unum. Out of many, one. It was the imperfect vision of the nation’s founders, with which we are still blessed and which we are still trying to get right.”

“Last summer in New Mexico we climbed to the top of a high mesa one day. It was a stunning view. We could see for miles over the desert landscape. Another couple soon joined us. They were immigrants from Albania. We talked, and they told us their story. They had fled as refugees to Greece, Italy, and other countries, before finally being welcomed to the U.S. They were so happy to be here. They both had settled and found jobs, and now they were on a road trip to take in their new country.”

“’God bless America,’ they said in heavily accented English. They were aliens no more.”

“Citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.”

“One new humanity is possible, but it will take vision, and work. It’s the calling of the church. Some of us will have to set aside the privilege we enjoy, by virtue of where we fit in the culture, in order to enter the narrative of people considered the other, because our very status is a wall, whether we want it to be or not, between us and them. A good way to begin might be by listening to one another, listening to one another as we have never listened before.”

“Westminster’s Race and Grace dialogues are one place where that listening is happening. It happens, as well, in our global partnerships in Cuba, Palestine, and Cameroon, as we listen and then learn the stories of people who have been othered by history. And it can happen where we work, with our neighbors, at school. Even in our families. I know families are feeling these dividing walls of hostility. I hear it all the time from church members.”

“I had my own Thomas Merton-like moment last week. We went out to eat at a Vietnamese restaurant 15 blocks south of here called Quang Restaurant.

“It has one big, open room, no divisions, with lots of tables, and they were all full. It was like walking into the world at dinner. There were people from Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe sitting at the tables. Older folks, young families, single adults, children running around. Different languages. People who drove fancy new cars and others who came on the bus. Mixed groups eating together and talking with one another.”

“It was noisy and steamy and smelled of good food, and I suddenly felt kinship with them all, as if everyone were at the same table. It was World Communion Sunday a few days early. I had glimpsed – in Quang’s – the friendship within the human family that God so desires of us.”

“One new humanity is possible, through the transcendent power of God’s love, as we know that love in Jesus Christ – a love that can overcome anything that wants to keep us apart, even the dividing walls of hostility among us. And then one new humanity, one new humanity, has a chance of growing.”

“Thanks be to God.”

Reflections

One new humanity is possible. Everyone can contribute to making that possible, one small step at a time. With humility each of us needs to recognize that one individual cannot do it all yourself, but that you can do something within your limited circumstances. Also recognize that sometimes you will fail in this effort and you will ask God for forgiveness.

=================================

[1] Václav Havel (1936-2011) was a Czech statesman, writer and former dissident, who served as the last President of Czechoslovakia from 1989 until its dissolution in 1992 and then as the first President of the Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003. The above quotation appeared in Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference [New York: Continuum, 2000], p. 45); Sachs, now Baron Sacks, MBE is a British Orthodox rabbi, philosopher, theologian, author and politician who served as the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013.

[2] Thomas Merton’s Mystical Vision in Louisville, Spiritual Travels.

 

 

 

“How Does Jesus Use Power?”

This was the title of the sermon preached on September 30 by Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Senior Pastor Tim Hart-Andersen.

The Prayer of Confession

As part of the first part of the worship service—Preparing for the Word—Associate Pastor Alanna Simone Tyler led the congregation in the following unison Prayer of Confession:

  • “Merciful God, by your grace we confess our sin and the sin of this world. Although Christ is among us as our peace, we are a people divided against ourselves as we cling to the values of a broken world. The fears and jealousies that we harbor set neighbor against neighbor and nation against nation. Lord, have mercy on us; heal and forgive us. Set us free to serve you in the world as agents of your reconciling love in Jesus Christ.”

The Scriptures

Psalm 82 (NRSV):

“God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
‘How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked?Selah
Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.’

They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
they walk around in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

I say, ‘You are gods,
children of the Most High, all of you;
nevertheless, you shall die like mortals,
and fall like any prince.’

Rise up, O God, judge the earth;
for all the nations belong to you!”

John 2: 1-12 (NRSV):

“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

“After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there a few days.”

The Sermon

At “the wedding party in Cana, 2,000 years ago, only the servants know what happens in the kitchen. Not even Jesus’ mother knows, although when the good wine starts flowing late into the feast she must suspect her son is behind it.”

“Jesus’ first miracle isn’t his idea. In fact, that’s true of all the miracles of Jesus. Someone presents him with a problem to solve: stop the bleeding, feed the 5,000, bring back sight, heal disease, cure paralysis, exorcise demons. Jesus is a reluctant miracle worker.At the wedding feast in Cana the wine steward is impressed with the vintage, but Mary’s son keeps quiet about it.”

“’At the wedding feast in Cana,’ I said 20 months ago, ‘Jesus launches a movement, a movement of joyful resistance against the baser impulses that run through each of us and through the principalities and powers of every time and place.’”

“That was then, and this is now, and we’re back at the wedding party where the wine runs out, seeing more signs of the resistance movement that is the gospel. . . . And now this same text shifts from a lesson in hospitality to a primer on the use of power.”

“At the wedding feast in Cana, Jesus tries not to exercise power. When his mother learns of the wine crisis, she turns to her son to solve it. He’s a grown man, and in that patriarchal system – as in ours – he’s in a position of power simply by virtue of his gender. His mother knows he’s capable of taking over and managing things, as men do. But he doesn’t rush in. He has no need to be in control.”

“That’s the first lesson from this story about how Jesus uses power: start with humility. Don’t be too eager to solve everything with your power. Be more modest. Jesus is reluctant to step in, take over, and make everything right. He’s not interested in the use of power to make himself or anyone else look good. People using power are always tempted to make it so they come out a winner, on top. Jesus doesn’t use power that way.”

“When he does finally take action, Jesus exercises power anonymously. He doesn’t need everyone to know what he can do, or what he has done. . . . Jesus doesn’t need to take credit.”

Second lesson from this story about how Jesus uses power: do it for the sake of building up the community, for the good of others, especially those who are most vulnerable. Don’t use it to burnish a reputation, or puff up an ego. The gifts Jesus has are considerable, but he knows they aren’t for his own aggrandizement. This is not about him. People using power are always tempted to make it about them. Jesus doesn’t use power that way.”

“When Jesus decides to help with the wine he asks the servants to fill the large stone jars with water. Those jars were reserved for one purpose only: for religious rituals, purification rites – not for holding wedding party wine. His choice of religious vessels to hold the wine shows his willingness to rethink tradition if necessary. We’ve always done it that way doesn’t carry much weight with Jesus. Remember when he allowed his followers to glean in the fields and eat on the Sabbath – even though it was prohibited by tradition – because they were hungry? That was the priority for Jesus, not the rules.”

Third lesson from this story about how Jesus uses power: use it to change the status quo, if it makes the world a better place. So often power is used to defend the way things are, rather than to imagine the way things might be and then make something new happen. That’s precisely what Jesus does with those stone jars; some look at them and see religious rituals and rules and a prescribed use. Jesus looks at them and sees jars of good wine for the party. 4 Structures and systems inevitably work to preserve the power that built them in the first place. People using power are always tempted to maintain tradition for its own sake, to keep things the way they are. Jesus doesn’t use power that way.”

“There’s a lot to unpack in this little gospel story about a party in Cana long ago. At the wedding feast Jesus shows how to use power humbly, to use it on behalf of the community, and to use it in a way that challenges the status quo.”

“But that’s only the start. He does it again and again. His entire ministry overturns the typical use of power in his time – and, therefore, in our time, if we follow him. When he’s in a superior position relative to others Jesus doesn’t see that as a chance to exercise leverage, but, rather, to listen and learn and bring healing.”

“Think of the Samaritan woman at the well, a foreigner, alone with Jesus, a male stranger from another group, who no doubt represents a threat. What happens? They talk about the water they both need – his, that which is to be found in the well, and hers, the living water of hope. They each ask the other for help. It’s mutual. It’s balanced.”

“Think of the Syrophoenician woman, another outsider. She asks Jesus to heal her daughter and he refuses, saying his own people deserve to be fed first. Then he adds, cruelly, that food shouldn’t be wasted by throwing it to the dogs.”

“The woman is furious at this, but her fury empowers her. She finds her voice, much as women today who have kept silent about sexual assault and are now speaking up. It shouldn’t have to wait until the victim gets angry, but the system is stacked against her.. . . “

“The Syrophoenician woman, a foreigner, an immigrant with no authority in that system, persists nevertheless. She challenges Jesus, a man in power presiding over a gathering of other men. . . . You can almost hear the Syrophoenician woman telling Jesus to look her in the eye.”

“She takes him to task and speaks directly and boldly and courageously to him, not letting him get away with a mean-spirited use of power. Jesus listens, and believes her – and he changes his mind and heals her daughter.”

“Think of the men who follow Jesus getting into a debate about who will be first in the coming kingdom – the guys competing with one another. Jesus rebukes them – and then invites little children to come to him, saying only people who become like children will enter the kingdom of heaven. Give up your privilege, he says, let go of your desire for power, and then you will see the light of God.”

“As people of faith we’re called to exercise power in the way of Jesus, in a way that points to the goodness of God, in a way that spreads the light of God, in a way that leads to the justice of God.”

At its best our democracy has the potential to offer light in a grim and gloomy world, and spread the most good for the most people. But we’re not there in so many ways. . . .”

“The noise echoing across our nation in recent years, and in the halls of Congress this week may show, as former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said recently, ‘the decline of democracy.’ (https://www.newsweek.com/former-justice-anthony-kennedy-warnsdemocracy-danger-1145017) “

“Or it may be the sound of democracy awakening.”

“It may be the cry of those demanding equity and fairness for people outside the places of wealth and advantage. It may be the demand for an end to mistreatment because of gender or race.”

“ It may be the rustling of the Holy Spirit finally getting our attention. Scripture resounds with the cries of the oppressed.”

“‘How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked’ God asks through the voice of the poet in Psalm 82”

How long?

“‘Give justice to the weak and the orphan,’ God says.”

“How long will you judge unjustly?”

“’Maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute,’ God says.”

How long will you show partiality to the wicked?

“’Rescue the weak and the needy,’ God insists “

How long?”

“‘Deliver them from the hand of the wicked.’ (Psalm 82:2-4)”

“The Hebrew poet expresses the heart of our faith and its urgent plea for justice. Jesus, son of Mary, winemaker in Cana, will embody that same call centuries later. Serving humbly. Listening carefully. Building up the community. Challenging the status quo. Sharing power.”

“Today you and I, as people of faith living in this land, are challenged to take up that good work, God’s work in our time. Those whose voices have not been heard and who have been victims of violence and injustice are now insisting that we listen, that those of us who hold privilege and power stop talking and hear their stories, and be changed by them.”

“As a new day dawns, the rising fear we’re witnessing across the country is the response of those – mostly straight white men in power – whose place in America is shifting, is being challenged by courageous women and others demanding to be heard.”

“The true test of the just use of power is who benefits from it. As Jesus makes clear in Cana and throughout his life, those who hold power should not be the ones who gain from its use. There’s no gospel in that, no good news at all.”

“In fact, as Jesus sees it, it’s just the opposite. Those with power are called either to relinquish it or use it to lift up others – especially those who have been excluded and despised, left out and pushed down, battered and abused – and invite them into the very places where they were not previously welcome.”

“Then, and only then, will the world shine with the justice of God. Then, and only then, will the light of goodness fill our lives. Then, and only then, will all God’s people, all God’s people, rejoice.”

“Thanks be to God.”

Reflections

This sermon uncovered at least six unexpected lessons about the use of power from the familiar story about the wedding at Cana. First, start with humility. Second, do it for the sake of building up the community. Third, use power to change the status quo if it makes the world a better place. Fourth, listen and learn from others, especially those who are being oppressed. Fifth, ask others for help. Sixth, be willing to change your mind.

These are lessons or challenges for all of us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“What Does It Mean To Choose Life?”

This was the title of the September 23rd sermon at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church by Senior Pastor, Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen. Below are photographs of the late 19th century and 21st century entrances to the church.

 

 

 

 

 

The Scriptures

Deuteronomy 30: 15-20 (NRSV):

  • “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

John 3: 1-10 (NRSV)

  • “Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?”

The Sermon

“If we glide through . . . worship on Sunday morning or evening and never have any qualms or second thoughts or doubts, either we’re not paying attention or we’ve missed the point altogether. Christian faith, when taken seriously, should be difficult. It should be demanding. It should be challenging. This is deep stuff; it matters. . . .”

“We’re all working on something – understanding Jesus or the Holy Spirit or the Trinity, or struggling with personal challenges or systemic injustice. None of us has it all figured out, but we’ve decided to cast our lot with this band of pilgrims called the Christian Church to find our way forward together..  . .”

“Nicodemus, the Pharisee in the story from John’s gospel this morning, is . . . honestly facing his questions about faith. But . . . Nicodemus isn’t willing to air his questions publicly. Instead, he sneaks out to visit Jesus late at night. He doesn’t want to be seen by those who think they have religion all figured out and buttoned down, and for whom Jesus is not relevant. . . .”

“The particular point Nicodemus wants to talk about with Jesus is the teaching that we all must be “born anew,” or “born from above.”

“Just how is that supposed to happen?” the pragmatically-minded Pharisee asks . . .  .“We’ve all been born once; shall we all somehow go back into the womb? . . . “

“Nicodemus brings his questions and asks Jesus to explain faith in a way that makes sense to him, that meets him at his points of doubt. But Jesus looks beyond the immediate questions and tells Nicodemus that faith is not explicable, not empirical, not observable, not something that can be – in our terms – scientifically proven. It’s like trying to control the wind, Jesus says, which blows when and where it will.”

“ Faith is a matter of the Spirit at work in our lives, bringing new life, a second chance, a starting-over, the experience of being born anew, if we embrace it. . . .”

“Faith is a gift given by God that we’re free to receive, or not. It’s the same decision the writer of Deuteronomy describes centuries before this gospel text.”

“’Today,’” God says in Deuteronomy, ‘I have set before you, life and death, blessings and curses.’ This is the deciding point.”

“Choose life.”

“What does it mean to choose life?

“For the writer of Deuteronomy it means deciding, deciding to follow God, to live with others as God would desire, to pursue God’s commandments. Centuries later, that same text is burning in the mind of a lawyer who asks Jesus which of those commandments is the greatest. Jesus responds by saying there really are only two, from which all the others hang: love God and love neighbor. “

Choosing life means choosing to love, deciding to put God and the well-being of others at the very center, practicing generosity and kindness to all, and trusting in a higher purpose, a greater good, an unnamable source of light beyond us.”

“Choosing life is not only an individual decision. It’s the choice of the community of faith to love God, together, and to love neighbor, together.”

“Nicodemus the Pharisee went to Jesus under cover of darkness, trying to find his way home to a God who would love him so fiercely, so completely, so unconditionally, that his life could begin again. Born anew. Turned around and starting over.”

“He trusted that Jesus could lead him on that path. What, or who, do we trust like that?”

“In the 19th century in Denmark Søren Kierkegaard argued with those who insisted on a strictly rational approach to life that rejected the notion of any source beyond observable reality. He used the phrase – now commonly known – leap of faith to name what we take when we choose to trust God. We span the perceived gap between human reason and faith in a God we can never fully know. . . .”

“But you’ve learned something valuable about Christian faith along the way, something each of us would do well to remember: faith is a gift – the wind blowing – our response is what matters. What do we decide? What do we choose? . . .”

“Together we have chosen life.”

Reflections

I too continue to work on understanding Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Trinity, personal challenges and systemic injustice. I have not figured it all out, but have decided to cast my lot with this band of pilgrims at Westminster to find my and our way forward.

I concur that faith is not explicable, not empirical, not observable, not scientifically provable. instead it is a matter of the Spirit working in our lives, bringing new life, a second chance, a starting over.

This sermon provided another answer to the question, “What Is Jesus for Us Today?” that was posed in the sermon on September 9.

Therefore, everyone is faced with an opportunity to choose life, deciding to follow God, to live with others as God desires, by loving God and neighbor.

 

 

 

 

 

“Where Do We Go From Here?”

This was the title of the September 16th sermon at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church by Senior Pastor, Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen. Below are photographs of the church’s late 19th century sanctuary and its Westminster Hall in the 21st century addition.

 

 

 

 

Scripture Passages

 Deuteronomy 30: 11-14 (NRSV)

“Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.”

John 1: 1-14 (NRSV) 

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”

“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

The Sermon

“One of the chief purposes of religion is to create communities of memory. . . . We come to worship to remember, to tell the story again and again, to rediscover and re-claim what our forebears in the faith found to be true about life. We come to address big questions, as they did: Why are we here? What does it mean to be human? What is the purpose of life? How did it all begin?”

“The gospel of John opens determined to respond to such questions. . . . ‘In the beginning,’ he says, ‘Was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’”

“This is the story of Jesus, son of Mary, but told through a cosmic lens, with echoes of a deep memory of the beginning of all time. . . .’He was in the beginning with God,’ John says of Jesus, the Word. ‘All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. . . .’”

“The gospel of John connects the genesis of the Messiah with the origins of earth itself. ‘What has come into being in him was life,’ John says of the Word, ‘And the life was the light of all people.’”

“This Jesus, as presented by John, breaks free of the limitations of a certain time and a definite place. The Word, in John’s view, is universal, the source of light and life for the entire human family, indeed, for all creation. . . .”

“In the beginning was the Word, with a capital W. If we search the lines of Genesis for that Word, and listen carefully, we will hear it in the ancient story of God’s handiwork, in the repeated refrain and it was good.”

“The creator completes a day and delights in the emerging earth’s splendor and declares it to be good. The division of time into night and day. That was good. The splattering of stars across the dome of darkness. That was good. The pushing up of mountains and the shaping of hills through which rivers began to flow. That was good. The first green plants stirred to life by the warmth of the sun and the nourishment of water. That was good. The  animals, the fishes and the birds. All of that was good. And then the ones formed in the creator’s own image, the earthlings. That was good.”

“The word at the start of the story is good, and that goodness permeates all creation and links it, links us, to the Creator. Julian of Norwich said that we should think of ourselves as made not by God, but ‘of God.’ Everything springs from the same, one source.”

“When the Word becomes flesh all life takes on new meaning and is woven into a singular whole. The Creator and the creation share the same matter, the same life. . . .”

“The Word of John’s gospel is not so distant that we might not discover it for ourselves in our time. Here the writer of Deuteronomy – many generations, centuries before John – anticipates the fourth gospel. ‘Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away.’”

“God says through the writer of Deuteronomy. ‘No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.’”

“We need not cross the sea or ascend to the heavens or climb a mountain or recite the Bible to encounter God’s word. . . .”

“That’s essentially what John tells us in the gospel: ‘And the Word’ – the Word placed in the human heart at the beginning of all time – ‘The Word became flesh and lived among us…full of grace and truth.’”

“Jesus is the living memory of the goodness of God.”

“The church is the community in which that memory resides and is carried along. And so the church gathers to remember and reaffirm the baseline of what it means to be human. All our efforts at justice and equity, all our attempts to end racism and alleviate poverty and eliminate disparities begin with that good word – that God word – about every human being, that each of us bears the word of God – the love of God, the image of God, the life of God – within. Each one of us.”

“The world is acting as if it had no memory, no remembering of ancient truths, no recollection of insights beyond those of our own immediate invention. What are the deep, abiding affirmations about life? They’re found in the religions of the world; for us, they’re found in the pages of scripture, in the stories that have been passed down over the ages, and in the communities that have conveyed those texts and those stories along…that there is a creator…that the creation is good…that each member of the human family bears the creator’s image…that God’s love comes to life in Jesus…that God has already given us all we need to live just, peaceful, and sustainable lives.”

“When we remember that, then the Word becomes flesh not only once, but over and over again, in your life and in mine, as we let the light that was placed in the human heart at the beginning of all time shine in the world.” (Emphasis added.)

“A hospital chaplain told me recently about a visit she made to an older patient who had just survived a ‘Code Blue’ – meaning she had almost died. . . The chaplain talked with her about her experience and their conversation turned to a familiar passage from Isaiah:

  • ‘Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.’ (Isaiah 40:31)

“‘That’s the Word of God made flesh!’ the woman who had nearly died said from her hospital bed, with a spark of light in her eyes. That’s the Word of God made flesh. She had remembered . . . . that the Word of God – the same Word present at creation – is within each of us.”

“A few days ago I met a young woman whose company had worked on our wonderful new addition.. . . I invited her to Sunday morning worship. She smiled and said, “I’m busy every Sunday morning. I volunteer with a woman with a debilitating disease. She needs help. So I go every Sunday morning to do laundry for her, and clean house, make meals and visit.” That’s the Word made flesh. It may not be what we think of as traditional church, but it is certainly the goodness of God coming to life. Serving others as an act of worship on a Sunday morning – if that’s not church, what is?”

“What happens when the Word becomes flesh? The light of God, present at the beginning, that light breaks into the world anew. The love of God takes root in our communities and begins to grow. The justice of God becomes more visible. God’s dream for the earth comes a little closer.”

“That happens most fully in Jesus, but it also happens in each one of us. The light of God shines in the world through us, and through communities like this one.”

“When the Word becomes flesh we remember. We remember the goodness of God visible in all creation and planted deep within our hearts.”

By the grace of God and by how we live, we – you and I – help bring that Word to life, give it flesh, in the world.” (Emphasis added.)

“Thanks be to God.”

Reflections

This sermon gave me a new perspective on this familiar passage from the Gospel of John.

When we remember that there is a creator, that the creation is good, that each member of the human family bears the creator’s image, that God’s love comes to life in Jesus and that God already has given us all that we need to live just, peaceful and sustainable lives, then the Word becomes flesh not only once, but over and over again in your life and mine, as we let the light that was placed in the human heart at the beginning of all time shine in the world. (Emphasis added.)

By the grace of god and by how we live, we help bring the Word to life, give it flesh, in the world. (Emphasis added.)

This sermon also gave one answer to the question posed in the prior Sunday’s sermon, “What Is Jesus For Us Today?”that was discussed in a prior post.

 

The Canonization of Oscar Romero

On October 14, 2018, Pope Francis at the Vatican canonized Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. The Vatican’s press release briefly stated the following:

  • “Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated on March 24, 1980 as he was saying Mass in the chapel of the Divine Providence cancer hospital where he lived.  He was an outspoken voice for the poorest people of his country, so got caught up in a conflict between the military government and guerilla groups that claimed tens of thousands of civilian lives.”
  • “Thirty five years later, he was declared a martyr of the Church, killed out of hatred of the faith, and was beatified on May 23rd[1]

Pope Francis, who wore the bloodstained rope belt that Romero wore when he was assassinated, canonized Romero and Pope Paul VI at a Mass in St. Peter’s Square before about 70,000 faithful, a handful of presidents and 5,000 Salvadoran pilgrims who traveled to Rome to honor a man whom many Latin Americans consider a hero. Back in El Salvador’s capital, tens of thousands more Salvadorans stayed up all night to watch the Mass on giant TV screens outside the cathedral where Romero’s remains are entombed. Below are photographs of the crowd at St. Peter’s, Pope Francis and of  photographs of Romero and Pope Paul VI hung on the exterior of St. Peter’s.

 

 

 

Pope Francis’ Homily

In his homily Pope Francis said that Romero “left the security of the world, even his own safety, in order to give his life according to the Gospel, close to the poor and to his people, with a heart drawn to Jesus and his brothers and sisters.”

The homily was based upon Hebrews: 4: 12-13 (NRSV): “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” The passage from Hebrews “tells us that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword . . . . It really is: God’s word is not merely a set of truths or an edifying spiritual account; no – it is a living word that touches our lives, that transforms our lives. There, Jesus in person, the living Word of God, speaks to our hearts.”

“The Gospel, in particular, invites us to an encounter with the Lord, after the example of the ‘man’ who ‘ran up to him’ (cf. Mk10:17). We can recognize ourselves in that man, whose name the text does not give, as if to suggest that he could represent each one of us. He asks Jesus how ‘to inherit eternal life’ (v. 17). He is seeking life without end, life in its fullness: who of us would not want this? Yet we notice that he asks for it as an inheritance, as a good to be obtained, to be won by his own efforts. In fact, in order to possess this good, he has observed the commandments from his youth and to achieve this he is prepared to follow others; and so he asks: ‘What must I do to have eternal life?’”

“Jesus’s answer catches him off guard. The Lord looks upon him and loves him (cf. v. 21). Jesus changes the perspective: from commandments observed in order to obtain a reward, to a free and total love. That man was speaking in terms of supply and demand, Jesus proposes to him a story of love. He asks him to pass from the observance of laws to the gift of self, from doing for oneself to being with God. And the Lord suggests to the man a life that cuts to the quick: ‘Sell what you have and give to the poor…and come, follow me’ (v. 21).”

“To you, too, Jesus says: ‘Come, follow me!’ Come: do not stand still, because it is not enough not to do evil in order to be with Jesus. Follow me: do not walk behind Jesus only when you want to, but seek him out every day; do not be content to keep the commandments, to give a little alms and say a few prayers: find in Him the God who always loves you; seek in Jesus the God who is the meaning of your life, the God who gives you the strength to give of yourself.”

Again Jesus says: ‘Sell what you have and give to the poor.’ The Lord does not discuss theories of poverty and wealth, but goes directly to life. He asks you to leave behind what weighs down your heart, to empty yourself of goods in order to make room for him, the only good. We cannot truly follow Jesus when we are laden down with things. Because if our hearts are crowded with goods, there will not be room for the Lord, who will become just one thing among the others. For this reason, wealth is dangerous and – says Jesus – even makes one’s salvation difficult. Not because God is stern, no! The problem is on our part: our having too much, our wanting too much suffocates us, suffocates our hearts and makes us incapable of loving. Therefore, Saint Paul writes that ‘the love of money is the root of all evils’ (1 Tim 6:10). We see this where money is at the centre, there is no room for God nor for man.”

“Jesus is radical. He gives all and he asks all: he gives a love that is total and asks for an undivided heart. Even today he gives himself to us as the living bread; can we give him crumbs in exchange? We cannot respond to him, who made himself our servant even going to the cross for us, only by observing some of the commandments. We cannot give him, who offers us eternal life, some odd moment of time. Jesus is not content with a ‘percentage of love’: we cannot love him twenty or fifty or sixty percent. It is either all or nothing.”

“Dear brothers and sisters, our heart is like a magnet: it lets itself be attracted by love, but it can cling to one master only and it must choose: either it will love God or it will love the world’s treasure (cf. Mt 6:24); either it will live for love or it will live for itself (cf. Mk 8:35). Let us ask ourselves where we are in our story of love with God. Do we content ourselves with a few commandments or do we follow Jesus as lovers, really prepared to leave behind something for him? Jesus asks each of us and all of us as the Church journeying forward: are we a Church that only preaches good commandments or a Church that is a spouse, that launches herself forward in love for her Lord? Do we truly follow him or do we revert to the ways of the world, like that man in the Gospel? In a word, is Jesus enough for us or do we look for many worldly securities? “

“Let us ask for the grace always to leave things behind for love of the Lord: to leave behind wealth, leave behind the yearning for status and power, leave behind structures that are no longer adequate for proclaiming the Gospel, those weights that slow down our mission, the strings that tie us to the world. Without a leap forward in love, our life and our Church become sick from ‘complacency and self-indulgence’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 95): we find joy in some fleeting pleasure, we close ourselves off in useless gossip, we settle into the monotony of a Christian life without momentum, where a little narcissism covers over the sadness of remaining unfulfilled.”

“This is how it was for the man, who – the Gospel tells us – ‘went away sorrowful’ (v. 22). He was tied down to regulations of the law and to his many possessions; he had not given over his heart. Even though he had encountered Jesus and received his loving gaze, the man went away sad. Sadness is the proof of unfulfilled love, the sign of a lukewarm heart.”

“On the other hand, a heart unburdened by possessions, that freely loves the Lord, always spread’ joy, that joy for which there is so much need today. Pope Saint Paul VI wrote: ‘It is indeed in the midst of their distress that our fellow men need to know joy, to hear its song’ (Gaudete in Domino, I). Today Jesus invites us to return to the source of joy, which is the encounter with him, the courageous choice to risk everything to follow him, the satisfaction of leaving something behind in order to embrace his way. The saints have travelled this path.”

Conclusion

In my first trip to El Salvador in April 1989 I started to learn about Oscar Romero and his courageous denunciations of human rights violations by the Salvadoran government and, to a lesser extent, the rebels. For these acts he was assassinated while he was saying mass in a small, modern and beautiful chapel on the grounds of a cancer hospital across the street from his small apartment. As a Protestant Christian I came to regard Romero as my personal saint. Thus, I treasure the Roman Catholic Church’s formally recognizing him as a saint.[2]

====================================

[1] Vatican, Bl. Oscar Romero: A martyr of the option for the poor, Vatican News (Oct. 14, 2018); Vatican, Booklet for the Celebration: Holy Mass and Canonizations (14 Oct. 2018); Vatican, Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis (Oct. 14, 2018); Zra, Óscar Romero, Archbishop Killed While Saying Mass, Will Be Named a Saint on Sunday, N.Y. Times (Oct. 13, 2018); Assoc. Press, Pope’s Canonization of Paul VI, Romero Personal, Political, N.Y. Times (Oct. 13, 2018); Sherwood, Salvadoran priest óscar Romero to be declared saint by Pope Francis, Guardian (Oct. 11. 2018); Winfield & Aleman, Pope makes El Salvador’s Oscar Romero and Pope Paul VI saints, Wash. Post (Oct. 14, 2018); Pavoledo, Archbishop Óscar Romero and Pope Paul VI Are Made Saints, N.Y. Times (Oct. 14, 2018).

[2] Previous posts have discussed my discovery of Romero and various legal proceedings about his assassination. (See the posts listed in the “Oscar Romero” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: EL SALVADOR. A website totally devoted to honoring Romero and promoting his beatification and canonization is Super Martyrio. There also are frequent posts about Romero in the blog El Salvador Perspectives.

U.S. State Department’s Report on Morocco’s Religious Freedom Record in 2017

On May 29, 2018, the U.S. State Department released its report on religious freedom in every country of the world for 2017.[1]

Here is its Executive Summary for Morocco’s religious freedom record in 2017:[2]

  • “The constitution declares the country to be a Muslim state with full sovereignty and that Islam is the religion of the state. The constitution guarantees freedom of thought, expression, and assembly, and says that the state guarantees to everyone the freedom to “practice his religious affairs.” The constitution states the king is the protector of Islam. It prohibits political parties, parliamentarians, and constitutional amendments from infringing upon Islam. The criminal code prohibits undermining the faith or enticing a Muslim to convert to another religion. According to human rights organizations and local Christian leaders, the government detained and questioned some Christian citizens about their beliefs and contacts with other Christians. Christian and Shia Muslim citizens stated fears of government harassment led to their decision to hold religious meetings in members’ homes. Foreign clergy said they discouraged the country’s Christian citizens from attending their churches out of fear they could be criminally charged with proselytism. Some Christian citizens reported authorities pressured Christian converts to renounce their faith. On at least two occasions during the year, the government expelled foreign individuals accused of proselytism as “a threat to public order,” rather than prosecuting them under provisions of the law that prohibit “undermining the faith.” Although the law allows registration of religious groups as associations, some minority religious groups reported government rejection of their registration requests. In May Spanish media reported the minister of endowments and Islamic affairs used the term “virus” when referring to Christians and Shia Muslims in the country. Some religious minority groups, such as the Bahai community, practiced their religion without formal registration. In October media reported that authorities prevented the Bahai community from publicly celebrating the bicentennial of the birth of the faith’s founder. The authorities introduced new religious textbooks during the school year following a review they said was aimed at removing extremist or intolerant references. The Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs (MEIA) continued to guide and monitor the content of sermons in mosques, Islamic religious education, and the dissemination of Islamic religious material by the broadcast media, actions it said were intended to combat violent extremism. The government restricted the distribution of non-Islamic religious materials, as well as Islamic materials it deemed inconsistent with the Maliki-Ashari school of Sunni Islam.”
  • Some Christian, Bahai, and Shia Muslims reported societal, familial, and cultural pressure on account of their faith. Passersby reportedly attacked at least one individual during Ramadan for eating in public during fasting hours.”
  • “The Charge d’Affaires, other embassy and consulate general officers, and other S. government officials promoted religious freedom and tolerance in visits with key government officials, where they highlighted on a regular basis the importance of protection of religious minorities and interfaith dialogue.” (Emphases added.)

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, International Religious Freedom Report for 2017 (May 29, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, Briefing on the Release of the 2017 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom (May 29, 2018).

[2] U.S. State Dep’t, International Religious Freedom Report for 2017: Morocco (May 29, 2018).