Sunday, September 12, 2010

Love WHO?

Matthew 5:43-48
43 "You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

The Holy Qur’an Chapter 49 Verse 11 & 13
11. O YOU who have attained faith! No men shall deride [other] men: it may well be that those [whom they deride] are better that themselves; and no women [shall deride other] women: it may well be that those [whom they deride] are better than themselves. And neither shall you defame one another, nor insult one another by [opprobrious] epithets; evil is all imputation of iniquity after [one has to] faith; and they who [become guilty thereof and] do not repent - it is they, they who are evildoers!
13. O mankind! We created You from a single (pair) Of a male and a female, And made you into Nations and tribes, that You may know each other (Not that you may despise Each other.) Verily, The most honoured of you In the sight of Allah Is (he who is) the most Righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge And is well-acquainted (with all things).

At the grocery market the other day I heard one employee say to another, “I’ll NEVER go to New Jersey. Those people are all crazy!” The other was defending the people of New Jersey because she has relatives there who aren’t crazy. Turns out the one had watched Jersey Shore and thought the folks on that “reality” show are typical. NOT!

But that’s how we look at all kinds of groups, right? We are quick to assume that the most visible and audible are typical of the whole group. All Muslims are terrorists. All Christians are against equal rites. We know this isn’t true. This weekend in particular we will focus on the words of the song the choir just sang,
In peace may all earth’s people draw together, and hearts united learn to live as one.
O hear my prayer, o God of all the nations. Myself I give thee, let thy will be done.

It has been an emotional week. On the early show Wednesday morning anchorman Harry Smith interviewed Pastor Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach Center. After listening to Pastor Jones speaking about Islam as the enemy who must be kept from succeeding at world domination he asked whether the plan to burn 100 Korans on 9/11 was in keeping with Jesus’ instructions to love your enemies. He had to ask twice, even naming the two gospels the commandment is found in, before Pastor Jones would admit that, no, this is not a loving action and it did not obey Jesus’ direction.

Just the threat of burning Korans led to international furor. There were anti-American demonstrations in Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran – pretty much all countries with significant Islamic populations. The State Department issued travel warnings. Everyone from the Pope to the President, the leaders of the National Evangelical Association and the National Council of Churches, even General Petraeus begged him to cancel the event. He said he would only change his mind if he got a sign from God. And apparently he did. There’s a bit of a mystery around what really changed his mind, whether it was the conversation with the State Department or with a local Imam. The important thing is that he did change his mind and no books were burned in Gainesville.

Over and over again the Gospel words that were quoted to him in an effort to change his mind were these words from Matthew. Even though it is not true that all of Islam is the enemy, that is what this pastor and so many other people believe, so these were the words chosen by Christians and Muslims alike that seemed most likely to change his mind.

Whether they did or not and despite the fact that he didn’t burn any books, a lot of good actually came out of his threat. All over the country interfaith groups made plans to come together to pray for peace and read from the Qur’an and the Bible. Many Christian preachers, like me, chose a verse or two from the Qur’an to share with our congregations, words that sound a lot like the words we are accustomed to hearing. Most of us, again like me, had to turn to a Muslim friend for help in finding appropriate verses because we simply aren’t familiar enough with their Holy Book to choose well. I turned to Sherrel Johnson, who works for the Center for American Islamic Relations in Los Angeles and serves with me on Chapman University’s Interfaith Center Advisory Council. She responded to my request with a lovely long letter that tells Christians things she wished we knew about Islam. For those who are interested, that letter is on the Awareness Table and will be one of the things we look at in our 2nd Tuesday supper discussion this week.

I think perhaps my favorite of those verses she suggested I might use is this one, knowing that throughout the Qur’an Jews and Christians are called the People of the Book. It seems to describe the differences in the way we follow our respective religious traditions perfectly.

The Holy Qur’an Chapter 5, Verse 48 “We have given the Book as an inheritance to those of Our servants whom We have chosen. Among them there are some who wrong their own souls, some (who) follow a middle course and some, by God’s leave, (who) excel in good deeds; which is the supreme virtue.”

The danger, of course, in choosing a verse or two to share from the Qur’an is exactly the same as the danger of doing the same thing with the Bible. We all know that the Bible has been used over and over to justify the worst kind of behavior by people who consider themselves to be good Christians. The Bible has been used to justify slavery, the subjugation of women, the denial of equal rights to gay and lesbian couples. The Qur’an has been used in just the same way. Likewise, the enemies of Islam are quick to choose the most inflammatory passages and say “This is what Islam is all about,” just as the enemies of Christianity use selected verses from the Bible.

It has been a war of words this week, a war in which both sides were using the Bible to make their points. In response to being told to love his enemy Pastor Jones likened his actions to Jesus turning over the tables in the temple courtyard – righteous anger against evil. The problem with that comparison is that Jesus’ anger was directed at those who were messing with HIS faith, with the right worship of God and leading followers away from the path of love and forgiveness – NOT against the followers of another religion altogether. In fact, those who are standing against Pastor Jones could much more easily see themselves following the tradition of Jesus in the Temple courtyard.

These words from Matthew are so much more pointed than the commandment to love the neighbor. It’s easy to pick and choose who are neighbors are, after all., no matter how many times the example of the Good Samaritan is quoted. But here Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? If you only greet your brothers and sisters what more are you doing than others?” Harsh words! We pointed them at Pastor Jones like a gun. And I stood there with them, saying “Yeah, Pastor Jones. Read this!”

Then I read a quote by Soren Kierkegaard. “When you read God's Word, you must constantly be saying to yourself, ''It is talking to me, and about me.''


It’s easy for me to stand here and say that in my opinion Pastor Jones is as much a terrorist as Timothy McVeigh or Osama Bin Laden. What’s hard for me to do is love him. And yet that’s exactly what I am called to do. Love him as I love myself. Recognize that his sins are forgivable, just as mine and yours are. Recognize that he is a beloved child of God and whether or not I believe him to be misguided, I am required to give him the same respect that I wish to be given.

I have spent the better part of the week angry that a person who called himself Christian would behave in such a hateful manner. This isn’t new, of course. I get angry every time I see Christians using Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the Lord of Love, to justify being hateful. There are times when I think of these as the enemy and feel justified in my anger, just as Jesus was justified in the Temple courtyard. I have to tell you, it stung when Pastor Jones used that same passage to justify his actions. Because I realized that in my enmity for those who use my religion to oppress I was doing exactly the same thing he was. And of course that made me even more angry. But now I was angry less at him than at myself, because now I had to look at my behavior and my lack of love.

We allow our fear of things that are different to keep us from getting to know the stranger. We use skin color, nationality, religious differences and language barriers to keep us apart. We allow our fear of things that are different to fuel our hatred of the other. But Jesus calls us to come together, regardless of our differences. Jesus calls on us to love not just the neighbor, but also the enemy, the stranger. Jesus calls on us to sit as he did and eat with the persons we previously considered to be beneath us. To forgive all others, as God forgives us, because God forgives us. The true enemy is not the other, but that sinfulness dwelling within us causing us to fear and hate that which is different.

Let us Pray, using Paul’s words from 1 Timothy 1:12-17
12 I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, 13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. 16 But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

When we go from this place today let us go remembering that all of us are God’s children. Let us go out remembering that we are all loved by our Creator, who calls upon us to love each other as brothers and sisters, regardless of religion, culture, nation, or race.

hymn Diverse in Culture Nation Race 485

Saturday, September 11, 2010

What Christians should know about Islam

Below is a letter from a Moslem friend who works with the Center for American Islamic Relations in response to my request for suggested readings from the Qur'an. May it be helpful to any who read it. Maria

Dear Maria:

Thank you so much for your warm Ramadan greetings and for your very kind words of support. It deeply touches my soul to know of your trust and respect – I guess I would call that true friendship : - ) We have been blessed with much support from people of many different beliefs – including even atheists! Freedom of worship is what our nation was founded upon, and many are realizing that to tread on one faith’s beliefs is trampling America’s, 1st Amendment rights. We are so very grateful for people like you who are willing to stand for justice for ALL, not just some.

What I would really like our Christian sisters and brothers to know is that:

Islam is not a new religion, but the same truth that God revealed through all His prophets to every people. For a fifth of the world's population, Islam is both a religion and a complete way of life. Muslims follow a religion of peace, mercy, and forgiveness, and the majority have nothing to do with the extremely grave events which have come to be associated with their faith.

I would also want them to know that in order ones self “Muslim” (one who submits to God and the root word for peace), they must believe in the following: Muslims believe in One, Unique, Incomparable God; in the Angels created by Him; in the prophets through whom His revelations were brought to mankind; in the Day of Judgment and individual accountability for actions; in God's complete authority over human destiny and in life after death. Muslims believe in a chain of prophets starting with Adam and including Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses, Aaron, David, Solomon, Elias, Jonah, John the Baptist, and Jesus, peace be upon them all. And that God's final message to mankind, a reconfirmation of the eternal message and a summing-up of all that has gone before was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad through Gabriel.

I would also want them to know that our roots, together with Judaism and Christianity, go back to the prophet and patriarch Abraham, and their three prophets are directly descended from his sons, with Muhammad coming from the elder son Ishmael, and Moses and Jesus from the younger son Isaac. Abraham established the settlement which today is the city of Makkah, and built the Ka’bah toward which all Muslims turn when they pray. Additionally, Many Christians are surprised to know that Muslims love and revere Jesus as one of the major Prophets, and believe that he will return as a sign of the “Day of Judgment”. Muslims also believe in his birth from the Virgin Mary – who has a whole chapter dedicated to her, as well as the Prophet Joseph and others. (Of course Muslims do not believe in the divinity of Jesus – which is our major difference).

For further information about Islam, a very reliable source (which Muslim and those of other faiths use as well) is As you may guess there is a lot of “junk” out there about Islam – so it is good to be sure you refer to reliable sources. One of the most frequent ways that Islamophobes vilify the Qur’an is to take the verses out of context.

Some points of information are: Below are some “meanings of the Holy Qur’an. We only call it the Holy Qur’an when it is written or recited in the original Arabic, as we believe it was reveal by God to the Prophet Muhammad, through the Angel Gabriel. The Qur’an has been explained in almost every language and by many different “translators” of the Arabic meaning. The one who translates from the original Arabic is only as good as his understanding of Arabic, the language to which he is translating and the understanding of the context and religion altogether. Not a simple or easy task. So . . . in order to always be sure that the Qur’an is never altered or change it is only considered such in its original revealed language, Arabic. There are several acknowledged and generally accepted translators of the Qur’an – and none of them is perfect – only the original is considered perfect is it is from God. Of course, non-Arabic speakers rely upon the accepted scholars for study – however, we do learn our formal daily five prayers in Arabic to keep them pure from alteration or corruption. Supplication to God is accepted of course any time and in any language as it is a very personal relationship.

When the Qur’an talks about believers, it is referring to those who believe in the One, Almighty Creator of the Heavens and the Earth. Allah is the Arabic word for God. Arabic speaking Christians and Jews use the word Allah. What I like about this word “Allah” is that it has no gender, nothing can be greater than, or comparable to it, nor higher than it. In the Qur’an, Christians and Jews are referred to as “the people of the Book”, referring to the original revealed scriptures (Torah, Gospel etc.)

OK – so following are some verses from the Qur’an that we used last year in our CAIR program booklet to help those of other faiths know something about what the Qur’an says.

The Holy Qur’an
Chapter 49, Verses 10-13
“10. All believers are but brethren. Hence, [whenever they are at odds,] make peace between your two brethren, and remain conscious of God, so that you might be graced with His mercy.

11. O YOU who have attained faith! No men shall deride [other] men: it may well be that those [whom they deride] are better that themselves; and no women [shall deride other] women: it may well be that those [whom they deride] are better than themselves. And neither shall you defame one another, nor insult one another by [opprobrious] epithets; evil is all imputation of iniquity after [one has to] faith; and they who [become guilty thereof and] do not repent - it is they, they who are evildoers!

12. O Believers! Avoid suspicion as much (as possible): for suspicion in some cases is a sin: and spy not on each other behind their backs. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? No, you would hate it. But fear Allah. Allah is Most Forgiving and Most Merciful.

13. O Mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may recognize each other (and not despise each other). Verily, the most honored among you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).”

The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 5, Verse 48
“We have given the Book as an inheritance to those of Our servants whom We have chosen. Among them there are some who wrong their own souls, some (who) follow a middle course and some, by God’s leave, (who) excel in good deeds; which is the supreme virtue.”

The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 59, Verses 18-19
“God will never change the condition of a people until they change that which is within themselves.”

The Holy Qur’an, Chapter 14, Verses 24-25
"Do you not observe how Allah strikes a similitude between a good word and a good tree, whose roots are firmly grounded and whose branches reach skywards. It provides its benefit throughout all the periods Allah assigned for it. Allah provides such parables so that perchance you may reflect."

# # #
I know that is probably way more that what you wanted, however, I think you can understand that it is difficult to share ones belief in one or two lines. I sincerely hope that I have been helpful to you. Since I am not a scholar, I pray that if I have made any mistakes in conveying this information, that first Allah and then you will forgive me.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or if there is any other way I may be of service.

May God’s peace and blessings be upon you and your family.
With respect and in friendship,


Monday, September 06, 2010

Back from Sabbatical

I have been on Sabbath Leave all summer following the instructions I received from my congregation to engage in rest, restoration and re-energizing. As I keep telling people, I spent most of June sleeping, July dealing with and recovering from a relatively minor surgery, and August preparing for Re-Entry. By the time I returned on September 1st I was SO ready to get back that I showed up in my office at 7 am! Not surprisingly, everything went just fine while I was gone. Three members had shared my workload; one preaching, one doing pastoral care and one taking care of whatever administrative duties the church secretary couldn't handle herself. I did learn that some things simply hadn't happened and now we get to decide whether those things are really necessary.

Walking into the Sanctuary on Sunday morning felt like coming home. Standing in the narthex and looking toward the Table I couldn't help but sigh one of those great big "ahhhhhh good" sighs. Standing in the pulpit to share the prayer concerns and celebrations of my flock, singing the response to the Scripture reading, wandering up the center aisle during the message - it all just felt so right. (My sermon felt a bit disjointed but I really expected that. I knew there was way more I wanted to say than there would be time for.) Standing at the Table, sharing the Feast of Love, holding hands with everyone in the closing circle . . . it all felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. And as if all that wasn't enough, after worship I was showered with hugs and kisses and presented with a huge chocolate cake.

Any doubts I may have had about where I belong or what I should be doing in that burned out daze before my Sabbath Leave began were gone. This feels too right not to be what God called me to do with my life.

Still, some things can be expected to change now that I've had some time to prayerfully consider what brought me to such an exhausted state. I will take two days off each week instead of one. Part of what made me crazy before sabbatical was that except for Sundays I have felt much more like an administrator than a pastor. Once I walked into the office that was it - I was stuck there all day no matter what I had hoped to do with my time. So nowyes""> I will dedicate one day every week to visitation and one to studying/writing. That means only two days a week will be spent in the office. Of course, it is a given that "man proposes, God disposes." My plans will run into obstacles; meetings and conferences will happen on visitation days and days off, and so on. But still, now that I know just how important these things are and will continue to be, it will be a priority to make sure they happen, so that I may better serve God.

It is such a blessing to be back!