Sunday, April 28, 2013

Easter 5C

I wasn’t going to answer the door. I should have ignored it.

My sermon is usually put to bed well before Saturday night, but this particular week I guess I was lazy, because I was in my office banging away on the computer when I should have been at home in front of the TV watching Hockey Night in Canada.

Maybe I was being punished for my sloth.

I answered the door.

“We want to talk about God,” one of them said. They were two young men. One was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. The other was dressed in what I can only describe as a long, dress-like, shirt with matching beige coloured pants and sandals.

“Boy, the fish are jumping right in the boat,” I thought to myself.

I invited them to my office and they sat down. They got right to the point.

“What do you believe about God?” one of them asked, but more like an accusation than a question.

I was taken aback. I stammered a bit. How does one sum up Christianity in a few sentences?

“We believe that God, revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, died on the cross and rose again three days later. And that we are joined to Christ’s life, death, and resurrection through what we call ‘Holy Baptism.’ And because of this we believe our sins have been forgiven, and God has promised us new and everlasting life.”

A quick answer.

They were unimpressed.

“You also believe in the Holy Spirit?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied. “We believe the Holy Spirit is the power of the Risen Jesus alive in us and in the world.”

I mentally patted myself on the back for such a succinct answer. But it was clear that they weren’t buying it.

“So, you believe in three gods?” he asked.

“No, we believe in One God, three Persons.”

“What’s the difference?” he asked, his voice rising.

“Think of H20, it is liquid, steam, and ice. Three different expressions of the same substance,” I said, knowing how oversimplified my answer was.

Again, they looked unimpressed.

The fellow in the long shirt then rose from his chair and with his index finger pointing heavenward, he yelled, “There is not three gods, there is only one God, and his name is Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet. The Koran is God’s holy revelation to mankind!”

Whoa! You guys didn’t tell me you were Muslims (although I suspected as much).

“You do not have the authority to forgive sins!,” he blasted while pointing at me, “You do not need priests to mediate between God and man…!”

“How about between God and women?” I thought to myself, “And who said anything about priests? This is a LUTHERAN church. Do your homework, buddy, if you’re going to come in here and start accusing me of things.”

“You don’t need phony rituals like baptism and communion! All you need is to get down on your knees and BEG Allah for forgiveness and turn your life towards him!”

Phony rituals? Baptism and communion? He obviously came with a prepared speech.

His sidekick chimed in. He had a softer tone, clearly the good cop to his friend’s bad cop. “It’s not that we’re trying to convert you,” he said, “We just want to have a conversation.”


“This 'conversation' is over,” I said ushering them to the door.

And as they were leaving, the loud one turned to me and said, “You’ve been given Allah’s message from not ONE, but TWO Muslims. You need to turn your life over to the true God NOW, before it’s too late. You could die tonight on the way home, and if you don't repent, you will find yourself in damnation.”

Was that a threat?

“Please leave,” I said.


This happened about 10 years ago when I living and serving in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I tell you this not to bash Muslims (Lord knows there’s enough of that going around these days, and Muslims are as varied a group as Christians), but because I experienced first-hand how abusive and uncaring religion can be– the very opposite of what most scriptures teach.

My encounter with these Muslims haunted me. I’ve tried to pin-point why it bothered me so much. And I think it was because, despite their warnings, they actually didn’t care about me.

Ultimately, they didn’t care if Kevin George Powell husband (at the time) to Rebekah, dad to Sophie (and Naomi on the way), became a Muslim. I wasn’t a person to them. I was an object. They weren’t motivated by love. They were interested in power. They wanted to hammer away at my faith; they were angry with me for not sharing their beliefs.

They wanted another covert. Another notch on their belt. Another conquest.

They wanted to be superior.

They’re not the only ones who do this. It breaks my heart when I see Christians doing the same thing, Christians who threaten non-Christians with the eternal fires of Hell and call it “good news,” Christians who believe they’re arbiters of God’s judgment. Churches who adopt a hostile stance toward so-called "non-believers" and call it “proclamation.”

For example, a church back in Lethbridge once displayed a sign on their front lawn that said, “Jesus is coming back whether it is politically correct or not.”

When I first saw that sign I thought, “Why the confrontation? Why pick a fight like that? What was that message supposed to accomplish except to alienate people and make members of that church feel superior to others?”

But the bible tells us that we are simple messengers. We have been asked to bring good news where there is bad news. Healing where there is pain. Comfort where there is grief.

We are called to announce that the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of justice, peace, compassion, and life has broken into our world. That God’s New Creation is blossoming all around us.

We are asked to love as God loves.

It’s been my experience that when people strike out at Christians, it is because they’ve been hurt by Christians.

When non-Christians lash out at us it’s usually because we often demand that they adopt our agenda without first receiving our saviour.

When secular people oppose us it’s often because we insist on a privileged position in society, rather than taking our rightful place as servants.

What people do NOT need is dogmatic absolutism. Folks aren’t swayed by hostile arguments or rigid “propositional truth” demands.

People are longing to be loved. They need forgiveness. They’re longing to know that their broken lives can be put back together, and that there is healing for their hurts.

They need to know that there’s nothing they can do to make God love them more than God already does and there’s nothing they can do to make God love them less. That God’s wild and passionate love for them never changes.

It’s love that transforms lives. Not anger. Not confrontation.

It’s love that brings healing. Not threats. Not finger-pointing or shaming.

Jesus makes this abundantly clear in today’s gospel. He even shows us how to “do” love. He wraps a towel around his waist and washed his disciples feet. He takes the form of a servant - a slave - showing his followers what it means to love as he loves.

Notice one thing. For Jesus, “love” isn’t warm feelings toward someone else. He’s not telling us to feel a certain emotion for others. Love isn’t mere words.

For Jesus, love is action. Love is a verb. Love has dirt under its fingernails and mud on its boots. Love gets its hands dirty, because love means dealing people, and get into the messiness of their lives.

People can be petty, angry, mean, self-absorbed, obnoxious, short-sighted, and self-righteous.

But people can also be kind, generous, warm, and compassionate.

Often in the same person.

But Jesus never said it would be easy to love. But that’s the challenge, isn’t it? In fact, Jesus said that people would know we are God’s people by how much we love. People would know we are Christians by our loving actions.

That’s the new heaven and new earth that John talked about in our second lesson, where the world will be healed, where mourning and crying and pain will be no more, where everything will be made new.

John in Revelation is talking about a world - God’s world - where the consequences of our petty and self-centred ways - the ways of sin - are washed away, and only God’s way of love remains.

John is showing us a vision of God’s world where humans live in harmony with each other and the earth, where justice and peace reign over our lives, where life blossoms and grows all around us.

John is showing us God’s resurrection life for the world, where all the destructive forces that defy God’s loving purposes are drowned,  the new heaven and new earth unite, and all creation rejoices in God’s saving work.

And we see glimpses of that world when we find a towel wrapped around our waists, and we wash each others’ feet, when we wash the world’s feet, with no other agenda other than to love, to wipe clean, and to care for others and the world God made.

We see glimpses of that world when our self-centred ways are pushed aside and we see others - even our enemies - as God sees them, as beloved children who are loved beyond our ability to comprehend.

But, again, this is not easy, but it is God working through us. Loving people can be risky. It can hurt. It costs something.

Just ask Jesus. He knows something about the price of love. And he also know its worth.


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