God’s Presence in Times of Change

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We can learn a lot about living faithfully by returning to the Jewish Exile.

The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar invaded the land of Judah, destroyed the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem; and, most likely, ordered the Ark of the Covenant to be destroyed. Homes and crops were burned. People were dragged away in chains and yokes, and they were now living in a strange country with different customs. And people began to dream about being able to return to what once was as they continued to live in exile.

Many of the rabbis that I know are referring to the Jewish Exile these days.

We’re not able to go where we want to go and to live our lives in the way that we’d like to live them. Many faithful Christians are still watching worship services online and are far removed from the worship spaces where they’ve come to know God. Some people in our country (and all around the world) are trying to explain away safety measures that we’ve been asked to take while others are refusing to wear any sort of face covering to make a political statement. We are responding to this crisis in so many different ways!

The coronavirus has brought grief into many of our lives.

We usually associate grief with the death of a loved one, but grief is something that’s far more complex. I am grieving because I’m not able to visit my grandchildren. Many young people are grieving because they didn’t get to attend a prom or graduation ceremony. We see young children acting out because they miss playing with their friends. We’re sensing that things are different and that it may not be possible to just return to doing things that we once took for granted in the near future. And many people are still grieving the loss of their job or even of their home, aren’t they? Some are grieving because we know that things that we cherish are going to be different.

We often wish that we could just go back to what once was when we are grieving.

And that’s what we see in Jeremiah 28:1-9. The false prophet Hananiah has started to talk with people who were living in Exile about being able to go back to what once was. Hananiah speaks about bringing sacred vessels back into the Temple (which, remember, had been flattened like a pancake by the Babylonians) and returning to the place that the Jewish people had called their home for generations. It’s almost as if Hananiah doesn’t want to accept the fact that things have changed, and he’s trying to encourage people to believe that they can simply return to what once was and watch the storm just go away. Perhaps you’d like to be able to do that today? But Jeremiah wasn’t that optimistic.

One of the things that I’ve learned in life is that our lives are often lived in cycles.

Good times are almost always followed by bad times; and even the worst times in our lives can give way to much better times. Think about grief. We mourn over what we’ve lost and wish that we could have it once again, but life moves forward and we change as we adjust to our new reality. Christianity is built upon the death and the resurrection of Jesus: Life being lost in death and death giving way to new life. Our faith reminds us of the fact that God blesses us with new life even while we’re still caught in our grief.

Now, think about the Church.

We were knocked off-center when churches needed to close; and yet, in the midst of this pandemic, churches that had never done so in the past have incorporated electronics in their ministry. That’s new life! People who don’t normally attend worship services are listening to sermons and are participating in online worship services. That’s new life! We’ve had the chance to improve our methods of communicating with each other. That’s new life! The church that I am serving is even working with several other congregations to launch an online Vacation Bible School for children in the next few weeks. That’s new life! Leaders throughout the Church have been imagining new ways to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ in more creative ways – realizing that, even as we grieve, Jesus moves us toward something new and exciting and life-filled. That’s new life! That’s resurrection!

Listen to Psalm 89:1 – “I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations!

This week, I’d like to encourage you to do three things:

  • Think about grief and about how grief might be affecting you, right now. It’s not easy to be told that you can’t do things that you like to do. And it’s very natural for people who are grieving to imagine what it would be like to just to back to what once was even though it’s not possible anymore.
  • Pray for the many people who need to make big decisions today and remember that they are trying to do the best that they can even when you disagree with what they think needs to be done.
  • Pray for patience and offer some of your time, energy, vision and creativity to those who are struggling to discover how we can best return from our Exile and proclaim the message of God’s love and the hope of the Resurrection in new and exiting ways as the people of God, today. You can be a part of the new life that Jesus is creating!

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Jesus: Right Beside You

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Where have YOU been seeing Jesus in your life these days?

Life’s taught me that Christians tend to respond to challenging and unusual times in two different ways: Some Christians find their faith to be a great source of strength and peace because they continue to trust that Jesus is walking beside them; but other Christians feel totally abandoned and sometimes withdraw from God in challenging times because Jesus seems to be absent. And the hardest part of all of that, at least for me as a pastor, is that I don’t always know which of those two groups a person is in until something that’s really bad happens; and, by then, it’s sometimes too late.

How would YOU answer these questions?

  1. Can you think of a time in your life when Jesus seemed to be very close to you? How would you describe that time?
  2. Can you remember a time in your life when you felt that God had abandoned you? How did that time in your life affect your faith?

The Bible contains a story about people who had trouble seeing Jesus. (Luke 24:13-35)

Luke tells us that two of Jesus’ followers were walking on a road about seven miles away from Jerusalem when Jesus, now raised from the dead, drew near. The disciples told Him about all of their hopes and dreams. The disciples told Him that they had hoped that He had come into the world to save them. But, even as that conversation continued and as Jesus walked right beside the disciples on the road to Emmaus, they couldn’t recognize Him.

Have YOU ever had a time in your life when you couldn’t see Jesus?

Maybe you were so weighed-down by something that was happening in your life that you turned inward even while Jesus was walking beside you? Maybe you’ve had a time when you shook your fist at the sky because God didn’t answer your prayers? Have you ever wondered why bad things happen to good people? I certainly have. And maybe you are wondering, right now, why God doesn’t step onto the scene, wipe out the coronavirus and save people’s lives.

Challenging and difficult times in your life can keep you from seeing Jesus.

Times of adversity can draw you closer to God, but those same difficult times can drive a deep wedge between you and God. The women who came to the Tomb of Jesus on that first Easter were so scared that they thought Jesus was a gardener. At the end of Mark’s Gospel, we see that the women who discovered the Empty Tomb were so overwhelmed that they simply ran away and didn’t tell anyone else what they’d seen. A shining angel of the Lord told the women who came to the tomb, “Do not be afraid,” during a time in their lives when they had many reasons to be afraid. Jesus’ disciple didn’t recognize Him on the road to Emmaus because they were overcome with sorrow; and yet, what we see in all of these different stories of Easter is that Jesus is beside people even when they were finding it difficult to see Him and to recognize Him at that very moment.

And so what are some things that YOU can do during times when YOU can’t see Jesus?

  1. You need to get past the idea that Jesus’ presence in your life (or lack thereof) can be accurately detected by your feelings and emotions. Jesus is present in your life, right now, because Jesus has promised to be present in your life right now. Jesus is close to you whether you can feel it right now, or not. Trust Him!
  2. You need to see that some people were able to recognize Jesus after He was raised from the dead and other people weren’t. And that’s OK! We sometimes fall into the trap of comparing our own journey with Jesus to the journey that other people are taking in a different situation. People see Jesus at different times and in different ways. What YOU are experiencing at this point in your life is OK. Jesus is with you even if you can’t see Him right now. Trust Him!
  3. You need to remember that Jesus often said, “Do not be afraid!” And we don’t need to be afraid while we travel through uncertain times because Jesus has told us: “I am with YOU always, even to the end of the Age.” Trust Him!

And so, where have YOU been seeing Jesus in your life these days?

Please know that Jesus is with you no matter how you’re feeling as we continue to travel through these unusual times together. My hope and prayer for YOU is that Jesus will bless YOU with peace in the coming days, and that Jesus will continue to bless YOU with the faith and courage you need as you walk on the road you’re traveling today, with Jesus right beside you.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

 

 

Jesus: The Son of God

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The Bible is filled with stories about God doing unusual things.

Just think about the story of Jacob’s ladder; when, in the midst of Jacob’s struggles with his brother Esau, God sent a vision of a ladder stretching up into the heavens. Imagine what the Israelites felt like when they were walking through the Red Sea after they had left the land of Egypt. The prophet Elijah once rolled up his cloak and struck the water in the Jordan River and the waters were parted. Jesus also did some incredible and very unusual things as the Son of God.

This week, I would like you to think about the story of the raising of Lazarus (John 11).

Lazarus, a man that Jesus knew, was sick and his sisters, Mary and Martha, sent for Jesus. When the messenger that Mary and Martha had sent to Jesus told Him that Lazarus was sick, Jesus responded: “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God.” (John 11:4). And then, Jesus did something very unusual. We read: “And when Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed where He was for two more days.” (John 11:6) That seems pretty unusual. Why didn’t Jesus just go to Lazarus immediately?

Now, before we go any further, we need to get something straight.

John’s Gospel does not indicate that Lazarus had done something wrong or that God had decided to make Lazarus sick. Every time disasters strike, people tell us that God’s angry and that God has sent whatever’s happening as a punishment from above. Maybe a good-natured friend once told you that God will never give you more than you can bear in an attempt to comfort you during a particularly difficult time?

Do you really believe that the God of the entire universe has nothing better to do than make your life miserable and to see how far you can be pushed before you break?

Yes, Lazarus was sick. But, John’s Gospel never indicates that his illness was being caused by something other than something natural. Lazarus, in fact, was so sick that he even died – just like many people who have been infected by the coronavirus have died. And again, how did Jesus respond to all of this? Jesus says: “The illness of Lazarus is meant for the glory of God, so that the Son of Man may be glorified.” (John 11:4) “And when Jesus heard Lazarus was deathly ill, He stayed where He was for two more days.” (John 11:6)

And as strange as what Jesus does appears to be, there is something for us to learn here.

People who have been complaining because they need a break from their busy routines are now getting a break, aren’t they? The coronavirus has reminded all of us that we’re vulnerable, even though most of us want to believe that we’re nearly invincible. Many Christians who are worshipping online are talking about the fact that they miss being able to share Holy Communion with each other. Many good and faithful Christians are losing their jobs and are even beginning to face financial difficulties.

And we might ask ourselves: “How can God be gloried in all of this?”

  1. The spread of the coronavirus has caused us to think about what we really believe about God. And, perhaps, as we travel through this challenging time, we can just abandon the idea that God is an angry God who strikes people down or who pushes us harder and harder every day to see what it’s going to take to break us?
  2. The spread of the coronavirus has challenged us to think about the ways that we treat each other. Perhaps, it’s time for us to admit that we really do need each other more than we’d like to admit? Or, maybe, this unusual time can help us to become more aware of infectious diseases and how often we spread them to other people?
  3. The spread of the coronavirus has challenged all of us to remember that we don’t have an unlimited number of days to live. Maybe, we’ll all be a little bit more aware of how we are spending – or wasting – the little bit of time that we have when this is all over? Benjamin Franklin once wrote: “Dost thou love life? Then, don’t waste time because that’s what life is made of.”
  4. The spread of the coronavirus can help us to more fully understand how it feels to be alone. Maybe, we can all come through this unusual time with a deeper sense of what it feels like to journey through the last years of life alone – often hoping that a family member will come to visit; or, at least, make a telephone call?
  5. The spread of the coronavirus has also given many of us more time to simply stop. Perhaps, we can use this time of social distancing to spend more time reading our Bibles and engaging in activities that God can use to build our faith? We can come through this challenging time much stronger!

The unusual times that we are experiencing will come to an end.

But, in the meantime, let’s draw upon on a great truth in the Bible: “God’s grace and strength are always sufficient, and God’s power is often revealed in times when we are feeling both weak and vulnerable.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

We can learn many lessons about life and faith in these challenging times. We are being held safely in the hands of the God who loves us. And Jesus – the Son of God – has shown us that God’s in control of absolutely everything and that our God even has the power to raise those who have died to Eternal life.

And if we can just continue to travel through these uncertain days with that message in our hearts and minds, God will be gloried in the craziness of the coronavirus pandemic.

May God be with you, my friends. May God’s peace fill your hearts, and may you always remember that God will give you the strength and faith you need each day as we travel through these uncertain times together.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Calming Music

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Martin Luther once said that, next to the Word of God, the devil dislikes music more than anything else in the world. Music can calm our hearts and lift our spirits. Music can help to restore a sense of peace in our lives and quiet our racing thoughts. Sometimes, I like to simply stop at the end of the day and listen to calming music before I go to bed.

We are traveling through a very unusual and stressful time right now. And, in response to that, I’ve added a new menu option to my blog entitled Calming Music.  I’ve enjoyed playing the piano for many years and have even written some music and hymns of my own. I, also, enjoy creating new arrangements of familiar songs and hymns. I am offering these original recordings of familiar hymns and other songs for you to enjoy hoping that they can bring you moments of calm and peace in the midst of this storm. Please feel free to share them with other people that you know.

One of the songs I have included in this collection is an original composition entitled, “Through the Years.” I wrote this song while journeying through life with a very dear friend who was dying. I recently added an oboe part to the score. I have, also, added some other instrumentation to some of the songs that I have included in this short collection to add some variety to your listening experience.

I hope that you will enjoy listening to these songs that I’ve played and that they will bring you a sense of calm and peace during these unusual and challenging times.

Click Here to Listen to “Calming Music”

Jesus: The Living Water

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The coronavirus has created a world-wide crisis.

The shelves in grocery stores are empty, and schools and businesses are closed. People have stockpiled hand sanitizers and toilet paper. It’s nearly impossible to find sanitizing wipes and isopropyl alcohol. Pastors are communicating with the faithful people they serve using new and previously unexplored technologies. And, of course, we’re all being told to wash our hands both thoroughly and frequently.

People in the United States don’t usually worry about having enough water.

We simply turn a knob when we want water and the water magically appears. Many of us wash laundry whenever we want, and even water lawns and flowers in the summer. I once listened to a group of teenagers complain about the fact that they need to get up early every morning, so that they can beat their siblings to the shower; because, if they don’t win the race to the shower, there’s not going to be any hot water left.

But it isn’t that way everywhere.

I had a well when I lived in a rural community and I needed to carefully space loads of laundry during dry spells. I remember talking with one of my friends from Africa who was simply horrified that Americans wash their cars with water that they can drink. In some places, even today, people have to walk long distances to get fresh water. And that’s what we see in a story about an encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan woman at the Well of Jacob (John 4:5-42) – which, by the way, contains the longest conversation that Jesus has with another person in the entire Bible.

Picture a woman who is parched after a long journey in the hottest part of the day.

Here, we find a woman who was coming to the Well of Jacob because she was looking for something that she needed to survive. When things like water are scarce, there’s a very human part of us that tells us that we need to look out for ourselves first. The Samaritan woman needed water; and yet, she was being asked to give what she thought she needed to survive to someone else (Jesus).  Have you collected so much hand sanitizer that other people can’t get any? Are you one of the people who has been hoarding sterilizing wipes and toilet paper? Do you have boxes of masks to put over your face (that are desperately needed by other people) to protect yourself from the coronavirus?

Our survival instinct tells us that we need to get as much of whatever we think we are going to need quickly – even if it means that other people won’t be able to get any of it.

And yet, when the parched Samaritan woman comes to the Well of Jacob, Jesus offers her something different: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). Here, Jesus reminds us that we can find an abundance of God’s love and mercy and forgiveness. Jesus reminds us, in this short passage, that He’s come into the world to offer us an abundance of God’s welcome and goodness and peace and strength. And, if you think about it, isn’t that what we’re all trying to find?

We begin the Season of Lent, on Ash Wednesday, by remembering that we are dust and that, one day, we’re going to be dust again. We admit that we’re mortal. We admit that none of us are going to be around forever. In fact, as hard as it is for us to admit, we are all going to die at some point – and it doesn’t matter if it’s because of the coronavirus or because of something else. That might sound harsh. But it’s true.

And in Jesus – The Living Water – God provides a solution that gives us faith and strength as we journey through scary times. In Jesus – The Living Water – we can find the courage to continue to live well with each other even in a time when our fear is calling forth our worst human instincts. All will be well. In fact, even when we’re tempted to think that all will not be well, all will be well because we’re safe in the hands of God and because God has already shown us – in Jesus – that no matter what we face, in life or even in death, we are already far more than conquerors (Romans 8:37).

And so, as you journey through scary times, live your life with faith and courage.

Even though there’s a deep human instinct that’s telling us to look out for ourselves, we need each other and must learn how to continue to live well with other people. We can’t allow fear to drive us into uncontrollable panic and we can’t afford to allow ourselves to allow our imaginations to just run wild.

We need to somehow continue to find ways to live well in these challenging times, and we need to continue to search for ways to care for each other and to treat each other in kind and loving ways.

Right after Jesus offered the Samaritan woman “living water,” she said, “Sir, give me this water” (John 4:15); and she, immediately, ran to all of her friends and told them about what she had discovered in the midst of her own time of desperate need.

How can your faith carry you through these times of challenge and uncertainty?

How can your faith help you to calm those around you who are allowing fear to bring out the worst in them?

In every crisis, there’s an opportunity. And, perhaps, this crisis provides a chance for all of us to bear witness to our faith and our trust in God in new and exciting ways?

Click Here for This Week’s Message

God is Near to You

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Why do we celebrate Christmas?

I suspect Christmas is about far more than surrounding ourselves with uplifting music and familiar tunes during the shortest days of the year. I suspect that Christmas is about something far more than “doing what we do” because it’s “what we did” when we were children. Christmas resonates with something inside of us. There is something about the story of God coming into the world to live with us and to be a part of our lives that helps us to connect with God in a more deep and meaningful way. And that’s why the story of “Immanuel” – “God is near to us” – is a story that we need to hear over and over again as we journey through life.

God is far more than an indescribable Principle, or Being, that exists far beyond what we know and experience in our daily lives. God is more than a distant “Being” who lives up in the sky at a safe distance, but who always seems to know whether we’ve been naughty or nice. God stands at the center of our deepest longings as human beings. And the Good News of Christmas is that the same God that we long for in the very center of our being is a God who comes into our world to be near us.

God is near to us when we welcome a new child, or grandchild, into our lives; and God is with us while we’re trying our best to raise that child in a crazy world. God is near to us when we awaken in the morning and go to work, and God is near to us when we come home at the end of the day exhausted and collapse in our favorite chair. God is near to us during those moments in life when we are living on top of the world, and God is near to us when we don’t know how we can possibly make it even one more day. God is near to us when we are strong and healthy. God is near to us as we age and discover that we are not as much in control of our lives and futures as we imagined. And God even promises to be near to us as we close our eyes for the very last time and quietly slip into Eternity as so many others have before us.

In a little, tiny baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger, God comes into the world because God wants to be a part of our lives and a part of every moment that we live. Jesus, the Child in the manger that we celebrate every Christmas, grew up to be a Man who told us that He will be with us “even to the end of the Age.” That’s a word of Good News, isn’t it? At the center of every Christmas, we find a God who walks with us every day. “God is near to us” in every moment filled with joy and celebration, and “God is near to us” in every moment when we need God’s hand to dry our tears.

May God bless you with a renewed awareness of the fact that “God is near to you” as you gather with those that you love and celebrate Christmas this year. And may you enter the New Year with a deeper sense of God’s presence in your life every day.

Merry Christmas!

Click Here for This Year’s Christmas Message

Holy Moments – Holy Lives

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Our lives consist of many moments when ordinary life and the sacred connect.

Many Christians live their lives awaiting the return of Jesus Christ. We see nations rising against nations. We hear about earthquakes and famines and fatal illnesses and disease. This morning, I learned that the government of China has begun to arrest Muslims and remove them from society. We hear about children shooting each other in our schools. We see world leaders rattling their sabers in an effort in intimidate each other. I’ve even noticed that every time something happens, like a “Blood Moon,” people start saying that this is yet another “sign” that the End is near. And it all simply wears me out….

John the Baptizer proclaimed that the Kingdom of God is near to us. Reza Aslan, who wrote the book Zealot got it right when he said that the message of John the Baptizer was carried forward by a much more famous man named Jesus. In a world that’s filled with nations rising against nations, the Kingdom of God is near. In a world filled with bad news about earthquakes, famines, diseases and school shootings, the Kingdom of God is near. When your life is filled with abundant blessings, the Kingdom of God is near. And, the Kingdom of God is near when you climb out of bed, when you kiss someone that you love, when you’re afraid that you’re going to flunk a test, or when you lose someone who was dear to you.

Our lives consist of many moments when ordinary life and the sacred connect.

What would life look like if, instead of waiting around for Jesus to return, we went out into the world to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near? Maybe, realizing that God journeys with us each day, we could bear witness to the fact that the Kingdom of God is near by buying a child, whose family is struggling to make ends meet, a new winter coat – or maybe, we could proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near by visiting people and sending them encouraging messages when life is hard? Maybe we could proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near by not running away and hiding from people when we know that they need our help now more than ever? Maybe we could try harder to speak-out on behalf of people in our world who aren’t being heard by people who look at them as nothing more than a drain on society? Maybe, especially at the holidays approach, we could tell other people that the Kingdom of God is near by carrying light and love into dark places where people are grieving, fighting diseases, trying to escape from abusive relationships or fighting a battle with some kind of substance that’s taken over their lives?

One of the most important lessons that I’ve learned in my journey of faith is that every moment that I live is a “holy moment” when the Kingdom of God is near. And in those “holy moments,” God prepares me to go out into the world and tell other people about God’s love and to remind them that the Kingdom of God is near in every moment of their lives, too.

You see, it doesn’t really matter what day, or month, or year Jesus returns. It doesn’t matter if the End arrives before I have a chance to post this message, or if the End comes long after I’m dead and buried.

What matters is that I have the wonderful opportunity to live a life that’s full of times when God is near. What matters is that, in the “holy moments” when the Kingdom of God is near to me, God always points me back to people who believe that things are so bad in their lives that the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off.

When we realize that the Kingdom of God is near and that each moment of our lives is a “sacred time” when God is close to us, our walk of faith becomes more about learning to live faithfully in a world that can be pretty scary, rather than about waiting for some Day when Jesus will return to fix everything. When we realize that our lives are filled with “sacred moments” when the Kingdom of God is near, we have something to share with people – when their lives are going well and when their lives are falling apart.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

The Tree of Life Massacre – One Year Later

Yard Sign

It’s hard to believe that it’s been one year since the unconscionable slaughter of eleven innocent worshipers at the Tree of Life Congregation in Squirrel Hill (a part of the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). I’m reminded of my first feeble attempt to “do something” and to “take a stand” after a senseless tragedy that left me both numb and speechless each time I see the sign in the front yard of my home.

We have been challenged to think and to reflect in the last year. Many of us have grown and have been changed as we took a more honest look at ourselves in the mirror and as we’ve wrestled with what we believe about other people. Faith leaders in the Pittsburgh area have traveled for many miles – coming from churches, mosques, synagogues and temples – to join in both open and honest conversations that have helped us to better understand each other and the faith traditions that we represent. God has been at work in our communities to challenge us, to soften our hearts, to open our ears and hearts to the voices of others, and to stretch both our patterns of thinking and faith.

The last year has, also, been a time when leaders and members of spiritual communities in Southwestern Pennsylvania have worked hand-in-hand to create a Statement that we, as leaders of different faith traditions, believe expresses the principles and beliefs that we can embrace together. I am providing a copy of this newly released Statement to you, and am hoping that you will take some time to read it, to reflect upon it and even to pray about it. We, as faith leaders in Southwestern Pennsylvania, believe that our faith traditions challenge us: to recognize the dignity and worth of those around us; to speak boldly and clearly against racial supremacy, demonization of those from other cultures and religions, and the violent acts that grow from those bitter roots; to stand in solidarity with minority and marginalized communities; and to repent from our own complicity in words and deeds that have expressed individual and systemic bigotry, racial and religious supremacy, and oppression.

We have committed ourselves to building more loving communities and neighborhoods that uplift the oneness of humanity and the worth of every individual, and that bind us to one another as moral neighbors in both trying and peaceful times even as we continue to both recognize and accept the fact that we believe many different things about both God and our world because of our different faith traditions.

I am now presenting this Statement to you hoping that you will take some time to read it, to ponder it, to pray about it, and to allow it to both challenge you and lead you toward the new kind of life that God calls us to embrace in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Living Faithfully with One Another

As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to interpret and draw guidance from sacred texts and traditions.

The sacred texts of the world religions all affirm the created dignity and worth of each individual and our sacred responsibility toward those in need. As we interpret our own sacred traditions in preaching, teaching, meditation or prayer, we will lift up these values.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to speak and act in support of the dignity and worth of each person.

With sacred texts and traditions as our guides, we reject the theories and rhetoric of racial supremacy, the demonization of those of other cultures and religions, and the violent acts which grow from these bitter roots. We embrace the right of all people to worship (or not to worship) according to the dictates of their own consciences, and we expect the government to respect this freedom.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to speak and act in solidarity with those in need.

We turn with compassion toward those in our midst who have the greatest cause for fear and insecurity. We stand in solidarity with all marginalized and minority communities, especially those who have been targets of injustice, discrimination, prejudice, and hate. When any of us are attacked in word or deed, we promise our support, help, and protection.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to speak truth to those in positions of power.

Our voices must be spoken and heard in public discourse. We seek to bring the perspectives of sacred traditions to bear in our shared public life. We call upon and remind elected, appointed, and professional leaders throughout our community to uphold and enforce the values of justice, fairness, nondiscrimination, and dignity.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to high standards of self-reflection.

We call upon ourselves, our faith communities, and our institutions to acknowledge and repent for complicity in words and deeds that express individual or systemic bigotry, racial or religious supremacy, and oppression. We are committed to growing in wisdom and inclusivity as we learn from one another.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to live abundantly, joyously and harmoniously with one another.

We will work resolutely to strengthen the ties that bind us to one another as moral neighbors in both trying and peaceful times. When and where we disagree in our understandings, we commit to acknowledge, listen to, and value the perspectives of others even as we respectfully present our differing opinions.

We covenant to create, expand and nurture a community of mutual support throughout Southwest Pennsylvania. Seeking Divine help and guidance, we commit to building the beloved community, a neighborhood of neighborhoods that lovingly uplifts the oneness of humanity and the worth of every individual.

October 3, 2019
Pittsburgh, PA

Jesus is Searching for You

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Stories are an important part of our lives.

I suspect that many of us can remember the day when terrorists flew airplanes into the Twin Towers, and that many of us can remember what we were doing on that day. My father used to tell me a story about the day when Pearl Harbor was bombed. I’ve been told many stories in my years as a pastor, and I truly believe that many of those stories capture the very essence of life.

Jesus told many stories, called parables, during His ministry.

And one day, Jesus told a story about a shepherd who left 99 sheep in the middle of the Wilderness in order to search for one of the sheep that had wandered off. He searched behind rocks and boulders. He shouted until the back of his throat was raw. He searched and searched and searched and searched. And he rejoiced when he found the lost sheep and was able to return it to the flock.

We all have times when we wander off and get lost in the Wilderness.

Some people get lost when they sink into the bottomless pit of addiction. Some of us struggle to forgive people who have hurt or disappointed us. Some of us get lost as we face the temptation to withdraw and isolate ourselves as we grieve. Teenagers who are being bullied can feel lost. People who struggle with homeless can feel lost. People who are trying to escape from the grip of Internet pornography (which is a plague that affects and ruins many people’s lives – even in the Church) can feel lost. And, when we’re lost, we can’t always find our own way back from the lonely Wilderness, can we?

Jesus is searching for you.

The Church was never meant to be a place where people, who have life all figured-out, come together to be entertained for an hour each week. The Church was never meant to be a place where people, who don’t want to admit that we’re all lost in some way, come together to have their ego stroked by an inspiring speaker. We’ve all had times when we’ve needed to be found by the Shepherd of our Souls. We’ve all had times when we’ve been lost and when we’ve needed to be brought back to the safety of the flock whether it be to the safety of our family, or to the safety of  the Church, or to the safety of a support group that can help and encourage us as we struggle with the uncertainties of life.

Jesus is searching for you.

No matter where you find yourself in life, right now, the arms of God are opened wide and God’s embrace is big. Take heart! The Shepherd of our Souls continues to search for you even when you feel lost and alone. Jesus is searching for you in whatever Wilderness surrounds you today. And that’s truly a message of Good News, isn’t it? It’s a message that can comfort and sustain us when we’re feeling cut-off from other people and when we’re feeling that even God is standing at a distance as we struggle to find our way through a Wilderness that can leave us feeling very lost and alone.

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In God We Trust

In God We Trust

Every piece of money in the United States contains the phrase: “In God We Trust.”

A pastor from Pennsylvania first suggested that we add that phrase to our coins in 1861 to ensure that God would protect Union soldiers during the Civil War. The phrase was removed in 1907 by President Roosevelt because he believed that printing the words “In God We Trust” on our money was an unhealthy mingling of God and mammon. President Eisenhower approved adding the phrase to all of our money – both coins and paper bills – because he believed that it was important to draw a sharp distinction between the faith of the American people and the godlessness of the Communists. And, by 1983, Supreme Court justices ruled that the phrase, “In God We Trust,” didn’t need to be removed from our money because, by that time, the phrase had lost all religious significance.

And yet, even in 2019, we struggle to make sense of what those words mean. Some argue that America was created to be a Christian nation, while others argue that our Founders created our nation to be a place where the government was prevented from choosing a particular religion. Christian Nationalists continue to teach that America is a Christian nation even though people like Thomas Jefferson created their own Bibles by retaining only the portions of the Bible that they believed were helpful for moral instruction, and even though people like Thomas Paine set the Bible aside in favor of personal spiritual experience.

And so, what do we do with passages like Psalm 33 that contain the words: “Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord“? How do we live, as people of faith, remembering that it is ordinary people, not God, who have drawn the lines in the dirt that separate counties, states, and even nations that exist in the world today?

The psalmist reminds us that “from where God sits enthroned, God watches over ALL the inhabitants of the earth.” The prophet Micah also reminds us that, as God watches over ALL the peoples of the earth, God sends messengers to reminds us that one of our most holy callings in life is to “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8)

The psalmist tells us, in Psalm 33, that the hope of a better future isn’t going to be found in trusting people who call us to build bigger armies, and who challenge us to find new ways to be bigger and stronger than people who live on the “other side” of the lines that we’ve drawn in the dirt. The psalmist tells us that the hope of a better future isn’t going to be found by silencing people who don’t think about life in the same ways that we do, and by continuing to separate ourselves into smaller and smaller pieces – until we get to the point where even all the King’s horses and all the King’s men can’t find a way to put us back together again.

Instead, the psalmist challenges us to envision God as a God who’s watching over ALL the nations of the world. The psalmist challenges us to rediscover a level of the soul that God has placed inside of us that connects us to every other living Being.

“In God We Trust” in a mighty statement.

How can we use that statement as something that binds us together as people who are called to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly in the presence of God in a world where people are using that phrase to separate us and to drive deep wedges between us?

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