Friday, February 24, 2017

Liberals, Fundamentalists, & Moderation

The words "liberal" and "fundamentalist" are used today not so much to identify oneself as to label the enemy. From one side comes the accusation that the mind of the fundamentalist is closed, shuttered against the possibility of doubt and therefore against the recognition of hitherto unrecognized truth. From the other side comes the charge that liberals are so open to new ideas that they have no firm commitments at all, that every affirmation of faith must be held only tentatively, and that every dogma must, as a matter of principle, be challenged. There are terms of moral opprobrium that each side employs to attack the other: the fundamentalist is arrogant, blinkered, and culturally illiterate; the liberal is flabby, timid, and carried along by every new fashion of thought. From the point of view of the fundamentalist, doubt is sin; from the point of view of the liberal, the capacity for doubt is a measure of intellectual integrity and honesty.

 Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship (Eerdmans: 1995), p. 1. by Lesslie Newbigin

But moderation is not necessarily synonymous with lukewarm moral weakness. The word "moderate" and its noun form "moderation" actually convey something admirable when applied to civility in public discourse. The classic meaning of moderation is a position that avoids excesses and extremes; that is, temperate, restrained, prudent, fair, and reasonable. A moderate believes that the truth usually lies in the "golden mean" between extremes. Moderates aim for judicious tolerance, a calm willingness to listen to and consider the conviction of those with whom they disagree. Without surrendering convictions, moderation seeks truth in the center, which is not always marked by a cowardly "yellow stripe." The "radical middle," as Gordon Fee calls it, is not bland neutrality, but it’s the path that avoids the dangerous ditches on either side of the road. It’s a courageous position held by people some have called "flaming moderates."

Higher Ground: A Call for Christian Civility (Smyth & Helwys Publishing: 2007), p. 104.  by Russell H. Dilday

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Loving Your Enemies (II)

My sermon for February 19 was based in large part on the sermon "Loving Your Enemies," 
which Martin Luther King, Jr. gave on several occasions.

Here are several links to his sermon on "Loving Your Enemies":,SermonDeliveredattheDetroitCouncilofChurches'NoonLentenServices.pdf

Loving Our Enemies (I)

I have blogged in the past regarding our enemies and how Jesus commands us to love them. Here are some links for your consideration:


Sermon: February 19

O God, the Creator of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth: deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP)

We are living in conflicted times, and I know that may be an understatement. But, we have lived through challenging times before…

“Upheaval after upheaval has reminded us that modern man is traveling along a road called hate, in a journey that will bring us to destruction and damnation. Far from being the pious injunction of a Utopian dreamer, the command to love one’s enemy is an absolute necessity for our survival. Love even for enemies is the key to the solution of the problems of our world.” (MLK)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words from the early 1960s, remind us that this journey we have been on as Americans, has been a struggle with love and hate, (& if we are honest, since its inception, really.) “Modern psychology recognizes what Jesus taught centuries ago: hate divides the personality and love in an amazing and inexorable way unites it.” (MLK) Love is the key to our survival.

We can go back to the days of Jesus, there was as much hate as we have now, a people under Roman occupation who often saw their own King and religious leadership as enemies of the people. And in the midst of such conflict, Jesus gives to all those listening in the crowd on that mount quite a command - “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies...”

Love them, Jesus said. Love is central to our lives. Sadly too often we settle for a soft “love the sinner, hate the sin” which really ends up with us hating both the sinner and sin by the end.

But Jesus goes much further than we want. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” Now love is Agape, the word in Greek, and its meaning is different than how we usually use the word love.

“An overflowing love which seeks nothing in return, agape is the love of God operating in the human heart. At this level, we love others not because we like them, nor because their ways appeal to us, nor even because they possess some type of divine spark; we love others because God loves them… when Jesus bids us to love our enemies; he is speaking of agape, understanding and creative, redemptive goodwill for all. Only by following this way and responding with this type of love are we able to be children of our Father who is in heaven.” (MLK)

And loving others, even our enemy is what we are called to do by Jesus if we want to call ourselves Christian and live out that baptismal faith we have been baptized into. But more than that, we do this because of God’s love. “God’s love for you is not ultimately because of you. God’s love for you is because of God. God loves whom God creates.” (SSJE) And God has created everyone. So we are called to offer such love. Why?

“Because that love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity. By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; by its very nature, love creates and builds up. Love transforms with redemptive power.” (MLK)

On this President’s Day weekend it is fitting for us to remember the 16th president who put such reconciling love into action. (I am using MLK’s retelling of this story)

Abraham Lincoln tried love and left for all history a magnificent drama of reconciliation.

When he was campaigning for the presidency one of his arch-enemies was a man named Edwin Stanton. For some reason Stanton hated Lincoln. He used every ounce of his energy to degrade him in the eyes of the public. So deep rooted was Stanton’s hate for Lincoln that he uttered unkind words about his physical appearance, and sought to embarrass him at every point with the bitterest diatribes. But in spite of this Lincoln was elected President of the United States. Then came the period when he had to select his cabinet, which would consist of the persons who would be his most intimate associates in implementing his program. He started choosing men here and there for the various secretaryships.

The day finally came for Lincoln to select a man to fill the all-important post of Secretary of War. Can you imagine whom Lincoln chose to fill this post? None other than the man named Stanton. There was an immediate uproar in the inner circle when the news began to spread. Adviser after adviser was heard saying, “Mr. President, you are making a mistake. Do you know this man Stanton? Are you familiar with all of the ugly things he said about you? He is your enemy. He will seek to sabotage your program. Have you thought this through, Mr. President?” Mr. Lincoln’s answer was terse and to the point: “Yes, I know Mr. Stanton. I am aware of all the terrible things he has said about me. But after looking over the nation, I find he is the best man for the job.” So Stanton became Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of War and rendered an invaluable service to his nation and his President those 4 years… [After Lincoln’s assassination] Standing near the dead body of the man he once hated, Stanton referred to him as one of the greatest men that ever lived and said “he now belongs to the ages.” If Lincoln had hated Stanton both men would have gone to their graves as bitter enemies. But through the power of love Lincoln transformed an enemy into a friend. It was this same attitude that made it possible for Lincoln to speak a kind word about the South during the Civil War when feeling was most bitter. Asked by a shocked bystander how he could do this, Lincoln said, “Madam, do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” This is the power of redemptive love.

We must hasten to say that these are not the ultimate reasons why we should love our enemies. An even more basic reason why we are commanded to love is expressed explicitly in Jesus’ words, “Love your enemies... that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven.” We are called to this difficult task in order to realize a unique relationship with God. We are potential sons & daughters of God. Through love that potentiality becomes actuality. We must love our enemies, because only by loving them can we know God and experience the beauty of his holiness.” (MLK)

Jesus ends his Sermon on the Mount with “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." – such instruction is not about perfection as in making no mistakes, but in wholeness – to be perfect is to serve God wholeheartedly, to love God who created us with every fiber of our being, to love our neighbors as ourselves and to love our enemies too. To be wholly human is to stand reconciled before God in love but that doesn’t mean his words aren’t hard. That’s why we pray… “Lead them and us from prejudice to truth: deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you…” Love and pray.

“I am certain that Jesus understood the difficulty inherent in the act of loving one’s enemy. He never joined the ranks of those who talk glibly about the easiness of the moral life. He realized that every genuine expression of love grows out of a consistent and total surrender to God. So when Jesus said “Love your enemy,” he was not unmindful of its stringent qualities. Yet he meant every word of it. Our responsibility as Christians is to discover the meaning of this command and seek passionately to live it out in our daily lives.” (MLK)

Let us discover the meaning of his command to love our enemies and seek passionately to live such love in our daily lives. Amen.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Clergy Letter Project

The Clergy Letter - from American Christian Clergy

Within the community of Christian believers there are areas of dispute and disagreement, including the proper way to interpret Holy Scripture. While virtually all Christians take the Bible seriously and hold it to be authoritative in matters of faith and practice, the overwhelming majority do not read the Bible literally, as they would a science textbook. Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible – the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark – convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation. Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.

We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth. 

I signed on to the letter some time ago and believe we should be interacting with science. My sermon on February 12 was an attempt to engage with this topic & climate change.

To learn more, read this article: Evolution Weekend: Now More Than Ever!


February 12 Sermon - Choose Life (Climate Change)

Bountiful Creator, you open your hand to satisfy the needs of every living creature: Make us always thankful for your loving providence, and grant that we, remembering the account we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of your abundance, for the benefit of the whole creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom all things were made, and who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life! – Moses declared to the Israelites.

Choose life. The Israelites were preparing for their life in the promised land. The days of wandering were nearly behind them. Their slavery in Egypt a distant memory. But before the good days could begin, before they enter the land, Moses offers them some final words.

Not an inauguration speech like we have been hearing from Jesus these past few weeks with the Sermon on the Mount, but a last sermon from their leader, Moses, who wants them to renew their faith and loyalty to God, to choose that path that will lead to life.

Moses said, “I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord… then you shall live and become numerous…But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray… you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.”

Life and prosperity if they follow the faith; death and adversity if they are led astray. Moses is giving them a stark choice, to choose life.

I think we are being called to choose life as we look at our planet and the effects of climate change.

There was a news story this week I saw in the Washington Post that reported that “temperatures are far warmer in the arctic than ever observed in modern records, and sea ice extent keeps setting record lows…” In Antarctica, there is a large ice shelf that has cracked and is expected to break off. These are worrying signs.

Here in the US we have made Climate Change into a partisan fight. In many parts of our world, there is no fight. It is an acknowledgment of what is going on in the environment and they are beginning to think of ways we can change the direction we are headed.

The Bishop of Swaziland (next to SA and Mozambique) is inviting Anglicans to take part in a “carbon fast” during Lent – to examine their daily actions and reflect on how they impact the environment: “We are of the earth, we are dust, if the earth birthed us so let us look after her, and reduce our carbon foot print to ensure continued life” he said. This is similar to what the moderator of the Church of South India said.

“A carbon fast is a challenge to us to look at our daily actions, to reflect on how they impact on the environment. It challenges us to take some small steps – some of which will reduce our carbon dioxide output while others will help the environment – for a more sustainable world. In the process we may come to rediscover a different relationship with God, with His Creation and with one another” he said.

“In India, we are aware of climate change because of our warmer temperatures, swings between floods and droughts, and rising sea levels,” he wrote. “Warmer temperatures and rising sea levels are undesirable because they will have negative impacts on agriculture, fishing, community developments, plants and animals that are important to our ecosystems and the protection of our coastline.”

We all are experiencing climate change. There have been Anglican voices from Pacific islanders sharing their vivid stories of the climate change realities with which their communities are living, some of the most drastic effects of climate change are seen among those communities that live so close to the rising sea level.

That we are not concerned about all of this is shocking to me. We only have one planet. That Christians don’t see care for creation as our responsibility is sinful.

In the words of Pope Francis from his encyclical: “Earth now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters… "We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.""

Likewise the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of the Greek Orthodox Church puts it this way: "If human beings were to treat one another’s personal property the way they treat the natural environment, we would view that behavior as anti-social and illegal. We would expect legal sanctions and even compensation. When will we learn that to commit a crime against the natural world is also a sin?... The way we respond to the natural environment is directly reflects the way we treat human beings. The willingness to exploit the environment is revealed in the willingness to permit avoidable human suffering. So the survival of the natural environment is also the survival of ourselves. When we will understand that a crime against nature is a crime against ourselves and sin against God?"

We are being called into an ethic of life that goes beyond just how we relate to one another, but how we live with the planet, being faithful stewards of God’s abundance, for the benefit of the whole creation.

We are being called to choose life & not settle for the path of material things, wealth, and power that ultimately will not provide for us. We are being called to be faithful Christians to follow the path that will lead to life for us and all of God’s creation.

"It must be said that some committed and prayerful Christians, with the excuse of realism and pragmatism, tend to ridicule expressions of concern for the environment. Others are passive; they choose not to change their habits and thus become inconsistent. So what they all need is an “ecological conversion”, whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them. Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience." –Pope Francis

Let our voices be heard as protectors of God’s handiwork. Let us choose life. Amen.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Loving Your Enemies

Delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, on 17 November 1957 by Rev. Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr.

Read it or listen to it here.