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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sermon for March 25, 2012

March 25, 2012 Gospel: John 12:20-33 Psalm 51:1-12
1st Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34 2nd Reading: Hebrews 5:5-10

We’ve come to the last of our sermon series on “returning.” We’ve covered returning to the self, to relationships, to religion, to the earth, and today I’m hoping to tackle “Returning to God.” It’s kind of a big topic, the whole point of faith, one could argue. Isn’t that why we come here—to return to God, to be in relationship with God? Isn’t that what the whole Bible is about, God’s people returning to God? Isn’t that what God wants of us—a return to relationship, to love, to commitment?

And yet Martin Luther said that all we could ever do was to turn away from God. Humans by our own power can’t turn back to God. Only God can turn us back toward him.

I think of little children, as I often do, and their attention spans. They want to see and explore. They want to greet the dog and grab the toy from the other child and roll around in the yard and chase the butterfly and on and on. I’m looking at baby proofing my house, trying to think like a little guy. We’ll need to cover the outlets and secure the kitchen cupboard doors. We’ll have to get gates to put up. We’ll have to feed the cats outside—in fact maybe the cats can spend the whole summer outside so we can ditch the litter box and the nightmare that will be with a curious baby crawling around. Then there are Nick’s records, the glass doors on the credenza, all kinds of places to bump a head, teetering lamps. And that’s just at home. I have nightmares about the stairs here at church. I wonder if he will curl up under a pew one day and I won’t be able to find him.

I know that exploring and curiosity is the way kids learn and grow. I know I can’t protect him from every scrape and bump and to do so would limit him too much. He’d never learn the things he needs to learn about the shape and size of his body and that dust bunnies and dead bugs are not that tasty. But I hope that as he explores and gets hurt, physically and emotionally he will come back to me sometimes to cuddle and to have a listening ear as he gets older and that we will sustain a strong relationship through the years.

And I think that is what God wants of us. God wants us to return to him, even though we are bound to wander and explore, to share love and stories and relationship.

So how do we return to God? Or how does God return us to relationship and covenant with him?

Sometimes I feel such a chasm between myself and God. God’s perfection is so distant. His glory is something I can’t comprehend. God’s love is so big. God’s creativity is so huge. God is beyond all understanding. We’ve got a lot about God’s glory in the readings for today. Do you remember the story of God inviting Moses to look upon his glory? Moses had to hide his face or he would be destroyed by that glory, it was such a strong and powerful force. And still he glowed afterward!

God sensed that distance and decided to create a new covenant with us, one in which the love of God would be written on our hearts and we would instinctively know God from the least of us to the greatest. God wanted to create a connection point between us to bridge the separating. God wanted to experience relationship, atonement, a coming together of the divine and human. So God sent Jesus Christ, a God-human combo or hybrid, completely human, completely God, all at the same time.

I was recently doing some plumbing, replacing a cabinet in the bathroom and all the stuff underneath. We discovered at 9:50 pm that the hose was too short between the faucet and where the water comes out of the wall below so I had to rush to Home Depot to find the correct connector. I rushed over there with 3 minutes to spare. The front door was locked so I snuck in the out door and a nice young man showed me where to find the piece to fit the two together. Jesus is that connector piece between God and humanity. We also know that Jesus is God’s son, an extension of God rather than something separate and new, so we could say that God adapted God’s connector so that humanity could see that there was a connection point, so we wouldn’t just see God as far away, but that God would be within our hearts and nearer to us than we are to ourselves.

In order to be a good fit with us, so that we would trust Jesus, Jesus had to be like us in some important ways. One of the most important is that he take on human limitations. How could we trust someone who doesn’t know what it feels like to be us? We could only identify with someone who has walked in our shoes. So God took on limitations. God came as a baby with the helplessness that comes along with it. He grew up just like a regular person, because he was a regular person. He scraped his knee, argued with his parents, made mistakes on his math test, hurt other people’s feelings, experienced sore muscles and headaches, bug bites, he misunderstood people, he didn’t meet people’s expectations. He took human limitations on himself as Jesus. He was a person.

John is focused on this human aspect of God as broken, self-limiting, wounded. It isn’t a new concept. We see in the Old Testament how God is hurting because Israel broke the covenant. “I was your husband,” cries God, humiliated, betrayed, wounded. Because God loves so deeply, God’s heart can be broken. God can get hurt.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus weeps, sometimes he gets angry, he gets frustrated with his own failed attempts to make his point to his disciples about inclusion and love and what the Kingdom of God is like. Of course he suffers on the cross and his body is broken and he experiences death. John’s Gospel is the only one where Jesus appears after the resurrection with his wounds still visible. He could have been raised with a perfect, whole body. But instead his wounds are raised with him and he shows them to the disciples.

It is Jesus’ wounds that draw us all to him, that return us to him. There is beauty in the broken. Our beautiful Mt. Hood is a pile of broken rocks, the results of broken tectonic plates rubbing up against one another. Fabric must be cut, broken, to be sewn back together to make a beautiful garment. We break our earlobes (and sometimes noses, lips, eyebrows, or tongues) to put decorations in them. Jesus’ wounds were something that he wanted to keep. They were an important part of who he was. They were a connection point between himself and human kind. They showed that he knew what we went through. They showed how far he was willing to go to return us to God. They showed a relationship deep enough to survive betrayal and hurt and keep on loving.

I invite you to look upon the cross here in our sanctuary. See the cross shapes on Jesus’ hands? They indicate the wounds he received for our sake. Here he is being lifted up both as on the cross and at his ascension. This isn’t a gruesome depiction of Christ on the cross, even though it shows his wounds. It is him with his brokenness, not hiding it as he draws all creation to himself.

“We wish to see Jesus,” the Gentiles say, and we come with the same wish. And we can see him. “I was in prison and you visited. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.” He has promised to be in the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned, the vulnerable, the wounded, the limited. It is a matter of if we will look for him there in the face of the needy and see him in the tears of those who are suffering and look for him in the scars of those who have been wounded.

And we can hear God, too, in the dead calm after the tornado, in the thunder, in the voices of his angel messengers, if we train our ear to be alert to that voice.

We are wounded. We cry out. God is wounded. God cries out. We hear each other and return and find wholeness where brokenness meets brokenness and we understand each other and experience love and relationship.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sermon for March 18, 2012

March 18, 2012 Gospel: John 3:14-21 Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 1st Reading: Numbers 21:4-9 2nd Reading: Ephesians 2:1-10

Victor Kaufmann has planted 10,000 trees by hand on his property in the state of Washington in the last ten years. A couple of hundred years ago the land was wooded. It was logged and then used as pastureland and for growing oats. Vic is returning the land to its former state. He is sharing the good news with the earth. Birds are returning the area. The trees capture carbon in the air. The trees breathe it in and make oxygen. They clean the air of pollutants. “For God so loved the world…”

Often we humans have thought that the good news of God’s love is just for us. We have thought that we are the only ones who can praise God. We have seen ourselves as the pinnacle of creation. God saved the best for last.

The Israelites in Moses’ time got caught up in selfishness and self-worship, in their own aches and pains, in their complaining, in their desire for their favorite foods. They griped and complained when God saved them from slavery. They turned up their noses as the manna from heaven that God provided. They pitched a fit at every little setback they encountered.

Anyone who’s ever had kids, or nieces and nephews knows this ungrateful gripe. I saw my 12 year old niece cast her Christmas gift to the side with a sneer this year. I am guessing I probably didn’t get her what she wanted. I know I’m out of touch. I’ve been told what isn’t good enough about the food I make. Past middle-schoolers from this congregation have laughed at the car I drive and the clothes I wear. I know I have just brought a little person into this world who will someday be able to share his opinions about how I do things and don’t do things, just like I did to my parents as a teenager and am still prone to do now and then.

We’re all guilty of these shenanigans. I’m sorry to say not much has changed since the Old Testament. It is so easy to be selfish—I wanted that parking spot, why can’t that person see things my way, I should have what I want—this or that food or gadget, it is my way or the highway, my plans are so much more important than other people’s. We are arrogant. We put ourselves in the center, and isn’t that another form of idolatry?

We are self-centered, but God doesn’t want to punish us. I don’t believe that God sent snakes to bite people and kill them. Instead, isn’t it true that we provide poison enough? God wants us to see the poisonous attitudes for what they are because they hurt us the most. When I am selfish I tromp all over other people’s hopes and dreams. And when they are selfish, they might do the same to me. It is a matter of treating other people the way we want to be treated so that life is better for everyone.

God wants us to see something bigger than our personal preference. God wants us to look at the bigger picture like God does. “I lift my eyes unto the hills,” the Psalmist writes, “From whence my help comes.” When I look beyond my own little world, I see a whole beautiful universe that God created.

When you go for a walk outside, don’t you just feel that your troubles come into perspective? When you look up at the stars at night on one of these clear nights that we’ve had lately and you see the bright planets shining in the West, don’t you forget all your troubles? When you look down and see a little bug struggling along, don’t you feel a kinship with that creature—a shared experience of life? When you look into the eyes of another human being, whether at the pantry, or at the store, or at a friend’s, don’t you see a world at least as important, as deep, as joyful and as troubled, as yours?

In today’s Gospel reading we see that God’s love is bigger than we conceived of it. God so loved the world. God so loved the cosmos—the universe. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” And God called it good. There were no humans to enjoy it at first and still it was good. God created the sun and stars and they were good, all on their own. God created animals, and God called them good. We are one little piece of God’s good creation and God delights in all of it. God wants us to lift up our eyes from the tunnel vision of “gimme, gimme, gimme.” God wants us to have so much more richness in our lives. God wants us to love God’s good creation, too, to share in the beauty of it, to enjoy it and appreciate it.

For the Israelites, Moses put a bronze serpent on a stick to get people to look up from their complaining and to put their hope in God. They had been wallowing in their own misery. Now they find themselves looking up. What might they have seen? They saw each other and what was going on in another person’s life. They saw animals—snakes and other of God’s creatures having their own struggles and joys. They surely saw mountains and the sky and clouds and the sun. By looking up, their minds got out of the tunnel vision rut and expanded their imagination and opened their minds to hope.

Some say the serpent on the pole was a precursor to the cross. It is pretty hard to complain when you look up and see Jesus on the cross. God doesn’t mind listening to our troubles. God knows what it is like to have troubles. See God there on the cross? God is walking with us in our troubles. God is feeling every ache and pain. God knows all about it.

But God knows all the joys of life, too, that sometimes we miss when we make an idol of ourselves and never look around. There is so much to appreciate! Spring is coming! The snow was beautiful this week. I get to live on this beautiful planet in this beautiful galaxy, in this gorgeous state. We have enough food and water. We can appreciate our pets. I have a healthy child.

Do I really need to focus my attention on getting more stuff, or can I look to the cross and see how Jesus gave himself away for the sake of this beautiful world so that all might have access to love, so that we might learn to sacrifice and not put ourselves first so that other might have basic necessities. If I don’t spend my money on Easter candy this year, which my baby doesn’t eat and I don’t need, maybe I could buy more groceries for the pantry. If I spent less time in front of the televisions, maybe I could have a meaningful experience helping someone who could use a hand.

Hope is an upward spiral. On our own, all we can be is selfish. But in our moping around, occasionally we come upon something like this pole or a cross or 10,000 trees and our eyes follow it up and we see beyond ourselves to the greater world. And our eyes meet the eyes of our neighbors and our hearts sing from the connections. And we forget ourselves and find hope and meaning in using our gifts to help others. And those connections feed us and lift us up so that we can feed others and lift them up. And we find our connections in other people, in animals and plants, in experiences, in connections we make, in just sitting back and enjoying God’s good creation. And in enjoying it, we want to preserve it and take care of it, to be good stewards and appreciators alongside God of all that God has made.

I don’t know if Victor is at all religious, but I would say he is one of God’s servants, whether he knows it or not. He plants the trees. He watches the seasons. He cares for the earth. He gets his family and friends to help him. He is hopeful. He keeps his head up. He is not thinking of himself. And let me add that he was 75 when he started this project, so it is never too late!

Paul writes, “For we are what he has made us.” We are also God’s good creation, made to praise him. Just as the trees clap their hands and the mountains bow before the LORD, we are made for hope. We are made to have life abundant and share it generously. We are what he has made us. Or as Vic says. “I just do what I am.”

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sermon for March 11, 2012

March 11, 2012 Gospel: John 2:13-22 Psalm 19
1st Reading: Exodus 20:1-17 2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

In our Lenten theme of returning, today is the day about returning to religion. This is different from returning to faith or returning to God. Religion has more to do with the structures in which we practice our faith. It has been set up before us by others trying to make sense of their faith and trying to express it. Right now it is popular to be “spiritual, but not religious.” I think most people are in touch with a spirituality—a higher power or God in creation. Religion often gets associated with something bad. It is the buildings and liturgies and power structures that we’re referring to when we speak of religion. Those things alone aren’t good or bad, on their own. It is how we use them that determines the good or bad. Institutions often have their own survival as a self interest which could interfere with the gospel which asks us to die. But we each decide for ourselves which religion we associate with if any and how much straying from Jesus’ intention we are willing to tolerate, because that is also part of being the church.

I want to suggest returning to religion for a couple of different reasons. We need to return to it constantly to evaluate it. We return to it sometimes to reclaim it and to recommit ourselves. We return to it to shape it in more helpful ways. We return to it to express our faith.

In the Gospel lesson for today Jesus returns to the temple, and he’s not too happy about what he finds. I don’t know what Jesus expected to find when he returned. Certainly he must have known what went on there. People are expected to make sacrifices to God. Maybe you didn’t have a lamb or a bird to sacrifice. You’d need to buy one. If you had Roman money it would have Caesar’s head on it and would say that Caesar is God. You couldn’t very well bring that to God’s temple, so you’d need to exchange it. This outer ring of the temple complex would have been a busy place, full of animals, maybe full of shouting and clinking. Maybe it sounded something like the New York stock exchange.

In the other Gospels, Jesus’ actions at the temple are the last straw that finally leads the authorities to arrest Jesus and take him away to be executed. In John’s Gospel, it happens right off the bat. It happens this way because Jesus is taking the place of the temple as the location of God in the world. In the past, if you wanted to be in God’s presence, with a few exceptions, you’d want to be in the temple. That was simply the connection place between the heavens and the earth. By the time John writes this Gospel, the temple has been destroyed, so he wants to make clear from the beginning of the story that the temple isn’t where it’s at anymore. Instead, he locates God in the temple of Jesus’ body.

Jesus goes to the temple. He sees that the temple isn’t “all that” anymore. For John’s readers, that might have been reassuring. Jesus is critical of what he sees. What started out as a very helpful and necessary marketplace has gotten out of hand. People have lost track of the reason for the temple, and that is God. Instead, they go to make a profit or take advantage of people. Or they go to show off that they can afford an expensive sacrifice and look down their noses at others. Or they go to show off their beautiful clothes or jewelry and look down at others. Everyone has forgotten that God is the reason for the temple. Jesus returns to set all that straight.

We might not “return” to religion if we never went away from it. But some of us have switched denominations in our search for something more true to the spirit of Jesus. In the switching there might be some healthy criticism of both the denomination you come from and the one you are joining. There is going to be no perfect religion. Religion is an imperfect expression of faith. It is going to have its flaws. Some we live with and others we can’t. We decide where to draw the line.

I have my beefs with Lutheranism, although I’m pretty proud to be a Lutheran on the whole. But I can’t let my association with Lutheranism keep me from criticizing it and hopefully making it better. I decided a long time ago that I could better reform it from within than from outside. Since we are a denomination of reform, we at least pay lip service to evaluation and reform and keeping our religion relevant and fresh. I suppose that is one of my criticisms is that we move so slowly, that reform is slow and difficult. I wish more people who had criticisms would stay and try to make it better because I see people who disagree getting discouraged and going elsewhere or getting fed up with religion in general and not worshiping anywhere.

But we criticize our religion because we love it. If we didn’t love it, we wouldn’t care enough to try to reform it. And we criticize it because we love God even more than we love religion. Where religion is not reflecting the love of God, it has to go. But unfortunately that hasn’t been the case. Christianity has loved other things than God. It has loved status and wealth. It’s pastors and priests have loved privilege. Its ladies groups have loved gossip. These idols of the church have given us a bad name. When people hear about Christians, they think of child molesters and those who try to protect them. They think of hypocrites and people who spew hate. We haven’t been very successful in returning to religion and making it the loving place that it was intended to be where we could connect with God and each other and be empowered to serve our neighbor in need.

Jesus returns to the temple to reclaim his religion. Even though what he sees there makes him mad, he remembers what his religion has meant to him throughout his life and he reclaims it. It looks a little different than it did before. Rather than his religion being a bunch of outward acts, like making sacrifices, going to prayers, practicing Sabbath, etc., he realizes that it is within him. God is not about outward acts, but is within each of us. God is not far away. God is nearer to us than we are to ourselves. God is in every leaf, every drop of rain, every hello or goodbye, in every stranger and friend, not just in a temple or a church building. So Jesus recommits himself to his religion in a new way and now in this Gospel he is going to take that message of love out and share it with people he meets, by respecting them and sharing and caring and loving. He isn’t going to stop keeping the Sabbath. But he will observe with a renewed understanding of what it means and what it is for, rather than it being an empty ritual. By returning to his religion and reclaiming it, it is renewed for him and for all of us.

Martin Luther also returned to his religion, when it wasn’t working for him. He was a monk, so he hadn’t exactly strayed from his religion. But he returned to God’s word and tried to understand from reading the Bible why his religion wasn’t working for him. He found inconsistencies between his religion and what the Bible said and so he criticized his religion and found a deeper sense of faith. When he tried to take what he had learned and reform his religion, that was unwelcome so here were are!

Jesus gives us permission in the Gospel to return to our religious roots and take a long, hard look. We can look at it through the eyes of a stranger or outsider. We can look at it to see if it makes sense if we hadn’t always done it that way. We can look at it to see if it matches the God of love that we know and if now to see how we can better reflect that.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Sermon for March 4, 2012

March 4, 2012 Gospel: Mark 8:31-38 Psalm 22:23-31
1st Reading: Genesis 17:1-7; 15-16 2nd Reading: Romans 4:13-25

“Wherever two or more are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” No, we did not hear these words in any of today’s readings, yet they apply, because anytime two or more are gathered, you’ll have at least that many opinions and the opportunity for conflict. In fact, the next verse after this one from Matthew, Peter asks Jesus how many times he must forgive his neighbor.

In this morning’s Gospel readings, Peter and Jesus have a disagreement. They have a difference of opinion on what Jesus’ role should be and how his life should play out. They have a fight.

There may be nothing that terrifies congregations more than conflict. I recently attended a training called “Transforming Church Conflict” and got more than a few funny looks when I said I planned to go and invited the council to attend with me. Church conflict? Here?

A lot of how we each deal with conflict, has to do with how we learned to deal with it growing up. I don’t want to generalize too much, but if we look at the Scandanavian way of handling conflict, a category that a good number of members of King of Kings fall into—we know this group tends to be on the reserved side, showing little emotion. Think if you grew up in a colder climate, stuck indoors for months on end, you’d probably find a way to avoid conflict just to get through. Those patterns get passed down. I’ve learned German stubbornness or else it is in my DNA. I like to be right. But I also grew up in an abusive house, so conflict is a very scary thing to me, because it can end up in physical injury. We all have different experiences of conflict that affect how we see it and what we do when we are in it.

Doesn’t this just make you so curious to know more about Jesus’ family of origin dealing with their conflicts? Jesus doesn’t shy away from conflict. In fact, he seems to pick fights. He says what is on his mind. He is self-assured. He doesn’t let things fester. And yet, for Jesus, a conflict is just part of life. He doesn’t push anyone away from him because of a conflict. He is just as loving and kind after he argues with you as before.

This workshop that I attended with Winston and Mary, reminded us that conflict is not failure. We often think of it that way. Jesus said we are to be peacemakers, why can’t I get along with so and so? Many of us will do almost anything to avoid conflict—even lie. We just “smile and nod,” right? We listen, then ignore. We pretend to agree with people just so we don’t have to get into it with them.

Another reason we see conflict as failure is because we think in conflicts there must be winners and losers, right and wrong. Especially in the political climate we’re in, we see those with one opinion vilifying those with a different opinion, making the other side out to be monsters. We don’t see a lot of healthy conflict resolution playing out in the media. Where do we get healthy role models for conflict? None jump readily to mind. We may need to seek them out so that we as Christians can help model that.

We learned at the workshop that rather than being a failure, conflict is a result of the wonderful variety that God made amongst people. We vary in ways that we can see, such as age and gender. But most of the ways we vary are hidden, like the way we handled conflict growing up, our profession, our wealth, our status in the congregation. It would be boring if we were all alike, and because we’re different, we will see things differently and disagree about them.

Let’s look again at this argument in the Gospel. Peter and Jesus had a difference of opinion. Jesus is saying things that the disciples don’t want to hear about what is going to happen to him. Peter says, “Jesus, don’t talk like that!” It is wonderful that Peter and Jesus have a strong enough relationship that Peter feels that he can share his views. Think if Peter kept those feelings to himself. They would just grow stronger. Maybe he’d have trouble sleeping or get an ulcer. Maybe he’d go to the other disciples and start complaining about Jesus. There are a lot of unhealthy things that could happen. But Peter feels the relationship is strong enough that he can say what is on his mind.

Next Jesus turns to all the disciples. He knows that what one is thinking, likely several of them are thinking. When Peter contradicts Jesus, he isn’t just speaking for himself but he’s expressing what others are also thinking. In the same way, when you have a question about something here at church, there is no need to feel shy about bringing it up. Maybe you feel stupid, like you’re the only one who doesn’t know why we do things a certain way or what a lectern is. Or sometimes just asking the question of why might seem like an attack in itself, when it is really just curiosity. I invite you to ask those questions. There are likely others who have the same question. And if you have a different opinion, there are probably others who do, too, and by bringing it up you are helping a whole group of people give voice to another point of view. And if we are doing something just because that is the way we’ve always done it and it is inefficient or counterproductive, it might be time to change it for the good of the community. Ask the questions, not just for yourself but for the sake of others.

Sometimes conflict feels like the end of the world. But after this conflict, Jesus and the disciples don’t break up. They continue in relationship and ministry together. There are many other times the disciples don’t get it, but they keep working at the relationship and learning from their disagreements and interactions and we know that Peter eventually does get it since he goes and spreads the good news after Jesus’ death and resurrection and eventually becomes a martyr. If they never brought up their differences, they might never have the chance to learn from one another and from Jesus and grow in their faith and maturity and understanding.

This congregation has experienced some pretty difficult conflicts over the years and even more recently we’ve faced differences of opinion among us and poor communication that has led to misunderstandings. This congregation is not immune from conflict. The better we can understand what is happening when we go through conflict, the better we can learn and grow from it, rather than it pulling us apart. In thinking of a conflict a few years ago, the council evaluated what we could have done better and created a policy so that we would better communicate in the future. I don’t want to sound na├»ve, but there are ways we can all win, when we experience conflict, and that is when we learn something about ourselves and those with whom we disagree. When you come through a healthy conflict experience, often you’ll find a deeper bond. A strong friendship transcends the differences between us and will last through even the toughest difficulties.

In the Old Testament Reading for today, God enters into a covenant with Abraham. It is an agreement between the two, almost like a marriage. God will be God to Abraham and his many descendents and they will be God’s people. Yet God and Abraham are very different. They are going to disagree. Abraham will make many mistakes, but that will never come between them and their relationship. They are going to keep working at this relationship, no matter what trying times come. Abraham will disagree with God and he will let his opinion be known. God will disagree with Abraham and let him know. Yet they will continue to be in relationship with one another and they will build a common story together that will bind them closer together in relationship.

Sometimes when we disagree, it seems like everything is out of balance. However, our unity must go beyond our differences, because the source of it is God. Think of God who made each of us and loves us all. We are all made and loved by the same God who wants to be in relationship with us and wants us to be in relationship with each other. We have our savior Jesus who was constantly teaching the disciples to be among those different from themselves—children, lepers, women, those of different religious affiliations, foreigners, tax collectors. He knew the value in exposing yourself to all different kinds of people, that it helped you know who you are and what is important to you, it helped you to see beyond yourself to the needs of others, it helped you to learn and grow as a person, it helped your relationship with God who is also different from us, and it helps to grow God’s Kingdom (otherwise known as “kin-dom,” or relationship), God’s web of relationship and love that no one is outside of.

So, your council is a little better prepared to deal with conflict. We’re still practicing and won’t be perfect, but if you help us practice we will learn to use the skills from this workshop. We’ll encourage you to speak up. We’ll help assemble the different voices so that people can weigh in. We’ll encourage the sharing of stories so that we can understand more deeply where each other is coming from. We’ll affirm the unity we do have, even when we disagree. And we’ll try to learn and help the community learn and grow in love and relationship to one another and to God just like God’s people have throughout the ages. Let us return to community and relationship so that we can serve God together despite our beautiful differences.

Jesus didn’t argue just to be difficult. He stood firm about justice for the poor, food for the hungry, and help for the sick and imprisoned. Because he stood up for those who were hurting, he butted heads with those who liked the system as it stood and he gave his life, making sure that everyone had access to life abundant.