“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
A friend of mine plays occasionally at 30 Boltwood in Amherst, the old Lord Jeff in the center of town. A week ago Thursday was his last night until sometime again in the Fall so I definitely wanted to be there.
Sharon and I try and go see him when we can. Last Thursday though was the choir party. Sharon went there, and I went to 30 Boltwood all by my lonesome. On my way through the hotel lobby, I grabbed their copy of the New York Times. I was all set to sit at the bar, listen to a little jazz, read the newspaper and enjoy a beer.
My friend’s musical partner came over to say hello to a friend of his, Peter, and then to me. That common denominator introduced us to each other and also started our conversation. It started off casually and then I mentioned that I am the pastor here in Hatfield. From that moment forward, our conversation, at the bar, was all about religion.
I imagine we were the only ones at 30 Boltwood talking about Jesus, but what’s even more rare is that we were two people talking about religion who looked at the faith from very different perspectives, and we were enjoying each other’s company.
Keeping that story in mind, let me now turn to when I met Rev. Brenda this past Monday. One of her favourite Smith College professors was her New Testament professor who was also my thesis advisor at Smith.
We have a similar orientation when it comes to the Bible, partly from sharing a similar education journey, and our conversation reflected this. And again, what a pleasant encounter.
But now back to 30 Boltwood. It’s a whole different animal when you talk religion with someone who thinks, believes and practices differently. What I ended up mentioning to Peter was that it was so healthy to be able to have a pleasant conversation about a hot-topic-subject like religion, to be able to disagree about it, and still to be able to enjoy each other’s company
It’s easy to relate to someone who is like you. It’s almost like patting yourself on the back. But it’s just as nice relating to someone who is unlike you and in the process discovering that different doesn’t have to mean anything other than different. Good can be reflected in different ways.
The other day I ran across a story that quoted William F. Buckley, the late conservative columnist. He told his son about the moment he heard of a friend’s death. Buckley said, “It came to me last Thursday when the news of Clurman’s death reached me just after midnight, that I have always sub-consciously looked out for the total Christian, and when I found him, he turned out to be a non-practicing Jew.” (Stealing Jesus, p. 322)
You know, Jesus didn't look at designations or titles. He looked at the person. That’s the whole story of the Gospels told one way or another. And it’s told to us today in the story of the Samaritan village.
To get from Galilee in the north to Jerusalem in the south you have to pass through Samaria. The Jews and the Samaritans are not friends. The people of a particular Samaritan village will not welcome Jesus because He is Jewish and is heading to Jerusalem for the Passover.
John and James, two disciples, respond in kind. They want to call down God’s wrath on all the people of this village for their insult. They want them dead.
Instead, Jesus rebukes the disciples. His followers are not to imitate the prejudices and anger of others. They’re to set a better example. Jesus will not allow for differences to separate. Jesus simply moves on to the next village and tries again. And all those people in the second part of today’s Gospel, are they Samaritans? Are they impressed by Jesus to the point of almost leaving everything behind for Him?
It is in this spirit that the church should operate. It is according to this example, that we should act. And this is why we should be proud of our church’s extravagant welcome. Understanding that difference doesn’t have to lead to separation is pure Christian gospel.
Friday was the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riot in New York City. It is considered now to be the beginning of the Gay Pride Movement. I’m not certain if this anniversary is the reason, but today, in the United Church of Christ, we celebrate Open and Affirming Sunday.
We are an Open and Affirming congregation, which means, as we print in our bulletin every week that “Whoever you are, young or older, gay or straight, single or partnered, believer or seeker, this is God’s House and all of you are most certainly welcome here.”
Open and Affirming, in other words, is not limited to any group. “Whoever you are … you are most certainly welcome here.” To anyone who may feel unwelcomed or even persecuted by church because of who they are, they are welcome here.
When Jesus accepted the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the diseased … the Samaritans, He gave us an example of extravagant welcome to follow.
Non-Jews were once persecuted in the church and then Jews were; women were insulted by the church; slavery was once accepted by the church. We grew out of these mistakes by continuing to listen to Jesus’ gospel of extravagant welcome. And now as an Open and Affirming congregation we continue to move forward in this direction. We don’t let how someone loves define them as immoral. Jesus was much more attuned to the immorality of hatred.
Marty read for us the story of Elijah and Elisha. Once Elijah had been taken into heaven, Elisha picked up his mantle and continued Elijah’s work. That’s the symbol for what we are supposed to do as Christ’s presence in the world today.
We are called upon and empowered to continue the ministry of Christ to all people. We pick up Jesus’ mantle and we practice extravagant welcome. We are an Open and Affirming congregation because Jesus didn’t turn people away and neither will we.
Whoever you are, you are most certainly welcome here. May this be our prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Faith, love and chitchat.
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