The theme for this morning, for the 2nd
Sunday of Advent, is "Peace Sunday". The lectionary text from
the epistles (for this Peace Sunday) comes from Paul's letter to
the Romans, chapter 15, verses 1 through 13:
We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. 3For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’ 4For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. 5May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
‘Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles,
and sing praises to your name’;
10and again he says,
‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people’;
‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples praise him’;
12and again Isaiah says,
‘The root of Jesse shall come,
the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.’
13May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
[Note: All photos shown below
taken by Dan Bryant]
Friday after Thanksgiving, Mohamed Osman
Mohamud dialed a number on his cell phone that was given to him
that he thought would ignite the car bomb at Pioneer Courthouse
Square in Portland. As we all know, it was a fake that had been
provided to him by a sting operation of the FBI.
Many of you know Doug and Cathy Wirt, our regional ministers for
Oregon. What you probably do not know is that their two sons and
their girlfriends were present at the courthouse square for that
annual lighting of the Christmas tree. A few days later when the
media revealed that Mr. Mohamud worshipped at the mosque
occasionally in Corvallis, an arsonist set fire to that mosque.
The next day, the Oregonian carried a picture of John Evans, the
Pastor of our church in Corvallis (First Christian Church), with
his arm around the Imam of that mosque.
And so Advent begins for us this year
with all the drama, the tension, the apprehension so familiar
elsewhere in the world, hitting much closer to home.
On Friday, chief Pete Kerns from the Eugene Police Department,
and John and Debbie Pitney next door from First United Methodist
Church, a representative of the Human Rights Commission, a
member of the Synagogue, and I, went to the noon prayer service
at the mosque here in Eugene. The Imam, a man I had not met
before, very articulate and nice young man, gave a homily in
Arabic and English, reflecting on these events. And telling the
30 or so members of the mosque there that it is their
responsibility as Muslims to help correct the the
misunderstandings of Islam and how it is portrayed so often in
the media. And so the Imam will be speaking tonight at the
Synagogue, Temple Beth Israel, on what he calls "Islam 101". You
are all invited to that.
We were there as leaders in the community and from faith groups
to let them know that they are not alone. And my message to them
was that here in Eugene we stand together as faith communities,
and when one house of worship is attacked, all houses of worship
And my message to you this morning, as strange as it may sound,
is that I believe Jesus is our model for interfaith unity. So
let me explain.
Romans 15 is the conclusive summary of Paul's weightiest
epistle. He comes to the end of this most important letter
written to the church in Rome and in essence says the gospel
boils down to two things.
The first is that the strong have a responsibility to lift up
the weak, as did Jesus. Who took on the insults, Paul says, or
the burdens, of others. Now, as we debate how we're going to fix
the growing federal deficit, it is clear to me from the
perspective of this gospel, as well as just plain common sense,
that those who have benefited most from the good years in our
economy are the ones who must now bear the greatest
responsibility in these lean years. And sadly, that does not
appear to be the prevailing perspective of those directing the
current conversations in Congress.
For the past six years, I've served on
the Board of Directors of United Way of Lane County. Thursday
evening was my final meeting on that Board. Priscilla Gould,
Director of United Way, asked me and the other departing members
to reflect on a the past six years that we've served on the
Board, and what we see as our future challenges. George Russell,
the Superintendent of 4J schools, was the other departing member
who was present at that meeting and he shared his reflections.
Well, I'm a preacher :). And I know a bully pulpit when I see
one. You remember the graphs I used a couple weeks ago to a
reflect on the growing income inequality in this country? Well,
I used those at that United Way Board meeting. I said to them,
as good and as important as the work of United Way is, charity
is not enough. It never will be enough. And if those trends of
that growing wealth inequality are not reversed, we will become
an oligarchy. And that will destroy democracy as we know it in
this country. And our all-important charity work will be more of
a hindrance than it will be a help.
Afterwards, I had two bank presidents come up to me. And I
thought "uh oh" :). The first one with a very stern look on his
face put a finger in my chest and said "You need to stay
involved in our financial stability partnership". I said "Yes
sir, yes sir" :).
The second one said to me: "I have to tell you", (really what it
was is a confession), she said recently when asked what she does
for a living, "I had to lie". She said because of the bad apples
that have given the banking industry such a bad name because of
the ways they haven't abused the system to their own advantage,
when someone asked her, she said she was a "consultant". She
didn't want to be associated with her own business. She said she
finds it unacceptable today that so many CEOs are taking
hundreds of times what the average salary is of their employees.
Well, one of the results of the growing inequality in this
country will be inevitable class warfare. And anyone who knows
their history knows that never ends well.
It's fitting therefore, that Paul ends this selection with an
appeal for unity. Speaking with the strong and weak in mind, and
especially with the responsibility of the strong to the weak,
Paul urges those folks in Rome to live in harmony with one
another. To not be divided by class, and by race, and by gender,
and by nationality, and even, dare I say, by football
allegiances :). Speaking of the strong versus the weak (Ducks
beat the Beavers on the previous day :).
So that's the first half of Paul's
summation of the gospel. Now, the second half is where I want to
Paul says, "welcome one another". But who does Paul have in
mind, that is to be welcomed and and to do the welcoming? The
citations that follow make it clear that Paul is thinking
primarily of Jews and Gentiles. And once again, as in the first
case of the strong and the weak, Paul uses Jesus as our model
for this ministry of welcoming one another, and especially of
welcoming those of different traditions and backgrounds.
Jesus came as a servant of the circumcised, he says (that is,
the Jews), in order to show God's faithfulness and God's
promises to the Jews. And then Paul cites four texts, two from
the Psalms, one from Deuteronomy, and one from Isaiah. In other
words, Paul is citing from the Torah, the Psalms, and the
Prophets -- the three most important sources of Hebrew
Scripture. Each chosen carefully, deliberately, purposefully, to
show that the mission of Jesus was to and for not only Jews, but
also the Gentiles, the nations, all of us.
To understand the full impact of this welcoming of the Gentiles
by the Jews in the context of that world, we need to go to Rome.
To see that world in its original context. Have I ever mentioned
that I'm doing a pilgrimage tour of the world of Paul? Brochures
are available in the back.
I want to take you to the oldest church that I've ever
discovered in the world, in continuous use for 1,900 years
almost. And that's the Pantheon, which of course was not built
as a Christian church, but as a home for the primary Roman Gods.
So that all of the major Gods could be included under one roof.
It was converted to a church 500 years later, and has been in
continuous use as such ever since.
If you want to understand
one of the major reasons why Rome became such a powerful empire
for so long, you need only to picture this building -- not as it
is now, but as it was originally, with those various Gods all
together under and roof.
Built, of course, by the
Roman Emperor, who had, in essence, the one 'ring' to rule them
all (you get my reference to Lord of the Rings there). And who
especially from the time of Augustus onward (and never forget
that Jesus was born under the reign of Augustus), who had
figured out how to incorporate those foreign Gods of the
conquered nations as a means to pacify foreign people. The
ultimate political marriage, if you will -- one nation under
Gods, with liberty and justice for all.
But there was, of course, one God missing from the Pantheon. And
that, of course, was Yahweh.
so the Jews were an anathema to the Roman empire. They never
quite fit in. And for Paul and this new group of believers,
there was a choice: they could side with the Gods of Caesar and
be included in the Pantheon, OR, they could side with the God of
Jesus and remain on the outside. Only Paul now invites all those
other groups, united under the one house of Caesar, to join them
under one house of Jesus. The church, the new Pantheon, where
all those other Gods are replaced with just one -- God the
father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And that vision of replacing an empire united by placing all
national deities under one roof with a new kind of empire
uniting all nations under one God has been enormously
successful. And so we celebrate the global unity of the Church
with names like World Communion Day, and our own Global
Ministries. The great success of the church is precisely that it
has brought together people of all nations.
And yet it has also come up short. Religious division and strife
is as great today as ever, if not greater. And at times those
divisions are literally killing us. And so Catholic theologian
Hans Küng has said, as I've often cited, "There will be no peace
along the world's people without peace among the world
so I propose to you that we see Jesus as the one who unites all
nations as did Paul. The one who welcomes all people, who calls
us to welcome another as did Jesus. We as followers of Jesus
must be the peace we want for the world. The peace God wants for
this world. To truly welcome all peoples, all nations, even all
And in today's context of our multiracial, multinational,
interfaith world, such a ministry of welcoming one another means
accepting each other's faith traditions as valid witnesses to
the truth each has come to know through their scriptures,
through their traditions, through their prophets, through their
story of the divine reality.
And that means as Christians, it is time for us to end the
spiritual warfare that has been too often the way that we have
been known, the way we have been waging against other religious
traditions, seeking to replace all religious beliefs with our
own. For we cannot have peace among the world religions while
seeking to make our religion the only one of the world, and
teaching that our tradition is true and theirs is false.
And that does not mean that we accept all teachings and
traditions as equally valid. But that we accept all traditions
as legitimate witnesses to the truth each has experienced, even
while we continue to proclaim the truth we have experienced and
know in Christ Jesus.
Now, as many of you know, in October next year we will be
celebrating 100 years of worship in this place, in this
building. Doesn't quite compare to the Pantheon :), but it's
something. In Eugene, we are the oldest congregation with
continuous use of the same building. I find it most appropriate
that we will be simultaneously celebrating on October 11th,
2011, the 10th anniversary of the Interface Service of prayer
that is held here every month.
Now, I know our forefathers and foremothers, who sacrificed so
much to build this beautiful building a hundred years ago, could
never have imagined a day when this house of prayer would become
a house of prayer for all people in the way that it has. Where
Hindus, and Buddhists, and Muslims, and Jews, and Baha'i's, and
Native Americans all come together to share together in prayer.
But they have found here a place, as I believe it should be,
where they are welcomed in the name of Jesus.
And when we has Christians can also go
to the mosque, as some of us did this past Friday, and be
welcomed there in the name of Allah, when we can go to the
Synagogue (as some will tonight) and he welcomed there in the
name of Yahweh, when we can go to the Hindu temple and be
welcomed there in the name of Shanti, when we can go to the
Buddhist shrine and be welcomed there in the name of Buddha,
then we will know God's reign of peace on earth as in heaven is
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace and belief,
so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.