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Love in Disagreement (June 2, 2019)

John 17:20-26

[Jesus prayed,] “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I’m sensing a little bit of division in our country. I know, I know, sometimes it just seems like I’m just making stuff up. But if you look closely, you just might see evidence that there could be some truth in what I’m saying.

Much of the division seems to be centered politically. That’s not the only arena, but it is certainly one of the largest. What seems to be happening is that I and those who agree with me are right, therefore you and the people who agree with you must be wrong. And since you’re already wrong, I cannot work with you, cooperate with you, or (God forbid), compromise (gag). That would be selling out to the enemy—those who are wrong, aka, those I disagree with.

So this part of Jesus’ prayer in John’s gospel seem rather odd. He’s praying for unity, for oneness. That we would be one as he and the Father are one. “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us . . . I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one.”

In this culture of division, do we even know what unity means? Does it mean we all agree all the time? That we always get along? That we look the same? That we believe all the same things about God? That we all vote the same way?

That would be more like “uniformity” than “unity.” That’s different.

Unity is about being part of a community. Standing together. Being with and for each other for a greater purpose than our individual selves.

Unity is all the Lutheran denominations, who can’t even come to the Lord’s table together, who nonetheless work together through Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran World Federation, and Lutheran Disaster Response for the sake of those suffering.

Unity is a family, whether together in one household, spread across the country, or simply chosen, all committed to loving one another and being present for one another no matter who you voted for or where you work or what your gender identity is.

Unity is a congregation that goes to a lot of trouble and expense, spending months in planning and coordinating, just to have 5 really good nights of Vacation Bible School for the children of our neighborhood. Five evenings where our neighbor kids will not just hear, but will experience unconditional love. Five nights that no one can take away from them.

Jesus isn’t praying for us to get along. He’s not praying for us to express the same moral views or even go to the same church or confess the same doctrines. He’s praying that the love that binds him and the Father together would also bind us to one another and to him.

He’s praying that this love would catch us up, hold us together, and be shared in the world that Jesus also loves.

He’s praying that this love, this unity, this purpose is what we’ll be known for in the world. Not just the original disciples gathered around his table at the Last Supper, but “also on behalf of those will believe in me . . . that they may all be one.” Jesus includes us in his prayer. That we would be united: in him and in one another, together in the love God has for us and the whole world.

And here’s the thing: his prayer is answered. Not perfectly, but there are still signs of Christ’s love that holds us all together being expressed—both in this building and beyond. We don’t always agree; that’s fine. Christians don’t always get along; that’s unfortunate but not necessary. Some Lutherans aren’t even able to pray together. But God’s love, that holds us together, is still shown among us. And it is shown in the world. Unity is about love. And the love of Christ can be seen uniting us all over the place.

Even in this politically divided country where one party can’t even talk to the other. And yet, so far this year, the 116th Congress has passed 17 laws with bipartisan support. Including the creation of 1.3 million more acres of public lands and national parks, the largest in a decade. They’ve passed changes to Medicaid services, even a Colorado River Drought Contingency. And it looks like they may be ready to pass a couple more very soon: the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, and (one that will change my life) the Telephone Consumer Protection Act which will block illegal robocalls. That’s become so bad that I’m actually getting robocalls from my own phone number!

The unity Jesus prays for exists—it’s just that sometimes we need to dig underneath some of our disagreements to find it. Which is why our unity in our love-for-all is a game-changer. It’s an answer to prayer. Rather than basing our lives on our disagreements, here we base our lives on the love God has for us. And we show the world what that love looks like as it holds us together. And we share that same love with the world as it holds us together with them.

“I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Maybe we’re not so divided after all. We’re all united in God’s love. But we are the ones who will show the world what that looks like. God loves the entire world—it’s just that as the church, we can dig underneath the disagreements and bring that love to the surface so it can be known.

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Posted by on May 31, 2019 in Sermon

 

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One Family. Period. (March 31, 2019)

This was my sermon, given at Green Mountain United Methodist Church as part of an ecumenical “Pulpit Exchange.”

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: . . . 11 “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” 22 But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. 25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’ “

I am so pleased that it’s been a full ten years now that the United Methodist Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have enjoyed full-communion partnership. That is significant for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that we can do this kind of pulpit swap without worrying about kickback from our respective bishops.

But also, together we are making a statement to the world that unity in Christ can be celebrated in the very midst of our diversity. Even when you note our distinctive histories and practices, we have much more in common than we have differences. That matters.

Far too often the world only sees the church expressing division and disunity. They only notice our self-righteous declarations of correct doctrine. They only pay attention to those times of arrogant positioning on narrow biblical interpretation. In the face of that, together we are proclaiming to the world unity in Christ. And if they take a look at the Methodists and the Lutherans, they will see what a celebration of unity in the midst of diversity looks like.

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that in our world this message of unity and common purpose is far more important than any message of division or exclusion.

It seems to me that we set an example for the rest of the church as we recognize the diversity among us and still joyfully celebrate our unity in Christ.

It seems to me that in the midst of divisive activity meant to exclude certain people, we can boldly proclaim that by the grace of God we are One Church that has room for all.

And the United Methodist Church, through public statements by the Western Jurisdiction, the Mountain Sky Conference, the Council of Bishops, the Commission on a Way Forward, and notably the actions and voice of this congregation, are claiming the life-changing love of Jesus Christ for ALL people.

We in the ELCA, and specifically we at Lutheran Church of the Master proudly stand with you in support and admiration as you boldly proclaim on Green Mountain that God’s love includes everyone—without exception. Regardless of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, documentation, political views, religion, or anything else that to some may divide, you reveal the risen Christ by lovingly including anyone. I’m proud to stand in this pulpit today.

You walk in good company. Not only with Methodist tradition, but also with scriptural consistency of God’s radical, extravagant, all-inclusive love. Today’s text is just one of many that make clear the radical love for all of God’s people. I want to turn to that now.

A father loves both his sons. Even though they are as different as night and day. The younger son is selfish and disrespectful. He’ll get a share of the property after his father has died. But asking for his share of the family property before then is way out of line. The father doesn’t have to grant the request—some would say he would be foolish to do so. It not only is reckless, but makes the father (and the whole family) look untrustworthy to the entire community.

Yet the only thing this parent hopes for is the return of this child. If you notice, the parent doesn’t wait for this prodigal to repent or make amends or prove they won’t do this foolish thing again. No, the point is that this parent’s love for their child knows no limits, no boundaries, no conditions. If this horrible child is loved this much by their parent, how much more is the Divine love for any of us. Without limits. Without boundaries. Without conditions. Love that seems foolish, extravagant, beyond reason. Love that has to be celebrated with a party. Love that restores this child, not just into the periphery, but to full status as part of the family—complete with rings and robes and sandals. Because all are invited. All are included. All are loved. There is One Family, and whether this child deserves it or not isn’t the question. The only thing that matters is the waiting arms of this loving parent. That’s what God’s love looks like. That’s the image in which we are created and that we are called to reveal to the world.

There’s also the elder child, the self-righteous one who clings to their resentment and anger. They think this inclusion of the unworthy sibling is unjust—even unrighteous. From this child’s perspective, their parent’s love for the younger one shows a disregard for faithfulness. Yet, this elder one knows better than anyone how radical God’s all-encompassing love is. They are offended and scandalized by this love. Because it goes beyond sensibility, beyond righteousness. Unconditional love is going to be offensive to some. Because it includes people some of us would rather not include.

So this loving parent reaches out to this child too. They affirm this child’s place in the family and invite this one also to come to the party. Because all are invited. All are included. All are loved. There is One Family, and whether this child deserves it or not isn’t the question. The only thing that matters is the waiting arms of this loving parent. That’s what God’s love looks like. That’s the image in which we are created and that we are called to reveal to the world.

As we strive to love all people the way God loves all people, we can’t help but be One Church.

Both children are included. Both have a place in God’s love. Whether any child deserves it or not isn’t the question. Because all are invited. All are included. All are loved. There is One Church, and whether any of us deserve it or not isn’t the question. The only thing that matters is the waiting arms of a loving God. That’s what God’s love looks like. That’s the image in which we are created and that’s what GMUMC is revealing to the world.

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Religion for Division or for Unity? (June 3, 2018)

Mark 2:23—3:6

One sabbath [Jesus] was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26 He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” 27 Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”
3:1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

A number of years ago I was visiting my mom and went to church with her. She belonged to a different branch of Christianity and the doctrines around communion were rather strict. Knowing this, I had planned to not participate until the pastor, who knew what I do for a living, looked me square in the eye during the sermon and said, “Holy Communion is for the entire body of Christ.” I figured he was telling me it was OK to come to communion.

So I did.

Apparently, I had misunderstood what he was saying in the sermon. Because when I got to the front, he simply stood there. No bread, no blessing, he just stood still, quietly looking at the floor.

I felt I needed to add to the awkwardness of the moment too, so I chose to stand there and wait also.

There were two lines coming forward for communion, and the other line kept moving. My line was now stopped and the pastor and I shared this moment together. Finally, he said to me, “Uhmm, we don’t normally do this.” So I continued on my way, making my way past the wine chalice back around to the pew where my mom had long since returned. She was aghast. I was simply embarrassed.

After the service, the pastor was waiting for me. He had run into his office and retrieved the documentation that prohibited him from giving me communion. He showed me the section—he even underlined it—that said I, by virtue of being of a different Christian tradition, wasn’t to be included.

The pastor correctly followed his tradition’s doctrine. But his use of that doctrine itself wasn’t good discipleship. It segregated people and ranked them. There became insiders and outsiders. It was religion at its worst.

Religion can be the worst thing we do or it can be the best. It can be used for separation, judgment, and division or it can be used for compassion, forgiveness, and unity. Division happens when our religions become an end unto themselves. When we are led by ideologies and doctrines instead of the Spirit of God.

Unity happens when our religions point us toward the Divine. When we

are opened to the loving nature and character of God that come to us and make us new.

We can look to our religious preferences and doctrines to justify ourselves, or we can use our religious traditions and practices as ways to open us to the presence of God.

Both happen in this text in Mark today. There seems to be a disagreement between Jesus and the Pharisees and Herodians about keeping Sabbath laws. And it’s quite a disagreement! Except the thing is the Pharisees and Herodians (who rarely agreed with each other) didn’t really disagree with Jesus’ interpretation of Sabbath law here. All three would agree that compassion takes precedence over Sabbath. That was long understood and accepted.

What’s at stake here isn’t the doctrine itself, but the role of their religion. The Pharisees and Herodians are using the Sabbath laws to determine who’s in and who’s out, who’s righteous and who’s unrighteous. And, surprise, surprise, using their argument they come out better than everyone else. The Jewish doctrine around Sabbath became for them an end unto itself. It took on a life of its own. The Pharisees and Herodians correctly followed their tradition’s doctrine. But their use of that doctrine itself wasn’t good discipleship. It segregated people and ranked them. There became insiders and outsiders. It was religion at its worst.

Jesus, on the other hand, understood Sabbath laws as means to emphasize God’s compassion. Sabbath is about restoring, about giving life. More than just “not working,” but all people being refreshed and restored.

Of course you restore a man on the Sabbath! Now not only is his hand fixed, but he can go back to work and take care of his family. His dignity and his position within the community are restored. For Jesus, the Sabbath is about restoring life for everyone, not righteousness for yourself. For Jesus, the Sabbath is for everyone. It is a chance for all things to be restored and renewed. The doctrine of Sabbath points to God’s desire to restore everyone, God’s desire for life for everyone. Sabbath law is a way to make sure all can be renewed. For Jesus it cannot be a way to rank or divide or exclude. For Jesus, Sabbath law was religion at its best.

Hearing that your religion doesn’t make you more righteous than anyone else can be hard to listen to. Hearing that the dividing line that separates us from them, good from bad, orthodox from heretical is not what religion is about can make a person angry. That’s what got the Pharisees and Herodians plotting against Jesus. Religion at its worst destroys life.

But hearing through your religion that even at your worst times, even at your lowest, even at your weakest and most vulnerable places, you matter to God as much as the best, highest, and strongest can be liberating—exhilarating! Inclusivity and unconditional love are the nature—the essence—of God. Religion that opens us up to this nature of God gives life. That is religion at its best.

Christianity, even Lutheranism, isn’t an end unto itself. There are devout Lutherans who use their religion to judge, to divide, and to proclaim their own righteousness. But there are others, some who aren’t even Lutheran(!), who recognize their faith as a way to be open to God’s unconditional love and grace, and who then show that same compassion to all that God loves. We Lutherans have a helpful way of looking at that. But whether Lutheran or not, that is religion at its best.

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2018 in Sermon

 

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A Step into Reconciliation (July 31, 2016)

This sermon can be viewed at: https://www.facebook.com/lcm.lakewood/

Colossians 3:1-11

But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have . . . clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in . . . the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

Living in Christ we are being transformed, renewed. We are being changed out of malice and slander, and abusive language. Instead, we are being clothed in the new, in Christ. We are being transformed into his image.

So, of course there is no longer Greek and Jew, slave and free. There is no longer Democrat or Republican. There is no longer police and African American. There is only Christ and the new life we are being brought into. And we are the people God has called and equipped to show the world what that looks like.

In Christ, we are no longer dividers, but uniters.

In Christ, we no longer bring disparity, but unity.

In Christ, we no longer act according to our human differences, but according to Christ alive in the other.

It seems that our nation needs reconciliation now more than ever. We need unity as we move forward. We need to recognize Christ, present in love and compassion and understanding, in those who are different than we are.

Today is the day to begin bringing reconciliation. Because we’re the ones who acknowledge reconciliation through Christ. Since we are united in Christ, we bring reconciliation and togetherness to our world in him. It has to be us. No one else is nearly so equipped for this work.

With the urging of our Worship Planning Ministry, I had a few conversations in preparation for worship today. Half were with Officer Steve Davis from the Public Information Office of the Lakewood Police Department. The other half were with Rev. Frank Davis, pastor of Zion Baptist Church near Five Points in Denver, the oldest historically African American congregation in the Rocky Mountain area—chartered in 1865.

In each set of conversations we talked about divisiveness. We talked about anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language. And we talked about reconciliation. I asked how we can facilitate some means of reconciliation and support for both the police and our African American brothers and sisters.

And I listened as each told me about the heartache, the sadness, the misunderstanding, the undeserved anger, the divisions they experience. These were emotional conversations that went to the heart of divisiveness. I was moved when Officer Steve Davis asked if we would pray for the police department—not just today, but ongoing. Pray for guidance, for wisdom, and for good judgment. And I was moved when Rev. Frank Davis grabbed my hands prayed for us and our ministry of reconciliation.

And based on those conversations, and with their endorsements, we have the opportunity commit to acts of reconciliation and encouragement. Recognizing that in Christ there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free. But in Christ we are all made new.

There are two letters in the back of the worship area. One is addressed to the Lakewood Police. The other to Zion Baptist. You are encouraged  to read and to sign each one if you choose to do so.

The letter to the police department is a letter of encouragement and support. Recognizing the dangers and the difficulties of their job each day, it is a letter of gratitude. By signing it, however, we would also be committing to holding the Lakewood Police Department regularly in prayer in an ongoing way. That is our act of unity in Christ: affirming those who sometimes feel unappreciated, or even targeted, as they serve us all with wisdom and good judgement.

The other letter to Zion is a letter of acknowledgment. Openly acknowledging that in our country there is a history of racial disparity, from which our African American brothers and sisters have suffered. Acknowledging that the differences between racial groups have been used to divide us. And again, our African American brothers and sisters have suffered more as a result. By signing this letter, however, we are committing ourselves to seek to establish a relationship with someone who is different than us, to help us understand, love, and be part of God’s reconciling work. As for me, I plan to get to know the Imam at the RMIC here in Lakewood.

As Rev. Davis and I talked in his office at Zion, he said that the fabric of our country is torn & can only be mended by love. Love happens in relationships. But because we’re afraid of those who are different, we avoid it. Reconciliation is grounded in love. That’s how it happens. By signing this letter to Zion, we commit to that work of reconciliation through a relationship with someone different in some way. Perhaps a different race or religion, a different sexual identity, a different political party, a different set of physical abilities, or a different language. But we, who trust we are transformed in Christ, we are the ones who must lead this movement of reconciliation in a divided country. As Rev. Davis says, “the answer isn’t in the White House, it’s not in the State House. It’s in the Church House.”

Today, we support others in Jesus’ name. Today, we walk with others in Jesus’ name. Today, we bring a little more unity into our world in Jesus’ name.

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2016 in Sermon

 

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Wherever We Draw Dividing Lines, God Has Already Erased Them (Eph 2:11-22)

I was having a conversation a while back with someone. As sometimes happens when we allow it, the conversation turned to things spiritual. In the course of the conversation I asked this person why they didn’t take part in a church. They said, “God and I are OK, so I don’t really need a church.”

I wasn’t quite sure what to say, and, of course, couldn’t think of anything at the moment. So I went deep and offered the profound, wise response of, “Oh . . . OK.”

But that comment has stuck with me. If, as Ephesians says in chapter one (last week), God’s work of saving all creation and all people is now in place, then what do we need a church for? If all obstacles between humanity and God have been removed, then “God and me” are OK. So what’s the point of the church?

These verses in Ephesians give us a glimpse of an answer. The author starts by stating that in the cross, Jesus has “[created] in himself one new humanity . . . thus making peace.”

“One new humanity.” Jesus has created peace by creating one new humanity. Out of divided people, both Jews and Gentiles claiming the way of righteousness, each claiming to be better, each blaming the other for their woes, each focusing on the differences between them, Jesus has created something new in himself. One new humanity, reconciled to God and to each other through the cross. In Jesus the whole household of God is joined together, built together, reconciled together, with Jesus as the cornerstone of the whole structure. If there’s any disunity, it’s our doing, not God’s. We are the ones who put up divisions. And then we have the audacity to use God’s name to maintain these divisions.

The God who is reconciling all creation has also created a church with a particular purpose: to reveal God–which means God’s reconciliation–to the world. We can’t expect the world to get along if we can’t. How can we expect the peace of God in the world when the church isn’t boldly loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us? God’s church keeps separating, dividing, splitting and splintering over issues of doctrine or being “more right” than someone else, and then somehow we think the world is going to see God through our actions?

I caught part of the ESPY Awards on Wednesday night included betowing the Arthur Ashe Courage Award to Caitlyn Jenner–formerly Bruce Jenner. Regardless of any controversy around how she got the award, I find it sad that it’s the people who claim reconciliation in Christ who are often the most critical of her as a transgendered woman. Either we are reconciled in Christ or we are not. Either we trust God’s work on the cross or we don’t. We can’t have it both ways. If we are reconciled to God in Christ, then we are reconciled to one another in Christ too. It’s the same reconciling work. The cross has made us all one in Jesus.

Yes, each one of us is OK with God, but that means that we have to be OK with each other. The divisions we create–no matter where–are denials of Christ’s work on the cross.

Draw divisions wherever you want: male/female, young/old, long-timer/newcomer, 8:00/10:30, heretical /orthodox, active/inactive, progressive/conservative, gay/straight, Christian/Muslim, natural-born/immigrant. It doesn’t matter. Because God has already made peace between whatever groups we’re talking about. There is now just one new humanity with Jesus as the cornerstone of it. The dividing line has been erased. We are one instead of two, reconciled through the cross. The hostility between any of us has been put to death. In Jesus the whole thing is joined together. To deny another person–no matter who they are–is to deny Jesus.

When we pray today, let’s be sure to pray for our enemies, those we disagree with, those who’ve hurt us, those we are convinced God shouldn’t love. Whether we can love them or not, God already does. Whether we include them or not, God already has. Whether we are reconciled with them or not, they are already OK with God.

There is now one new humanity. We just have to admit it.

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2015 in Sermon

 

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