Charge to Westminster Presbyterian Congregation by Rev. Dr. Tim Hart-Andersen

At the close of each Westminster worship service during Rev. Dr. Tim Hart-Andersen’s tenure as Senior Pastor he offered the following charge to the congregation:

Go forth into the world in peace.

Be of good courage.

Hold fast to that which is good.

Render to no person evil for evil.

Strengthen anyone fainthearted.

Support anyone weak.

Heal anyone afflicted.

Honor all people.

Steward the creation.

Love and serve the Lord,

Rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

This charge originally was found in the 1928 Church of England Book of Common Prayer, based on a paraphrase of 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28, amended with a reference to Genesis 2:15.

The elements of this charge were elaborated in Rev. Hart-Andersen’s final seven sermons before his retirement at the end of this October.[1]


[1] “The Benediction of Life Together” at Westminster Presbyterian Church, (Oct. 19, 2023)(9/10/23 sermon); “The Benediction Never Ends” at Westminster Presbyterian Church, (Oct. 20, 2023)(9/17/23 sermon); ;“World Communion Sunday at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church Celebrates Its Global Partners (Oct. 11, 2023) (10/1/23 sermon); “We Are the Church: Be of Good Courage. Hold Fast to That Which Is Good” at Westminster Presbyterian Church,  Nov. 2, 2023) (10/8/23 sermon) ; “We Are The Church: Render to no person evil for evil. Strengthen anyone fainthearted. Support anyone weak. Heal anyone afflicted” at Westminster Presbyterian Church, (Nov. 3, 2023)(10/15/23 sermon); “We Are The Church: Honor all people. Steward the creation” at Westminster Presbyterian Church (10/22/23 sermon) [blog post to follow]; “We Are the Church: Love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit (10/29/23 sermon) [blog post to follow].




“We Are the Church: Render to no person evil for evil. Strengthen anyone fainthearted. Support anyone weak. Heal anyone afflicted” at Westminster Presbyterian Church  

On October 15, 2023, Rev. Dr. Tim Hart-Andersen, Senior Pastor at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, delivered the sermon, “We Are the Church: Render to no person evil for evil. Strengthen anyone fainthearted. Support Anyone Weak. Heal Anyone Afflicted,” which was the fifth of his final seven sermons before his retirement at the end of October.


Leviticus 19:9-18

“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

 “‘Do not steal.”

“‘Do not lie.”

“‘Do not deceive one another.”

 “‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.”

 “‘Do not defraud or rob your neighbor.”

“‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.”

 “‘Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord.”

 “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.”

 “‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people.”

“‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord.”

 “‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.”

 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

Matthew 7:1-5, 12

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”


“The scripture passages for today were selected months ago, when we knew we would be marking the completion, or near completion, of a major capital campaign at Westminster. We could not have known then what would happen this week in other parts of the world.”

“It’s a bit jarring, frankly, to juxtapose our celebration with the suffering of so many. But we are the church, and we are made to face and live into the chaos of the world, carrying a message of hope, and so we do that this morning.”

“The Sermon on the Mount, from which today’s gospel reading comes, opens with the Beatitudes, when Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’” (Matthew 5:4,5)

“This past week we’ve seen too much mourning among the meek of the earth. Children dying in Israel and Gaza, families grieving the senseless loss of the next generation to wanton violence, first from the terror unleashed by Hamas and now from the destruction in Gaza by Israel.”

“I had breakfast a few days ago with the interfaith clergy of downtown Minneapolis, including a Jewish rabbi and an Arabic Muslim imam. All of us have been to Israel and Palestine multiple times. No one wanted to talk about solutions or next steps or politics in what we know to be an extraordinarily complex situation. The room that morning was simply filled with sorrow, with an exhausted sadness at the endless conflict and loss of life, especially among the children.”

“’Render to no person evil for evil.’ That line from the weekly Charge and Benediction at the end of worship seems particularly apt this week.”

“Let us all pray for peace and advocate for justice in that part of the world where there is neither.”

“The Sermon on the Mount starts with the Beatitudes and ends, three chapters later, with the Golden Rule. It’s Jesus’ closing argument: ‘In everything,’ he says, summing up what he has just preached, ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you.’”

“Every major world religion embraces that same uncomplicated approach to human relationships. It’s an ethic for all ages, all places, all people. “Do to others what you would want them to do to you.” We all remember it, but few of us live it completely. It applies to our most  intimate relationships, and to our life in community and among the nations, as well.”

“The divisions that paralyze our public life today in America and haunt our culture could use a little Golden Rule sprinkled on them. How can we speak ill of other people and groups and assume the worst of them, when we would hope they not do the same to us?”

“Jesus doesn’t pull the Golden Rule out of thin air. He says that the prophets and the Law gave rise to this rule. He was clear on this point: show God’s love to others and God’s love will be shown to you. That ethic is embedded in the Holiness Code of Leviticus, a set of ethical commandments to God’s people:

‘When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God.’

‘You shall not steal…you shall not lie to one another…you shall not defraud your neighbor…and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a worker…I am the LORD your God.’ (Leviticus 19:9, 11, 13)

“Those ancient words are reflected in our weekly Charge and Benediction in worship: Strengthen anyone fainthearted. Support anyone weak. Heal anyone afflicted.”

“It’s a simple directive for our life together: treat others as you yourself would want to be treated. Could there be a more basic commandment for human community, an ethic not limited to any one religion, but meant for all of us? It is the measure of what is right and good in life. What matters is not what makes us feel self-satisfied or vindicated or avenged, but what contributes to a world that is a little kinder and more just.”

“Westminster aspires to be a Golden Rule church. We’re committed as a congregation and as individuals – because when we go from this place we are, each one of us, the church in the world – to live in this world in ways that show the love and justice of God. That’s what our Westminster mission statement says. That doesn’t mean we’re perfect. Sometimes we fall short, which is why we include a time of confession each week in worship: we own that we don’t always hit the mark – and we are grateful that God’s grace always gives us another chance – always another chance, as individuals and communities.”

“For more than a decade Westminster has been working at creating a sustainable future for this congregation. And, speaking personally, I am glad finally to arrive at this Sunday. We’ve wanted to give those who follow us the wherewithal to continue to be a church working for a world whose worth is tested by how the most vulnerable among us are faring. A world where the meek might inherit the earth.”

“That’s essentially the purpose of the church: worship God with all our heart and mind and strength – and then take the goodness of God out into the streets of the city and nations of the world, not as self-righteous victors, but as realistic and humble followers of one who came not to be served but to serve.”

“We are the church. This is what we do. Whether as individuals or together as a community, we try to live with others as we want them to live with us. Our city and the world need to hear that, to see that, especially this week but only this week, to experience a willingness, among this community and others, to attend to others as we would have them attend to us.”

“Today we celebrate a milestone in our congregation’s effort to prepare this church for the next 50-100 years of being the church in this city. It was a strategic, long-term vision. When we began Open Doors Open Futures downtown Minneapolis was predicted to double in population, from 35,000 in 2010 to 70,000 in 2025. The residential population is now near 60,000. Westminster wanted to prepare for that growth by creating access and parking and a facility to enhance our ministries and welcome our neighbors.”

“It has taken Westminster 12 years of focused effort, most recently with the Enduring Hope campaign, to get to the place where the future of this community of faith is now wide open. Having spent half of my ministry among you on this project, this is a source of great joy for me.”

“It’s common these days to hear about the decline of religion in America, that the church is slowly slipping into irrelevance. A recent survey projected that within two generations Christianity will be the religion of fewer than half of Americans. (”

“Those macro-level studies and statistics do not tell the whole picture. Westminster and other congregations, large and small, aim to be Christian communities of meaning and purpose rooted in ancient biblical values that are as relevant today as they ever were: Render to no person evil for evil. Strengthen anyone fainthearted. Support anyone weak. Heal anyone afflicted. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

“There will never be a time when those ideals will not offer hope and direction for a more just and sustainable world. If the church becomes – as predicted – a minority voice, a minority presence in the future, so be it: we still have a good word, an important word, a life-giving word for a chaotic and suffering world.”

“I don’t panic in the face of dire predictions about Christianity because the Church is not merely a sociological phenomenon. We are not the religious equivalent of another voluntary organization suffering membership loss. We are the Church. We are the Body of Christ into which we will baptize little Leland Otto later in this service. This is the living community created and sustained by a love that will not let us go. Whether we’re in the majority or not, frankly, is irrelevant to how we choose to live as a community that follows Jesus.”

“Long ago the church got used to the idea of being at the center of it all, the center of social, political, and economic life in the West – first when Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and the entire empire followed suit. Then in the rise of the power of Rome over many centuries. And in more recent times, with the ascendance of Protestantism.”

“We may be witnessing in our time the de facto disestablishment of the church from the center of privilege and control. And that’s ok – maybe even needed. But we do not lose heart: this is God’s church, not ours, formed by the Spirit at Pentecost and borne through history by the power of unconditional love not beholden to principalities and powers and cultures.”

“We have much to celebrate today, and even more to which we can look forward. Westminster has sought to open doors and open futures, to embrace hope that endures.”

“Together we’ve helped move the world a little closer to the justice for which God longs. We’ve helped build more than 300 units of affordable housing. We’ve made significant commitment to support children and young people in Black and indigenous communities, having listened to what they need most from us as partners. We’ve helped teachers in South Sudan educate thousands of girls. We’ve brought clean water to Cuba.”

“Strengthen anyone fainthearted. Support anyone weak. Heal anyone afflicted.”

“In a world where fear and animosity and injustice and violence seem to proliferate, both in our own land in other places, there is another way: Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

“To proclaim that good word is our mission as followers of Jesus.”

“Today we rejoice that God has called this church – this Golden Rule community of faith – to be a telling presence in the city for generations to come.”

“Thanks be to God.”



This sermon appropriately rejects the frequent talk about the alleged decline of religion in America and the church slowly slipping into irrelevance. Instead, Tim points out that this is God’s church, not ours, formed by the Spirit at Pentecost and borne through history by the power of unconditional love not beholden to principalities and powers and cultures.

Indeed, Westminster has sought to open doors and open futures, to embrace hope that endures. Together we’ve helped move the world a little closer to the justice for which God longs. We’ve helped build more than 300 units of affordable housing. We’ve made significant commitment to support children and young people in Black and indigenous communities, having listened to what they need most from us as partners. We’ve helped teachers in South Sudan educate thousands of girls. We’ve brought clean water to Cuba.

Westminster and other congregations, large and small, aim to be Christian communities of meaning and purpose rooted in ancient biblical values that are as relevant today as they ever were: Render to no person evil for evil. Strengthen anyone fainthearted. Support anyone weak. Heal anyone afflicted. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.


[1]  Sermon, We are the church: Render to no person evil for evil. Strengthen anyone faint-hearted. Support anyone weak. Heal anyone afflicted, Westminster Presbyterian Church (Oct. 15, 2023); Bulletin for the Service, Westminster Presbyterian Church (Oct. 15, 2023).

“The Benediction Never Ends” at Westminster Presbyterian Church

On September 17, 2023, Rev. Dr. Tim Hart-Andersen, Senior Pastor at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, delivered the second of his last seven sermons, “The Benediction Never Ends at Westminster Presbyterian Church,” before he retires at the end of October. Here is the text of that sermon along with a summary of this Sunday’s worship service.

Call to Confession and Prayer of Confession

(Rev. Alanna Simone Tyler) “O Holy One, you wear a thousand different names, but we hesitate to use any. Forgive us. We depend solely on ourselves, as if you were a figment of someone else’s imagination. We go through the motions, yet our faith has little depth or staying power. We long to be renewed. Help us discover the deep joy that comes from trusting in you, and following Jesus, in whose name we pray.”


Isaiah 25: 1-4:

“Lord, you are my God;
I will exalt you and praise your name,
for in perfect faithfulness
you have done wonderful things,
things planned long ago.
You have made the city a heap of rubble,
the fortified town a ruin,
the foreigners’ stronghold a city no more;
it will never be rebuilt.
Therefore strong peoples will honor you;
cities of ruthless nations will revere you.
You have been a refuge for the poor,
a refuge for the needy in their distress,
a shelter from the storm
and a shade from the heat.
For the breath of the ruthless
is like a storm driving against a wall.”

 Romans 8: 32-35, 37-39

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.  Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”  

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The Sermon[1]

“Religion has always tried to help people face the mystery of mortality. Dealing with death is the one constant in every age and culture. It happens to everyone; I hope that’s not news to you!”

“Humanity’s capacity to create symbols, and our need to bring order to the world, gave rise to rituals around death long ago. Those rituals offered the cultures in which they developed ways to find meaning in life and in death. Over time, different religious traditions evolved, each with its own understanding of what happens at death and how to treat the end of life.”

“This summer we visited several archaeological museums in Europe. Each one introduced us to ancient ways of navigating the loss of life. We saw mummies, complex burial vaults, carefully selected items placed in graves – jewelry, drinking vessels, weapons, amulets, and other items. All of that tells us something about how our ancestors dealt with death. We can imagine the gatherings held on such occasions, where laments were lifted, stories told, exploits recounted, gratitude expressed, and religious response offered.”

“That is essentially what humans still do at funerals in every culture and religion, but when death comes in sudden and overwhelming numbers that is not possible. In Derna, Libya, there are now more than 11,000 confirmed deaths from the catastrophic flooding last week, and that number could grow to more than 20,000. Body bags stacked anonymously in mass graves violate the rituals we long for at the time of death and extend the trauma. Let us keep the survivors who have lost so many in our prayers. To offer help, look for information on our website tomorrow on how giving for Libya relief through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.”

“Death on that scale is not common, but mortality is never very far away. There’s no way to avoid facing death. What matters is how we attend to it. That’s a basic task of any religion, certainly ours. Responding to death with courage and hope is at the heart of Christian proclamation.”

“We may think of our congregation as being primarily engaged in Sunday worship, in justice and service, or education, or music and the arts. We’re known in the community for those things, and they are part of our mission, but there’s another dimension to our ministry that may not be as widely known. We help families move through the loss of a loved one, and we do it often.”

“Last week Westminster held five memorial services or funerals – the latter being when the body is present. And this week we have two more. That pastoral work is central to our life as a Christian community. We have something to say at the time of death.”

“Today’s scripture lesson from Romans affirms the power of God’s love. The Apostle Paul is confident that God’s love conveys us from this life to the next. ‘Who will separate us from the love of Christ?’ Paul asks. ‘Will affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword?’”

“Then he answers his own question – and this is our response to the age-old wondering about life and death.”

“’No,’ he says, ‘In all these things’- the stuff that happens in life –

‘We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Romans 8:35, 37-39)

“I’ve preached on that biblical text than any other in my 40 years in ministry – some 300 sermons. That’s because it’s the scripture of choice at memorial services. It’s the funeral equivalent of the ‘love chapter’ in I Corinthians used at almost all weddings.”

“For that reason, I’ve been reluctant over the years to preach again from Romans 8 on a Sunday morning. But with retirement coming at the end of next month I decided that the text offers such a strong affirmation of our hope in life eternal it needs to be heard one more time.”

“Most people would rather attend a wedding than a funeral; in contrast, as I’ve said before, most ministers would prefer leading a memorial service. At a memorial service pastors play an essential role in helping those assembled to face death and not be undone by it.”

“A Christian memorial service does three things. First, it invites us to name the sorrow and acknowledge the loss. The pain is real. No matter how long and wonderful someone’s life may have been or how welcome their release from suffering in this world was, there is, nonetheless, an absence, and absence in the heart they once occupied in our lives. So, we express our grief and do not deny it.”

“Second, at a memorial service we remember the life of the one who died. We tell stories of their legacy, the love they shared, the values they lived, the difference they made. We laugh, we cry, we revel in our memory of who they were to us.”

“Memorial services, especially when in a more secular setting, are often called a celebration of life and sometimes the subject of death itself can be oddly taboo. In a Christian funeral, we do not avoid mention of the end of life. This is the third piece: a memorial service gives us the opportunity to face death squarely and proclaim the core of our faith: that God’s love carries us from this life into the mystery of life eternal.”

“During the construction of the US Bank Stadium back in 2016, a worker fell to his death in an accident. I was asked to speak to the workers when they came back onto the site for the first time two days later. I was there at the start of their work day, very early in the morning. The workers assembled on the future football field, in their safety vests and hard hats.”

“I was introduced, and when I stepped to the microphone, 1200 hard hats quickly came off. It was their way of making that construction site sacred space. That moment transcended time. It could have been any community gathered anywhere in any age, to mark the loss of one of their own.”

“I looked out at them and did what I do at every memorial service. I acknowledged the pain of losing a co-worker. I said his name to honor his life. And I spoke of the hope we have in the unseen force of love that is stronger than death. Then I offered prayer for his family and friends and all bearing sorrow that day. With my “Amen,” the hardhats came back on, and a new work day began.”

“I imagine most of those workers were grieving that day, and also  have been facing their own mortality. A construction site, especially a massive one like the stadium, can be a dangerous place. However difficult, that’s important for us to do from time to time.”

“Jews are preparing today for Yom Kippur. It begins at sundown this evening and continues for 25 or 26 hours until nightfall on Monday. Yom Kippur invites Jews to remember those who have died and to examine their own lives as they enter a day of fasting.”

“It is something like our Ash Wednesday, when we reckon with reality and remember that from dust we have come and to dust we shall return. Ash Wednesday invites us to consider the inevitability of our own deaths. We hear that again at memorial services in a part of the liturgy called the Commendation. “

“Imagine for a moment these words being said at your memorial service:

  • “All of us go down to the dust; Yet even at the grave we make our song, Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with all your saints, where there is neither pain nor sorrow nor sighing, but life everlasting.
  • “Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant…Tim, Steve, Mary, Alan, Bob, Nancy.” Drop in your own name. “We commend your servant…”
  • “Receive them into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.”

As is often true of anything we don’t fully understand, we tend to avoid the subject of death, as if it might not notice us and slip by. We may not like talking about the end of our lives but ignoring it can lead us to fear it and cause anxiety when it does comes near, as it will. Our time on this earth is fleeting; coming to terms with that truth helps us live with more purpose and live more fully in each day.”

“The Bible is not afraid of human mortality. Throughout the texts of the older and newer testaments we hear the repeated promise that God intends to do away with death.”

“The ancient prophet Isaiah imagines an invitation to a mountaintop feast – and this is proof that even back then when someone dies people started to eat together as a way to process their grief –

‘On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples

a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines…

And God will destroy on this mountain

the shroud that is cast over all peoples…

God will swallow up death for ever (and) …

wipe away the tears from all faces.’ (Isaiah 25:6-8a)”

“In Revelation, we hear that same promise this way: ‘God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.’ (Revelation 21:4)”

“The Apostle Paul puts the promise like this: ‘Behold! I tell you a mystery…We shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.’ (I Corinthians 15:51-52a, 54c)”

“The old hymn echoes the promise: ‘Changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place, till we cast our crowns before thee, glost in wonder, love, and praise.’ (Charles Wesley, Love Divine, All Loves, Excelling; 1747, vs. 4)”

“That is the promise we bear as Christians. We will hear that promise in a few minutes at the font, when we baptize little Roselyn Natasha.”

“The common thread is that death is not final. ‘I am the resurrection and the life,’ Jesus says. (John 11:25)”

“With that assurance we take our place with people of every age, every time, every place who have faced death either on a small or large scale, and wondered what it means. Our response is to hold fast to the Easter promise of eternal life. That’s why we call a memorial service a Witness to the Resurrection. We share the Apostle Paul’s conviction that nothing – nothing – can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

“God is good. All the time. All the time. God is good.”

“In this season as I wind down my ministry with you, we’re thinking a lot about benediction. A benediction is a blessing. Our faith claims that the blessing of life from God continues after our earthly experience into the mystery that ultimately awaits us.”

“Love never ceases. It’s the final blessing. Hope is fulfilled.”

“Life after life. The Benediction never ends.”

“Thanks be to God.”


Congregational Affirmation of Faith

(United Church of Canada) “We are not alone, we live in God’s world. We believe in God: who has created and is creating, who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh, to reconcile and make new, who works in us and others by the Spirit. We trust in God. We are called to be the Church: to celebrate God’s presence, to live with respect in Creation, to love and serve others, to seek justice and resist evil, to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope. In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.”


The congregational hymns were “Open Now Thy Gates of Beauty,” “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” “You Belong to Christ” (after the baptism of an infant) and “Love Devine, All Loves Excelling.”

The choir sang “Hallelujah” by William Walker and “Rest” by Ralph Vaughan Williams

The organ Prelude and Postlude were the “Sarabande and Gavotte” and “Rigaudon” from Edvard Grieg’s Holberg Suite.


This was another inspiring sermon. Thanks to Tim.


[1] Sermon, The Benediction Never Ends, Westminster Presbyterian Church (Sept. 17, 2023). Bulletin of Service, Westminster Presbyterian Church (Sept. 17, 2023).


“The Benediction of Life Together” at Westminster Presbyterian Church 

On September 10, 2023, Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen. Senior Pastor at Minneapolis Westminster Presbyterian Church, delivered the sermon, “The Benediction of Life Together,” which was the first of his last seven sermons before his retirement at the end of October.


Psalm 1: 1-3:

“Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.”

John 10: 7-10, 14-16:

“Therefore Jesus said again, ‘Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’”

“’I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me–just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.’”


“As most of you know, I will retire from my role as senior pastor of Westminster at the end of next month. When I told pastor-friends that this fall I’ll preach only seven more sermons from this pulpit, they asked if that was my version of the seven last words from the cross. This will be considerably less dramatic!”

“The prospect of concluding 40 years of ministry does raise the question of what to say, or what you might want to hear, as I prepare to leave. Early in my ministry here someone gave me a copy of Dr. Arnold Lowe’s final sermon, delivered on the Sunday following Easter, in April 1965, following 24 years of service at Westminster. The sermon was titled The Sum and Substance of It All. “

“Since that has been covered already, I’m going in a different direction. I’m conceiving of my last two months at Westminster as a kind of extended benediction, a long Minnesota benediction, for both the congregation and for me, as we part ways this fall and remember the many blessings we have shared over the years. That’s what a benediction is: a bene dictio – a good word. A benediction is a blessing offered and received, an invocation of the holy, a sacred conclusion to time together.”

“What better way to be reminded of the joy of our life together at Westminster than the start of the new church year, with children and music and festivity! We celebrate the blessing we have in our shared faith as followers of Jesus. God’s love is all around us, and we see it when we open our eyes and hearts. In the words of the old gospel song, “What a fellowship! What a joy divine!”

“We commence this year in the life of Westminster rejoicing in the goodness of God. We know not all is well with the world. We know of the fear and injustice, the animosity and anger that engulf our nation. We know of natural disasters, the fires and hurricanes and earthquakes, and pray for those impacted by them, especially the people of Morocco. We know of humanity’s complicity in climate-related calamities. We know, in the words of the Apostle, that ‘the whole creation is groaning in travail, awaiting the promised redemption.’”

“But all that difficult reality doesn’t overwhelm us because hope finds a home in the hearts of those who trust in the goodness and justice of God. There’s a tradition in African American worship that I have long admired. When the preacher says, ‘God is good,’ the congregation replies, ‘All the time.’ Then the preacher says, ‘All the time,’ and the congregation replies, ‘God is good.’”

“Given the events of the last few weeks in Jacksonville and Montgomery and other American cities – and given the long trajectory of racial injustice in this land, those words continue to sound in sanctuaries where people refuse to give up hope. We cannot change the past, but we can transform the future. ‘God is good’ – ‘all the time.’ ‘All the time’ – ‘God is good.’”

“The words offer an acclamation of praise, an affirmation of the power of life together in the church, a benediction of gratitude for the goodness of the God we worship and serve. Like the Hebrew poet’s trees planted by streams of water, if we draw on the goodness of God we are nourished, and we flourish – no matter the circumstances.”

“When the world bears down on us and squeezes us hard, in the systems we encounter or in our own personal situations, we can still claim the goodness of God. When the diagnosis is tough to hear and the future seems devastating, or when grief grips us, we can still claim the goodness of God. When loneliness and despair and mental illness grow to crisis levels, especially among young people, we can still claim the goodness of God. When the social order is coming unglued and vitriol is unchecked, we can still say, ‘God is good,’ ‘All the time.’ ‘All the time,’ ‘God is good.’”

“Christians are not Pollyannas who only look at things through rose-colored glasses. We’re not relentless optimists who see only the good in all situations. On the contrary, the followers of Jesus are realists. All of us are realists. We know how challenging it is to be a teenager in America today. We understand how new laws can create hardship for some. We see the crisis of drug overdoses and gun violence, including by suicide. We bemoan the cruelty and mendacity in politics and culture in our land in recent years. We don’t look away from the tough stuff that confronts us every day – sometimes personally, at other times in our communities or nation.”

“But we trust in something beyond all of that, beyond the powers of this world. The God we worship is sovereign over all things seen and unseen. Our resilience arises from trusting that Jesus came that all – that all – may have life and have it abundantly. That’s the blessing of life together in Christian community. No matter what we face, we have confidence that the light will not succumb to the shadows; that the dawn will follow the whatever our night be.

‘The early morning,’ Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, ‘Belongs to the Church of the risen Christ. At the break of light, it remembers the morning on which death…lay…in defeat and new life and salvation were given to humankind.” (Life Together)

“‘God is good.’ ‘All the time.’ ‘All the time.’ ‘God is good.’”

We also know that our time is not the end of time. We who follow Jesus reject the temptation to surrender to the fatalism and conspiracies that creep in if we are not vigilant. Yes, these are difficult days, but it is hubris to think of ourselves as facing the worst humanity has ever seen.

That’s not to say nothing needs addressing. Take a look around. We don’t lack for challenges. As the church we’re called to meet those challenges head on, to speak up and act up, if we must, and stand up for what is right and just. We do not let go of our pursuit of a better way and a better day simply because it will be hard to get there.”

“We follow one who came that all may have life and have it in abundance. That gives us hope that refuses to let go. We’ve seen communities in other times and places find courage to work for change – even when the world seems to have defeated them – rather than lose heart.

In 1934 in Germany, in the face of the rise of Nazi ideology and its influence on the church, a small group of Protestants assembled in the city of Barmen and wrote a credal statement of resistance. It’s called the Barmen Declaration. It rejects the many falsehoods that were swirling through Germany and its churches at the time, and instead insisted on the truth of Jesus Christ.

Fifty years later Christians in South Africa gathered in the town of Belhar and wrote a similar creed that rejected false claims being made by some in the church of that time that provided theological rationale to prop up apartheid. ‘Any teaching,’ the Belhar Confession says,

‘Which attempts to legitimate…forced (racial) separation by appeal to the gospel…must be considered ideology and false doctrine.’”

“Both in 1930s Germany and 1980s South Africa, in the midst of those crucibles of suffering and hatred, Christians reaffirmed the power of the gospel. They resisted the prevailing ethos in the culture and politics of their time – and even in the religion of the day, as expressed by some. They refused to let the blessing of life together be undone. The church today in our land should be doing the same.”

“Our denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), adopted both the Barmen Declaration and Belhar Confession into our church’s constitution.”   (

“Let us be clear: “Our faith is about life, not death. I came that all may have life, Jesus said, and have it in abundance.  Our faith embraces hope, not fear. Let not your hearts be troubled, Jesus said, neither let them be afraid.  Our faith tells the truth, not lies. You shall know the truth, Jesus said, and the truth will set you free.  Our faith shows mercy, not judgement. God did not send the son into the world to condemn the world, the Apostle Paul said, but that the world might be saved through him.”

“The benediction of life together. The joy of being the church. What a fellowship. What a joy divine! We are like trees, planted by streams of living water, nourished by the love of God, invited to seek and reflect the goodness of God’s presence and God’s justice in all we do.

An enduring image of this congregation’s faithfulness and resilience can be found outside in Paul Granlund’s sculpture on Westminster’s Upper Plaza. It’s called The Birth of Freedom. It’s on the front of today’s bulletin and we’ll see it up close after the service for the all-church photo.

The figures leaping up out of broken chains reach toward the heavens, rejoicing in the fullness of life granted them as those who bear the image of God, as we all do. They’re leaping out of all that had bound them – as we hope to do, out of everything that binds us – into the freedom of serving God.”

“’The joy of God,’ the theologian Irenaeus is reported to have said in the second century, ‘Is a human being fully alive.’”

“Like those figures in the sculpture, a human being fully alive is given freedom – not to indulge in selfish pursuits, but to love God and to love others. An old prayer borrows from words attributed to St. Augustine:

‘Lord God, light of the minds that know you, life of the souls that love you, and strength of the hearts that serve you: Help us, so to know you that we may truly love you, and so to love you that we may fully serve you, whose service is perfect freedom.”

“‘I came that all may have life, ‘Jesus said, ‘and have it in abundance.'”

“God is good. All the time. All the time. God is good. ”

“Thanks be to God.”


Affirmation of Faith

The congregation together said the following words from the Belhar Confession of South Africa, adopted by the PCUSA (2016):

‘We believe

  • that God wishes to teach the church to do what is good and to seek the right;
  • that the church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things,
  • that the church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream;
  • that the church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged;
  • that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.
  • Therefore, we reject any ideology which would legitimate forms of injustice and any doctrine which is unwilling to resist such an ideology in the name of the gospel.’


The congregation sang the following hymns: ‘All Creatures of Our God and King,’  ‘O God Beyond All Praising,’ ‘What a Fellowship, What a Joy Devine,’ and ‘God of Grace and God of Glory.’ And the Choir sang ‘Yonder Come Day,’ with the following words:

‘Oh day, yonder come day. Day done broke inna my soul, yonder come day. Good mornin’ day, yonder come day. A brand new day, yonder come day. Oh come on child, hush, hush, somebody’s callin’ my name. Oh my Lord, oh my Lord, what shall I do? Oh day, yonder come day. I was on my knees, yonder come day. When I heard him say, yonder come day. Oh come on child, Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus. Steal away, steal away, I ain’t got long to stay here. Swing low, sweet chariot, comin’ for to carry me home. Oh day, yonder come day…’

Commissioning of Church School Students and Teachers

As this was “Coming together Sunday” to mark the beginning of the church school year, there was Commissioning of Church School Students and Teachers,” gathered together in front of the church.


This was a very significant and moving service and sermon in the life of Westminster.


[1] Sermon, The Benediction of Life Together, Westminster Presbyterian Church (Sept. 10, 2023); Bulletin of Service, Westminster Presbyterian Church (Sept. 10, 2023).


World Communion Sunday at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church Celebrates Its Global Partners

October 1 was the Sunday for Minneapolis Westminster Presbyterian Church’s joyous celebration of World Communion Sunday and its global partnerships in Cuba, Cameroon and Palestine.[1]

The Calls to Worship

The three Calls to Worship were provided in their native languages by Joseph Mukete (a Westminster member from Cameroon), Reinerio Miguel Arce (a Cuban pastor involved with our Cuban partners and the General Secretary of the Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba) and Rihab Fitzgerald (a Westminster member from Lebanon). Here are the English translations of those Calls:

  • “From the nations of Africa, we come to worship the God whose image we bear, and who created us to be one community, united in love.”
  • “From the islands of the Caribbean, we come to worship the God whose image we bear, and who created us to be one community, united in love.”
  • From the ancient land of Palestine, we come to worship the God whose image we bear, and who created us to be one community, united in love.”

The Call to Confession

 The following Call to Confession was provided by Westminster’s Rev. David Tsai Shinn, who is Taiwanese:

  • “Merciful God, in your gracious presence 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 profit and pleasures we pursue lay waste the land and pollute the seas. The fears and jealousies that we harbor set neighbor against neighbor and nation against nation. We abuse your good gifts of imagination and freedom, of intellect and reason, and have turned them into bonds of oppression. Lord, have mercy upon us; heal and forgive us. Set us free to serve you in the world as agents of your reconciling love in Jesus Christ.”

The Holy Scripture

Matthew 28: 16-20: “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Rev. Dr. Tim Hart-Andersen’s Sermon: “We Are the Church: Go forth into the world in peace” [2]

“As I enter my final month with you before retirement, I begin a five-part sermon series on the Charge and Benediction I have used to conclude worship every week that I have preached here. I learned it from my father, and always figured he thought it up, only to learn later in seminary that it’s actually from scripture – that’s even better.”

“I heard it every Sunday growing up. It starts like this: “Go forth into the world in peace”.

“That line echoes the scripture text from Matthew 28: ‘Go, therefore, into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’”

“We call it the Great Commission, and that one sentence has had more definitional impact on how the church engages with the world than any other particular part of the Bible. It has had profound impact on the Church and the world. In the 19th century, Christian churches in North America and Europe heard the words of Matthew 28 as a compelling call to move out across the globe to bring the good news of Jesus Christ.’

“So we went. We taught the faith, started churches, set up schools, established hospitals, and spread the practice of Christianity. We also brought Western culture and ideas to those living in the global south and other areas of the world. It was the theological corollary to the doctrine of Manifest Destiny.”

“When Jesus says, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,’ many in the Church mistakenly heard that as ‘all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to us.’ We tended to assume that authority unto ourselves. Well-intentioned or not, the impact of this missionary zeal often caused abrupt, and even devastating change – the opposite of what the love of Jesus would have wanted.”

“Some American churches sent missionaries overseas; others focused on North America. The westward movement of white settlers in the 1800s brought the new nation into conflict with indigenous peoples living on the land. As we know from our history lessons, military conflict and violence accompanied the displacement of first nations. A different, lesser-known kind of violence followed, often with the church’s complicity.”

“The ‘educational’ institutions established by churches in collusion with the federal government were part of a 19th century systematic campaign of assimilation. The federal government aimed to take away Native culture, language, religion, practices, and traditions in order to Americanize and Christianize them. And they started with the kids; we started with the kids. Children.”

“The federal Commissioner for Indian Affairs said in 1886, ‘The government aid furnished (to churches) enables them to sustain their missions, and renders it possible…to lead these people, whose paganism has been the chief obstacle to their civilization, into the light of Christianity.’” (

“Ben Sherman, who was taken as a child to Oglala Community School in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, remembers the pain. ‘The government was not done with war,” he said, “So the next phase involved war against the children’”

“At one point in the late 19th century, 85% of school-age indigenous children in this country were living at one of the nation’s 523 boarding schools. According to a report by the U.S. Department of the Interior, “thousands” of children likely died while at the schools. The cemeteries are now being uncovered. Half of those schools were operated by churches under a contract with the federal government, or run independently by religious groups, including Presbyterians. Some of them kept operating through much of the 20th century.” ( schools.html) ( -history/)

“American Christians went ‘into all the world,’ intending to bring the Good News, but the news was not always good for those on the receiving end. Denominations – including ours – are only now coming to terms with what they did in the name of God. Repairing the harm begins with facing the truth and listening.”

“Missionaries brought with them, wherever they went, their predilections and prejudices. The impact of the coming of Christianity was traumatizing in some contexts. Dutch Reformed leaders, Presbyterians from the Netherlands, provided a theological rationale for racist apartheid policies in South Africa, much as Christian preachers had done in this country in support of the enslavement of Africans. Missionaries cut people off from their own language and culture and indigenous religious practices.”

“Jesus did not command us to take children from families and send them to boarding schools and strip them of their culture, their identity. Nowhere does Jesus tell us to reject long-established traditional ways of life that had been sustaining and identity-giving in communities for multiple generations – to wipe all that out, and insist that one culture or ethnicity or race would dominate others.”

“In the 19th century, in an act of ecclesiastical hubris, major American Protestant denominations divided up the globe as if it were theirs alone, in order to be efficient and not duplicate efforts. European Christians were doing the same, and our collective efforts were successful. There are 75 million Presbyterians in the world today; only 1.1 million are in our denomination. On any given Sunday in South Africa and South Korea and in Cameroon, there are more Presbyterians in worship than in the U.S.”

“What about Westminster? We were established in 1857, right at the time when the great missionary movements were gaining steam, and we joined in with enthusiasm in trying to fulfill the Great Commission. We “went into all the world.” In the 1870s our congregation began supporting missionaries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and continued doing so into the middle years of the 20th century. The work centered around education, healthcare, and evangelism. We had a story to tell, faith to spread, information to teach, and help to offer. We don’t know much about the specifics of the efforts of the people we supported, but we can imagine they had both positive and negative effects.”

“The helpful impact of efforts to fulfill the Great Commission is evident in the lands where Westminster engages in global partnerships today. In English-speaking Cameroon, for instance, the country’s towns and villages are covered by a network of Presbyterian schools, clinics, hospitals, and training centers. In Cuba the best high schools in that island nation before the 1959 revolution were run by Presbyterians and Presbyterians have played a key ecumenical role there since the triumph of the revolution. And in the Holy Land, in ancient Palestine, Presbyterians started churches in those places – Syria and Iraq – where we were giving the assignment in agreement with other denominations. We had historic relationships with other denominations in the region, which includes the Lutherans, which led us to partner with Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem.”

“Our current global partnerships began in early 21st century with a visit to Cuba. That visit marked the shift of our congregation’s understanding of the Great Commission, a movement that had begun in Protestant churches across the north in the latter half of the 20th century. We began to change from the old ways of doing ‘mission.’”

“In Cuba we met a pastor named Carlos Piedra. He had attended La Progresiva, the top Presbyterian school on the island before it was nationalized by the revolution. From there he went on the seminary. Piedra was raised as part of the extended family of our two Cuban guests here today, Reinerio and Dora Arce.”

“When we met him, Piedra was serving as pastor of a Presbyterian congregation called El Redentor, The Redeemer, in the city of Matanzas. We spent several days with him, and he opened our eyes to a different understanding of the Great Commission, new ways of encountering and engaging the world. Piedra helped us see that so often in ‘going forth into all the world’ the North American church defines ‘mission’ by what we think is needed, without pausing to listen to people in other contexts – as if Jesus Christ did not exist in other lands and other cultures until we brought him there. This re-thinking has happened not only in global mission but locally, as well, including right here in our city, in our own outreach beyond the church.”

“I remember how Piedra said to us, ‘We don’t need your solutions to what you see as our problems. We don’t need your answers to what you see as our questions. We don’t want what you think of as your abundance to resolve what you see as our scarcity. But if you want to come pray with us, worship with us, study the Bible with us, eat and drink and dance with us, please come. What we want with you is amistad cristiana, Christian friendship, and solidaridad, solidarity.’”

“He was dismantling – deconstructing – the old way we had been doing ‘mission,’ and guiding us into a new way. That visit set the trajectory for Westminster’s relationships with the three global partnerships that developed and are still active, in Cuba, Cameroon, and Palestine – and also for how we would try to live out our ministry right here in Minneapolis, in the local context. We don’t parachute in to do something that we think needs to be solved and that will make us feel good about ourselves, and then move on to solve problems elsewhere.”

“Instead, we have created covenants with the local partners in each nation, five-year commitments to a defined mutual relationship, primarily about respecting and listening to each other. We agree to share our lives with one another – either in person or, now, through the Internet – as an expression of the love and grace of God.”

“From our Cameroonian partners we have learned the joy of praising God in music and dance. On our first visit to Kumba Town Presbyterian Church there were 11 adult choirs, and they all sang in worship – dancing and praising God. We saw their emphasis on educating children as we visited the elementary school the congregation supports. We visited agencies where they teach young people to develop job skills. We saw clinics and hospitals and their work to diminish the scourge of HIV/AIDS. The Presbyterian Church is strong and growing across the country.”

“From our Palestinian partners we have learned the importance of creative resistance to injustice. When Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem was shot up and occupied by the Israeli military to use as a base for assaults in other parts of the city, they gathered up the colorful shards of glass and created beautiful things. They discovered the power of art as a way to persevere through trauma, a different way of responding to violence that can lead to healing. Today the university they started, Dar AlKalima, focuses on the arts, and thrives in that context as a beacon of a different way through conflict.”

“From our Cuban partners we have learned a theology of resilience. Congregations there have held on and continued to worship God and serve God through many difficult decades. The seminary has persisted in spite of enormous obstacles, and is now planning to expand to Havana, with the help of Westminster’s Enduring Hope capital campaign mission component. The people in our small partner congregation have virtually nothing, so they depend on and support one another. We are part of their WhatsApp group and watch as they seek and offer help, especially around medicine, asking who has a couple pills of this or that, or if anyone has a particular treatment a neighbor needs. It’s like a first-century Christian community, freely sharing the little they have.”

“Each of the churches with which we have developed partnerships finds itself in a nation living with conflict of one sort or another. And each shows bountiful signs of deep, unwavering desire for peace and justice. In Cuba, the longstanding U.S. policy of economic blockade causes significant suffering. In Cameroon the English-speaking minority finds itself in conflict with the French-speaking majority, backed by the U.S. In Palestine, the Israeli occupation supported by the U.S. continues to harm Palestinians.”

“We hear about these struggles and recognize the importance of trying to influence our government’s positions, as we can. The covenants with our partner churches include a commitment to advocate for change in our government’s foreign policy toward their nations, for the benefit of both nations.”

“ When we visit our partners, and then return again and again, and when they come visit us as they are today, we are building bridges of hope for change for a more just world.”

Go forth into the world in peace. Go forth not to dominate, not because you think you know what others need, not because you see yourself at the center.”

Go forth into the world in peace. That line casts the Great Commission in a different light, making it less triumphant, a bit more gentle and modest, respectful, willing to listen and learn.”

“And isn’t that how the church should live here and everywhere! That is what Jesus was after in the Great Commission.”

“We are the church. We are the church. We have a message to share as Christians – and we are called to do that in ways that reflect the love and justice of God.”

Go forth into the world in peace – knowing that Christ is already there, at work in the communities and in the lives of individuals we will meet.”

“Thanks be to God.”




Beautiful music during the service was provided by Charanga Tropical (a Cuban jazz group led by Doug Little, a Westminster member); CamChoir (a Cameroonian choir), which led the congregation in singing a Cameroonian hymn (“Bend Low”), whose refrain is “Bend low . . . and see what the Lord can do”; and by Community Sing (a Westminster choir) led by Dr. Amanda Weber (Westminster’s Director of Worship and the Arts). This choir sang “ Ghanu Lil Hayat (A Hymn for Life) in Arabic and “Santo, santo, santo” in Spanish (the latter’s English translation: “Holy . . . holy is our God. God, the Lord of earth and heaven. Holy, holy is our God. God, the lord of all history. Holy, holy is our God. Who accompanies our people, who lives within our struggles, of all the earth and heaven the one and only Lord. Blessed are they who in the Lord’s name announce the holy gospel, Proclaiming the good news that our liberation comes.”)

Post-Service Reception

 After the service, a reception was held in Westminster Hall to celebrate our global partners with comments, videos, coffee and snacks.


 What a wonderful, enriching worship service!


[1] Westminster Bulletin, World Communion Sunday (Oct. 1, 2023),

[2] Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen, Sermon: We Are the Church: Go forth into the world in peace, (Oct. 1, 2023).

Are Anti-Trumpers “the Bad Guys”?

This is the question posed in a recent David Brooks column in the New York Times.[1]

 He starts out with the admission (or confession) that he is an anti-Trumper who believes that members of this group are “the good guys, the forces of progress and enlightenment” while the “Trumpers are reactionary bigots and authoritarians” who see Trump as “the embodiment of their resentments.”

At least for purposes of argument, however, Brooks considers whether the anti-Trumpers are the bad guys by creating the “modern meritocracy” system.

Such a system started in the 1960s “when high school grads had to go off to fight in Vietnam but the children of the educated class got college deferments. It continues in the 1970s, when the authorities imposed busing on working-class areas in Boston but not on the upscale communities like Wellesley where . . . [the educated class] lived.”

The latter is “the modern meritocracy. We built an entire social order that sorts and excludes people on the basis of the quality that we possess most: academic achievement. Highly educated parents go to elite schools, marry each other, work at high-paying jobs and pour enormous resources into our children, who get into the same elite schools, marry each other and pass their exclusive class privileges down from generation to generation.”

“Everybody else is forced into a world down there. . . . Today middle-class children lose out to the rich children at school, and middle-class adults lose out to elite graduates at work. Meritocracy blocks the middle class from opportunity. Then . . . [the modern aristocracy]  blames those who lose a competition for income and status that even when  everyone plays by the rules, only the rich can win.”

“Armed with all kinds of economic, cultural and political power, we [members of the modern aristocracy] support policies that help ourselves. Free trade makes the products we buy cheaper, and our jobs are unlikely to be moved to China. Open immigration makes our service staff cheaper, but new, less-educated immigrants aren’t likely to put downward pressure on our wages.”

“We [the members of the modern aristocracy] also change the moral norms in ways that suit ourselves, never mind the cost to others. For example, there used to be a norm that discouraged people from having children outside marriage, but that got washed away during our period of cultural dominance, as we eroded norms that seemed judgmental or that might inhibit individual freedom.”

“After this social norm was eroded, . . . [m]embers of our class still overwhelmingly married and had children within wedlock. People without our resources, unsupported by social norms, were less able to do that.”

As Adrian Wooldridge points out in his magisterial 2021 book, “The Aristocracy of Talent, ‘Sixty percent of births to women with only a high school certificate occur out of wedlock, compared with only 10 percent to women with a university degree.” That matters, he continues, because ‘the rate of single parenting is the most significant predictor of social immobility in the country.’”

Brooks believes that most of our class [the modern aristocracy] are “earnest, kind and public-spirited. But we take for granted and benefit from systems that have become oppressive. Elite institutions  have become so politically progressive in part because the people in them want to feel good about themselves as they take part in systems that exclude and reject [others].”

“It’s easy to understand why people in less-educated classes would conclude that they are under economic, political, cultural and moral assault — and why they’ve rallied around Trump as their best warrior against the educated class. Brooks understands that it’s not the entrepreneurs who seem most threatening to workers; it’s the professional class. Trump understood that there was great demand for a leader who would stick his thumb in our eyes on a daily basis and reject the whole epistemic regime that we rode in on.”

“If distrustful populism is your basic worldview, the Trump indictments seem like just another skirmish in the class war between the professionals and the workers, another assault by a bunch of coastal lawyers who want to take down the man who most aggressively stands up to them. Of course, the indictments don’t cause Trump supporters to abandon him. They cause them to become more fiercely loyal. That’s the polling story of the last six months.”

“Are Trump supporters right that the indictments are just a political witch hunt? Of course not. As a card-carrying member of my class, Brooks says, I still basically trust the legal system and the neutral arbiters of justice. Trump is a monster in the way we’ve all been saying for years and deserves to go to prison.”

Therefore, for sociologist Digby Baltzell and David Brooks, “the real question is: When will we stop behaving in ways that make Trumpism inevitable?”


In this column, Brooks does not provide an answer to his “real question.” Maybe there will be a future column in which he does so.

This blogger, however, believes at least part of the “real answer” for the State of Minnesota and many other states lies in the declining and aging population of rural parts of the State and the resulting negative impacts on their economies and visions of the future.[2] This problem suggests the need for more immigration to help solve the need for more labor with immigrant visas requiring the recipients to live and work in the areas with declining population.

Another part of the answer for this State and others, therefore, this blogger believes, is developing a system to promote and maintain intimate social contacts between people in the two parts of the states and thereby developing better understanding of the two sectors and programs for addressing the needs of the people in the rural parts of the states. Such a system requires everyone to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other[3] and to recognize our failings (sins) and request forgiveness from God and those whom we have wronged.[4]

Readers are invited to provide comments to this post with other ideas for answering the “real question” posed by Brooks.


[1] Brooks, What if We’re the Bad Guys Here?, N.Y. Times (Aug. 2, 2023). 

[2] See, e.g., these posts in Another Defining Challenge of the 21st Century (Jan. 28, 2023);Skepticism About Douthat’s Defining Challenge of the 21st Century (Jan. 30, 2023); COMMENT: Developments in Africa and Italy Accentuate Douthat’s Concerns (Jan. 31, 2023); Iowa State Government Encouraging Refugee and Migrant Resettlement Feb. 1, 2023); COMMENT: National Worker Shortages in U.S. (Feb. 3, 2023); Migrant Workers Being Paid Premium Wages in U.S. Tight Labor Market (Feb. 8, 2023); More Details on U.S. and Other Countries’ Worker Shortages (Feb. 9, 2023);Your Longevity Is Important for Many Reasons (Feb. 12, 2023); Other States Join Iowa in Encouraging Immigration To Combat Aging, Declining Populations (Feb. 22, 2023); COMMENT: More Support for Immigrants’ Importance for U.S. Economy (Feb. 23, 2023); U.S. High-Tech Layoffs Threaten Immigrants with Temporary Visas (Feb. 25, 2023); U.S. Needs To Ameliorate Brutal Jobs Endangering Immigrant Workers (Feb. 26, 2023); COMMENT: Layoffs in Overall U.S. Economy Are Rare (Feb. 27, 2023); COMMENT: Many Undocumented Immigrants Leaving U.S. (March 1, 2023); Protections for U.S. Child Labor Need Improvement (APRIL 22, 2023; Wall Street Journal Editorial: U.S. Needs More Immigrants (July 25, 2023); COMMENT: Americans in Their Prime Are Flooding Into the Job Market (July 26, 2023:COMMENT: Dire Shortages of Workers in U.S. Public Sector (July 27, 2023).

[3] E.g., Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church: Presbyterian Principles: It is our duty to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other, (May 19, 2023).

[4] E.g., The Prayer Jesus Taught: “And forgive us for our debts as we forgive our debtors,” (May 9, 2023).


Westminster Presbyterian Church: Rejection of Christian Nationalism

Westminster Presbyterian Church, located on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis and the eighth largest Presbyterian church in the U.S., is involved in many social justice ministries, including partnerships with churches in Cuba, Cameroon and Palestine, co-hosting an Afghan family in Minnesota and sponsoring the Westminster Town Hall Forum that presents prominent speakers on topics of social justice throughout the year.[1]

Scripture for the Day

The Scripture for the Sunday of this Fourth of July weekend was Matthew 22: 15-22 (New Revised Standard Version (updated edition)):

“Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said.  So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one, for you do not regard people with partiality.  Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’  But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?  Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius.  Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this and whose title?’  They answered, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.’ When they heard this, they were amazed, and they left him and went away.”

The Sermon: “The Emperor is Not God”[2]

Rev. Timothy Hart-Andersen, Westminster’s Senior Pastor, delivered the day’s sermon.

“Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.” 

 This morning’s scripture lesson shows the risk of intertwining political and religious authority in the time of Jesus. As we prepare to celebrate Independence Day, the text may teach us something about our own current realities. American culture has increasingly blurred the distinction between what belongs to the realm of faith and what belongs to the governance of the state.  

The religious leaders of his time were trying to entrap Jesus, testing his ultimate loyalty. Jesus had been preaching a gospel of impartiality and inclusivity, showing deference to no one. They were observing that. He was disrupting the hierarchies and prejudices of his time that decreed the elevation of some at the expense of others.  

In a quiet, rolling rebellion against the way things were, Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, encouraged children to come to him, welcomed and respected women, loved those considered unlovable, and generally ignored the social, economic, ethnic, national, and even religious ways the world stratified itself in that time.  

Jesus was exhibiting what the love of God looks like. He was living out the prayer he taught: thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. He was giving the church its mission. He was turning the world upside down.  

No wonder those in power were threatened. Jesus did not have a litmus test you had to pass to be deemed worthy. Those outside the circles of acceptability were simply invited in. That approach was compelling. People were listening. People were noticing. People were following. 

The Pharisees thought they would put an end to his growing popularity. “Teacher,” they said with mocking, feigned admiration.  

“We know that you are sincere and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one, for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?” (Matthew 22:16-17) 

Jesus knows what they’re up to. “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?” he says. “Show me the coin used for the tax.” (Matthew 22:19) 

He’s asking for a denarius, the silver Roman coin used at the time for payment of taxes to Rome. (You can buy one today on eBay for $555.) On one side of the ancient coin was an image of the Emperor Tiberius with the words, “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, Son o the Divine Augustus.”

Tiberius, the ruler in the time of Jesus, was the offspring of one considered a god. The coin symbolizes the divine right passed on through the royal lineage to each Roman Emperor. To pay the tax with that coin was, in effect, to worship Caesar. 

“Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?” the Pharisees ask Jesus. The response of Jesus is not only clever; it’s also instructive for us. 

“Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s,” Jesus replies, showing them the image of Tiberius on the coin. “And to God the things that are God’s.” 

With that, Jesus deflates the attack of the Pharisees. What more can they say without betraying their own religious insincerity? They’re in a convenient alliance with the occupying foreign regime that allows them to retain their religious authority in exchange for tamping down the claims of their tradition, which would challenge that occupying force. 

Jesus and the Pharisees both know it is idolatrous to consider other gods. “Hear O Israel,” they recite in their prayers,  “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) 

To suggest the Roman emperor is competing with the one God denies the monotheism of Hebrew tradition. It is blasphemy. On the other hand, to imply that paying taxes to Caesar is politically acceptable runs counter to the proud instincts of Hebrew nationalism. They were trying to implicate Jesus one way or the other. 

The Pharisees opposed the Roman tax in principle, but they did not go so far as to resist paying it. They were working both sides, trying to adhere to their religious tradition and avoid arrest by the Romans – all while hoping to rid themselves of the troublesome preacher from Galilee.  

Jesus calls them out for confusing their ultimate allegiance with daily political realities. No wonder they slink away. They had trapped themselves. 

Some have found in this ancient account a biblical rationale for the separation of religion and state. But that’s not Matthew’s intent here. At this point in the gospel, he wants to highlight the growing efforts to frame Jesus and eliminate his expanding influence. The noose is drawing tighter. The betrayal is coming. Matthew has no interest in proposing an abstract political doctrine about religion and the state. That would come many centuries later in the writings of Thomas Jefferson. 

How can we understand today the response of Jesus long ago to the challenge, the testing, of the Pharisees? We can take it at face value, as a clever way for him to wriggle out of their grasp: The coin has the Caesar’s face on it. It belongs to him. Give it back to him. Case closed.  

But there’s more. 

Jesus could have stopped with the emperor’s image on the coin, but instead he goes on to add the line about giving to God what belongs to God. The Pharisees hadn’t mentioned God, hadn’t asked about what belongs to God. But Jesus brings God into the picture because some religious authorities had begun to confuse living within a particular political system as a way to practice their faith – in the politics of that time. 

The emperor’s image is on that coin. That’s a political fact. In contrast, however, comes this unstated counter theological claim of Jesus: God’s image is imprinted on every human being. 

Jesus brings God into the picture to make a subtle but decisive point: the emperor is not god. He wants to differentiate between political authority – an earthly reality that comes in many guises – and the power of God, which is something else altogether. God’s sovereignty cannot be equated to worldly authority. It should not be attached to any particular political system. The reign of God is that of Creator over Creation. God is “the Potentate of Time,” to quote the old hymn, the Alpha and Omega of history, the beginning and the end. 

In our time, when many are tending to conflate religious and political authority, Jesus reminds us: the emperor is not God.  

As we celebrate the 4th of July this year, let us remember that this nation was created by people fleeing religious persecution. They were leaving political systems in Europe that claimed the divine right of royal rulers, where religion was established, and the church was one with the state. The emperor, the royal ruler, was divinely ordained. Those fleeing England and France and the Netherlands wanted to break from that old way and enjoy freedom in the practice of their religion, unencumbered by interference from national political institutions. 

Let us also not forget the irony and hypocrisy that those fleeing persecution in one land instituted brutal systems of persecution in another. One person’s freedom and economic enrichment came at the expense of another’s loss of ancestral homelands, or another’s enslavement and generational impoverishment.  

The high calling of “liberty and justice for all” was not fulfilled at the start of this nation, and it has yet to be attained in this imperfect union. There is work to be done in our great national experiment, and it is hubris of someone if they think they have it all figured out. We have a lot of listening to do, a lot of learning to do, in this church and in other places wanting to build a better nation. 

Some of that work has to do with the place of religion in the landscape of America today. 

The first amendment to the U.S. Constitution begins like this: Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion. The founders of our nation wanted to ensure that no religion could ever be conflated with or commingled with the national political identity. The emperor is not god; god is not the emperor.  

But today that view is eroding among some. 

“Christian nationalism,” says Paul D. Miller, professor at Georgetown University, “Is the belief that the American nation is defined by Christianity, and the government should take active steps to keep it that way…Christian nationalists assert that America is and must remain a ‘Christian nation’ – not merely as an observation about American history, but as a prescriptive program for what America must continue to be in the future.[3]

A survey done earlier this year by the Public Religion Research Institute concludes that 10% of Americans, or 33 million people, are adherents of Christian nationalism, and another 19% are sympathetic to its views. Of those 29% of Americans, two-thirds are white evangelical Christians. [4]

Another survey finds that more than half of Americans have never heard of Christian nationalism. It’s time to pay attention. [5]

The National Council of Churches is concerned enough that it recently issued a warning about Christian nationalism. “Theologically,” the Council says, “Christian nationalism elevates the nation, or a particular concept of the nation, to a role closely aligned with God.” Jesus would not be pleased: the emperor is not god. [6]

“In its more militant forms,” the statement continues, “Christian nationalism encourages its adherents to believe they are battling the forces of darkness on all fronts…This mindset of embattled righteousness is applied to the perceived enemies of the state…and true believers are directed to employ any and all means, even undemocratic and violent ones, in order to win political contests. In this quest for political power, Christian humility is lost, as is the message of God’s love for all humanity.” 

As we celebrate the founding of America this week, we are summoned to advocate for our nation’s democracy – which is being challenged not from a foreign foe, but from our own neighbors who have distorted the gospel of Jesus and made it into a political movement that wants “to equate the reign of God with their vision of America.”  

I know that sounds harsh, but this is happening in America today. 

And we are also called – all of us – to support and tend to a care for the witness of the Christian Church in our time. As the National Council of Churches says,  To assume that Christianity mandates a particular political agenda is to overstep constitutional bounds and to claim divine sanction for the priorities of a few.”  

In spite of these concerns, which can frighten and perhaps overwhelm us, we do have much for which to be grateful in our nation and to acclaim this Fourth of July. We have freedom of religion. We can practice what we believe by worshipping together and joining those of other faith traditions and people of goodwill to work for a better, more just America. 

 We can follow the Jesus we meet in the gospels by standing with the immigrant and with those pushed aside by the cruelties of our time. Compelled by our faith, we can do our part by listening, and learning, and growing in our understanding of how we might serve God by bringing healing to individuals and communities, and to the earth itself. 

This Independence Day we can celebrate that the nation has made progress on many fronts in the struggle to undo historic wrongs and create new opportunities. Yes, we have more work to do. Yes, more listening to do. Yes, we will have to pay closer attention to what our neighbors are saying. Because we have the chance in our time to ensure that every American, no matter their creed or circumstance, has rights equal to every other American.  

That would be something truly to celebrate. 

 In the words of Langston Hughes, the great Black poet, 

 “O, let America be America again—

The land that never has been yet—  

And yet must be— 

the land where everyone is free”  [7]

May it be so.

To God be the glory. 



As a Westminster member, I thank Rev. Hart-Andersen for delivering this most timely sermon on the Fourth of July weekend to remind everyone that “Christian nationalism” is contrary to Jesus’ gospel and that all of us need to do more to make this the land of the free.


[1] The church’s website contains more information about the church and Rev. Timothy Hart-Andersen. In addition, this blog has published many posts about Westminster. (See List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Religion.

[2] Sermon, The Emperor Is Not God, Westminster Presbyterian Church (July 2, 2023).

[3] Miller, What Is Christian Nationalism?, Christianity Today (Feb. 3, 2021).

[4]  Shimon, Poll: A third of Americans are Christian nationalists and most are white evangelicals, Religion (Feb. 8, 2023).

[5] Smith, Rotold & Tevington, 45% of Americans Say U.S. Should Be a ‘Christian Nation,’ Pew Research Center (Oct. 27, 2022).

[6] National Council of Churches, The Dangers of Christian Nationalism in the United States: A Policy Statement of the National Council of Churches (April 20, 2021).

[7] The cover of the bulletin for this service contained a longer extract of the Langston Hughes poem, which was written in 1935, and the complete text is available on the web. (Hughes, Let America Be America Again.) Mr. Hughes was an American poet, social activist, playwright and columnist form Joplin, Missouri as well as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance. (Langston Hughes, Wikipedia..)



Minneapolis Westminster Presbyterian Church: Presbyterian Principles: Truth is in order to goodness   

On May 7, 2023, Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen, Senior Pastor of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, delivered the second of three sermons on Presbyterian Principles.[1] This one focused on “truth is in order to goodness.”


John 3: 16-24

 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him.  Those who believe in him are not condemned, but those who do not believe are condemned already because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.  And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.  For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the region of Judea, and he spent some time there with them and baptized.  John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there, and people kept coming and were being baptized.  (John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison.)


We’re on the second Sunday of a three-part series exploring what are called The Historic Principles of Church Order. They were adopted by the Presbyterian Church more than two centuries ago. Our forebears set out to build Christian community on these basic tenets of faith. The principles served – and still serve – as the foundation of the values we hold dear and which we embrace as followers of Jesus.

We may be tempted to dismiss a set of ethics adopted in the late 18th century as anachronistic or irrelevant. But give them a chance and it becomes clear they still speak to us. Last week we looked at this historic principle: God alone is Lord of the conscience – meaning that in the mind and heart of a Christian, God’s love is the ultimate guide for how we live.

Today we look at another assertion upon which our Church stands: Truth is in order to goodness. When I first read this in our denomination’s constitution many years ago, I didn’t understand it. It refers to one thing that follows another. To say truth is in order to goodness means that goodness results from following the truth. Truth leads to goodness.

Could any old-time principle be more appropriate for our time today, when lies and illusions abound in our public life, and mendacity doesn’t even bother to masquerade? Could any principle be more apt for our time than this one? Truth is in order to goodness. 

When Jesus was before Pilate, only hours before his crucifixion, the Roman governor was probing him, trying to learn who he was, and the motivation for what he did. Jesus finally tells him,

“For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truthEveryone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37)

As followers of Jesus, we ought to be known as those who belong to the truth, who refuse to follow falsehood. If we belong to the truth, our lives bear witness to what is good and honest, right and just. Our actions and our integrity point others to the truth.

But how do we know what is true? “The great touchstone of truth,” according to those 18th century Presbyterians, is “Its tendency to promote holiness.”

By “holiness” they meant life that reflects the love and righteousness, the light and justice of God.

Our forebears went on to declare, “No opinion can be either more pernicious or more absurd than that which brings truth and falsehood upon a level.”

Truth is in order to goodness.

Jesus couldn’t agree more: You will know them by their fruits,” he said. “Are grapes gathered from thorns or figs from thistles?” (Matthew 7:16)

A few years ago, we chuckled at the notion of truthiness in our political and cultural ethos. That was then, and this is now, and it is no longer a laughing matter. With new technology the world of “alternative facts” has scaled up beyond anything we could ever have imagined. To quote Dorothy, “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

In an interview this week, Dr. Jeffery Hinton, known as the “godfather” of artificial intelligence, was asked about the benefits and risks of AI. AI, he said, can be a force for astonishing good.  “Would you rather see a family doctor that has seen a few thousand patients or a family doctor that has seen a few hundred million patients, including with the same rare disease you have?”

A benefit of AI.

But, as we have been hearing a lot these days, there’s a deep shadow side to AI. At a recent UN conference on the risks of technology, a participant said, “AI can bring with it a host of unintended consequences. One of the most pernicious could be AI’s ability to spread misinformation at a pace and scale not seen before.”

Pernicious is the very word Presbyterians used 235 years ago to describe bringing “truth and falsehood upon a level.” It carries the connotation of malevolence. The use of this technology – not the technology itself – can be detrimental to our life together, even sinister.

Dr. Hinton recently left Google to speak out about the threats in the use of the technology he spent decades developing. The first danger he cites is “the risk of producing a lot of fake news so no one knows what’s true anymore.”

This has gone way beyond a mere press conference where someone claims something we all know to be false, and it begins to spread by people repeating and believing it.

Jesus was acutely aware of the power of what is true. “You shall know the truth,” he said, “And the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

But in an age when unregulated and unrestrained technology can easily be used to spread that which is untrue and present it as gospel – and I use that word intentionally – we will soon lose our freedom.

If truth is in order to goodness, when much of the world is filtered through and controlled by AI can we even know what is true?

By ourselves we cannot stop the malicious use of technology, but we can be careful with it and check its veracity when in doubt. We can use technology to verify the accuracy of technology. We can discern what is true and decide what we will do about it – even if that truth is painful or difficult to face in our personal lives, in our families and our relationships, in our city and nation today, and in its history. The truth can be hard to hear, but you and I, we are bound to pursue it and act on it.

A statement by the national church 40 years ago, in 1983, says,  “As Presbyterians we believe there is…no way to disconnect faith from practice. What we believe is reflected in our actions, both individually and corporately. Acceptance of untruths as truth is harmful…The truth of a particular idea is often revealed in the way it leads people to behave…Time is a test of truth.”

Truth is in order to goodness, sometimes over a long stretch of time.

The New York Times columnist Tom Friedman spoke this past week at an event here in town sponsored by World Savvy, a wonderful national education non-profit headquartered in Minneapolis. Friedman commented on the credo of the founder of Facebook Mark Zuckerman: move fast and break things.

Friedman countered: “In a speeding world, that which happens slowly is more important than ever.”

The three things such a world needs, he said, are self-motivation, the discipline to engage even when so much can be done for us, without our engagement; access, the capacity to get and use the technology; and, character.

Friedman focused on that last point, character. He named a number of “slow-moving” experiences that teach empathy and kindness and help create lasting, healthy community. At the top of his list was Sunday School – and he didn’t mean what happens only in churches; at this very moment, over at Temple Israel they are teaching in the synagogue what they call Sunday School.

People of faith instinctively know that slowing down helps us and our children see and listen and discern more carefully. Prayer slows us down. Music slows us down. Quiet slows us down. Every Wednesday evening people gather for mid-week worship in Westminster Hall that includes 5-6 minutes of silence together. It never seems long enough.

God rested on the seventh day in the Creation story and wonder at all that had been made. The Creator needed to stop and see the truth of all that beauty – and then pronounce it good. We are told to honor the Sabbath because human beings lose their way when they go fast all the time. Truth gets in when we slow down – and truth is in order to goodness.

We don’t often think of Jesus as having a focus on truth in his ministry. He healed, he taught, he loved those reviled or feared by others, he welcomed those excluded, he prayed, he listened, he gave his life for others. But what does all that have to do with truth?

It has everything to do with truth.

Jesus said, “I am the way the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)

With his own life, Jesus points to the truth, truth with a capital T and the smaller, everyday truths at the core of our faith, that you and I try to live every day: that love is greater than fear and compassion stronger than hate, that dawn will follow even the longest night, that mercy leads to forgiveness and grace heals brokenness, that hope gives courage to seek justice against all odds. that we are not alone.

I John asks a simple question: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth. And by this we will know that we are from the truth.” (I John 3:17-19a)

We who follow Jesus are from the truth. We belong to the truth. That means how we live is not some random accident, controlled by some force outside of us, but a direct result of holding fast to the truth that God is love.

“We are persuaded,” the Presbyterians said long ago,,“That there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty. Otherwise, it would be of no consequence either to discover truth or to embrace it.” (PCUSA Book of Order, F-1.0304: Historic Principles)

Truth is in order to goodness.

Thanks be to God.



These Presbyterian “principles served—and still serve—as the foundation of values we hold dear and which we embrace as followers of Jesus.” “God’s love is the ultimate guide for how we live.”

“To say ‘truth is in order to goodness’ means that goodness results from following the truth. Truth leads to goodness.” “The great touchstone of truth [is]the tendency to promote . . . life that reflects the love and righteousness, the light and justice of God.”

Dr. Jeffrey Hinton, an expert on Artificial Intelligence (AI), says AI “can be a force of astonishing good,” such as enabling an M.D. to see medical results of a disease in vastly more cases. On the other hand, AI risks “producing a lot of fake news so that no one knows what’s true anymore.”

Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist, says the world needs (a) self-motivation or the discipline to engage with the world; (b) the ability to get and use the ever-changing technology; and (c) character, which is shaped by “slow moving” experiences that teach empathy and kindness and help create lasting, healthy community. A prime example of such “slow moving” experiences is Sunday School in churches and synagogues.

“With his own life, Jesus points to the truth with a capital T and the smaller, everyday truths at the core of our faith, that you and I try to live every day: that love id greater than fear and compassion stronger than hate, that dawn will follow even the longest night, that mercy leads to forgiveness and grace heals brokenness, that hope gives courage to seek justice against all odds, and that we are not alone.”


[1] Previous posts about this series of sermons:

The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), (May 11, 2023); Minneapolis Westminster Presbyterian Church: Presbyterian Principles: God alone is Lord of the conscience, (May 12, 2023).

[2] Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen, Sermon, Presbyterian Principles: Truth is in order to goodness (May 7, 2023); Bulletin, Westminster Presbyterian Church (Minneapolis) (May 7, 2023).


Minneapolis Westminster Presbyterian Church: Presbyterian Principles: God alone is Lord of the conscience     

On Sunday, April 30, 2023, Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen, Senior Pastor at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, delivered his first of three sermons on Presbyterian Principles. This one focused on ”God alone is Lord of the conscience.”[1]


1 Corinthians 10:23-32

“All things are permitted,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are permitted,” but not all things build up.  Do not seek your own advantage but that of the other.  Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience,  for “the earth and its fullness are the Lord’s.”  If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience.  But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, out of consideration for the one who informed you and for the sake of conscience—  I mean the other’s conscience, not your own. For why should my freedom be subject to the judgment of someone else’s conscience?  If I partake with thankfulness, why should I be denounced because of that for which I give thanks?

 So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.  Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God.


Corinth in the first century was a busy commercial hub, a cultural crossroads, a Roman city, part of the empire, teeming with travelers, immigrants, sailors, outcasts, merchants, soldiers, impoverished people, wealthy citizens, free and enslaved persons, Greek-speakers, Latin speakers, Jews, practitioners of a wide variety of religions.

Archaeologists have found there more than two dozen temples and shrines to a veritable smorgasbord of gods of the time. One early traveler reported that right next to the Roman Forum in Corinth was a “temple for all the gods.” (J. Paul Sampley, The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. X [Knoxville: Abingdon Press, 2002], p. 773-774)

Corinth, like our city and our nation today, was trying to live peacefully within the pluralism of the time – but there’s always potential for trouble when people of different religious traditions live together. Don’t we know that.

The fires in two mosques in south Minneapolis this past week – one of which was in the former Oliver Presbyterian Church building on Bloomington Avenue – are the latest examples of attacks on houses of worship in this city. During Passover Temple Israel was targeted by vandals who spray painted anti-Semitic slurs on the building. A third mosque was hit by vandalism two weeks ago.

We denounce these assaults and stand in solidarity with our Jewish and Muslim neighbors. An attack on one faith community is an attack on all faith communities.

We don’t know if that level of conflict was present in first-century Corinth, but from the Apostle Paul’s letters and other sources we do know the people in that ancient city struggled to live peacefully in a religiously plural society.

Paul walked into those challenges when he arrived in Corinth around the year 50 CE. He was newly converted from Judaism to the Way of Jesus and sensed a call to establish new churches among the Gentiles of the eastern Mediterranean. He was coming from Thessalonica and Philippi where he had already planted churches. Paul spent a couple years in Corinth and then left when things weren’t going well for him.

We’ve just listened to an excerpt from a letter Paul wrote to the church he had established in Corinth. Given their religiously diverse context, they were working hard to find their way. They were worried by some basic issues – especially, it turns out, about what to eat. Most of the meat in Corinthian markets had been sacrificed to idols, and the new Christians feared if they ate it, they would be violating rules of their faith and running afoul of the believing community.

They were struggling with temptation, after all, they wanted to eat, and with conscience – they thought it was forbidden. Paul assures the Corinthians. “Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience,” he says.

“If an unbeliever invites you to a meal, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, out of consideration for the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience—I mean the other’s conscience, not your own.” (I Corinthians 10:25, 27-29a)

Paul is trying to walk a fine line here, to find balance between sticking to one’s own religious beliefs and living in a world where many do not share the same convictions. He shows, frankly, a surprising degree of flexibility here. Good for Paul! At a point earlier in the letter in another passage about eating, he tells the Corinthians that if his eating meat were to cause a someone to stumble, he would become vegetarian. He was that serious about accommodating those of other traditions.

Paul listens well. He adapts his response to the situation with grace, rather than falling back on religious regulations. He’s trying to model his life after the life of Jesus, who showed no partiality.

“So, whether you eat or drink,” he says, “Or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God.”

Paul uses the Corinthian conundrum as more than a lesson in eating responsibly. For him it’s a metaphor for how to live peaceably with our neighbors. Where do we draw the line in our behavior toward others? How do we make moral decisions that affect more than only ourselves? How can I live with my own convictions and let others live with theirs – and stay in community with them?

Long ago Presbyterians recognized this very challenge, the challenge of respecting freedom of conscience in a complex, pluralistic world. In 1788 we adopted a set of defining principles of church order that became the foundational building blocks of life in the Presbyterian Church in this land. Westminster was established in Minneapolis only 70 years after their adoption. From the beginning through today, our congregation’s ministers and lay leaders have been guided by these tenets of life in the church – our ecclesiology: how we will be and do church. (In 1788 the Presbyterian Synod of New York and Philadelphia adopted these principles, now in the PCUSA Book of Order: F-3.01)

At issue for the Presbyterians, not unlike the Corinthians, was how to allow freedom for believers within the bounds of the faith of the Church. The principles – now nearly 235 years old – have stood the test of time. Today, especially in a period of deep division, distrust, animosity, suspicion of those outside our circles, and embrace of prevarication, principles such as these are important reminders that our faith gives rise to certain concrete values. Those values guide us in our life together, both in the church and in the world.

Over the next three Sundays we will explore three of what our denomination’s constitution calls “The Historic Principles of Church Order.” Today we look at the first: God alone is Lord of the conscience. (Book of Order, F-3.01)

Those words did not originate with American Presbyterians in the late 18th century. They were borrowed from the Westminster Confession, written by Scottish theologians, and adopted by Presbyterians from Scotland meeting in Westminster Abbey in 1640. Our church’s name honors that history.

This first foundational principle is embedded in a longer sentence:

“That God alone is Lord of the conscience and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of (people) which are in anything contrary to God’s Word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship.”

Presbyterians have always sought to balance the binding of conscience by the Word of God with individual responsibility when it comes to faith:

“Therefore,” the church’s constitution declares, “We consider the rights of private judgment, in all matters that respect religion, as universal and unalienable.”

That’s a lot of fancy 17th century wording that means, simply: No one can tell another person what to believe. Each of us has the right – indeed, the responsibility – to decide for ourselves. Presbyterians recognize that at the heart of Christian faith is not a set of rules imposed from some authority beyond us. Frankly, it might a little easier to follow Jesus if what that means were spelled out in a list that we could simply check off, but that’s not how we do our Christianity.

Christian faith is not a set of rules imposed from some authority beyond us, but a relationship each of us has with God in Jesus Christ and with our neighbor. Relationships are living, dynamic realities; religion based on fixed rules depletes faith of its life. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship. Faith is a living, breathing relationship, not a set of fixed declarations we must obey. Think of our own personal connections and our life in community – the healthiest ones are based on relationships, not rules.

Paul could have said that under no circumstances should food sacrificed to idols be considered off limits because avoiding such food would give credence to idol worship. But instead, the Apostle shows how a Christ-like ethic works: if the food in question is considered holy by a person of another religious tradition, don’t eat it out of respect for that person’s conscience, setting aside your own conscience.

Paul is reminding the Corinthians that the goal of Christian living is to honor God and neighbor. It’s as if he were saying, God alone is Lord of the conscience and hath left it free from the commandments of people which are in anything contrary to God’s Word.

All theology in our tradition begins and ends with the sovereignty of God, but the sovereignty of God has eroded over time. Today it has been supplanted by the sovereignty of self. The 16th century Westminster divines had no intention of displacing the Lordship of God with a freewheeling Christianity tethered to nothing other than the whims of one’s own heart or mind.

Much of what seeks to pass for Christianity today is little more than self-driven ambition seeking power or privilege or prosperity, or anger propelled by fear that sees the other as someone to condemn and exclude, with a cloak of religiosity draped over it.

The lofty right of private judgement in matters of faith has been perverted in our time. It has descended into a maelstrom of assertions bearing little resemblance to the Word of God found in scripture and proclaimed in the words of Jesus preached by the Church. One cannot genuinely hold to the love of God and at the same time violate the image of God in other human beings by cruelty or injustice or contempt or gunfire. One cannot claim to follow Jesus and ignore how he lived and what he taught and whom he healed.

The exercise of individual religious liberty takes place within certain responsibilities. The foundational principle here is that God alone is Lord of the conscience. The competing claim rampant in our time is that self alone is the lord of conscience.

If we affirm that God is sovereign over all of life, we cannot simultaneously put ourselves at the center and shove God aside and push neighbor away, no matter how different they are or how much we fear them or how thoroughly we reject their politics. Paul’s experience in Corinth taught him that God’s image is present in every person, and, therefore, every person is deserving of respect and dignity and the fullness of their own humanity, their God-given humanity.

The Apostle can sometimes come off as narrow-minded or exclusive – especially toward women – but in Corinth, in this letter we read today, he shows a full grasp of God’s radical intention in Jesus Christ: to make love the essence of our lives, so that what we do or say – everything we do or say – is always considered by its impact on others and on the Other.

“Our own good,” one author says, “Is inextricably tied up with the good of all others.” (J. Paul Sampley, The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. X [Knoxville: Abingdon Press, 2002], p. p22)

Ethics, morality, conscience – they’re all worked out in community, not in isolation.

Our world is desperate for a new way of life together. To proclaim that God alone is Lord of the conscience, as we do, is to declare that love alone is Lord of the conscience.

Love leads the way. It takes us to a theology of grace and hope. And that theology compels us to join people of other faith traditions and people of goodwill to work toward a culture of kindness and generosity, a politics of humility and compassion, a social order that is fair and just.

As those who follow Jesus, that is our work, and it begins anew every day.

Thanks be to God.



This sermon and its inspiration from 1 Corinthians deliver a very important message that was [and is] embraced by U.S. Presbyterians in the 18th century and today. “We consider the rights of private judgment, in all matters that respect religion as universal and unalienable.” In short, “No one can tell another person what to believe. Each of us has the right—indeed, the responsibility—to decide for ourselves. . . . One cannot genuinely hold to the love of God and  at the same time violate the image of God in other human beings by cruelty or injustice or contempt or gunfire. “

“God’s radical intention in Jesus Christ [is] to make love the essence of our lives, so that . . . everything we do or say –is always considered by its impact on others and on the Other. . . . [That] theology compels us to join people of other faith traditions and people of good will to work toward a culture of kindness and generosity, a politics of humility and compassion, a social order that is fair and just.”

“As those who follow Jesus, that is our work, and it begins anew every day.”



[1] A previous post discussed the source of these sermons: The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), (May 11, 2023).

[2] Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen, Sermon: Presbyterian Principles: God is Lord of the conscience, Westminster Presbyterian Church (April 30, 2023); Westminster Presbyterian Church, Bulletin (April 30, 2023).



The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)    

I am a member and non-ruling elder of Westminster Presbyterian Church (Minneapolis), which is a member of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) denomination. The latter’s Constitution consists of the following two parts.

Part I: The Book of Confessions

This Book contains the following confessions:

  1. The Nicene Creed (A.D. 381)
  2. The Apostles’ Creed (A.D. 180)
  3. The Scots Confession (1560)
  4. The Heidelberg Catechism [Germany] (1562)
  5. The Second Helvetic Confession [Switzerland/Germany] (1561)
  6. The Westminster Confession of Faith [Scotland/England] (1647, 1649)
  7. The Shorter Catechism [Scotland/England] (1649)
  8. The Larger Catechism [Scotland/England] (1649)
  9. The Theological Declaration of Barmen [Germany] (1934)
  10. The Confession of 1967 [U.S.A.]
  11. The Confession of Belhar [South Africa] (1980)
  12. A Brief Confession of Faith—Presbyterian Church [U.S.A.](1983)

Some of these confessions are very short while others are very long. The only one I recall reading or studying is The Confession of Belhar, which was created in South Africa as a result of its struggles over apartheid and which was discussed in my blog post, The Confession of Belhar Is Adopted by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), (July 21, 2016).

Part II: The Book of Order 2019-2023.

The Book of Order consists of the following:

  • The Foundations of Presbyterian Polity (The Mission of the Church, The Church and Its Confessions and Principles of Order and Government)
  • The Form of Government,
  • Directory for Worship, and
  • Rules of Discipline.

I do not recall reading or studying any parts of The Book of Order, except for three of the Principles of Order and Government that were or will be discussed in the following sermons by Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen, our Senior Pastor, and that will be examined in subsequent posts to this blog:

  • Presbyterian Principles: God alone is Lord of the Conscience (April 30, 2023);
  • Presbyterian Principles: Truth is in order to goodness (May 7, 2023); and
  • Presbyterian Principles: It is our duty to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other (May 14, 2023).