Faithful Living

After the Election

John Wesley Bobblehead

Yes, I have one — I have a Pope Francis Bobblehead, too.

I have a good friend who has announced that she is only watching Netflix movies until November 9th – she will no longer watch regular TV for the time being because she simply can’t stand hearing one more political smear commercial. I think most of us are with her in spirit. We were warned that this would be one of the nastiest, most negative political seasons in living memory – and they weren’t kidding! Many pundits have said that we are now as divided as before the Civil War – a warning that ought to get our attention.

There are all kinds of reasons why a person will vote for one candidate or the other. Christians of good faith and conscience do not agree on politics, sometimes simply because they see the world from such very different vantage points and personal experiences. Christians must take care to not let politicians divide us with anger and fear. Every election season, I recall the advice of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, back in 1774:

I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them:

1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy:
2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against: And,
3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.

Good advice even if it is 242 years old!

The fact is that after the election, things will not return to “normal.” In many ways, no matter who wins one office or another, nearly half our friends and relatives will be angry and disappointed and hostile. That’s the moment when our work as followers of Christ kicks in to high gear – to reach out in a spirit of reconciliation, to show that our spirits were not “sharpened against those that voted on the other side,” and focus with relentless energy on sharing the love of Christ.

There are many in our world that will stop at nothing to divide the followers of Christ, to set us against one another instead of working together to build the kingdom. Moravians have a great calling to model loving Christian community in a world that doesn’t see anything remotely like it! I pray that we will work towards that creative, healing goal with the same energy that the world puts into division and destruction!

- Pastor John

An Easter People

Easter, 2011 – “The Lord is Risen!”

 

Moravians in particular are known as the “Easter people.” We celebrate the Resurrection in our unique and meaningful gathering at dawn in the sacred silence of God’s Acre, the silence broken by the music of birds and gathering brass.  But if you are feeling more empty than full this year, if you are feeling used up and beaten down, perhaps that is because the resurrection needs to happen in you as well.  Christian Rossetti (1830-1894) writes in her profound poem “A Better Resurrection:”

 

I have no wit, no words, no tears;

My heart within me like a stone

Is numb’d too much for hopes or fears;

Look right, look left, I dwell alone;

I lift mine eyes, but dimm’d with grief

No everlasting hills I see;

My life is in the falling leaf:

O Jesus, quicken me.

My life is like a faded leaf,

My harvest dwindled to a husk:

Truly my life is void and brief

And tedious in the barren dusk;

My life is like a frozen thing,

No bud nor greenness can I see:

Yet rise it shall—the sap of Spring;

O Jesus, rise in me.

My life is like a broken bowl,

A broken bowl that cannot hold

One drop of water for my soul

Or cordial in the searching cold;

Cast in the fire the perish’d thing;

Melt and remould it, till it be

A royal cup for Him, my King:

O Jesus, drink of me.

 

The resurrection is not just something that happened to Jesus at a specific point in history, and that we now remember.  It is something that happens in us now, today, this moment.   How does this resurrected Jesus change your life today?

 

- Pastor John

unity_600

Today is August 13

Today is August 13, a date that has no special meaning for most people, but has unique importance for Moravians.  This is the anniversary of the renewal of the Moravian Church in Herrnhut, Germany in 1727.  The church, founded in 1457, had been nearly destroyed by the Thirty Years’ War, and the church was outlawed in Bohemia and Moravia.  A small remnant – what Moravian Bishop John Amos Comenius earlier called a “hidden seed” – migrated to the land of a Lutheran noble, Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf.  Zinzendorf, a unique spiritual genius, permitted the “Herrnhuters” remarkable religious liberty for the day, but with the unfortunate (and perhaps predictable) result that religious excess and controversy exploded in the village.

The Count resigned his court position in Dresden to become a noble pastor to the troubled group, visiting and calling the people together for prayerful study of the Scriptures.  During this period, the residents became convicted that their behavior toward one another had been inexcusable – that the Savior called His followers to exhibit love toward one another, to be “one” in His name.  Out of this grew the remarkable document known in German as the “Bruderlisch Vertrag,” the Brotherly Agreement, now known as the Moravian Covenant for Christian Living.  Rather than a doctrinal statement, the Moravians signed a code of Christian behavior.  This was signed on May 12, 1727 by all the residents of Herrnhut.  A few months later, at a special service of Holy Communion held on Wednesday, August 13, they experienced a powerful sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit – and those who had been divided felt truly one in Christ.  This reestablished the ancient call of the Unity – to live out the Great Commandment and the Beatitudes in community in a way that bore witness to the world of the love of God.  “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35, NIV.  This is a call that the Unity has sought to live out for over 557 years, since our founding in 1457.

In a recent online discussion about this, I made the (almost correct) statement that the Moravian Church is the only mainline denomination to have never experienced a schism or split.  I was properly corrected by someone who recalled that in the very early days, a group did split off over the issue of whether or not Brethren should swear oaths.  That group reunited with the Utraquists, a group that eventually died out.  But since that time, for over five centuries, we have worked to preserve Christian unity as a primary virtue and testimony to a religious world that is most often divided and bickering.  That testimony is respected out of all proportion to our tiny size by larger denominations, who often seek to learn from us how to achieve what we do.  Moravians have been pioneers in the ecumenical movement, calling denominations together in the name of Christ – and as a result, we have twice had Morvian clergy elected to head the World Council of Churches, and twice to head the National Council of Churches in Christ – despite the fact that we are one of the smallest member denominations.

So today we are faced with a decision: once again, as has happened in each generation, or probably each decade, we face a divisive issue that threatens to tear our unity apart.  We have people who believe that their issue is one that is so important, they must leave the Unity if a vote does not go their way.  Some of them want to form an “independent” Moravian Church, something which is really an oxymoron, since it overlooks the central tenet of being a part of the Unity – that is, to be part of the Unity!

So once again, our unity is challenged – as it has been so many times before.  The Unity is a relationship – much like a marriage – which must be nurtured and maintained.  Just as in a Christian marriage two people commit to relationship with one another – each also in relationship with the Savior – so too we commit to a relationship with one another, each also in relationship with the Savior.  As in a marriage, we must overlook each other’s shortcoming and bear one another’s burdens, so it is in the Unity.  We live together as sisters and brothers in Christ, not always agreeing in detail, but always agreeing in love – and seeking to follow the Savior together.

We have a choice today – as the Herrnhutters had a choice 287 years ago, and as the founders of the Unity had a choice 270 years before that.  As indeed we have had again, again, and again: do we continue to bear witness that we are disciples, known by our love for one another?  Or shall our differences consume us so that we break this astounding witness?  We have a choice today, just as we will have a choice tomorrow: a choice to continue this witness of unity, or to destroy it and prove to the world that even the Moravians cannot live together in love.  Which shall it be?

Slow – Advent Happening!

The day after Halloween, the Christmas decorations went up in many stores and the Christmas carols started.  Many eye rolls and groans about Thanksgiving being forgotten.  But our commercialized society has lost more than that – the juggernaut that is Christmas marketing has steamrollered over Advent, as well.  Liturgical churches like ours still observe Advent, and we’re going to keep lighting those Advent candles no matter what the marketers outside do!

Advent is not Christmas – it is a four-Sunday time of preparation for Christmas, just as Lent is a time of preparation for Easter.  But our culture is not one of preparation, it is one of sales and marketing.  Let’s move those flat-screen TVs and Chinese toys!  We live in a world of instant everything, we want to be able to move right to the punch line, cut to the chase!  But there is great spiritual value in slowing down, in preparing, in getting ready.

In days of yore, a young craftsperson had to be apprenticed to a master for a number of years to learn a trade.  During that time of preparation, the apprentice could make beginner’s mistakes, learn from the experience of the master, and gradually gain expertise – until he or she became a “journeyman” and eventually a new master!  Our fables and stories seem to value this kind of learning, but when we look at the actions of our culture it is denigrated.  We want fast-track success, short-cut learning, speed dating, and instant everything.  We live in a schizophrenic culture that honors Dicken’s Christmas Carol while at the same time iconizing our own cultural Scrooges!

I urge you to set aside the time this year to slow down, to prepare, to observe Advent even if everyone else has fast-forwarded to Christmas.  Seasons are good, honor and grow by celebrating this one!

 

-              Pastor John

The Science of Happiness

A few weeks ago, we viewed a brief video as part of a sermon called “The Science of Happiness.”  If you missed it, you can view the video HERE.  It showed in practical examples how those who expressed gratitude to others had measurable improvements in their mood and feelings.  The mental “attitude of gratitude” is something that affects those around us – and affects us internally.  It’s not just a psychological fact, it is a spiritual reality.

Scripture is clear on calling us to express our gratitude to God, and to those around us who have positively impacted our lives.  Practicing acts of thanksgiving changes our outlook, makes us more hopeful and optimistic, and gives us the spiritual endurance to get over the inevitable potholes and speed bumps of life.  Of course, the reverse is also true: those who constantly complain, who focus on the rottenness of life and other people, will feel more depressed and have less ability to weather life’s storms.

Some people dismiss this as a “Pollyanna” attitude.  But over my years as a pastor, I’ve seen time and time again people who discovered the gift of gratitude, began to apply it, and had their lives affected for the better.  Every day we have choices; we can choose to be grateful and focus on our blessings, or be resentful and ruminate on the rottenness of life.

The fact that the medical impact of thankfulness can be corroborated scientifically is fascinating.  The scientists have all kinds of explanations for what happens:  our endorphin levels rise, stress hormones subside, and so on.  But I have a more fundamental explanation:  this is how God made us!  He intends us to be grateful, to express our gratitude, and to life psalms and songs of thanksgiving to Him!  When we do that, we are “in tune” with our Creator, consonant with His will, resonating with His purpose.  We feel better because we are better!

This month, as we gather together with neighbors and friends at our neighborhood Thanksgiving Eve Lovefeast, I hope you will take the opportunity to reach out and express your gratitude to someone else – and especially to our Savior!

-          Pastor John

Standing Up For Justice

On October 31, 1517, a monk named Martin Luther posted a list of 95 complaints about the Roman church on the Wittenburg Church door.  Over a hundred years after the martyrdom of John Hus, Luther had rediscovered the same issues and arrived at virtually the same conclusions.  The Church, hand-in-glove with the State, was filled with corruption and abuse.  Indulgences (slips of paper that acted sort of like “Get Out Of Hell Free” cards) were sold at exorbitant prices to pay for an unpopular and never-ending war, and to finance the lavish lifestyle of the wealthy and powerful.  Anyone who opposed or even questioned the church was condemned as an heretic.

Now, I don’t believe that things today are as bad as they were in the time of Hus or Luther.  Not by a long shot!  The cataclysmic struggles of the Hussite Wars and the subsequent Protestant-Catholic Wars decimated Europe and were times of terrible slaughter.  Today we face less violence and have a much higher standard of living.  In our capitalistic society, divisions end up being more about money and power – the “haves” versus the “have nots.”

Five years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the tanking of our economy, income inequality in America has accelerated dramatically.  We’ve now hit an all-time high for income inequality in America, matching the era of the robber barons – and closing rapidly on the kind of inequality that exists in Third-World nations.  Being super-wealthy automatically brings with it power, access to power, and the ability to influence government policy to your advantage.  Both political parties are corrupted by this, and there seems to be no end to the change in policies that can be called “trickle-up economics.”  This is an economy where policies and business practices are rigged to redistribute fair living wages away from workers and upward to those who already have more than they could spend in many lifetimes.

Article Link: Income Inequality Hits Gilded Age Levels, CBO Reports

Income disparity is at an all-time high in the US, equaling the period right before the crash of 1929.

Where is the church in all this? As we see more and more people lining up for shrinking resources at food banks, as we see children going hungry as programs are slashed, as we see the working poor being crushed by the weight of a society that clearly doesn’t care about them, where is the church?  Where are the prophets speaking God’s truth to power, the Isaiah who cries: “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed!”  Where is the Amos who calls out, “But let justice roll on like many waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing river?”

Yes, we are called to minister to the less fortunate.  But is our responsibility limited to bringing in cans of food for Sunnyside Ministry?  Does our responsibility as Christians end with a bit of help here and there to get folks through emergencies?  Or does God also call us to wade into the difficult waters of advocacy, to call out those who abuse power to steal from the poor?  The Bible is clear on this!  Both the Old and New Testaments are radical in their defense of the poor and the weak against the wealthy and powerful.

It is time for a season of prayer – to be followed by a season of action.  Christians must shake off the shackles of politics, so easily exploited by pundits and inflammatory rhetoric, and stand up for the kind of justice that allows a space for everyone in society to simply live and thrive.  James writes:

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. -          James 2:15-16

There are many variations of the following story, sometimes called the Story of the River Babies.

One summer in the village, the people in the town gathered for a picnic. As they leisurely shared food and conversation, someone noticed a baby in the river, struggling and crying. The baby was going to drown!

Someone rushed to save the baby. Then, they noticed another screaming baby in the river, and they pulled that baby out. Soon, more babies were seen drowning in the river, and the townspeople were pulling them out as fast as they could. It took great effort, and they began to organize their activities in order to save the babies as they came down the river. As everyone else was busy in the rescue efforts to save the babies, two of the townspeople started to run away along the shore of the river.

“Where are you going?” shouted one of the rescuers. “We need you here to help us save these babies!”

“We are going upstream to stop whoever is throwing them in!”

Christians, we are called to go upstream and find those who are throwing the babies in the river!

 

- Pastor John

Prayers for Public Education

School time!  The buses are running, lunch ladies have snapped on their hairnets, the homeroom bell has rung.  In preparation for the start of school, we observed a special prayer day for Public Education with other Moravian churches, and lifted up prayers of blessing for teachers and administrators, for coaches, shop teachers, janitors and secretaries – all the people who work together to educate children.

In my sermon that day, however, I had to note the sad fact that as a state, North Carolina’s education system has sunk rapidly in recent years.  It was announced in August in a national study that less than 1/5th of NC high school students were adequately prepared for either employment or a first year of college.  In fact, we came in dead last – 51 – after all the other states and the District of Columbia.  Teacher salaries have plummeted until we rank 46 – nearly at the bottom – for teacher salaries.  All this in an atmosphere where politicians continue to say that education is important.  But just as our personal budget shows our spiritual priorities, our State budget shows where the values really are, and they are shifted to corporate welfare and raises for political hacks.

Moravians have always been at the forefront of education; in the 15th century, while translating the Bible into the common language and teaching blacksmiths and farmers how to read; in the 17th century when Comenius transformed the fundamental ideas of education in Europe and called for universal education, including (gasp!) the education of women; in the 18th century when we started schools around the world, taught slaves how to read, and started Salem College, one of the only places in the colonies where a young woman could learn Latin and mathematics as well as sewing and cooking.  Many Moravians are active and excellent teachers in our school system, our community colleges, and universities.

We cannot stand by and wring our hands in silent helplessness while we see the education system we have some much invested in dismantled by bean-counters and misguided fundamentalists.  We need to advocate for change, for more support of great teachers, of programs that enhance life – music and drama and art – as well as science and technology.  We need to seek out and vote for leaders who will put children and the long-term future of everyone in our state first.  Party matters less than intergrity and vision!  We need to seek out opportunities to support our educators and our schools.

We will also be doing our part here on the corner of Sunnyside and Sprague – working with Anthony’s Plot on a tutoring program for at-risk children, opening the doors for children to come to LOGOS and get a good meal, the warmth of God’s love, and learn more about the Bible.  We’ll continue to sponsor Scouting and other programs that enhance education beyond the school walls.  We’ll be exploring starting ESL (English as a Second Language) and SSL (Spanish as a Second Language) classes for adults, and other learning opportunities as well.

For the teachers in our congregation, we give a cheer and lift up prayers of support.  Do your best for God and for His children!  Count on us for support  – whether box tops or bake sales.  But I pray for the day when our schools are fully funded — and they must have bake sales to support the prisons!

-          Pastor John

Festival of August 13th

This month, we celebrate a uniquely Moravian event as we gather for Holy Communion in Celebration of August 13th, the time in 1727 when a powerful experience of the Holy Spirit swept through the congregation at Berthelsdorf, Germany.  The experience was so profound that it was likened to the experience of the disciples at Pentecost, and it marked a new era of God’s work among the Moravians.

A lesser-known part of this experience was the Children’s Revival that followed.  A few days after the experience of forgiveness and reconciliation among the adults, a number of children at the village school felt called to prayer, and began to organize their own prayer groups.  The adults were so inspired by the spirit of the children that it reinforced their own experience and helped to drive the famed Prayer Watch that went on continuously for the next hundred years; and there is no doubt that it was out of the prayer and study that followed that the seeds of the mission movement came.

This month, we have the remarkable opportunity to have the Rev. Dr. Riddick Weber visit to lead two Sunday School workshops about the Moravian movement.  Brother Weber is professor of Pastoral Ministry at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, PA, and is one of our leading experts on the revolutionary social systems that Moravian communities engineered.  He can speak with great authority about the intriguing ideas that they employed that made those communities work and witness!  I hope that you will take the time to come out for these Sunday School workshops this month.  Brother Weber will also officiate over Communion on August 11th while I am away directing the next segment of the movie “But Now I See,” and will bring a meditation about the August 13th experience and its meaning for us today that is well-informed and inspiring.

Easter is Coming!

Easter is coming!  Throughout the time of Lent, during the solemn days of Passion Week as we read the experiences of the disciples and the Savior, we know that Easter is coming.  We already know “the rest of the story.”  But the disciples did not.  Though Jesus seems to have known what was coming, the disciples were like us – they got up each day and lived the day with hopes and fears, but were never sure what would happen next.  Even though Jesus had tried to convey to them what was coming, they really weren’t able to comprehend the astounding story that they were a part of.  Surely it must have seemed to them that Palm Sunday was a day of great hopefulness and victory.  Even though Jesus had told them that he must suffer and die, surely for many of them there stirred hopes that day that everything was going to work out well.  People were cheering, people seemed to be recognizing him as the Messiah.  Things were looking up!  But as that week progressed, some of them must have been frightened and even appalled by Jesus’ actions in the marketplace, by his confrontational preaching that was sure to offend the leaders in power.  And after that Last Supper in the upper room, when everything seemed to fall to pieces and they scattered in fear, surely dark despair and fear took over.  Peter was so frightened that he even denied knowing Jesus.  Unlike us, they did not know “the rest of the story.”

The observance of Easter was the central celebration for the early Christians.  It was the center point for all worship, the fountain from which all of their faith sprang and bubbled and danced.  Preparing for Easter, particularly the week between Palm Sunday and Easter, was the most important time of the Christian year.  The Moravians began the practice of gathering each night of Holy Week to read together the events of that day, to sing, to meditate, and to pray.  This is still one of the unique parts of our worship that binds all Moravians together, from Labrador to Surinam, from Germany to South Africa.  This spiritual practice of prayer, of reading, of reflection, is a profound and moving way to prepare our hearts for the Resurrection.  Our worship is quite experiential, and for the participants both moving and profound.

I encourage you to set aside the time this year to attend our Reading Services, to experience with other Moravians the moments of the week, the supper in the upper room, the solemn experience of carrying the cross, the darkness of the Tenebrae service, the profound music of Great Sabbath, and finally the great triumph of Easter morning, as in the predawn moments we will proclaim together, “The Lord is risen!  The Lord is risen indeed!”

- Pastor John

On Faith, Relationship, and the Conversion of Saul

This past week the liturgical calendar recognized the Conversion of Paul on Friday, January 25th. Of course, like most stuff on the liturgical calendar, we don’t actually know the date on which Paul was converted, it’s just the date that traditionally has been used to remember the event – and an important event it was in Christian history, especially for those of us that are Gentiles!

Saul, as he was originally known, was a tradesman, a tentmaker from the town of Tarsus, a city in southern Turkey.  Because of his residency, he was a citizen of the Roman Empire, something that would be important later in his life. Saul was a very religious man, a member of the Pharisees, a Jew of impeccable religious practice and credentials.

In fact, Paul was absolutely sure of his Phariseeical Jewish faith – of every bit of it, so sure that he was willing to participate in the stoning of Stephen without a moment’s hesitation – just as the torturers of the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition in the 15th century – usually referred to as “The Spanish Inquisition” – were absolutely sure they were doing right as they twisted you on the rack. It was for your own good, for your ultimate salvation that they burned you with hot pokers. They tortured with absolute calmness of spirit, certain of the rightness of their religion. The only problem is that they were WRONG.

I know Christians today so perfectly assured that they are right, right about every doctrine, understanding, and detail, so right that they would not hesitate a moment to stand with Saul holding the coats, throwing the stones, or turning the wheel on the rack. They have confused their certainty about their personal beliefs with TRUTH, and confused their certainty about their own sense of being right with GOD’S RIGHTEOUSNESS. They are not the same thing.  In fact, there are ways in which they are diametrically opposed!

This confusion between “I am right” and truth, between “my understanding” and God’s understanding, is one of the fundamental problems of religion through the centuries. The fact is that human religion is really based on “I am right,” rather than on “God is right” – even when they confuse the issue by whacking you on the forehead with a King James Bible. True faith derives from an encounter with the living God, not from a list of precepts.

It was an encounter with the risen Christ that changed Saul’s life and transformed him from a murderer of Christians to a believer himself. Like 007, he set off to Damascus with a “License to Kill” in his pocket, breathing “threats and murder” against those who followed “The Way.” But along the road to Damascus, he stumbled onto “The Way” himself when he met the risen Savior.

I don’t know exactly what happened or how it happened, but Paul’s experience was that of a bright, blinding light and a voice: “Why are you persecuting me?” Saul was knocked off his feet, he had the rug pulled out from under him. He went from an absolutely self-assured raging crusader to a blinded, helpless man whose world had been turned upside-down. But that’s what an encounter with the living God does to people! It turns their world upside-down, turns their certainties into doubts, and makes them sure of only one thing – that there is indeed a God, and they are not Him!

From this experience, Saul had to completely rebuild his life, had to turn 180 degrees and reverse the entire direction of his being. But the amazing thing is that God lets us take such U-turns, in fact He often makes them happen! Conversions do happen, they are real, and when they happen like this they are very fundamental in nature.

Paul, as he came to be known rebuilt his life on a new foundation – not the foundation of a list of religious beliefs, but the foundation of actual experience, an actual relationship with the very Savior he had once doubted with complete certainty. His new life was built on faith, not dogma.

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” — Galileo Galilei

And this brings up an important point about faith – one that I often discuss with members and friends that experience times of doubt or pain of challenge. “Faith” is an abused and misused word!
Most often I hear the term “FAITH” used in a way that means “thoughtless belief without doubt in the impossible or contradictory or simply silly.” Many Christians behave as if willfully believing a certain list of propositions, no matter how silly or contradicted by reason or science, is what God wants us to do.  No, I love the comment by Galileo: “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”

And the comment by our Moravian Bishop Edwin Sawyer: “The door of the church ought never be so low you have to leave your brains outside.”

“The door of the church ought never be so low you have to leave your brains outside.”

– The Right Rev. Edwin Sawyer

But when we use FAITH in a normal sentence – such as “I have faith that Joe will do the right thing,” or “I have faith in you.” Do we mean that we are stubbornly and blindly believing against all evidence that Joe, who is a crack addict in and out of jail who abandoned his family, embezzled from his employer, and has destroyed pretty much every relationship in his life will, because of our belief, suddenly turn around and behave completely out of character? NO! We mean that even in a new situation that we’ve never experienced, we expect that the reliable, good, solid person that we have watched in other situations over the years, will do the right thing – because that’s what Joe does. Our faith is based on our experience with Joe, in our relationship with Joe.

FAITH is based on experience – on relationship, not on willfully believing a list of particular silly things.

It is when we know another person that we are confident of what that person will do in any situation. One of my favorite bits from Count Zinzendorf is actually a footnote to a sermon on one of Paul’s letters, about a comment that is a little ambiguous and hard to translate. In the footnote, the good Count wrote: “I am sometimes confused about what Paul means here, but I am saved from error because I know the One about Whom he is speaking.” I know the One about Whom he is speaking!

Again, on the road to Damascus, Paul went from being absolutely confident of his own rightness, of being 100% unshakably certain that everything on his list of litmus tests for Jewish orthodoxy were RIGHT to a blind, shaky confused man who had actually experienced the presence of the Savior. He had to rebuild his life on that RELATIONSHIP and ACTUAL EXPERIENCE of the Savior now rather than on a list of proposition.

There are Christians, in fact many Christians, who will tell you that you are not a “good” Christian if you believe in evolution or the big Bang or that the Earth was not created on 23 Oct, 4004 BC (as Bishop James Ussher confidently decreed) or some other date picked out of a hat by another fundamentalist based on some other Rube Goldberg contraption of contrived logic. BALONEY. The True Christian life is based on a real relationship with the Savior, EXPERIENCE of God of Creation. As a result, the growing faithful Christian will often have periods of doubt and questions as he or she grows, as his self-assured beliefs are challenged by a Damasucs Road experience, as her childish beliefs have to fall by the wayside in the experience of grown-up situations that call for grown up courage and grown up faith in a grown-up God!

“Faith” is not pulling up your socks and turning off your brain and willfully believing in something silly or magical or contradictory. It’s not believing the impossible, as in my favorite bit from Alice in Wonderland:

“Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Now, the fact of the matter is that as we grow in faith – that being again a living relationship with a living Savior, not some superficial belief in a set of propositions – we will wrestle with new and deeper spiritual issues and questions. We will never be at the same spot on the journey of faith as someone else; and so inevitably some will see further down the road than others, one standing at the top of a hill will see beyond the valley that another is in. Both are on the same journey, following the same Savior, but at different points. And such differences in perspective inevitably cause differences in opinion and perception. How could it be otherwise? But the true test of those who are part of the Kingdom is that they are called to be One even when experiencing such differences in perspective.

This is nothing new! Paul ran into this sort of thing right away with Peter, who after all felt that he was the proper head of the Church – and who at this point believed that the message was only for Jews, not for Gentiles. They had quite a wrestling match over this, in fact Paul’s calling to preach to the Gentiles nearly cost him his relationship with the Church in Jerusalem – and this tension was only resolved through Peter’s visionary experience, another intervention of the divine not unlike Paul’s Damascus Road experience.

Our Moravian Church has experienced such differences and struggles over the centuries, and will continue to struggle with these issues as surely as God made little green apples. If we stop having these struggles, that will be the time to feel for the pulse, shake the head sadly, and pull the sheet up – for we will be dead. Turmoil, differences, and struggle are not signs of weakness, they are signs of life.

So in all of this the question that I would leave you with is this: HOW DO YOU EXPERIENCE THE SAVIOR?

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