Sermon –St. Andrew’s, Dune Church
August 16, 2009
The Rt. Rev. William E. Swing
Not many months ago the President of the United States was in Cairo speaking to the Muslim world and he said these words: “Indeed, faith should bring us together.” What a stunning, improbable thing for a President to say, “Indeed, faith should bring us together.” Do you believe that?
I work with the United Religions Initiative (www.uri.org). We are in 70 countries of the world, we track religiously motivated violence, and I can tell you that faith has the power to inspire dreadful violence and to keep us apart. Here is an example from the past two weeks.
At the beginning of this month in Gojra, Pakistan, a small community of Christians was attacked by a mob of Islamic extremist. Seven Christians were burned alive, fifty were injured, and seventy homes were completely destroyed. Can you imagine what that must have been like? In Gojra, Pakistan, it doesn’t seem that faith has the power to unite us and to keep us apart.
But . . . faith does have higher dimensions and better angels. For the past two weeks Muslims across Pakistan have protested these actions and expressed solidarity with Christians. Faith has united them in the face of this tragedy. In this country of Pakistan, which is 97% Muslim, almost all TV programs and newspapers have condemned the attacks and sought forgiveness from Christians.
What are we to make of this? We people of faith owe our allegiance to God in matters of prayer, morals, ultimate destiny, and the shaping of our lives and relationships. But . . . we also owe our allegiance to the larger social order that stretches far beyond the people of our own faith. Our Faith must have this second dimension, this allegiance to a larger social order, if faith is to honor God on his earth.
Jesus said, “love God and love your neighbor.” Two dimensions that constitute the laws of living. Laws of living. This isn’t just about piety; this is about practicality. If you don’t truly care about other people, all other people, finances become a ponzi scheme, the environment becomes a pollution dump, sex becomes pornography, politics become cosmetically doctored greed. If we don’t truly care about others! But if we want to truly live, then the law of God insists on taking your neighbors plight into our own hearts.
Now it gets harder.
Jesus tells us plainly that our faith must be two dimensional. “For if you love those who love you and that is all you do, what reward do you have?” In order to live fully we are called also to love the unlovable, to love our competitors, to love Muslims, Jews, Hindus, non-believers, to love our enemies. This is that awful second dimension that makes it possible for faith to unite us. Jesus said, “You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” Jesus goes way beyond that and commands us to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Folks, ours is a hard religion.
What he is saying is clear. Faith must not be religious only; Faith must also be societal, reaching all levels of society. A second dimension is necessary. Without the second dimension we become like the Christian rapture crowd who welcome the despoiling of the environment because earth’s destruction will hasten their rapture into heaven. Faith that is only about religion and our own self interest eventually becomes monstrously destructive.
“Indeed, our faith should bring us together.” With these words our President takes a profound leap over the historic tragedy of religious wars, over the well documented modern instances of religiously motivated violence, and he anticipates a new day, a better way of religions living together. This is music to my ears.
Not only do I spend my days tracking the violence, I spend most of my time working with others to create cultures of peace, justice, and healing. Here’s an example. There is a village in Mindanao - a place of savage violence in Southern Philippines made up of Muslims and Christians living well together When the government troops are about to storm their village and kill Muslims, the Christian villagers lend their clothes to the Muslim villagers so they are spared when the troops arrive. On other occasions when the Islamic extremists are about to storm the village and massacre the Christians, the Muslim neighbors lend their clothes to the Christians.
There are people all over the world from all sorts of faiths, spiritualities and indigenous traditions who have come together and made the hard choice of two dimensional living. I deal with them every day. In Sri Lanka – Tamil and Sinhalese together in youth camping. In Bangladesh and India – warring religious factions coming together to become peace builders. In northern Uganda – brokering peace talks with the Lord’s Resistance Army. In Zimbabwe – Animists, Jews, Sikhs, Christians together providing cholera medicines and burying the dead from the plague. On Thursday this week, four religious traditions arrived together, in Gojra, Pakistan, to provide shelter, money and assistance to those who lost their loved ones, and their homes. They may not be featured in newspaper articles, but there are two dimensional people of faith on the ground all over the world. And they are the light of the world.
The Jews have a couple of marvelous stories that speak of two dimensions of their faith. One is the Red Sea story that speaks to the unique, foundational experience of the Jewish people. The other story is of Noah’s Ark which speaks of a mythical, foundational experience for all life on this planet – far beyond one’s race, religion or ethnicity. What the Jews have - two dimensional stories - all religions will have to have if “Indeed, our faith should bring us together.”
My guess about Christianity? It comes down to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Did Jesus die for the sins of Christians? Or did he die for the sins of all humankind? Or, asked another way, was Jesus’ resurrection a preview of the resurrection of Christians, or was it a declaration that all life throughout the created order would be restored? What do you think? It matters what you think. How each citizen of the Christian faith answers this question will determine greatly the health of our social order.
Whoever God is, God must care for Creation – in all shapes, sizes, colors, species, denominations. That is why God is perfect. God actually cares for everything and everyone. Perfect. And that is why at the end of this lesson after commanding us to be two dimensional people, Jesus says, “You therefore must be perfect, as you heavenly Father is perfect.”