Sunday October 28 “Under Construction Part Five: A Continual Remodel””

Sunday October 28 "Under Construction Part Five: A Continual Remodel""

The message for Sunday, October 28, 2018  “Under Construction Part Five: A Continual Remodel” by Pastor Erik, was heard at the 10:00 AM service.


“Under Construction:  Continual Remodel”  October 28, 2018  John 8:31-36

A new kind of “neighborhood” is nearing completion in West Omaha, Nebraska—a place where Jews, Muslims, and Christians will share spaces, food, ideas, joy, and pain.  Over ten years ago, a group of Omaha’s religious and lay leaders hatched an idea: Build three brand-new houses of worship—a temple, a mosque, and a church—located close together on the same plot of land; ensure that the design scheme feels border-less, flowing, and inviting of interaction; encourage communication between communities—promoting, among other things, cross-religious education and, understanding; put into place the right leaders to foster these activities; have plentiful parking; coexist; shock the world.

If all goes according to plan, all the elements of the Tri-Faith Initiative should be in place by 2019.  A new building for Temple Israel, a Reform congregation and the oldest in Omaha, was completed in 2013; a new worship space run by the American Muslim Institute, held its opening celebration service in 2017; and a new house of worship for Countryside Community Church broke ground that same summer. There will also be a Tri-Faith “commons” building, still in the planning phase, that will function as a central meeting place.

This project has meant a lot of change and challenges for the three worshipping communities who are coming together.  It has meant a pastor, a rabbi and an imam developing a friendship in order to work closely together. It has meant not only the changes and challenges that come with moving and opening up new buildings, but also those that come with opening up spiritually to those who are different.  As their mission statement says they are: Intentionally co-locating Jewish, Christian, and Muslim houses of worship to promote dialogue, transcend differences, foster acceptance, and build bridges of respect and trust. Because these congregations took this step, their faith has grown and deepened in ways they wouldn’t have expected.

The last few weeks we have been using the image of being under construction to talk about the church and our spiritual lives.  Last Sunday we talked about how when a building is finished people might have an open house. But after a house has been lived in for awhile there is going to be a need for some repair and remodeling.   Things are going to have change sometimes in order to keep it upgraded and in good shape.

This is true for the spiritual house of our hearts as well.  Our faith is not meant to stay static and always the same. It is meant to grow and deepen and sometimes evolve into something different than it was when it started.  Our relationship with God is a living and dynamic interaction that not only comforts and assures us, but also challenges and changes us.  I think this is what Jesus meant when he says in today’s Gospel from Mark that “if you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples.”  Being in God’s word is a continuous process.  It does not stop when you get too old to go to Sunday School.  It does not stop when you finish confirmation.  It does not stop when you graduate from high and go off to college and become an adult.  It does not stop when you retire.  No, Jesus tells us that if we are to be his disciples we need to continue in his word.

And what is his word?  Sometime his word is difficult—calling us to have a change of heart towards our neighbor, towards our enemy, towards the poor and needy and those who are the most vulnerable in our midst.  Sometimes his word is inspiring and encouraging, calling us to take heart, take courage and be of good cheer because God has come near and wants us to have an abundant life. Ultimately his word is one of God’s mercy shown through the cross and hope shown through the resurrection—a message that death and hatred will not have the last word.

Jesus says in the reading from Mark today that if we continue in his word then we will know the truth and truth will set us free. Martin Luther discovered this as he searched for the truth about the salvation of his soul.  The word he was getting from the church at the time was that he had to work his way into heaven.  Yet he felt that no matter how hard he tried he always fell short of what he ought to do.  He was very aware of all of his sins and felt nothing could quite give him peace.  Moreover, he experienced the church of the day using the power of their words to convince people to give of what little money they had to buy indulgences which were documents from the church saying they had paid to get a friend or relative to get out of purgatory and quicker into heaven.

As Martin Luther continued in God’s word and wrestled with what it meant for him, his heart was re-formed and re-shaped by a word of grace that became evident to him. He came to see that we were saved not by the things that we did or didn’t do, not by paying money to the church, or not by being good enough, but rather by a free gift of forgiveness that came through the love of Jesus Christ. This new found truth set him free from the guilt and anxiety and fear that he had been experiencing.  It was a liberating truth that he wanted to share and that is why he worked to re-form the church.

I believe we could use more of this kind of truth that sets us free from fear today.  Especially when what appears to be happening is that a lot of influential voices in our society are twisting the truth in an effort to create more fear in order to advance their political agendas.  We have seen this most recently with the caravan of refugees coming from Central America that has been in the news lately.  While the truth is they are hundreds of miles away and they include women and children who are fleeing violence and poverty, this group of people has been made out to be an invading army ready to pounce across our border at any minute.

Yes, it is true we need to be vigilant and watchful on our borders for people who would intend to do harm, but simply demonizing and dehumanizing a desperate group of poor people seeking asylum by equating them with terrorists and gangs doesn’t really do anything to work towards solutions.  It only stirs up more fear and hatred.

And let us not pretend that this kind of false portrayal does not have real world consequences.  I get frustrated when pundits and politicians, and opinion TV and talk show hosts spew out rhetoric that they know full well is designed to stir up discord and division, anger and fear, then step back and claim no responsibility when people act on their words, as if there was no connection.

This last week I was listening to a radio show where they were discussing different topics in the news and a man called in from a border state who berated the media and said he and his friends were gathering up a militia to protect our country from this caravan of invaders. I have to wonder, “What are they planning to do? Threaten unarmed men and innocent women and children?”

This was the mentality of the shooter who attacked a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania yesterday morning just as worship was beginning.  Eleven members of the congregation were killed, two were wounded and four police officers were wounded. The FBI is treating it as a hate crime as the suspect’s Anti-Jewish beliefs were very evident on his social media postings.  The shooter was especially angry at a Jewish advocacy group that helps refugees.  He said the organization, “likes to bring in invaders that kill our people.” Just before the shooting he posted on his social media,  “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered…. I’m going in.”   I have to wonder, who are his “people” who he is defending? The perpetrator seemed to have a false perception that led to a mentality of being under siege stemming from the lie that refugees are all “invaders.”

This is why it is so important to continue to discern what is Jesus’ word to us, over and against all the other competing voices that could lead us down a path of lies and destructive behavior.  But Jesus’ word isn’t always easy to hear amidst the sounds that clamor for our attention.  It is difficult to hear his call to love our neighbor as ourselves when instead we tend to fear our neighbor or think of them as the enemy.  But perhaps it begins with taking the risk of getting to know someone who may be different from ourselves.

What if instead of jumping to his own fearful conclusions, the perpetrator yesterday had taken some time to actually get to know the truth about the people in the synagogue?  What if he had taken a moment to look into their eyes, to listen to their joys and concerns to recognize their common humanity?  What if he had actually sat down with refugees to hear their story of why they had come to America?  What was it they were fleeing? How much they missed their home?  Would that have made a difference?

There are three religious leaders in America’s Heartland who would say that taking the time to get to know someone and develop a relationship can make a difference.  Pastor Jim Powell in Peoria, Illinois, and two other spiritual leaders, Rabbi Daniel Bogard and Imam Kamil Mufti, forged a friendship and, through it, led their individual congregations across the difference divide, and brought their community together as a whole. It has become a parable about bridging the gap between every difference that threatens to divide us such as: race, politics, gender, education, and economics. Their story has become a documentary film called, “No Joke” with the sub-title “When People Like Each other the Rules Change.”  It has also become a kind of movement as they have tried to teach others about developing interfaith or cross-cultural relationships.  The training is based on three practices which people pledge to try and put into action.

The practices are:

1) I will be unusually interested in others;

2) I will stay in the room with difference;

3) I will stop comparing my best with your worst.

These Three Practices are a methodology that helps people empathize with someone who is different from themselves without capitulating their own beliefs.  To me these practices are an example of something we can do to continue in the word of Jesus.  To me they represent actions which might lead to a change of heart which could help prevent the prejudice and violence that can come from fear and hate.

I share this with you because as I was confronted with another attack on a house of worship just before we gather together in our house of worship this morning I think we need to hear stories like the tri-faith initiative in Omaha and the religious leaders in Peoria to remind us that people can come together despite their differences.  We need signs of hope that people can seek understanding instead of responding with fear and people can look to love instead of defaulting to hate.  We need to remember to keep on continuing in the word of Jesus who tells us to “Take heart!  Take Courage!  Be not afraid, for I am with you.”