Sermon on the Baptism of Jesus. January 12, 2020

And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Mark 3:16-17

Baptism is perhaps our oldest Christian ritual. In our various traditions, it is performed by aspersion, affusion or immersion… other words, an individual is baptized with water by sprinkling, pouring or dunking. In the Episcopal catechism, we read “Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ’s Body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God.” Through Holy Baptism we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection. This Sacrament, along with Holy Communion are at the heart of our Christian faith and practice.

As evidenced by our Gospel text for today the religious practice of baptism preceded the development of the Christian Church. In Jewish tradition ritual baths were common and the mikvah was practiced by men weekly and monthly by women. However, the baptism that was being performed by John the Baptist in the Jordan River was not your typical cleansing ritual. We read that folks were coming to John for the “baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” John, the last great prophet was preparing the way for the coming Messiah and getting the people ready for the Kingdom of God, which the Chosen One would bring about. John admonished the people to turn away from their sinful lives and as a sign of their commitment to a new life to be baptized in water.

When Jesus comes to John asking to receive baptism John is reluctant. He apparently recognized Jesus as God’s chosen one and insists that Jesus should be the one baptizing him. Jesus however tells John that this baptism is proper for Jesus to fulfill all righteousness.

For centuries Christians have pondered why it was necessary for the sinless one of God to be baptized if the rite was an expression of repentance and done for the remission of sins. Jesus’ simple explanation that it was the righteous thing to do at the time doesn’t really clear this up. Some theologians suggest that in submitting himself to baptism Jesus was identifying himself with sinners… a prefiguring of his sacrifice on the Cross for the sins of all humanity. Others have suggested that it was  an example for those who would follow him. In his own baptism, he established the way for all who would become his disciples. His last comments before his ascension in the Gospel of Matthew hints at this as he told his followers “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,”

Whatever Jesus personal reasons for baptism it is obvious from what followed that his actions pleased God. We read that when Jesus came up from the water the Holy Spirit as a dove descended upon him and a voice from heaven declared “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” This occurrence is celebrated in the Eastern Church as the first appearance of the Holy Trinity…God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

For Jesus, this moment marked the beginning of his public ministry. From his baptism, he will be driven by the Holy Spirit into the desert to confront the devil. I suspect that having the assurance of his Father’s approval was a source of strength in the spiritual ordeal he experienced in his temptation.

When I was in seminary my liturgy professor, Dr. Louis Weil asked us “What do the sacraments do?” and if we do not think they do anything what is the point of performing them…..are they sacred and powerful events in the life of a believer or merely empty gestures continued out of tradition having form but no function? I confess that I believe that the Sacraments actually do have power…that something profoundly person changing happens during the experience. These ancient and sacred rituals are a means of grace and a conduit for the Holy Spirit.

I was baptized as an adult at an Easter Vigil service at St. Andrew’s on April 12, 1998. I can still recall the feel of the holy water poured on my head….the scent of the oil with which I was anointed and the voice of Bishop Robert Miller declaring me to be sealed and marked as Christ’s own forever. Out of the deep shadow of my former life, I stepped into the light of Christ and felt myself changed in some very real way.

In our baptism, each new Christian follows in the path of our Lord. We are buried with him under the sacred water and rise to a new life….as new creatures….forgiven…reborn by the Holy Spirit in the image of the Christ we serve. If we allow it this baptism is not only in the moment but continues throughout our life as we are being continually remade into the likeness of Christ.

In our baptismal covenant we enter into a sacred relationship with God through Christ Jesus. We promise to continue in the Apostle’s teaching, that we will persist in resisting evil, that we will proclaim the Gospel message in our words and our actions and we commit ourselves to seeking and serving Christ in all persons. These promises are not to be taken lightly. They are life-changing…. They are world-changing. If all Christians truly lived by these tenants we would see the effect in the world. The presence of Christ in our lives would be evident and the Kingdom of God would become present not just to us but to everyone we encounter. These vows are not just words we say but are the blueprint for the Christian life.

In his own baptism our Lord Jesus Christ gave us an example of humble obedience. He himself did not need to repent but in the ritual cleansing he laid down a path for us to follow and made sacred the beginning of His earthly ministry which would come to its fruition in his death and resurrection. At the same time, God announced his approval of his chosen and gave evidence of the power of God working in and through the man Jesus.

When we live into our own baptism we too receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and the approval of God who through Christ will be with us. We too are called to earthly ministry and this sacred rite of passage marks the beginning of our new life in Christ.

Today, as we each renew the vows we made at our baptism let us recommit ourselves to living into those sacred promises. Let us repent of our own failure to follow in the way of love and rededicate ourselves to becoming Christ to the world. We have been given a sacred calling…all of us members of the priesthood of believers…..the disciples of Christ. Let us not be afraid to proclaim the Gospel message of love in our words and our actions and may the Holy Spirit pouring down upon us from God the Father give us the grace and the strength to be the lights of Christ in our generation.

Sermon – All Saint’s Sunday – November 3, 2019

Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.  1 John 3:2

The days surrounding the observance of All Saints often seem to be charged with expectation and more than a little sorrow.  In these days the collective mind of the Church is turned toward both our loved ones who have died and our fervent hope for their continued presence in eternity.  While I think most of us draw comfort from our Christian belief in some type of eternal life after death we cannot help but wonder if all of this can really be true.  Humans, as thinking creatures cannot help but question and it is frustrating when there are things that it is impossible to know.

The big unanswerable questions of existence….why are we here?  Does God exist? What happens after we die? These are the questions that cannot be answered by our science or by our senses.  Many of us turn then to faith trusting in the traditions and the eternal wisdom handed down to us from generations of believers who pondered the same mysteries. In this life, we cannot know if what we believe is true but then that is, of course, the nature of faith,

The writer of the Letter of John reminds us that whatever happens, we are God’s children and that we are all in the process of being perfected.  He tells us that what we will become has yet to be revealed but that when we do stand in the nearer Presence of God it will all become clear. We shall then see God and ourselves as we truly are and as we were always meant to be.

In John’s Revelation, he envisions heaven shining with the glory of God.  The Lamb who is Christ is at the center of the throne of God and before him are all of the hosts of heavens.  Robed in white all those who have been faithful even to death from every nation and tribe on earth worship God on his throne.  Those who have found special favor with God are now held safe for eternity, cherished and protected free from strife and sorrow.  This is the eternal hope of all Christians…to be joined with those we love in an eternal celebration of worship before God.

Apocalyptic literature like the Revelation to John was written with the intention of providing a vision of hope for people of faith who were suffering persecution.  The writer reminded his readers that while life was currently a struggle rife with pain and sorrow, God’s ultimate plan for his children was one of hope and restoration.  Eventually, everything would be made right…justice would be done and those who had held firm and remained faithful would receive their reward. God is always faithful and would give his children power through the Holy Spirit to be faithful as well.

As we have become more sophisticated and cynical I think these images of a glorious eternity do not provide the same comfort that they once did.  While the ancient metaphors point to a possibility much more wonderful than we can imagine our need for immediate gratification makes any future good less desirable.   Many people, even those who profess Christianity live their lives as if this present is all there is. We fail to see the infinite preciousness of life because we view everything as disposable…even humanity as disposable…at least some of it.  We have begun to view even our relationships as commodities to be bought and sold…traded for shiny new trinkets that distract us from the real work of loving one another.

One of the blessings of having a view of eternity is that we realize that all of us are connected both here and beyond.  There is a continuity between this life and the next just as there is a continuity of love that runs between and within all of God’s creatures.  This continuity holds true even with those who we love can be seen no longer, who have preceded us in death. We continue to hold precious the memories of those who have gone before, remembering the witness of their faith and the lessons they taught us.  The story of our faith is carried in the lives of its saints both the living and the dead.

All this week I have been receiving the names of the dead to be remembered in our All Saints Sunday service.  They have drifted in written on bits of paper, in text messages…in emails and in phone messages. The names of those dear ones called forth from memory and attached to each the stories of faith and love that have caused them to be remembered.  Every name is a relationship and every relationship is a story. It is these stories that create our shared history…the narrative of our communal life.

As most of you know I was raised in Kentucky in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains.  One thing about Appalachian folks is that we carry our dead with us. Whenever we gather as a family it is the tradition to recount the events of our lives as a story.  In a very short period of time, it becomes impossible to determine which of the people in the stories is alive and which are dead. The narratives weave together seamlessly…stories of the present and the past overlap.  When I was a child I had heard the stories of my grandmother’s own childhood so often they seemed like my own memories rather than the recollections of an old woman.

I have come to realize that even before I became an Episcopalian or heard the term Communion of Saints I had experienced a very familial version of it.  In that blessed Communion, we are all gathered together in the one fellowship those who have gone before, those who are here and those who are yet to be. This fellowship is a foretaste of that heavenly gathering when there will be no separation but all of our relationships will be restored.  This is part of our eternal hope in Christ Jesus. Death cannot divide us forever for love is stronger than death.

The truth is that we are finite creatures. We are here for a time and then we die.  It is our faith that tells us that this is not the end. If we believe that what our Lord Jesus told us is true then we can take comfort in knowing that he has gone ahead and made a place for all of us, so that where he is we too may be.  Knowing this…believing this does not necessarily mean that we will not fear death when it is our own time to go. But it does mean that we can approach the unknown comforted with the awareness that we are loved by God and will not be left to face the dark alone.

Whatever happens next…whatever we find in that unknown country beyond death we will be held in the love of God along with all of those we love and have lost.

Sermon – September 15, 2019

Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.  Luke 15:10

Is anyone ever truly lost?  I know at times it might very well feel so.  When one’s life is complicated by the consequences of a series of poor decisions, it can often seem as if there is no way back.  To be honest, our society doesn’t make it easy for folks to start over…or even to change course from a previously chosen path. While I firmly believe that God forgives us for any sin of which repent, society has a long and harsh memory.  Now with the internet and social networking that collective memory has gotten longer. Nothing on the internet goes away….not a bad photograph, a word spoken hastily in anger, a miscalculated action that results in an embarrassing failure.  All of it is enshrined in binary code accessible by anyone who knows how to operate a search engine.

As troubling as our societal appetite for drama is our concern for today is not those relatively benign actions that cause us embarrassment but rather the soul damaging tendency to sin.  The Apostle Paul has declared that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The Psalmist has bemoaned that fact that there is “none who does good….no not one.” Is it then true that we are all sinful messes unable to do those good things we know God has asked us to do?  There is a long line of theological thought that would support this idea. In fact, the doctrine of Original sin states it outright….that humanity is born into sin, and it is only the mercy of God that stands between us and eternal damnation.

While this was exactly the theology in which my first understanding of Christianity was formed, I have always had difficulty accepting that humanity is this pitiful depraved bunch of sinners unworthy of the love that God so graciously gives us.  In my understanding, this directly contradicts the holy text which tells us that we were created good. The Genesis accounts reveal a God who looked upon his creation, which included us and saw it to be “very good.”

Ah, but what about the Fall…ah yes, the original sin of Eve and by association Adam.  Literal interpretation aside if the temptation story teaches us anything it is that humanity does have a tendency to be disobedient, but at the same time I believe we also have a desire to please God.  All beings seek approval from those they love.

So, what makes one person fall into a life of sin and disobedience, and another follow the path of righteousness seeking to please God in all things?  Of course, there are many factors that contribute to our behavior… upbringing, opportunity, the ability to think for oneself, social indoctrination, fear of consequence.  Each of us is shaped by the events that happen to us….for better or for worse.

If you want to create a torturer, you torture a child, and when they are big enough, you give them someone else to abuse.  The same is true for those raised with love and mercy…in many cases they too become loving and merciful. But there are exceptions….what about the exceptions?  Those who rise above every circumstance to become saints of distinction and those who seem to have everything going for them…the best of parents and every available resource to become good people and yet choose to follow after the evil one.

We can never make assumptions about the potential for transformation.  Humans are incredibly resilient creatures and can overcome many things…. sometimes.  While we can see patterns, there are no universals. Each of us must walk his or her own way making decisions as best we can, given the situations in which we find ourselves.  If I have learned anything in this life, it is that nothing is certain.

So, what is the point of this rambling discussion…it is only this.  Nothing is set in stone, and no one is outside of the reach of the grace of God.  Jesus uses the parable of the good shepherd to remind his followers that no matter how far they stray from the path of righteousness….no matter how sinful they become… God is always searching for them…wandering through the wilderness to meet them wherever they are when they finally realize their need for love and turn back.  Even if in turning, they find themselves caught in the brambles and unable to find their way out, God will seek them and bring them home… safely to the fold once more. There are no sins that cannot be forgiven…. There are no mistakes so great that God will turn away forever.

But what about those who do not realize that they need to repent….or those who are content to follow the path of darkness?  To be honest, I am still unsure about these. I believe that God loves us all unconditionally. At the same time, I know that God is both merciful and just.  Where is the justice if there is no accountability for the evil one does in this life? I also believe that God has given us free will, which means the will to refuse God.  Does that then mean that God will punish those who disobey or turn away? Holy scripture seems to tell us that this is indeed the case. And yet Jesus did say that he came to the world not to condemn it but to save it…that the sacrifice of the Cross was for all people once for all time.  Yet, we do have agency….we get to decide.

In The Great Divorce, his allegory of heaven and hell, C.S. Lewis suggests that those who are in Hell are there because they were unable or unwilling to choose heaven.  But even in eternity, God continues to offer them the option to change their status. Perhaps that is part of the hope of eternity…that life and development do not end at death but that there is still the possibility of God’s grace effecting change even in eternity….that no one is really lost because God continues to offer the opportunity to repent and be welcomed into God’s love until the last one has overcome his or her past and found renewal and resurrection.

The truth is no one really knows what comes next or how God’s transforming love operates in eternity.  All we really have is the certainty of the moment in which we now find ourselves. So the question becomes….what are we to do with this time we are given?

Last week in the lesson from Deuteronomy, the Lord said…I have set before you life and death…choose life.  God always gives us a choice…to follow him into life or to follow the evil one into death. God does not force us to live a holy life and will love us even if we choose not to…but there are always consequences both here and in eternity.  God’s desire for us is to be for one another what he is is to us…loving and kind…merciful and compassionate. In this life, we are the agents of God’s grace…the heralds of the Gospel. In our baptism, we have been raised as new creatures, and in the power of Christ’s love, we become both sheep and shepherd to one another.  We are the ones who go out into the wilderness to carry our broken and lost brothers and sisters home. And at times we are also that lost sheep in need of rescuing. This is the wonder and the mystery of our life in Christ.

I do not know what the future holds, and I cannot say how God will move and act in your life any more than I can predict that for myself.  But I trust that God is indeed moving and acting in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit. I trust that God has a purpose for my life and yours and that purpose extends into eternity.  While I cannot understand many things about God or even human behavior, I do believe that we are loved and that no matter what God is with us…rejoicing in our repentance and loving us into the good and beautiful beings he created us to be.

Sermon – August 18, 2019

Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! Luke 12:51

Why can’t everyone just get along? That would be nice but, unfortunately, getting along doesn’t seem to be in the nature of people. We disagree and even fight over opinions and ideas as well as power, place and stuff. When we want to view it in a positive light we call it competition and convince ourselves that it brings out the best in us. At its worst our divisions lead us to armed conflict and gives people motivation to do cruel and horrible things to one another. There are those who do long for peace and seek to find the path to unity. But while some societies may praise the peaceful visionary if we take the broad view human history is a long and bloody tale of human conflict.

When Jesus told his followers that he had not come to bring peace but rather division he was not advocating for conflict. He was predicting the inevitable effects of his message and the religious movements it would inspire. Christians have been in conflict about pretty much all aspects of the faith from the very beginning. Whether it was heated arguments over the nature of Jesus himself and his relationship with the Father or disagreements on how Jesus’ Gospel message was to be manifested in one’s day to day life we have never been able to agree…not on theology or praxis.

Some of the most violent actions of Christians against others have arisen from misguided attempts to evangelize…although this seems too civilized a term for forced conversions and the slaughter of those who worshipped in a different way or had a different understanding of God.

Even now when most of us would be horrified at the idea of using violence as a means to spread the faith we still damage one another with our words and the power of social media to cause chaos and to destroy reputations and lives is becoming more evident every day. Religion can be an effective means to control people of faith and many who seek power become very adept at using it to divide and to unify, depending on the situation. People of faith have historically been easily manipulated and all of us must be careful that we do not follow after leaders who tell us what we want to hear and then use our religious passions to control us.

Jesus knew that his message of love…of a personal relationship with God that did not require the actions of a mediating religious leader would be controversial. He advocated a way of life that set the believer apart from the larger society. His was a path of love and forgiveness. Those first followers were encouraged to give up their possessions and their ambitions…to seek to serve one another…to love unconditionally… even loving their enemies and seeking reconciliation wherever it was needed. The Kingdom that Jesus envisioned had no place for power for greed. Everyone was welcome without regard for nationality, ethnicity, social status, intelligence, ability or any of the various factors we use as rationalization for treating some as better than others. There are no borders to protect for the gate to the kingdom is always open.

Despite the simplicity of Jesus message he knew that there would be those who would distort the truth and use what was intended to create peace and unity as a means to divide and control. As with any new idea there would be those who could not give up the old ways or would attempt to bring their old attitudes and ideas into the new kingdom. Families would be divided as some believed and followed and others did not. Jesus’ radical Gospel of sacrificial love would set neighbor agains neighbor and even nation against nation.

In the first days of the Church when there were those still living who had known Jesus personally and the believers were anticipating Jesus immediate return the message of the Gospel seemed very clear. The faithful were willing to die in service to Christ and for the sake of this Gospel. They went to their deaths singing hymns and declaring forgiveness for their murderers. The people were hungry for doctrine and were alight with a spiritual fire. They gave up their jobs, their resources, their social status and even risked their very lives to follow the way of Jesus.

As time passed and it was evident that Jesus was not coming back soon it became more difficult to maintain that unadulterated faith. The values of the surrounding society began to creep in and when it finally became legal to practice the Christian faith the government coopted the Church as a means to control the people and Christianity became the status quo. What had begun as a means to intimate relationship with God became just another social system of rules and regulations for behavior and a means to determine who among the people is worthy of notice and who is not. The Church began to be too much in the world and Jesus’ message of love was distorted and even lost.

Of course the leaders and people gave lip service to the idea of loving one’s neighbor but added qualifiers to validate excluding some folks and even mistreating others.

As with the development of any movement there have been periods throughout history where spirit-filled people attempted to revive the original message…to lead the Church back to the Gospel. With each movement of reform come conflict and divisions as some begin to see with new ideas and others hold tight to the way things have been. This is the way it has ever been and in all likelihood will continue to be the way things are until our Lord actually does come again.

But we must not lose hope or become complacent in our own faith walk. We must at all times strive to see clearly the Gospel message as Jesus gave it to us…a message of love and reconciliation ….of forgiveness and restoration. If we keep our eyes and our minds focused on God and seek the counsel of the Holy Spirit we can overcome the need to be part of the societal groupthink. We can throw off the bondage of the status quo and seek after the things of God rather than the approval of other people.

But we must lose our taste for manufactured drama and the need to meddle in the lives of others trying to make them believe as we do…to act as we do. If we seek to follow in the way of Jesus in our own lives we will become living witnesses to the power of love. Others will see the joy and peace in our lives and will desire it for themselves. This is the best form of evangelism.

Jesus warned his followers that there would be those who would disagree and even persecute them because of their faith. This is a strong possibility, even now but we must not be afraid to speak and to act on the Gospel message of love. The world needs visions of hope in these days of chaos. We must not hide our faith from the world but rather become comfortable telling our own stories of Jesus saving love in our lives. We are all called to bear the good news to others in our actions first and in our words when given the opportunity.

Do not be ashamed of your faith. I know that in this day and age when the term “Christian” seems to be have been co-opted by those who seem very far from the path of Jesus it can be tempting to keep one’s faith a secret. But there are hurting, lost people out there who have been abused and oppressed by those claiming to be Christian and these folks need to see that there are followers of Jesus who love and do not condemn… who are kind and generous without judgment and who, if asked tell them of a Jesus who welcomes all strangers as friends.

Brothers and sisters let us not be afraid to become active members of that “great cloud of witnesses”…the Communion of Saints who are all around us. We have a witness to give…a story to tell…a Gospel message of love and forgiveness to share. Let us speak the truth in love while we live out our faith in love being Christ to the world.

Sermon July 21, 2019

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him, God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. Colossians 1:19-20

In this section of his letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul attempts to clarify the true nature of Jesus and God’s intention in the Incarnation. During those early years, the leaders of the Church were still trying to understand exactly what had occurred in the Christ event…the Passion and Resurrection of the man Jesus. While there was a general acceptance of the dual nature of Jesus…that he was both human and divine…there was conflict over exactly what that meant. The concept of gods disguising themselves as human was common in the Greek and Roman tradition, but this idea of a God who actually became human was quite novel. For the faithful in the Jewish community, a human claiming to be God was blasphemy. Those first followers of Jesus who would become the Church were breaking into new theological territory.

Modern Christians more than two thousand years later affirm their faith in creedal statements often with little thought as to whether or not they actually believe the words they recite. Those of us in the progressive churches have become much more concerned with applied theology…how we live as people of faith. This focus on orthopraxy rather than orthodoxy can lead one to think that belief is less important than behavior. I think that it is our belief that drives our behavior. This may not necessarily be our belief in the Incarnation or the divinity of Jesus but rather a belief that God created humanity for good and that one’s actions can be a part of some higher purpose. For those of us who do believe that the Incarnation is the foundation of God’s redeeming work in the world, the question becomes how does that belief influence our lives, both as individuals and as a community?

The theology of the Incarnation is based on acceptance of a God whose love is so great that the all-powerful, omnipotent, omnipresent being chose to become human…limited by time, by physical weakness and by finite knowledge. In the suffering and death of Jesus, God entered fully into the darkest part of human experience. Setting aside the theology of ransom…that somehow God had to offer his only son to death to appease God’s own honor, more modern theologians focus instead on the love revealed in the Incarnation itself…not the need to reconcile some outdated honor system of a barbaric culture that worshipped a vengeful God.

Finding the means to make the love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ present in the world and in the lives of individuals is the principal commandment of those profess themselves to be followers of Christ. In his new commandment offered to his disciples on the night before his trial and death, our Lord instructed us to “love one another as he loved us”. This is more than loving one’s neighbor as oneself for in his love for humanity God in Jesus Christ poured out his entire self for the sake of the world. He held nothing back and allowed himself to become the sacrifice for a people who did not even realize what was being given to them or why it was necessary.

Living into Jesus’ gospel of love opens us up to engage the world even in its suffering. The boundaries of tribe or nation…of social strata…or class are broken open and all become neighbors. There are no gated communities in the kingdom of God…all are welcome…all are loved. If we are living as God intended us to live we choose not to…in fact, cannot shut out the cries of those in pain. We seek out the weak and the vulnerable…the lost and the forgotten… offering what help we can….what healing we can…and most importantly what love we can. It is not an easy path we are asked to walk…and it may lead us into danger. It will certainly lead us to sorrow. But there is also the joy…and the deep satisfaction that comes from doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do.

But following the gospel path is not only about what one does…. but this is also a path of learning…of seeking wisdom and a deeper knowledge of God. In our Gospel lesson for today, Martha was all about doing….making her guests feel welcome by preparing her home and seeing to the practical tasks. Mary, on the other hand, chose to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to his teaching. She put aside social protocol for the moment and focused on being in the presence of the One whom God had sent.
While Jesus does not condemn Martha for resenting Mary’s decision he makes it clear the Mary had chosen the better way. He tells Martha that what Mary had chosen would not be taken from her.

In our righteous zeal to do godly things, we must not forget to spend time in the presence of God…in prayer and in contemplation…in fellowship with other believers. We are to study the ways of God and to think deeply about the belief that underlies our actions. God does not expect blind faith…asking questions is not sin and doubt is not unbelief.

We are told to try the spirits to be assured that the voices we hear are those of God through the Holy Spirit and not the echoes of our own misconceptions of the misguided counsel of false teachers who would lead us astray. Not everyone who claims to speak for God actually does. There are many false teachers in the world preaching a perverted gospel and twisting the words of holy scripture to validate ungodly attitudes and actions.

When in doubt it is best to defer to love. If the message out of the teacher’s mouth is love and forgiveness…if it lifts up and encourages the community…if it speaks truth to evil powers that oppress and terrorize the vulnerable and the weak…then you can trust that it is of God. We must not be fooled by those who tell us lies that appeal to our sinful nature….lies that some people are more valuable than others…that we should selfishly hoard our blessings because we deserve them more than anyone else… that the poor are poor because God wanted it that way…that being strong is better than being kind….that we must protect ourselves from those others who are different. God is no respecter of persons and neither should we be….all are welcome in God’s world…in God’s kingdom and in God’s house.

So, does it really matter what one believes…about God and about Jesus? To be a good person….of course not….to be a faithful Christian…then yes I think it does. That does not mean that we will all agree on all points of theology or perhaps even in how that theology is applied. But it does mean that we, as people of faith, will continually seek to increase our understanding of God and his redeeming work in Jesus Christ. We are all on a journey of discovery…about ourselves and about God and this glorious creation.

We will never know or understand all knowledge but it is in the very nature of humanity to ask questions…to seek the truth. In the meantime the best we can do is to humbly and faithfully strive for love…in our thoughts and in our actions. The more love we cultivate in our hearts the more we have to share with a world that needs it so desperately. The Gospel message is simple and we are all called to share it in every way we can. So, brothers and sisters …let us seek the Lord and call upon his name and when he replies let us be swift to answer and respond. Let us love one another as Christ loved us and serve only God who is the source of all love..