Proper 7, Year A, 2014

Welcome to the latest installment of Real Housewives of the Old Testament!

Okay, so this piece of Genesis does not come out of Bravo’s studios, but it is quite dramatic. The lectionary—our Sunday readings—are going to stay in Genesis most of the summer. Because of when Pentecost fell this year, we have dropped smack dab in the middle of Abraham and Sarah’s story, so let me catch you up. Abraham and Sarah were called by God to follow him. He did not say where, he did not give them a road map or leave them GPS. And they did it! They picked up their household, all their stuff, and began a life of following God. God promised to make a nation out of them—that Sarah and Abraham would have as many descendants as there are stars in the sky.

There was one problem. Sarah and Abraham could not conceive a child. For years they followed God and God kept reiterating the promise, but it seemed totally laughable, especially since they were already in their 70s when God made his promises to them. So, Sarah hatched a plan. Deciding that clearly God had not thought everything through, she gave her handmaiden to her husband as an additional wife so they could conceive a child together. (What an anniversary present!) Abraham and Hagar had a little boy named Ishmael. Great, right? Well, no. As soon as Hagar conceived, she and Sarah began to fight. Eventually Hagar fled, but God told her to go back!

Years later, Sarah actually conceived and bore a child named Isaac. You would think that would solve everything, right? But no, Sarah sees Ishmael playing and laughing and cannot stand it. Ishmael represents a threat to Isaac’s inheritance, not to mention a reminder of her own poor decision making. Sarah asks Abraham to cast Hagar and Ishmael out. When Abraham checks with God, God reassures Abraham they will be cared for. God has gone through a lot with Abraham and Sarah. His goal is to be in relationship with a people and to see the promises he’s made come to pass. The narrative should have been Sarah and Abraham waited patiently, finally had Isaac, boom! promise delivered. Instead Sarah disrupts the plan and Hagar and Ishmael become victims of her regret. And so, they disappear off stage, bread and water in hand.

In another story, that would be the last we heard from Hagar and Ishmael. They don’t fit in with the covenant God has promised Abraham. Why do we need to hear the rest of their story? God may have had a plan for Abraham and Sarah, but our God is a God of love. Hagar and Ishmael may not be part of the covenant, but God’s attachments flow beyond his initial promises. We get a heartbreaking scene where the pair are out of water, so Hagar leaves Ishmael under a tree and walks away so she doesn’t have to watch him die. She weeps and weeps to God and the text says, “And God heard the voice of the boy.” This may seems strange, since it is Hagar who is crying. But the name Ishmael actually means “God hears”. I’m sure when Abraham decided to name him God hears he was thinking of the glory of God’s promise to him, but it turns out that God hears suffering, too. God hears the cries of those who have been shut out, manipulated, abused. God hears the cries of people who are shoved to the sidelines God didn’t just offer comfort, God made a nation out of Ishmael. God saved their lives and lifted them back into society.

God hasn’t stopped hearing the cries of those who suffer. He knows what grieves your heart. He knows the ways you fear for those you love. He knows the ways you have been betrayed. He hears your cries. Too often, we think we have to bear our suffering alone. We come to church, dressed to the nines. We greet our friends with a smile and a platitude, even when our hearts are breaking. One of the gifts we can give to each other as the Body of Christ, is to listen to each other’s cries. But that means someone has to cry first!

One of my favorite books about the power of crying out to God is Frederick Buechner’s Telling Secrets. In it, he tells the grueling story of his father’s alcoholism and suicide and the family’s subsequent silence on the matter. It is only when he begins telling the story of his father’s death, that he experiences true healing. As he reflects on his experience he writes,

I have come to believe that by and large the human family all has the same secrets, which are both very telling and very important to tell. They are telling in the sense that they tell what is perhaps the central paradox of our condition—that what we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else. It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are—even if we tell it only to ourselves—because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing. It is important to tell our secrets too because it makes it easier that way to see where we have been in our lives and where we are going. It also makes it easier for other people to tell us a secret or two of their own, and exchanges like that have a lot to do with what being a family is all about and what being human is all about.

 

We become more human, and more connected to ourselves and each other, when we tell the truth about our lives. But telling the truth can be very counter cultural. I can’t stop thinking this week about that picture of Richard Martinez and Peter Rodger that was released last week. Richard Martinez was the father of a young man killed by Elliot Rodger in Isla Vista a few weeks ago. Very soon after the shooting, he gave a very angry speech in which he held politicians responsible for policies that led to the shooting. For a few days his speech was admired as a remarkable outburst of articulate rage. Of course, since media cycles don’t like to admire anyone for too long, soon Martinez began getting criticized for not grieving appropriately, for seeking the limelight in a time where he should have been tucked away somewhere being appropriately sad. Instead of retreating and behaving in a way the world would think is appropriate, Richard Martinez had a private meeting with Peter Rodger, the father of the shooter. The two came out of the meeting vowing to fight for policies that help the mentally ill and stop the kind of gun violence we’ve seen too much of lately.

There is one picture taken of them at this event where their arms are wrapped each other’s shoulders and they stare at the camera with a gaze that captures all their grief and all their defiance. They are letting their cries ring out, and why shouldn’t they? What happened to them was the most excruciating event that can happen to a parent. In telling each other their stories, in crying out to each other, I hope the slow road to healing began. And I hope God hears their cries, and begins to heal them, and our country.

I don’t know all of you, but I know many of you, and I promise you no one in this room lives a life without suffering. We’re pretty lucky, I know. Many of us have income and a roof over our heads and people who love us. But suffering comes in many forms—conflict with a loved one, illness or mental illness of a loved one, loneliness, financial strain, being a survivor of abuse, physical impairment. My dream is that one day instead of dressing all perfectly for church, we would just walk in the room wearing T-shirts that named our suffering. How freeing would it be to realize we were all in this together, broken and crying out to God? Because God does still hear our prayers, but since we are the body of Christ, he may be calling us to be part of his answer. In listening to one another with love and care, we can embody God’s love and care for us.

May we be Christ to one another, bearing one another’s sorrows as we do our best to continue the journey of faith Abraham and Sarah and Hagar began for us. Amen.

Lent 2, Year B, 2012

Listen to the sermon here.

Our God brings something out of nothing.

Before the universe was created, there was nothing.  But God spoke a word and one Big Bang later, planets and suns and comets spun throughout the universe.

Before Adam and Eve got into mischief in the Garden, there were no humans.  But God breathed into some dirt and there they were.  Perfectly imperfect, walking with God in the garden.

Before there were Jews, before there were God’s people, before there was a law or a covenant, there was just Abraham and Sarah, elderly, childless, not looking for adventure.

God chooses them.  He appears to Abraham and tells him he will make a covenant with him and that Abraham will be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. God says he will bless Sarah and that she will bear a child.

Sarah overhears and she laughs and laughs and laughs.

God’s promises to Abraham and Sarah are absurd.  They are in their nineties.  In his letter to the Romans, Paul describes Sarah’s womb not merely as barren, but as deathly.  There is nothing for God to work with.  No fertility, no life, no potential.

And yet, eventually, there is Isaac.  Despite all odds, life grows in that deathly womb and soon a very real, flesh and blood baby is born, continuing the family’s line.  Sarah’s laughter transforms from disbelief into delight.

Why is the Apostle Paul dredging up this old story in his letter to the Romans?  What does Abraham have to do with new life in Jesus?  Paul is addressing the community of Rome, which most likely included both Jewish and Gentile Christians.  He appears to be addressing some conflict around interpretation of the Jewish law.  Before Christ, righteousness was understood as adherence to the Jewish law.  We were made right by our obedience, by our own efforts.

Paul is making the claim here that our righteousness cannot come from our own efforts, because Abraham was made righteous for his faith in God’s promises, long before the law came into effect.  Paul is reminding his audience that God has been at work much longer than our imaginations can grasp.  God has been making something out of nothing for as long as God has been God.

And, while Paul describes Abraham as not weakening in faith, we laugh along with Sarah, because we know the story!  Abraham’s faith was weak and inconsistent.  He and Sarah could not believe she would become pregnant, so they arranged to have Abraham impregnate Sarah’s maidservant, Hagar.  Even Abraham’s faith was basically worthless.

And yet.

And yet, our God takes those pathetic scraps of faith and builds a little family.  Isaac goes on to marry Rebekah and have Jacob and Esau.  Jacob goes on to marry Rachel and Leah and they have twelve sons who become the twelve tribes of Israel.  Abraham’s little family becomes a nation.  His scraps of faith become the foundation for Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

In the same way, the Apostle Paul argues, we are made righteous not by how well we follow the law, not because of how well we adhere to the tenets of Christianity, but we are made righteous because God chose to make something out of nothing.  When we rejected Jesus and crucified him, God chose to bring life out of death one more time.  We are made righteous, not because of what we can do, but because of who God is and how he has chosen to relate to us.

So, then, why do we make Lenten sacrifices?  Why do we obey the Ten Commandments?  Why do we love our neighbor as ourselves?  If our righteousness is all about what God has done and not what we do, what is the point of trying to live a holy life?  Paul will spend several chapters of Romans dealing with this question, but in short, Paul thinks a sinful life just isn’t an option once you have been baptized.  For Paul, when a person is baptized, he is buried with Christ in his death and then raised again into a new life by Christ’s resurrection.

Once again, God is moving from nothingness to somethingness, from death to life.  Sin is part of that nothing, deathly world. When we join into Christ’s resurrection through our baptism, we become part of the new something God has created.  We are part of a life that is full and rich. We are motivated to repent of our sin and work on an obedient life because we see that a life of obedience to God is filled with deep joy and wholeness that our old lives just cannot match.

But we all know our efforts at obedience are just as pathetic as Abraham’s faith.  We do our best, but all of us break God’s law no matter how wonderful our new life in Christ is.  The Apostle Paul may argue that sin isn’t even an option for us in our new lives with God but we argue back, “Oh yeah, watch this!” and then we overeat or get drunk or humiliate someone.

And this is why Paul’s original point is such good news for us! Our standing with God is not dependent on our behavior.  The possibilities of our lives are not limited by our own weaknesses.  God can bring something wonderful out of nothing.

The power of sin may still try to worm its way into our hearts, but in the cosmic battle, God has defeated sin through Christ’s death and resurrection.

Madeleine L’Engle was my favorite author when I was a teenager.  One of her books takes its title from a wonderful William Langland quote  “but all the wickedness in the world which man may do or think, is no more to the mercy of God then a live coal dropped in the sea.”   All of our anger, all of our betrayals, all of our violence, all of our wars, all of our injustice—if you could quantify all of this some how and measure all our awfulness against God’s mercy, our sin would just be a blip.  Isn’t that amazing?

It’s hard to imagine the vastness of God’s mercy when we are in the thick of this very real, very sinful world.  We see the consequences of sin all around us every day.  Even if we are having a pretty good day, all we have to do is pick up the newspaper to see examples of greed, corruption, prejudice.  But if we put down the paper and pick up the book of Romans, we gain a new perspective.  We realize God’s story is much, much bigger than our story.

In God’s story, God makes us righteous, not because of our behavior, not because of our political beliefs, not because of the church we choose.  God makes us righteous because God is God and God chooses to enter a battle against sin and death. And folks, when God enters a battle, God always wins.

God makes us righteous because God wants to be in relationship with us and we cannot make ourselves righteous, no matter how hard we try, no matter how good our intentions.  God chooses us. God goes to battle for us.  God wins for us.  Not because of who we are, but because of who God is.

So, believe the impossible.  Believe that God can take your scraps of faith and turn them into an adventurous, holy life.  Believe that our measly little communities of faith have more power than the biggest army.  Believe that God can defeat all the evil powers in the world, no matter how vast or entrenched.  Believe God can bring something out of nothing.

In fact, nothing is God’s favorite material.

Thanks be to God.

Proper 6, Year A, 2008

Sarah had waited twenty-four years.  Twenty-four years have passed between last week’s passage and this week’s passage.  Sarah has been following Abraham around a quarter of a century, waiting to see what God means by his blessing.  Years after the original promise, not long before today’s reading, God told Abraham he would have as many descendents as there are stars in the sky, but still Sarah has not gotten pregnant.

For years Sarah has lived with this hope, only to see her hope dashed over and over and over again.  First, each month that came had the disappointment of a monthly flow visibly reminding her that she was not pregnant.  Now, she is years into menopause, well past the hot flashes and mood swings, and her hopes of becoming pregnant are completely encased in the cement of cold, hard reality.

Sarah has tried to be obedient to God.  She has maintained Abraham’s household.  She has followed him to places she would never go of her own accord.  Sarah even tried to arrange for Abraham to have a child through another woman, her servant, Hagar.  But, as you can imagine, surrogacy did not turn out well.  Sarah soon could not take the painful sight of another woman happily playing with Abraham’s child, and banished them both.  Sarah has tried to be open to God’s blessing, but reality has crushed her dream.

So when Sarah welcomes a stranger into her home and goes out of her way to prepare a lush meal for him, and then overhears this stranger making bold claims about Sarah’s reproductive future, well, I think the visitor was lucky all Sarah did was laugh.  We don’t know if Sarah knew the visitor was God.  But we do know that she laughed.  And we know that laugh was not rooted in joy, but in deep disappointment and disgust that this visitor would so casually claim Sarah would bear a child. This laughter bore the pain of twenty-four years of doing what God had asked of her and seeing no blessing in return.  This laughter bore the pain of her own, personal desire to be a mother, which had been dashed month after month.

To add insult to injury, the stranger tells Abraham that Sarah will bear a child in “due season”.  Due season? Sarah is in her nineties, for crying out loud.  Due season would have been twenty-four years ago when God began making these promises.  Due season would have 50 years ago, when Sarah was still in her thirties and had the energy to deal with child bearing, nursing, and rearing.  “Due season” has come and gone a looooong time ago.

We know, ultimately, that Sarah does get pregnant.  But that pregnancy does not come for THREE MORE CHAPTERS. Our lectionary reading transposes her pregnancy to the end of this passage, but a lot more goes down in Abraham and Sarah’s life before they are blessed with Isaac’s birth.  There are many stories in the Hebrew Scriptures of barren women miraculously becoming pregnant, but Sarah’s story is the only one of these stories in which the time between God’s promise and the ultimate pregnancy is so agonizingly long. 

Remember, Sarah and Abraham are the first couple with whom God is exploring this new covenant.  He has committed to being their God and they have committed to being God’s people.  And what does God do to celebrate this relationship?  (Besides asking Abraham and all the men in the family to get circumcised, of course.)  God asks them to wait.  He asks Abraham and Sarah to follow him and trust that he will provide an heir, and not only an heir, but a nation of descendents that will be God’s chosen people for thousands of years.

This waiting is not unique to Abraham and Sarah.  Waiting is a profound part of the experience of being in relationship with God.  Abraham and Sarah had to wait a quarter of a century to get pregnant.  Job had to wait for answers from God.  The Israelites had to wait forty years to finally arrive in the Promised Land.  Even Jesus’ disciples had to wait three days between Jesus death and his resurrection. 

God calls us to keep following him, and calls us to wait.  And this waiting can cause us terrible suffering.  Those who struggle with infertility, waiting month after month suffer deeply.  Those who wait to find work as the economy struggles, suffer.  Those who wait to heal suffer.  Those who wait for true love suffer.  Those who wait for their sons, daughters to return from war suffer.  Those who wait for grief to subside suffer. This suffering can feel incredibly painful and very personal, but it is important to remember that the suffering of waiting is not a punishment or a rebuke.  In Paul’s letter to the Romans today, he calls us to:

. . .boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

When I was a child and had to do something I did not want to do, my father would always tell me, “It will build character, Sarah.”  The word character sours after while, when building character means making your bed, being nice to your sister, staying late to help clean, working on your science project instead of going to the circus when your sister gets to go to the circus with your most hilarious family friend who does magic tricks with his hat. (Deep breath)

But I digress. . .

I don’t know about you, but to me, character and hope do not seem like related words at all.  Character is a stodgy word, and hope is a lofty word.  Character is about hard work and discipline and hope is about dreaming and longing.  Character is about being firm and grounded and hope is about taking big emotional risks.

So, why does Paul link these words to suffering?  How does our waiting give us hope? 

I think the imagery we discussed last week-the imagery of our lives with God as a journey is helpful here.  After all, when we wait, we are not just sitting on our couches holding perfectly still waiting for God to show up.  No, when we wait, we wait actively: going to work, loving our friends and families, and most importantly staying connected with God.  When we wait, whether we wait patiently, eagerly, or bitterly, we pray about that waiting.  We ask God.  We beseech God.  We may rail at God.  But in the waiting, in the praying, God is at work in us, maturing us, developing us to be the people he has designed us to be.

Oftentimes we have transformative experiences while we wait.  We may discover our friends’ deep love for us when we wait, or feel the deep presence of God while we wait.   And when we feel the deep presence of God, we realize that God loves us in a profound way, and that love and that sense of God’s immanence gives us hope.  Paul’s passage is not about pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, but about the intense, personal, transformative experience of suffering in the light of God’s love for us.

Paul suffered. He was shipwrecked.  He was imprisoned.  He was blinded for a time. He had some unnamed “thorn” in his side.  Paul knew what it was to wait for God, to wait for answers.  Paul knew first hand that the suffering he encountered during his long journey of faith was transformed by God into something enriching and life giving, even before his problems were resolved or God’s answers were revealed.

Some who suffer, like Sarah ultimately rejoice.  In the 21st chapter of Genesis we read: 

The LORD dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as he had promised. Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. Now Sarah said, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.”

Sarah’s bitter laughter is transformed back into the joyous laughter of delight, and she even names her son Isaac, which means “He will laugh.” 

But not everyone who waits receives the object of their desire.  Even for those who get bad news, whose longings never disappear, who still ache with desire for some unmet need, even these people are offered the hope that comes from an intimacy with God.  This hope is not an easy hope.  This hope is born of stodgy, sturdy words like suffer, endurance and character.  This hope is hewn out of the rough wood of prayer after unanswered prayer.  This hope is borne from open raw hearts meeting the living God, and being filled with God’s spirit. 

This hope is Sarah’s hope, and Paul’s hope, and Job’s hope.  This is the hope of the grieving disciples.   This hope is your hope, all of you who wait, and all of you who yearn. 

And this hope will come. It is God’s promise to you, and as surely as he granted Sarah a child, he will grant you this hope.

Amen.

Proper 19, Year A, 2005

Four years ago today, as I sat in my living room with a few good friends, watching the footage of two planes flying into the twin towers over and over again in what seemed like an infinite loop of media coverage, I could not have known the degree to which that event would exacerbate divisions between America and the Middle East or even exacerbate divisions within our own country. 

Western nations and Middle Eastern nations have lived in an uncomfortable tension for over one thousand years as each have vied for the same wealth, power and land.  Our latest conflict is rooted in a business deal struck fifty years ago between American oil companies and Saudi Arabia’s Saud family.  Western style capitalism and conservative Islamic social norms expanded side by side for fifty years until the inevitable explosion of violence we have experienced the last few years. 

Knowing how to respond to the Middle East can be confusing for us, since the violence is the work of a few terrorists, rather than entire nations.  A neighbor of mine is a high school counselor in a nearby county.  Her co counselor enthusiastically decorates the high school for Christmas every year-Christmas trees, Santas, baby Jesuses, you name it.  When her new principal informed her that she would also have to decorate for holidays such as Hannukah, Kwanzaa and Ramadan, she exclaimed, “I can’t decorate for Ramadan, we’re at war with Muslims!” 

Now, we’re not at war with Muslims. But for many Americans, 9-11 has shaped the way they view all Muslims, not just terrorists.  Christians are suspicious of Muslims because of 9-11 and Muslims are suspicious of Christians because of how they were treated after 9-11.  While not much overt violence happened, nearly every American Muslim I know received threatening phone calls, found people blanching in fear when they approached, or watched Christians cross the street in order to avoid them.  The conflict in the Middle East is a complicated one and won’t be solved in a ten minute sermon, but I think looking back at the earliest roots of the conflict will lend insight into all the conflicts our country is facing today.

As I did research on the history of this Western-Eastern conflict the last few weeks, I discovered that the Muslim people trace their heritage back to Ishmael-Abraham’s “other” son.  Let me refresh your memory of Ishmael’s story.  His story appears in the middle of Genesis and is a juicy one-not unlike something you might find on Montel. 

God called Abraham out of his native land and told Abraham that he would be the father of a nation.  Abraham was married to Sarah, who, as a practical woman, thought that God was off. . . his. . . rocker.  After all, Sarah and Abraham were elderly and childless and not about to make babies.  In order to help God with his plan, Sarah arranged for Abraham to sleep with Hagar, her maid, who would then be the surrogate mother for their child.  Well, eventually both Hagar and Sarah got pregnant and had their babies, and as you might imagine, Sarah soon started to think her life would be a lot better if she could get rid of Hagar and Hagar’s son, Ishmael.  She wanted to restore her place of power as Abraham’s wife and ensure her son Isaac, would be the head of this new nation. Accordingly, Sarah forced Abraham to kick Hagar out of the house and Hagar ended up stranded in the desert, where God promised to be faithful to her and create a nation from Ishmael as well as a nation from Isaac.

According to the Quran, this nation that descended from Ishmael later became the Muslim people. 

So, metaphorically at least, the very roots of the conflict between East and West spring out of a very individual, very personal conflict between two women who did not know how to forgive.

In our Gospel passage this morning Jesus tells the parable of the king who generously forgives the debt of a slave.  The slave then goes out and throttles a man who owes him money.

That’s so like us, isn’t it?  We have a hard time internalizing the fact that God loves us, forgives us, and blesses us.  Sarah certainly acted like this slave.  God blessed her with a reality beyond anything she could have dreamed-she a barren, elderly woman was not only forgiven for laughing at God, but she was also blessed with a son, ensuring her family line would last forever.  Instead of extending the graciousness she had been given by God towards Hagar, she becomes afraid that Hagar could threaten her blessing so she banishes her.

What if Sarah had been able to forgive herself for not trusting in God?  What if she had been able to forgive Hagar for her capitulation in Sarah’s scheme?  What if she had been able to forgive Ishmael for being born?   Would Jewish and Muslim people have been able to stay united in one religion?  Would the Crusades never have happened? Could 9/11 been avoided?

Obviously we cannot go back into time and change the course of our history.  What this story illustrates is the degree to which we each control our own lives and thereby the destinies of countless others. 

Now we humans love to have an enemy.  Remember the first Olympics after the fall of the Soviet empire?  It was kind of sad, right?  We didn’t know what teams to hate!  No East Germans, no Soviets. . .and those teeny Chinese gymnasts are just too cute to hate. . .

This enemy-making happens on the smallest scale.  Even in my own small development in Crozet, factions have developed.  As a renter, I catch up on all the latest Home owners association gossip when I run with some of the neighborhood women. There is constantly someone trying to make an enemy out of someone else.  Whether the conflict is between single family homeowners versus townhouse owners or the townhouse owners versus the builders. . .where there is not natural hostility, someone will manufacture hostility. 

We see this kind of enemy-making in our nation and even in the Episcopal Church.  Hurricane Katrina has unmasked hostility between whites and blacks in America.  The Iraq War has unmasked hostility between conservative and liberal Americans.  Bishop Robinson’s election unmasked hostility between conservative and liberal Episcopalians.

The good news is that this enemy-making is not inevitable.  The catch to this good news-is that any reconciliation between Muslims and Christians, blacks and whites, liberals and conservatives, single family home owners and townhouse owners is up to us.

Why?

This reconciliation is up to us because we are forgiven.  As Christians, we understand that though we owed God a huge debt, he not only forgives us, but he blesses us beyond our wildest imagination.  This positions us to relate to others in a unique way.  

People make enemies because they are anxious.  Sarah was anxious about Ishmael’s threat to Isaac.  We were anxious about the Soviets using nuclear weapons to obliterate us.  Single family homeowners in my development are anxious about the townhouses bringing down their property value.  Anxiety.  Anxiety.  Anxiety!

As people secure in the knowledge of God’s love for us, anxiety does not need to cause us to be threatened by other people.  As Christians, we know that we do not need power to be powerful.  We do not need money to be rich.  We do not need prestige to be important to God or to those in our church family. 

Like any psychological or spiritual truth, we can’t just say to ourselves, “Well, God loves me!  No more anxiety for me!”  To gain a deep knowledge of our loved-ness, we need to spend time in reflection, prayer and in reading Scripture. When we read Scripture, we realize that God loved a murderer (Moses), adulterer (David), a betrayer (Peter), prostitutes, tax collectors, and on and on.  The beauty of God’s forgiveness is that it enables a holy God to love profoundly un-holy people.  And when we know God loves us, we are enabled to love others.

Without anxiety, we can deeply listen to those who have different opinions from us.  Without anxiety, we can dream ways of sharing power that anxious people could never invent.  Without anxiety, we can be the bridge makers that help differing groups see the humanity in each other. 

And if we don’t act as the bridge makers, who will?