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Archive for August, 2011

“Where Two or Three are Gathered”

Matthew 18: 15-20

Rev. Dr. Teri McDowell Ott

August 29th, 2011 – Monmouth College Chapel Service

 

I have always appreciated the sense of family one can feel as a member of a church.  This is particularly true in the small church.  My husband, Dan, and I have both served as pastors of small churches.  After finishing his coursework for his Ph.D. in California Dan was wooed across the country to a small, rural community in Jefferson, SC by me (oh…the things you do for love) where he pastored Rocky Creek Presbyterian Church and worked on his dissertation.  To this day, I am still impressed by the way the small town, blue collar, deeply Southern members of Rocky Creek welcomed Dan….a liberally minded intellectual type, moving to South Carolina from Los Angeles, California.  Their worlds couldn’t have been farther apart.  But Rocky Creek adopted Dan (and me) as their own.  We were a part of the church family.

Later, I served as the pastor of Cameron Presbyterian Church in North Carolina and Dan directed the church choir.  This was where our babies were born and baptized.  While both of us were busy leading worship our babies were being passed from one member of the church to another because Isaac and Ella were not just our children there…but the church’s children…and they were loved extremely well.  In fact, when Dan and I announced the news that we were moving to Monmouth the folks at Cameron were sad, but they understood our sense of call.  They were willing to send us off with their blessing…..but, they said, you have to leave the children.  J Eventually we negotiated their release by promising to send lots and lots of pictures.

Now that we are here in Monmouth, Dan and I have both appreciated the sense of community we have found here…in our churches…Dan is the part-time supply pastor for Sugar Tree Grove Presbyterian Church….a church as sweet and welcoming as it sounds…in the community of Monmouth….and here at Monmouth College.  One of the benefits of serving a small, residential college is that it does feel like a family.  We live together and we work together.  We know each other and each other’s lives.  We are a family…in fact we often refer to ourselves as the Monmouth College family.

In our scripture text for today, Jesus emphasizes the importance of community.  Jesus tells us today that community is sacred; “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”  Jesus also tells us that community is family.  We are to care for and respect our community members as we care for and respect our family.  We won’t pick this up from the New Revised Standard Version of the text that we read today, but Jesus uses familial language to speak of community.  A more literal translation of verse 15 is “If a brother (or sister) sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.”  By using this familial language Jesus raises the bonds of community to a higher level.  As a community we are to care for one another.  But as a family, as brothers and sisters, we are obligated to care for one another.  No matter what happens….you can’t leave your brother behind…he will always be your brother.  No matter how much you fight and squabble with your sister….you are bound together by your birth…you are family.  This, Jesus says, is how we are to relate to each other in community.  We have an obligation to care for each other and respect each other, even when conflict arises.  And conflict always arises…whenever human beings live together in community conflict is inevitable.

In the church conflict arises when marriages break apart and members are forced to choose sides.  Heated debates take place over the interpretations of scripture or the use of church polity.  Feelings get hurt and people sulkingly and silently disappear.  And, of course, there is always the color of the carpet…we never really can agree over the color of the carpet.

Conflict also inevitably arises in a college community…especially one such as ours that values a diversity of voices and encourages questioning and debate.  Students will know conflict with other students, faculty with other faculty, staff with other staff, and roommates…well how can you not fight with your roommate when you are sharing such a small space….just don’t hurt each other, okay?  (I hear a lot of crazy stories as a part of the Student Affairs staff…so just don’t hurt each other.)

But we are a family, Jesus says to us today.  We are a family in this sacred space of community.  So we are obligated to each other.  We are obligated to respect each other and care for each other even in the midst of conflict.  I appreciate Jesus’ advice today for the practicality of it.  When someone offends you, or sins against you, go to that person directly.  Speak to him or her about it.  Work to resolve it.  Don’t talk to everyone else about it, except for the person with whom you are angry.  Don’t blast off an angry email or post your gripe on Facebook.  Have enough respect for the relationship, for the relationship with your brother or sister, to deal with them directly.

If this doesn’t work, then, Jesus says, get the community involved, because it is a community issue.  Unresolved conflict is a festering wound that affects the whole community.  If two sorority sisters are at odds with each other…everyone feels the conflict and the whole sorority suffers.  If two church members can’t stand the sight of each other…the whole church body is forced to tiptoe around the tension….and how much good work can we actually do on tiptoe?

If getting the community involved still doesn’t resolve the conflict then Jesus says, “Let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”  Oftentimes we read this line with relief…oh good, we say to ourselves….if I can’t resolve the conflict then I can just let that person go…I can be done with them.  But this is not how Jesus intended this line to be read.  All we have to do is remember how Jesus, at every turn, extended himself graciously to Gentiles and tax collectors, to prostitutes and lepers, to all those pushed outside of the community…to truthfully interpret this line.  Jesus commands us never to give up on our brother or sister.  Never stop reaching out in love to them.  Never stop yearning for grace to restore what has been broken.  Never stop caring for and respecting the members of your family.  “In the next few verses beyond this passage in Matthew, Peter needs to make sure he has heard Jesus correctly, ‘Lord, if a brother sins against me how often should I forgive? Jesus’ ‘seventy times seven’ response means, ‘as long as it takes.'”[1]

I recently had a wonderful conversation with a student in which he asked me, essentially, why I choose to follow Jesus.  Now there are lots of reasons why I choose to follow Jesus, lots of reasons why I love Jesus.  But the answer that came to me in that moment was “Because Jesus teaches me not just how to be a good Christian, but how to be a good human being.”  People, all people, are important.  Healthy relationships are essential for a healthy life.  And community is sacred, because it is God who draws us together.

Now to this God who has brought us to this community be all honor and glory, thanksgiving and power, now and forevermore.  Amen.


[1] Charles Hambrick-Stowe, “Theological Perspective”, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4, (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 2011), pg. 48.

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Follow Me

Matthew 16:13-28

Daniel J. Ott

 

Sometimes I think that being a Christian is way to easy for us here in the U.S. in 2011.  Other times I think that being a Christian is just about impossible living in our culture and in our time.

I remember reading about some Chinese Christians just a few months back.  They were members of what is commonly called a ‘house church’ in China, but this is no house church like you or I would imagine.  There are about 1000 members in this ‘house church,’ which is unregistered and unrecognized by the Chinese government.  Nobody knows for sure, but conservative estimates are that about 80 million of China’s 100 million Christians attend these ‘house churches.’  The government’s attention to these churches ebbs and flows.

The headline was that as many as 200 members of this particular house church were detained when they tried to worship in public.  It seems that their attempts at securing a building in which to worship had been frustrated by the government, so they had planned to worship publicly as a kind of soft protest.  The government found out about the plan and placed their leaders under house arrest on Saturday night.  Hundreds still showed up at the designated areas, but were greeted by police and plainclothes security agents who herded them onto busses, confiscated their cell phones, interrogated them, and “made them sign documents promising not to worship outdoors again.”[1]  Some refused to sign and were kept in custody.

Thank God that professing Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of the Living God is easier for us than this.  But we should remember that it was not so for Peter and the other early followers of Jesus.  Much is at stake as Peter answers Jesus’ query, “Who do you so that I am?”  Peter’s answer, if and when it fell on the right ears, would be heard as heresy and sedition.  To say that Jesus is the Son of the Living God marks a break with traditional Jewish faith.  During Jesus’ life and after, Jesus’ followers contended with Jewish authorities and became something of an outcaste sect.  They were a minority group often seen as fanatical.  Being Christian was not easy.

To say that Jesus is the Messiah is to say that he is the bringer of the Kingdom of God.  In the Kingdom of God, the powerful will be brought down from their thrones and the rich will be sent empty away.  God will rule over all the earth and his Messiah will be seated at his right hand.  Can you imagine how Caesar or one of his client kings would react to such a proclamation?  Well, tradition says that they, in fact, hanged Peter on a cross head downwards.  Being Christian was not easy.

Thank God, making a confession of faith is easier for us today.  But maybe we make it too easy.  I think we might.  I think there at least two brands of Christians who make Christianity pretty easy.  Maybe this morning we can call them ‘Rock Christians’ and ‘Stumbling Block Christians.’

Rock Christians are the ones who are good at bricks and mortar.  They’re the ones that build great buildings and great institutions.  But many times they get pretty comfortable in that big building they build and the religion that they practice never leaves its four walls.  These are comfortable Christians, bourgeois, if you will.

In his novella Nausea, Jean-Paul Sartre gives a description of a typical Sunday morning that shows how absurd this bourgeois religion can be.  Doctor So-and-So stops to tip his hat to Monsieur Such-and-Such as the Who’s Who of the little Suburban town of Bouville stroll up and down the promenade on their way to and from church.  Some stop in at the new bakery to taste the perfect confectionaries.  Others carefully choose their spot at the café – it must be prominent enough to be seen by those passing by and private enough that gossip can be shared.  Sartre describes the scene in so much detail, as is his style, that the banality of this charade becomes painfully obvious.  How can people this comfortable be Christian?  Perhaps you and I aren’t quite this comfortable, but I wonder if we Presbyterians as a group don’t fall pretty neatly into the category of Rock Christians

On the other end of the spectrum are the ‘Stumbling Block’ Christians.  These folks can’t be said to suffer from gentility, as do the Rock Christians.  Whereas Rock Christians are cool and collected, Stumbling Block Christians run red-hot. Whereas Rock Christians are keen on establishment, Stumbling Block Christians overflow with unbridled zeal.  They adore Jesus.  They sing of their love with uplifted hands.  They go to Christian concerts and festivals and they dance and whirl about in ecstasy. They speak often of their intimate relationship with Jesus. They cling to Jesus.  And sometimes I wonder if this might be a problem.

When Jesus told his disciples that he would have to suffer and be killed, Peter immediately piped up and said, “God forbid it, Lord!  This must never happen to you.”  And why did Peter object so adamantly?  Because he didn’t understand, of course, but also because he loved Jesus.  He adored Jesus.  He didn’t want Jesus to suffer and die.  He wanted to continue to walk hand-in-hand with Jesus, to lay his head on Jesus’ breast, to eat with him and speak with him and to tell him how much he loved him.  Peter clings to Jesus and says, “This must never happen to you.”  But Jesus turns to loose his grasp and says, “Get behind me.  You are a stumbling block.”

 

You see loving Jesus is the easy part.  For us, testifying that Jesus is the Son of God and Messiah is not hard or risky.  Building a church and coming here on Sunday morning is pretty simple.  But following Jesus is hard.

Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  Let’s pause here for a minute and think about what Jesus is telling his disciples.  “Let them deny themselves.”  Deny themselves of what?  Well, Jesus demanded of his closest disciples that they leave their jobs and their homes and their families, that they radically rethink their faith, and that they take positions that basically mark them as rebels in the Roman Empire.  “Let them take up their cross.” Jesus walked and asked his disciples to walk under the constant pall of death – and not just any death, but death by one of the most horrific tools of torture and public humiliation known to the history of humankind.  Jesus said, “When you’ve denied yourself of your comfort, your home, your family, your people and you’re ready to carry the cross on which you will suffer and die, then you can follow me.” That’s not easy.

So, what do we do with this text?  Can we put at arm’s-length and say maybe it was addressed to those first disciples and not to those of us who want to follow Jesus today?  Maybe.  I do think people in different contexts can and should hear Jesus’ words differently.  We don’t live under foreign oppression or tyranny, so perhaps we are not called to take up our cross in any literal way.  Unless we feel called to the mission field or the monastery, perhaps likewise we’re not called to give up our homes and families and jobs.  But, on the other hand, I wonder, are these just the justifications of comfortable Christians?

Or perhaps we don’t have to take this text so literally.  Couldn’t we think about the spiritual lesson that Jesus is conveying when he says that his followers should deny themselves and take up their crosses?  Well, of course, I’m not against looking past the literal to see what is going on symbolically.  Denying ourselves and putting Christ first is indeed a powerful image.  We can even say that we are put to death in Christ so that we can live anew.  “The old life has gone and a new life has begun.”  There’s certainly truth in this line of thinking, but there’s also what seems to me a dangerous disconnect with the fact that Jesus and Peter and the prophets and martyrs throughout the ages actually left home and comfort and suffered in their very bodies and they died.

Perhaps the most faithful thing we can do with this text is to ask ourselves some honest questions this morning?  Are we really ready to follow Jesus?  Is there any sense in which we can say that we’re ready to deny ourselves?  What exactly are we ready to give up?  What would it mean to lose our lives so that we might gain them?

One of the most rewarding and frustrating parts of being a professor and working with students is advising.  Usually, the most effective advising does not happen around choosing classes and majors.  It happens in conversations in the classroom or in the lunchroom.  And I take it as part of my little mission in the world to try to get students to think a little more broadly about what they might do in college and afterward.  I ask them to think about how they can make a difference in the world.  I ask them to think about not only what would make them happy, but what would be helpful to others.  I ask them to think about the meaning of life itself and how study and work fit into that larger picture.  And I’m glad to report that students are interested in having these conversations.  They have ideas about what makes life meaningful and how to make the world a better place.  Sometimes they even start to re-imagine their studies and/or their careers and see how they can do things differently and make a difference.

But then often enough something happens.  They have a conversation with a friend or a fiancé or they go back home and talk to Mom or Dad and they lose that vision.  They start talking about needing a job, providing for a family, paying the bills, wanting to be as successful as Dad.  And of course there’s nothing wrong with those things necessarily and of course it’s not the fault of the friend or the Mom or the Dad, but it’s frustrating.  It’s frustrating that we as a culture do that to these kids.  You see, we don’t ask them, “What will it profit you if you gain the whole world, but forfeit your life?”  We don’t tell them that those who lose their life will gain everything.  We don’t ask them to deny themselves of anything.  We don’t ask them, because we don’t ask ourselves.

Jesus says, “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.  If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

 

 

 


[1] npr.org

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“How do I become a Christian?”

First, you’ll need to go to church.  Church is where Christians worship God, learn about Jesus and try to honor Jesus’ teaching by the way they live together and the way they live with their neighbors.  I’m Presbyterian so, of course, I would suggest you try one of our churches, but I highly recommend that you go to one of the ‘mainline’ churches: Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopal, Lutheran or Presbyterian.  These are the churches with the longest histories and the richest traditions.  Don’t ‘shop’ too much.  Find a place where you are reasonably comfortable and folks seem to be at least trying to live Christian lives and stick with it.  You’ll soon learn that there are no perfect churches.  Churches are made up of Christians and Christians are human, so don’t expect too much.

Next, you should probably read the Bible.  Don’t start at the beginning!  Start with the Gospels.  Mark is the shortest and simplest.  I’d start there.  Notice what Jesus does.  He heals the sick, he ministers to the poor and outcast, and he talks a lot about the Kingdom of God.

That’s your next clue.  You’ll have to do these things too.  Christians try to figure out what the world would be like if God were in charge.  Usually, it involves caring for the vulnerable, building loving and just communities, and opposing forces in the world that seek to spread fear, hate, violence and death.

I would say that this will give you a good start.  Sorry if it doesn’t sound easy, but the reality is it’s not.  Becoming a Christian is something that you’ll need to work on everyday for the rest of your life.  It certainly has its rewards, though, starting with the gifts of faith, hope and love.

A couple of things to remember:  1) Becoming a Christian is not about praying a magic prayer that gets you into heaven.  Faith is a journey and it is as much about the here and now as it is the hereafter.  2) It’s not all about you.  You’ll need to join with other Christians and learn to live, worship and work together.  You’ll also need to learn to serve others.

 

 

This entry is part of a series of answers to Christian FAQs.  For more information about the idea behind the series and the approach being taken by the authors check out:  https://aflyonourwall.wordpress.com/2011/08/02/christian-faqs/

 

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Reconciliation

“Reconciliation”

Genesis 33:1-17

Daniel J. Ott

 

Does anyone really want reconciliation today?  Do we want to be reconciled?  Several scenes from this week made me wonder.

The debt ceiling debate drove me nuts.  Teri had to tell me to put down my mobile devices, I was so obsessed with the stupid thing.  I’ve been disaffected with American politics for sometime, but even I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  First there were seemingly fruitful bipartisan talks:  Simpson-Bowles and then the ‘gang of six.’  Then Coburn walked out on the gang.  And then he was back.  And then the president started having his talks.  Those seemed to be making progress.  Then Cantor waived the Tea Party flag and those talks came to halt.  Then Boehner and the president were going to work things out.  One had a press conference, the other walked out.  Then the House was going to solve everything.  The vote was scheduled… and then delayed.  New deals were made.  The House passed it the Senate rejected it.  The Senate had their plan, even though everybody knew it wouldn’t fly.  McConnell swooped in and met with the president, a deal was struck, and finally… finally on Tuesday, they passed a law that would raise the debt ceiling in the short run and lower the overall deficit in the long run.

This was a completely aggravating drama to watch, but what perhaps infuriated me the most were the headlines that I awoke to on Tuesday morning.  “Who won?,” they asked.  But they didn’t mean, “Who won?” as in “Did retirees win or lose?” or  “Did the economy win or lose?” or “Did poor people win or lose?”  or “Did entitlements or defense budgets win or lose?”  They were asking, “Did Boehner lose power or gain power on the Hill?”  “Was this a small loss for Obama that he could turn into a larger win when it comes election time?”  “Was Mitch McConnell now the most powerful man in Washington?”  “Was this a victory or a defeat for the Tea Party?’  No wonder the process was so aggravating.  Our leaders are playing a zero sum game that at best reflects their own narrow ideological interests and at worst has only to do with reelection.  Where are the leaders ready to humble themselves and make compromises with the best interests of our nation and our planet in mind?  When will we elect some folks who are ready to put party politics a side and seek justice and reconciliation?

On a more personal level and perhaps more tragic, I witnessed a family in deep need of reconciliation when I took Isaac to his swimming lesson this week.  I guess you could call them a family.  They were at least all related to this cute little boy who has the brightest eyes and a Mohawk for his summer cut.  Most of the parents retreat to the air-conditioned lobby during the lessons.  I like to stay in the pool area so that I can root Isaac on a little.  This night it was me and this family left by the pool.  Dad sat at one end of the bench.  Mom and Grand-mom sat at the other, me in the middle.  Mom and Dad spent most of their time trying to make sure that their gazes never met.  Grand-mom tried to keep the focus on the boy.  The tension was palpable.  At one point the Dad got up to go to the poolside and happened to walk past Mom.  I thought her head might pop off she got so tense.  They were leaving as we were.  Mom and Grand-mom gave the boy a hug and a kiss while Dad very purposefully stood ten feet away gazing in the other direction.  Eventually, the boy came up behind Dad and grabbed his hand and they walked quietly to his truck.  My heart broke for them.  I wished I was like Jesus.  I wished I could tell them everything they’d ever done.  I wished I could tell them that there was hope, that we can be reconciled.

One final scene made me wonder about the possibility of reconciliation:  Tanks rolling through the streets of Hama, Syria.  The news was that all telecommunications had been cut off along with electricity and water supplies.  President Assad’s troops pushed into what had become the center of a non-violent protest for change in Syria.  Snipers took to the rooftops, initially shooting at whatever moved, according to reports.  News was also trickling out that Assad’s troops were carrying out executions in the streets.  We’re hearing that at least 200 have been killed this week and around 2000 since the uprising began in June.   We can only hope that these numbers won’t climb to the proportions of the massacre of 1982 when President Assad’s father gave the orders and his uncle conducted a scorched-earth campaign that killed as many as 40,000.  The events have certainly reminded us of an ongoing history of violence and tyranny in Syria.  There are no sings of any immanent reconciliation.

We do get glimmers of hope for reconciliation from time to time.  One of these was the work of Bishop Desmond Tutu and his colleagues who led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa after the fall of Apartheid.  When the structures of racial supremacy that enforced a system of segregation and caste finally came down and black leaders took charge of the government, nobody was exactly sure what would happen.  But soon those leaders showed that it was their intention to restore civility and community in South Africa and they would do so by actively seeking reconciliation.  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission provided a forum for victims of civil and human rights atrocities to give voice to their suffering and even provided for perpetrators to receive amnesty under certain conditions, which included the public acknowledgement of their wrong.

Bishop Tutu was and is a man of peace and wisdom and a great model for reconciliation in our time.  This week, I reviewed an article that he wrote wherein he talks about the necessary steps in true reconciliation.  First, there needs to be a desire for reconciliation.  Reconciliation is of course a two-way street.  If either party is not willing to seek reconciliation, then there can be no reconciliation.  Both parties have to humble themselves, face their fears and come together.

The first formal step in the reconciliation process, then, is confession.  This of course is not easy.  Most of us have a hard time admitting our wrongs.  We want to justify ourselves and so we try to convince ourselves and others that we are right – that we have done no wrong.  But if we want reconciliation, confession is necessary.  Tutu uses the example of a marital dispute.  He asks us to imagine a husband and wife who have quarreled.  The quarrel comes to an end, but there is no admission of any wrong.  They have not discussed the cause of their rift.  The husband brings home a bunch of flowers “and the couple pretend all is in order.”   Tutu insists that “they will be in for a rude shock.  They have not dealt with their immediate past adequately.  They have glossed over their differences, for they have failed to stare truth in the face for fear of a possible bruising confrontation.”  “Forgiving and being reconciled are not about pretending that things are other than they are.  It is not patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong.  True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the pain, the degradation, the truth.”[1]

Once this truth is acknowledge than there is the chance for forgiveness.  Forgiveness is not easy and it is not a mere sentiment.  Nor does forgiveness condone or forget the offense.  Forgiveness “means taking what happened seriously and not minimizing it; drawing out the sting in the memory that threatens to poison our entire existence.  It involves trying to understand the perpetrators and to have empathy…”[2]  “Forgiving [also] means abandoning your right to pay back the perpetrator in his own coin, but it is a loss that liberates the victim.”  Tutu uses the example of three ex-servicemen standing at the Vietnam Memorial in DC.  “One asks, “Have you forgiven those who held you prisoner of war?”  “I will never forgive them,” replies the other.  His mate says, “Then it seems they still have you in prison, don’t they.”[3]  “True forgiveness deals with the past… to make the future possible.”  If we live in the past and allow grudges and resentments to poison our relationships then we will never have reconciliation and we will never have peace in the present or in the future.

The final stage of reconciliation is reparation.  We cannot merely apologize and move on if injustice persists.  Tutu cites the ongoing economic disparity between blacks and whites in South Africa as a continuing challenge for the reconciliation process.  In as much as these disparities were caused my Apartheid they must be addressed as part of reconciliation.  In as much as we can address any lasting damage that has been done, reconciliation demands that we do make reparation.  This is not a condition for forgiveness, but it is a necessary final step in reconciliation.

Well, how did old Jacob and Esau do in their effort to be reconciled?  First, they do both show humility and seek reconciliation.  Jacob’s humility is rather formal.  He and his retinue make a procession and pass before Esau bowing as one would before a prince.  Jacob refers to himself as Eau’s servant and addresses him as “My Lord.”  Esau, on the other hand, is much more emotional and follows his gut, as we might expect.  He runs to his brother, embraces him, hugs his neck and weeps.  Both brothers show their readiness to begin the reconciliation process.

So, next comes the confession right?  Jacob has quite a bit to confess.  He needs to tell his brother that he was wrong to take advantage of him and barter with him for his birthright.  He needs to confess to his brother that he stole his blessing.  Perhaps he could tell his brother about his seemingly insatiable desire to be on top at just about any cost.  But, do we get such a confession?  Do we get any admission by Jacob of any wrong?  No.  Jacob has already moved straight to the reparations.  Like a husband trying to smooth things over with gifts, Jacob has sent ahead cattle and servants.

Esau does not want to receive these gifts.  Amazingly, he seems ready to forgive without either confession or reparation.  But Jacob insists, “Pray take my blessing that has been brought you, for God has favored me and I have everything.”  “And he pressed him, and he took it.”

As further evidence of his forgiveness, Esau invites Jacob to journey with him.  Really, Esau is not only inviting Jacob to travel with him, but he is inviting him to be reconciled.  He’s inviting him to reunite their two households.  He’s inviting him to be his brother again and live with him.  But Jacob demurs and even adds one last deceit.  He tells his brother that he will come to him at Seir, which is Esau’s new home and the future home of the Edomites. But Jacob has no such intention of joining his brother at Seir.  When he parts with his brother, he heads in exactly the opposite direction to Shechem, in Canaan.  And this passage, thereby, establishes the everlasting division between the Edomites, the people of Esau and the Israelites, the people of Jacob.  This is a story of two brothers divided, of two nations divided, and a story of a reconciliation that never was.

Merciful God, although Christ is among us as our peace, we are a people divided against ourselves as we cling to the values of a broken world. The fears and jealousies that we harbor set brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor and nation against nation.  Lord, have mercy upon us; heal and forgive us.  Amen.


[1] Desmond Tutu, “No Future without Forgiveness,” in Approaches to Peace:  A Reader in Peace Studies, David P. Barash, ed. (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 278.

[2] Ibid., pp. 278-279.

[3] Ibid., p. 279.

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Christian FAQs

Teri and I have noticed that the posts that tend to get the most hits on our site are the ones that answer common questions that Christians and others might have.  I think Teri’s sermon “What Does God Provide?” is our all-time leader.  So we thought it might be fun to do a little series of questions and answers.  I did a very unscientific and non-exhaustive search of the web and came up with ten FAQs of Christianity:

  1. How do I become a Christian?
  2. Why go to church?
  3. How should I pray?
  4. Will God solve my problems?
  5. What is sin?
  6. Is pornography a sin?
  7. What is the ‘rapture?’ And what is the ‘second coming?’
  8. What happens after death?
  9. Who is God?
  10. What is Islam?

There are, of course, lots of sites on the web that answer these questions already.  The problem is that many of them answer the questions by belting the reader with the Bible.  We hope to give more humane or pastoral answers.  Our answers will of course consider what the Bible says and they will be influenced by the fact that we are Presbyterian ministers, but we will not be trying to give THE BIBLICAL ANSWER or THE REFORMED ANSWER or even THE CHRISTIAN ANSWER.  We’ll be giving Teri’s answer or Dan’s answer that will hopefully be of help to you.

Look for these answers in the coming weeks!

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