Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Church, Fundamentalism, Funky Jesus, God, Grace, Inspiration, Jesus, Religion, Sermon, Spirituality, The Palisades Community Church
I was warned about people like you. Liberal, ecumenical people who water down the gospel of Jesus Christ and will someday find themselves spending an eternity burning and rotting in hell. So, you can see the big risk that I take being amongst you. Evangelists, missionaries and pastors warned me to avoid our community’s historic principles of acceptance and unity as originating from the devil and regions somewhere much hotter than these. In they eyes of some we are doomed. Repent! The end is near! Yet, I cannot help but feel emboldened by living out the expanding grace and mercy of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Isn’t it wonderful to be living out the good news of acceptance, reconciliation and to giving away control of whom it is that God has chosen to sit beside you this morning?
In my own faith journey it was in high school that I became uneasy about the exclusivity of my own beliefs. Since my faith taught me to read scripture literally I decided to become a pacifist. The scripture did say things like “Blessed are the peacemakers,” and “turn the other cheek.” So, when a friend asked me to join him at an odd group named Youth for a Nuclear Freeze I didn’t hesitate because they were seeking the peace that I read about in the gospel. Meeting at the Unitarian church I felt out of place sitting cross legged on the floor and hearing about how many times our world could be destroyed by the proliferation of nuclear missiles. It was not like any type of meeting that I had ever attended at a church before. Most of the other “youth” at the meeting attended churches like the Unitarian, Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Episcopal and Lutheran churches. Occasionally people of faiths other than Christianity attended our meetings. There was a spirit of camaraderie that I had never experienced from people of such divergent faith backgrounds.
This however was not the accepting reaction that I received when I went back to the campus crusade group and my own church youth group. When some found out that I was a part of a group that was associated with our church’s political and ideological enemies people came to warn me about my participation in something that was evil. How could I be yoked with unbelievers? It was a slippery slope after all.
My own crisis of faith culminated when someone took me aside and asked me, “Brian, what if unbelievers see you with this group and turn away from asking Jesus into their hearts? I do not want to see you become a stumbling block to others.”
Needless to say my activity in this organization waned and I quit attending, but I never forgot the feeling of acceptance that I felt in their midst that was mysteriously absent from my life. It is a feeling that I have here with so many people, from so many different backgrounds and faith formations. Unitarians, Quakers, Presbyterians, Methodists, Southern Baptists, Catholics, Disciples of Christ, United Church of Christ and others that I may not even know have brought the best of their faith here so that others may take it with them on a weekly basis.
84 years ago, over a tennis match this church was conceived. People from 11 different denominations came together as one and formed a community church. They did not want many competing churches in their neighborhood because they where united in a common message of hope for their children. 84 years later we are still a vital community of faith that fulfills their mission. In the Palisades neighborhood there is not a church on every corner, but there is an ecumenical body that is fulfilling the great commission of Jesus Christ. You see when I was in high school I was always taught that the Great Commission was in the book of Acts. This was to preach the gospel in Judea, Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth. It was a sort of divide and conquer message of Christianity. It was an us versus understanding of the world. We had the truth and needed to convert the poor souls who were lost in their sin and who would spend an eternity in Hell. Yet, I had missed the earlier great commission by Jesus in the book of John. Jesus tells his disciples that it is his hope that “they all may be one; as you, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that you hast sent me.” It is first about unity and then salvation. Christ’s hope is in our unity.
Happy Birthday to this Church! It is truly a great accomplishment in a religious world were sectarianism is not merely relegated to the streets of Baghdad, but resonate from pulpits from across this land every Sunday morning. What a proud accomplishment to be a part of a history of tolerance and respect for each other. Here is hoping that we grow in our respect for one another and as this place’s history deepens we will ever widen our circle of mercy and grace to people who can teach us more about faith.
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