Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Noah Was a Jerk (Reflections on Lent 1, Year B)

“When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” (Genesis 9:16)

So what’s a “covenant?” I’ve been trying to get the concept across to my confirmation students this semester since the word seems to crop up a lot in the Bible. It’s a contract, an agreement, a treaty, a hand-shake, pinky-swear, “let’s-drink-on-it” mutual promise between two parties. And covenants show up pretty early in the Bible. Adam and Eve are the first parties to a covenant with God. That deal went like this: “Live in my garden,” God says. “Eat all the fruits and veggies you want, be in charge of everything and have lots of babies. Just don’t eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and everything will be peachy between us.”

Well, that deal didn’t last too long.

Before you know it, everybody is just sinning their butts off. By Genesis 4 we get our first homicide, and by Genesis 6:11 the whole earth is filled with violence. So God finds one pretty righteous dude—Noah—and tells him to build a big boat to save himself and his family and enough animals to repopulate the world. Then God proceeds to wipe out all other life on earth with a devastating flood and start from scratch (which, if you ask me, sounds pretty extreme!).

But God’s plan to end violence with more violence turns out to be a bust. When Noah finally sets foot on dry land once again, he builds an altar and makes a sacrifice to God, presumable in thanksgiving for not being drowned himself (Genesis 8:20ff). There is no mention that he has any regret for the mass death and destruction which has just occurred or any pity for those who’ve died. It’s God who recognizes that even righteous Noah can be a selfish jerk, and laments, “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth…” (v.21b)

To be sure, Noah actually turns out to be something of a tool. In Genesis 9:18-27 (a story we never teach the kids in Sunday School), our “righteous” friend plants a vineyard, makes wine, gets totally hammered, and passes out buck naked. When his son Ham finds the old man sleeping it off in the buff, he gets his brothers to come and cover him up. Unfortunately, Noah, in his hang-over embarrassment, blames the whole incident on Ham for seeing him nude, and curses him and his descendants forever (As if seeing your dad drunk and naked isn’t enough of a curse already!). The guy whose boat-building skills have saved the human race turns out to be a drunken, abusive father after all. (I guess nobody’s family is perfect.)

Knowing that the flood idea didn’t work too well, God makes another treaty with humankind: This time, God relaxes the rules, knowing that we’re probably going to break them anyway. He even gives up on the vegetarian thing and lets us eat meat (9:3). The new deal is totally one-sided. God just promises that he won’t wipe out life on earth. Period. He seals the deal with the rainbow, his signature on the dotted line which says he loves everything he’s made, and his desire is that it should flourish. There are no pre-conditions on our part.

This is a pretty daring thing for God to do, knowing as God does, how totally weak and faithless we are. God again gives stewardship of this planet into our stupid hands (9:1-2). God promises to be patient and to bless the earth. We’re the ones with the potential to screw it all up.
So what is our response to God’s non-aggression pact? Do we say, “Thanks, God” and forget it, or are we inspired to develop some kind of responsibility towards the other living creatures of all flesh that are upon the earth? Or towrds the earth itself?

I kind of wonder why the Revised Common Lectionary marries the story of God’s covenant with Noah to the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (Mark 8:31-38). Perhaps it’s just to illustrate for us as we begin our Lenten observances that God’s goodness is stronger than sin’s temptation. God is willing to give us this planet and trust that we’ll take care of it. We’ll be tempted to make selfish choices and mess it all up. But Jesus came to walk with us in this wicked, jacked-up world, and teach us by example. We really can be grateful and faithful once we let into our hearts the knowledge that God’s love is mightier than the world’s sin.

Look to the rainbow. Feel God’s grace. Then do the right thing.

Thanks for reading, my friend.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Where's Your Heart? (Reflections on Ash Wednesday)

People don’t like to hear bad news. Especially not in church.

But the prophet Joel (Joel 2:1-2,12-27) is warning us that “a day of darkness and gloom,” is at hand, and we are enjoined to return to the Lord with fasting, weeping, and mourning. And I don’t think his warning is ill-timed at all.

Yesterday, the Federal Office of Management and Budget released its proposed budget for fiscal 2019. According to the smart guys who study these things, this budget will slash Medicare and Medicaid, make deep cuts in the SNAP (Food Stamps) program, and drastically roll back federal protection and oversight for the environment while shoveling huge scoops of money to the military and, potentially, increasing the federal deficit by $7 trillion. Have you considered what would happen on the day when the U.S. government can’t pay back all the money it has to borrow because of run-away military spending and tax cuts? You don’t need to be a Biblical prophet to figure that one out.

We are being called to a Day of Repentance.

In the Gospel assigned for Ash Wednesday (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21), Jesus tells us that where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also (v.21). So where are our hearts? I’d say that just about all of this section of Matthew’s Gospel, part of the “Sermon on the Mount,” is a warning that our hearts have turned inward. Sin, as Martin Luther often pointed out, is a case of the individual curved in on his or herself, forgetting the commands of God and the needs of the world around us.

In the Gospel Jesus warns us about the self-aggrandizing arrogance of those who blow a trumpet when they give alms. But what about those who sound off because they refuse to give alms? What about those who ask, “Why should I pay school tax when my kid doesn’t go there?” or “Why do I have to provide a safety net for people who are too dumb to save for a rainy day like I did?” or “Charity just makes people lazy. Let ‘em get a job!”

We love to sound our trumpets, don’t we? We spend hours on facebook, showing ourselves off. We all become instant celebrities. And we love fame for its own sake—as if notoriety is the same as worthiness, and everything we do must have universal appeal because we’re the ones doing it. (For the record, I’d really love to see pictures of your new grandchild, but I don’t have to see the restaurant meal you’re about to eat or your vacation photos. I’d much rather enjoy a meal with you and have you tell me about your adventures!) So often, however, the touch screen keeps us prisoners of our own narcissism.

Not only do we become besotted with our own lives and narratives, but the instantaneous nature of social media seems to have led us to believe that we’re entitled to everything we want the instant we want it. We grow impatient in our self-importance. We honk the nanosecond the light turns green. We sigh heavily if the customer in front of us has a complicated transaction. We treat minor annoyances like they’re crimes against humanity—ignoring the fact that true crimes against humanity are being committed every day even though our media outlets seem more interested in telling us about the Kardashians.

Ash Wednesday and Lent are our wake-up call. This is a time to get real about who we are and what we care about. This is the time to look inside and ask “Where is my treasure? Where is my heart?”

The exhortations Jesus gives us in this Gospel lesson are meant to re-focus us. He says, “Whenever you give alms…” which to me presupposes that he intends his disciples to be alms-givers. He means for us to be people of compassion who unfold ourselves, look around us, and recognize we have a duty to those in need.

Jesus also gives us a word about our prayer life—which suggests to me that he expects us to have one. He is calling us to seek God’s way in our inmost hearts. Intentionally, Quietly. Personally.

We are also called to that arcane Lenten discipline, fasting. This isn’t just a suggestion that we go on a diet, but a reminder to jettison the unnecessary things in our lives. Traditionally, Lent has been a time of sacrifice. For centuries, Christians have used this forty-day period as time to give up an unnecessary indulgence and dedicate our resources to charitable giving or acts. We can give up the cigarettes or the lattes, and donate the savings to World Hunger. We can give up facebook, and spend the time listening to our families, reading the Scriptures, or praying contemplative prayers. We can give up complaining, and find words of praise for the people around us. We can give up worrying about the world, and commit to some form of advocacy.

The good news is that God is always listening, always present. God is always willing to help us find our way back to being the people we are intended to be. There are no wrongs God can’t make right if our hearts turn in God’s direction. A change in the world begins with a change in our hearts.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Shining Moment (Reflections on the Transfiguration of Our Lord, Year B)

Image result for Images of the transfiguration
It’s no small challenge for a church or a preacher that Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday are falling on the same day this year. The two are kind of like jalapeno nachos and chocolate sauce—I like both of them, but not together. I mean, what are you supposed to do with this conjunction? Send a card that says, “Be mine forever, even though we’re both dust and to dust we shall return?”

But! I think I can make a nice parallel (Okay. Maybe it’s a bit of a stretch but I’m doing my best!) between Valentine’s Day and the Feast of the Transfiguration. In this last Sunday of the Epiphany season in Mark’s gospel (Mark 9:2-9), we see Jesus dressed in dazzling white and utterly transformed before his closest disciples in such a manner that they are completely blown away by the experience.

I experience something similar at wedding ceremonies. I’ve performed quite a few weddings in my time in the ordained ministry. I’ve married some pretty plain looking women, but I’ve never seen a bride who wasn’t beautiful on her wedding day. There’s just something about the nature of the experience which is transformative. People say that brides “glow,” and I can testify that they do—I’ve seen it again and again.

But, of course, it’s not just the physical transformation which defines the experience of a wedding. It’s the fact that this is a life-changing moment when the two become one. Unfortunately, the glow, the dazzling white, the intoxication of joy that occurs when the bride comes down the aisle is a fleeting experience, and like all sublime moments, it will be gone in a breath and live on only in a memory. (Your really expensive wedding album might help you remember it, but the feeling can never quite be recaptured. It’s kind of like our Eagles winning the Super Bowl. There may be other championships sometime in the future, but the comradery and the chemistry and excitement of this past season has been unique, and is destined to fade. That’s a shame, but that’s just how it is.)

For Peter, James, and John on the mountain with Jesus, there was a moment of sublime realization that Jesus was unique and so much more than he appeared to be. He was the one. Granted, they really didn’t know what that meant. Peter, carried away as always by the excitement and joy of the moment, makes an offer to stay forever on that mountain top, but that’s just not practical or even possible. The moment had to fade, but the change in the disciples’ relationship to Jesus had to be permanent.

Again, this is sort of like a wedding. We see our beloved glowing before us, and we don’t imagine we could ever be more happy or in love, or lucky than we are at that moment. But we don’t really know what’s to come, do we?

I appreciate that Jesus orders the boys not to talk about their experience. It makes sense. They won’t be able to explain it or make others feel the way they did. Truth be told, they didn’t really understand the experience themselves. Nevertheless, their lives had been changed by Jesus—even if they didn’t see quite how it would all play out. They were just told to be faithful—faithful to his words.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’m asking the folks in my parish to bring in their wedding pictures to church to have them blessed. We’re also going to invite the married couples in the congregation to renew their wedding vows during the Transfiguration service. Of course, when you think about it, we are always renewing our vows to Christ whenever we gather for public worship. In the liturgy of Confession and Forgiveness, the recitation of the historic creeds of the church, and the coming together to meet Jesus in the Sacrament of the Altar we are keeping the transfiguring moment of our baptism alive and recovering our promise to be faithful. 

Thursday, February 1, 2018

It's a Secret (Reflections on Epiphany 5, Year B)

“…and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.” (Mark 1:34)

My old synodical bishop was a very clever fellow. He used to caution me about giving out too much personal information. He figured there were probably a lot of things the average parishioner just didn’t need to know. “There are nineteen interpretations for everything you say,” he’d tell me, “and eighteen of them are wrong.”

Sometimes it’s just a good idea to keep stuff to yourself. I think that explains the “Messianic Secret” which gets introduced in the gospel lesson in the Revised Common Lectionary for Epiphany 5, Year B (Mark 1:29-39). Jesus, if you’ll recall from last week, has just performed a miraculous healing of a man possessed by an unclean spirit in the local synagogue. People get really excited about this and start talking it up. When Jesus leaves the synagogue and enters the home of his friends Simon and Andrew, he finds Simon’s mother-in-law down sick with a fever. I guess since there’s no other woman there to do the cooking in this male-dominated society, Jesus heals the old gal, and she immediately gets up and starts serving the guys.

(You’d think he’d let her rest a bit, but maybe, being a Jewish mother, she couldn’t rest when there was food to be cooked!)

Suddenly Jesus finds himself to be quite famous. He doesn’t even get a chance to finish dinner before the whole town starts trotting out the sick and demonically possessed hoping he’ll heal them—which, of course, he does. However, he won’t let the demons speak to him. He knows they know who he really is, and he’d rather keep that tidbit of information to himself just at the moment.

Why? I’m guessing it’s because the folks just wouldn’t understand. The demon in the synagogue dimed Jesus out as “the Holy One of God” (verse.24). That wasn’t something Jesus wanted shouted, because he might’ve figured that the local folks would think he was going to be some kind of Davidic king who would free them from their oppressors and give them everything they think they wanted. But that’s not what this messiah came to do.

The next day Jesus goes out to pray by himself. He’s had enough of the crowds cheering his celebrity. He needs a few minutes to connect with God, but the disciples run and find him and tell him that everyone is looking for him. His response is to move on to the neighboring towns and proclaim the kingdom of God. He doesn’t want to stay in Capernaum and take a curtain call. Fame isn’t what he’s after. It also seems to me that he’s not that interested in the individual acts of healing, either.

Jesus says that his mission is to proclaim the message. He might be able to do this through healing and casting out unclean spirits, but such spectacular shows of divine power may have only a minimal effect. Yes, the sick were made well, but they would eventually die some other day. What would their lives be like in the interval between their healing and their death? Would they know the kingdom of God was with them, and would they be able to praise God in all their circumstances and see God’s presence in those around them?

A physical cure is only temporary, but the knowledge of God is a permanent lifestyle. We all call for Jesus when we’re sick or in trouble, but do we know to praise him when we’re well fed and healthy?

You just have to admire Jesus in this lesson. I mean, he’s really being pretty classy, and I think we can learn something from the way he operates. After all, what really matters? Doing the righteous work of God, or being praised for doing it?

God be with you, my friends. Keep proclaiming the Kingdom!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

With Authority (Reflections on Epiphany 4, Year B)

Image result for Images of Jesus healing a man with an unclean spirit
Many years ago, I was playing a pick-up game of basketball with my brother-in-law, Bruce, and I actually made a fairly decent half-court shot. I’d given the ball a pretty enthusiastic heave, causing it to thunder against the backboard before dropping through the net. Bruce smiled at me and gave me the compliment, “With authority!

Authority? What is that exactly? In the gospel lesson appointed for Epiphany 4, Year B in the RCL (Mark 1:21-28) Jesus is said to teach with authority. Webster’s Dictionary gives a boatload of definitions for this word. It can mean the power to command (which Jesus certainly has in this passage), or the reliability of information, or self-assurance and expertness among other uses.

These days, I’m more than a little concerned about “authority” being used as “reliability.” If you haven’t noticed, there’s been a pretty intense attack made against the whole notion of reliable, authoritative information here in America. We keep hearing the term “Fake News,” and a lot of folks are wondering just who to believe these days.

Once upon a time, the church and clerics like my own dear self were considered “authority,” but in the current culture any boob with a computer can become an “ordained” minster with a few mouse clicks on some website. When the Westboro Baptist Church spews its hateful, homophobic poison, when TV evangelists preach more about wealth than compassion, and when we are still feeling the stinging pain of the sexual abuse of children by men who were supposed to be their spiritual guardians, who wants to locate authority in the church or its pastors?

For us as Christians, of course, there’s only one source of authority and that’s Jesus Christ. Jesus is our reliable norm and compass because of who he is and what he has done. The folks in the gospel story call him authoritative because he doesn’t just parrot old doctrine but speaks from his heart. And he proves his authority by what he does.

The Bible—which is our authority because it has revealed Jesus to us—tells of Jesus as a healer and one who casts out evil spirits. We also see him as one who breaks barriers of ethnicity, gender bias, and social class. We see him as a generous feeder of the multitude. We seem him as one who is willing to die in order to speak truth to the powers of this world. We see him act with humility. We see him encourage faith. We see him forgive enemies and heal with his words of forgiveness those who are tormented by their own sins. Because we have seen him living a life of love which speaks truth to our hearts, we want to listen to what he says. His deeds give weight to his words.

If I have any authority within my own congregation, it’s only because I have spent time here, taken time to get to know people, been present at significant moments in their lives, been patient during times of worry, and have convinced them that I genuinely love them. If my actions haven’t proven my integrity, my seminary degree and clerical vestments won’t either.

We in the church always have an opportunity to reclaim authority, but we can only do it by recognizing that all authority comes from Christ. When I stand at the font during the Brief Order of Confession and Forgiveness, I can only repeat the words, “As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ and by his authority, I declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Christian is as Christian does. We are called to be healers. We are called to be champions of forgiveness. We are called to speak for the poor and the ones left outside of society. We are called to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter, the homeless, welcome the stranger, protect the earth, and be givers of hope. If we can do all those things, the world will know that what we say is real.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Saints of the Month: Doug Pederson and the Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles logo
“…but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like E-A-G-L-E-S..! (Isaiah 40:31)

Holy cow! It looks like our beloved Philadelphia Eagles are going to the Super Bowl! Indeed, this has been an astounding season, and I’ve been caught up in the euphoria of it just like everyone else here in Philly. The NFC Championship game played last Sunday against Minnesota started off as a tense battle and ended as a massacre. I’ll bet there are a lot of unhappy Lutherans up there in the Twin Cities, but here in Philly there are, I think, lots of reasons to rejoice.

First, the excitement and enthusiasm of a hometown win knocked the embarrassment of the (mercifully temporary) government shut-down off the front page. Democrat or Republican, black or white, rich or poor, all of Philly was high-fiving and fist-bumping together as our Birds soared to victory. The innocence of the game reminded us (I hope) that, whatever our differences might be, there still are things which can unite us. If the two Koreas can march together in the Winter Olympics, there just might be hope for the human race after all. Truly, we have more in common than we have differences.

Secondly, I am struck by the sense of affectionate comradery expressed by the Philadelphia players in their post-victory interviews. I get the feeling that these guys genuinely like—maybe even love—each other. There is a spirit of humble unity and a lack of unsportsmanlike ego that seems to come from this team. For this, I can only give credit to Coach Doug Pederson. It is a testament to this man’s leadership that he was able to imbue this group of athletes with a sense of respect and common purpose. It was inspiring to see the injured Carson Wentz—a hero deprived of the glory of a championship game—on the sidelines giving selfless support to Nick Foles. It’s amazing what can happen when egos are put aside and replaced with a dedication to common purpose.

I was also impressed with the way our Eagles performed under pressure. When Viking quarterback Case Keenum was threatened by a rushing Eagles defense, he frequently threw incomplete. Nick Foles, regardless of the onslaught from the Viking line, hit his receiver, demonstrating great grace under pressure. Maybe he remembered that this was only a game and not a cause for panic. Foles’ performance in that game reminded me of a quote from John 12:25:

“Those who love their life lose, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

Now, I feel quite certain that, at this moment, if there’s anyone who’s loving his life, it’s Nick Foles. But to understand this passage, you need to know that in ancient Greek, the word which is translated as “hate” doesn’t necessarily mean “despise intensely.” Rather, I think it’s used in this sense as the antonym of “love.” That is, if to love is to feel great passionate affection for something or someone, then its opposite is simply not to feel great passionate affection. Perhaps the verse would be better translated, “Those who are indifferent to the things of this world will give their hearts to eternal things.” In other words: don’t sweat the small stuff. Save your love for the God-pleasing nature of your daily work, your family, and your compassion for all of God’s children and God’s creation.

It’s so easy to lose ourselves when we are under pressure, and to turn an inconvenience into a catastrophe. As individuals, as Christians, as church members, and as Americans we all should be taking a page out of Nick’s book and keeping perspective. Events may be rushing at us, but there are always larger things to consider. As the holy season of Lent approaches, we will again be reminded that we are only dust, and to dust we will return. For my part, I would rather leave behind a legacy of compassion rather than indignation. I want to keep focused on things that really matter.

I compose this article weeks before Super Bowl LII is to be played. I certainly hope our Eagles are victorious, but—sorry, Coach Lombardi—I can’t believe that wining is the only thing. Win or lose on February 4th, our team gave us an exciting year, and I’m grateful enough for that. Besides, the excitement of the season aside, I’m beginning to think that victory is overrated.

When we look down the aisle of our churches, above the altars, and into the apse, we don’t see the image of a victorious general or a great potentate. We see the image of a man facing humiliating defeat—a crucified criminal who has lost his freedom, his dignity, and his life out of love and compassion for the human race. In John’s gospel Jesus tells us, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). No matter what the world throws at us, Jesus loves us enough to enter into our anguish and humiliation. With such grace and love given to us, can we be anything but winners?

Thursday, January 18, 2018

It's All About the Gathering (Reflections on Epiphany 3, Year B)


“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15)
Have you ever heard young people say they don’t believe in “organized religion?” That phrase always gives me a bit of a smug chuckle. I want to tell the unbelieving slacker, “Dude, if it’s not organized, technically it’s not religion. It’s just some weird stuff that rolls around in your head. It’s not a religion unless you can share it. To share it, you have to have an agreed upon vocabulary and context with someone else. Once you’ve agreed, you’ve organized it.”

Yup. That’s the thing about religion. It requires cooperation. We have to agree on a common mythology, a common interpretation, a way to regularly recognize that common story through rites and rituals, and a common understanding of how that story should play out in our code of behavior and interpersonal relationships. When some millennial tells me that she’s “spiritual, but not religious,” I just think she’s too lazy and self-involved to want to deal personally with a community.

Okay. So maybe I’m just a grumpy old fart, but look around. We in the US are a bunch of folks growing increasingly more isolated. We drive alone in our cars, spend incredible amounts of supposedly interpersonal time staring at the touch screens on our cellular devices, work in cubicles, and shut the world out with our ear buds. I go to my local Starbucks and see a table of millennials supposedly sitting together, yet each is half focused on a cell phone in his or her lap. Our technology, instead of pulling us together as was promised, is drawing us further apart as we each sink into the oblivion on our computer screens and hear only the voices we’ve chosen to hear. I’ve heard that young Muslims have become radicalized—not through fanatical imams in their local mosques—but through zealots on the internet who have tapped into the young person’s feelings of alienation and estrangement.

In the gospel lesson appointed for Epiphany 3 (Mark 1:14-20), Jesus is creating community. He’s calling people into a fellowship which continually gathers and welcomes newcomers like a fisherman gathers fish in a net. That’s what religion is supposed to do—gather people together. We’re all subjects in the kingdom of God, but we could use a little work these days on the togetherness issue.

For my part, as a parish pastor in beautiful Northeast Philadelphia, I’m going to try to work on three issues. The first is young people. If you look at our gospel text from Mark, you’ll see that Jesus really gets his recruiting motor revved up after radical John the Baptist gets locked up for speaking truth to power (v.14). I think it’s interesting to note that Jesus heads right into the neighborhood where John had been preaching. He doesn’t run away from a dangerous mission, he runs toward it. I think young Americans are just itching to speak out, make a difference, and see that justice, mercy, and fairness exist in this country. What better leader could they have than Jesus?

Can we in the mainline Christian church see ourselves as recruiters for those who want to make a change in society? Can we gather those who see Jesus’ love of the poor as a call to mission to redistribute wealth through acts of charity and a voice against the structure which seeks to give tax breaks to billionaires and cut aid to children? In any event, I’m going to make it one of my priorities this year to involve younger Christians in the work of social justice, and—just maybe—teach them a little about the gospel while doing it.

I see another call to gathering in our relationship with Christians of other traditions. My Lutheran congregation shares its worship facility with the loveliest congregation of Seventh Day Adventists. These folks have given us an exceedingly generous facilities use offering, and have been splendidly cooperative and accommodating to our activities schedule. They keep the church clean, and are unfailingly polite. Unfortunately, the way they worship, look, and speak is vastly different from the way we worship, look, and speak. Because of this, we might forget that they worship the same God and Lord Jesus Christ that we do. I think there’s a great need to bring our two communities together at some point so we can know each other, appreciate our differences and similarities, and give thanks to God for the gospel we all share. It’s far too easy for American Christians to think of renter congregations as “those people” who use “OUR church.” The church belongs to Christ, not to us, and our SDA friends belong here just as much as we do.

(Additionally, President Trump has just declared that our Adventist friends—who are Haitian and Haitian-American—are somehow less desirable than people who’ve come from other parts of the world. He should meet these people. They are kind, cheerful, intelligent, respectful, and talented. It is an honor to have them as partners in the gospel.)

Finally, I’m going to try to gather a new part of our community into the net. I have an appointment next week at the Muslim Youth Center of Philadelphia. Our Muslim neighbors have asked Christian churches in the neighborhood to help them articulate their mission, so I’m going to see what I can do to help. I want to practice what J. Paul Rajashakar called the “Theology of Hospitality.” That is, acknowledging what I don’t know about my neighbor’s faith, and trying to see if we can come up with a vocabulary to focus on the beliefs we hold in common rather than dwelling on our dissimilarities. I think God will be glorified by the effort.

I’ll admit that getting together isn’t always easy. Sometimes we just don’t want to engage our neighbor. The Hebrew Scriptures text from Jonah (Jonah3:1-5, 10) is a reminder that God’s desire for togetherness and unity is not always our desire. Jonah didn’t want those dreadful Nineveh people to be redeemed by God. But God wanted it.

That’s what counts, don’t you think?