“No Bargain At All”

Matthew 20:1-16

Daniel J. Ott

We’re all looking for a bargain, aren’t we?  My father-in-law and I are big internet shoppers.  We often compare notes when we get together.  “I found a universal remote for twenty bucks that lists for $89.99.”  “I got some new speakers for my computer – 70% off.”  We’re all looking to pay less and get more, right?

Maybe we’re even looking for a bargain when it comes to work.  Sure we say that all we want is a fair wage for a fair day’s work, but working a little less and earning a little more wouldn’t hurt.  You have to haggle a little when you take a new job.  You have to ask for a raise now and again.

The first group of workers in our story knows this.  They may be a little down on their luck.  They’re trying to scrape things together as day laborers, but they’re far from stupid.  The landowner comes around and they know that they should agree on a price ahead of time.  They’re about to work a twelve hour day and they want to make sure that they get what’s coming to them… or maybe a little more.  So they bargain a little, but I guess the landowner was better at the bargaining game, because they settle for the usual day’s wage.  Can’t blame them for trying, though.  Give less – get more.  That’s our motto.

I have the impression that some people live by that motto even when it comes to religion.  Their religion starts with one simple prayer that earns them a spot in heaven.  They like churches where not much is required:  Just go hear the band, a sermon that’s easy to understand, and slip out the back.  They like to hear the preacher talk about forgiveness and grace, not so much holiness or service.  Religion for them is a private matter, a personal affair.  Just a little talk with Jesus now and again and everything will be alright.  Give less – get more.  Who can blame them?  We’re all looking for a bargain.

But if we can’t get a bargain, then I guess we’ll settle for what’s fair.  That’s what the next sets of workers do.  The landowner keeps going back to the marketplace every three hours to get more workers.  I guess the harvest was plentiful that year.  And unemployment must have been up, too, for all those workers to be standing around.  Perhaps that’s why they don’t bargain.  The landowner simply tells them that he will pay them what’s fair and they go quietly to get to work.

That’s a good Midwest mindset, right?  We like a person who just keeps her head down and does her job.  We all just kind of expect that if you work hard, things will work out in the end.  Just do your job and take care of your business and everything will be alright.

And this mindset can bleed over into religion too.  He says, “I’ll be alright.  I never drank much or gambled.  I’ve always put food on the table for my family.  I went to church when I could.  I’m sure the Lord will be alright with me.”  She says, “I’ve always tried to be nice to people.  I’ve helped out when I could.  I took care of Mom when she got old.  Surely, God will see that I’m basically a good person.”  It’s just what’s fair, right?  We live a pretty good life and God should give us what’s coming to us in the end.  There’s no reason to bargain or haggle.  Just give us what’s fair, God.

Well, amazingly, the landowner goes back to the marketplace one last time, just an hour before quitting time.  And wouldn’t you know it, there are still some poor schlepps standing around.  He asks, “Why are you standing here all day.”  They state the painfully obvious, “Because no one hired us.”  And he sends them out to work in the field.  These must really be some desperate folk.  Maybe they figured the landowner might at least feed them supper for doing a little clean-up work.  I guess when you can’t get what’s fair, you’ll take what you can get.  Maybe they’ll at least get a scrap or two.  An hour’s work is better than nothing.

During my time teaching at St. Andrews in North Carolina the make-up of my classes became pretty predictable.  I would always have pretty similar sets of students.  I would have the religious studies majors and the students planning to go to seminary.  I would have a handful of zealots, who were often new to their faith and wanted to learn more about religion.  Of course, there were always some who just needed to fill in a space in their schedule and thought that a religion course might be interesting or easy, or both.  But for a couple of years I had another group that were following me around that left everybody wondering, including me.  I called them my motley crew.

They weren’t bad students, but not the cream of the crop either.  It was well known that several in the group probably smoked a little too much weed.  None of them had any interest in majoring or minoring in religion.  They were far from churchy or even religious, really.  At first, I thought it was just that they enjoyed a little banter about God and my conversational teaching style.  Then I began to learn their stories.  One of the young women had lost her brother at a very young age.  Another was in the process of coming out of the closet and dealing with a family that wasn’t very accepting of her sexuality.  One of the young men had a very difficult relationship with his father.  They all had big questions and lots of them.

Thinking about them through the lens of this parable, I think they were just looking for a few scraps.  The church was offering way too much and not nearly enough all at the same time.  They weren’t looking for any churchy bargain.  Some of them also probably thought that they weren’t worthy of a fair deal.  So they took a few religion courses.   Slowly they started asking their questions and wrestling with them.  They spent their hour in the field and were happy to do so.

Back in our story, when the last hour was up, the pay was doled out.  They lined up last to first: the one-hour laborers in front looking for scraps, next were the the three, the six and the nine, looking for a fair shake, and last the twelve-hour laborers ready to get what they bargained for.  Everybody looked on as the drama unfolded.  The one-hour laborers were given a full day’s wage!  Can you imagine the surge of energy in the room?  The motley crew must have been bowled over.  I’m sure they sheepishly collected their pay and disappeared as fast as possible, before anyone had any opportunity to change their mind.  The other workers must have been a buzz too.  “If these schlepps got a full day’s wage, what’s in store for us?”

Well, we soon find out.  The three-hour laborers come forward and receive a full day’s wage, too.  The six-hour laborers – a full day’s wage and the three-hours received the same.  We’re not told what, if anything, these laborers had to say, but I’m sure they went away murmuring something.  You certainly cannot call this ‘fair.’  But which way does ‘fair’ cut here?  That those who worked nine hours received the same as those who worked three is certainly an injustice.  But can you complain if you receive twelve hour’s pay for nine hours work?  Isn’t that a bargain?  Those promised fairness were left to wonder just what fair is.

Finally, the first laborers come forward and they probably could imagine where this was headed.   True to form they received what they bargained for – one full day’s wage for one full day’s work.  But they were indignant.  “This, decidedly, is not fair!  These last schlepps worked only an hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”  They’d forgotten about what they bargained for and now they were all about what’s fair.  And we can’t blame them, can we?  Obviously this is bad business.  You can’t pay people the same who don’t work the same.

And it’s bad religion, too.  Does this imply that the old drunk who makes a confession in the eleventh hour will be rewarded just the same as us?  Does that mean what we do in this life doesn’t matter?  Maybe we should live it up.  Why labor in the field and make sacrifices and work so damned hard at being faithful and living a decent life if this is how it comes down in the end?  Wouldn’t we be ticked, too, if this is how it worked?

Well, what comes next in the story is probably the most startling part.  The landowner fights back.  “I’ve done you no wrong.  I gave you what you bargained for.  Take what belongs to you and go.”  In effect, the landowner says, “If you don’t like it, get out.”

Now throughout the sermon we’ve been making the analogy explicit in its application to religion, so it wouldn’t be fair to stop short here.  Imagine it:  We get ticked and start wagging our fingers at God about the fairness of this whole exchange.  “This is no bargain, God, no bargain at all.  We labor all day and the one who comes in the eleventh hour gets the same reward.  It’s just not fair.”  And God responds simply, “If you don’t like it get out.  I do what I want with what’s mine.  Go on.  Get out!”

I thought about ending the sermon there.  That’s where the parable ends.  But I’m convinced that it’s not where the message ends.  You see, it really is no bargain at all.  In the end all of this talk of transactions and fair wages falls on its head when what we’re trying to talk about is grace.  Grace is no bargain at all.  There’s no hiring and haggling, no bartering and bargaining.  Grace is a gift, it’s not a wage.  Grace isn’t measured in more or less or when or under what conditions.  Grace is immeasurable.  Whether we’re looking for a bargain, or a fair shake, or just a few scraps, when grace comes we get much more than we bargained for.  Grace is the air we breathe and the life we live.  It’s the love we share and the forgiveness we’ve been given.  Grace is a precious, precious gift – no bargain at all.


On Forgiveness

“On Forgiveness”

Matthew 18:21-35

Daniel J. Ott


We all know that we should forgive.  But the question remains, “Just how much?”  If you’re like me, I’m sure you can think of many times when you have forgiven.  I think of myself as basically a forgiving person.  But I also can think of things that I have not forgiven.  There are some wrongs that have been done to me that I just can’t let go.  Some of these wrongs just seem too great to be forgiven; or they caused too deep a wound in me; or the person who did the wrong never did try to right the wrong, leaving me feeling as though the person was not worthy of my forgiveness.  Sure we all know that we should forgive.  But isn’t there some limit?  Do we have to forgive always?  Do we have to forgive everything?

Matthew’s parable wrestles with these questions.  And Matthew himself may get a little tangled in the answers.  And so may we.

Let’s start with the servant.[1]  In my study Bible the heading to this story calls him the “unforgiving servant.”  But is he really so bad?  A co-worker was having some trouble.  He loaned him a few hundred dollars.  So far so good, right?  Time goes by and the co-worker never pays him back.  Finally, he happens upon the guy and says, “Hey, what’s doin’?  Where’s that money I leant you?”  The co-worker says he can’t pay and asks for a break.  The servant has had enough, though, and decides to take the matter up in the courts.

Now I guess we could call this “unforgiving.”  But would any of us act so differently?  We all need to be responsible for our debts, right?  Our whole banking system, our whole economic system is based on this basic assumption.  We take loans and we pay them back.  If we don’t pay them back, there are legal ramifications.  What would happen if banks and mortgage companies just started forgiving debts left and right?  Are they “unforgiving” when they insist on repayment?

Of course, the reason that this servant seems so unforgiving is because of the contrast set up by the parable.  Just before the servant demands payment from his co-worker, he himself has been forgiven a great debt.

The story goes that the boss was reconciling his books.  He comes across our servant and sees that he owes ten thousand talents.  Now when I first read the story I thought to myself, “Oh, ten thousand talents, sounds like a goodly sum.”  But Matthew’s audience would have gasped at hearing that number.  A talent is worth fifteen years of a laborer’s wages.  Ten thousand talents is like a billion dollars.  How’s a regular schmoe going to pay back a billion dollars?  How in the world did he end up a billion dollars in debt?  What’s wrong with this guy?  So the boss comes to a fairly logical conclusion for the day.  Sell everything he’s got, including his family and him and get what you can.  What else can you do with such a deadbeat?

So the servant makes a scene and falls on his knees blathering and begging, saying, “Just give me a little more time.”  “Really?,” the boss thinks to himself, “Just a little more time and you’ll pay me back a billion dollars, eh?”  The boss has a flash of pity and decides to let the poor schlepp go.  He wipes the books clean and sends him on his way.

And this is the reason why we get so indignant about the servant’s unforgiving attitude toward his co-worker.  How can you receive forgiveness of such a huge debt and turn right around and harshly demand payment on a much smaller debt?  The servant had been forgiven an immeasurable debt, but did not learn forgiveness from this experience.

This is the ‘gotcha moment,’ of course.  The finger that wags and points at the servant turns right around at us.  How can we who have been forgiven of so much not forgive others?  God forgives us all of our sin.  God forgives the wrongs that we have done to God and the wrongs that we have done to each other.  God demands no payment at all for these sins.  When our account comes due, God simply wipes the books clean and sends us on our way.  And when we fail to forgive each other, we are that unforgiving servant who has been forgiven so much, but cannot see fit to forgive a little.

The force with which Matthew drives home this point is startling.  The boss hands the servant over to be tortured and Matthew puts these words on Jesus’ lips, “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your sister or brother from your heart.”  Well, that’s not very forgiving is it?  The message can’t really be that if we don’t forgive, God won’t forgive.  This forgiveness business is tricky.  It’s hard to get our minds around the great mercy of God.  But I believe the message that Matthew was shooting for, even if he didn’t quite hit the mark, remains:  God’s forgiveness is limitless and so should ours be.

Two stories (ripped from the headlines as it were):

On October 2, 2006, a man named Charles Carl Roberts entered the one room West Nickel Mines School in Lancaster, County, PA.  At about 10:36 that morning the first call was made to 911 explaining that the gunman had let several adults, boys and small children go, but was holding hostage around ten girls between the ages of 6 and 13.  The police responded within minutes.  But soon after they arrived at around 11:07 shooting began in the school house.  By 11:11 the police on the scene alerted dispatch that there were 10-12 victims with head wounds.  Roberts had shot ten little girls before killing himself.  Five of the girls died in the end.  The five that survived live with various persistent injuries.

The world watched as a little Amish village in Pennsylvania dealt with their pain and grief.  We were all amazed by the scenes of forgiveness that followed.  Reports emerged that on the very same day of the shooting the grandfather of one of the murdered girls was overheard telling his family, “We must not think evil of this man.”  The family of the shooter reported that members of the Amish community reached out in consolation to them for their loss within hours of the massacre.  Amish community members attended Charles Roberts’ funeral and even established a charitable fund for the family that he left behind.  In an open letter to the Amish community thanking them for their forgiveness and grace, Marie Roberts wrote, “Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need.  Gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe.  Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.”[2]

On September 11, 2001, 19 al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four passenger planes.  At 8:46 in the morning five hijackers crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into the World Trade Center’s North Tower.  At 9:03 a.m. another five hijackers crashed United Airlines Flight 175 into the South Tower.  At. 9:37 a third plane crashed into the Pentagon.  United Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania at 10:03 after passengers struggled with that plane’s hijackers.  In the end almost three thousand people were dead including the hijackers.

The world watched as a great nation dealt with its pain and grief.  The question of forgiveness in the wake of this heinous attack is a difficult one, but what is sure is that the scenes that followed hardly resembled the scenes from that little Amish village.  Three days after the event, our then president stood in the midst of the rubble in New York City and vowed revenge.  The so-called “war on terror” was launched immediately.  American troops were in Afghanistan before thirty days had expired.  Not two years later, Iraq was identified as the central front in the war on terror and military initiatives were expanded.  Ten years later, the war in Afghanistan rages on and troops remain in Iraq.  On May 2 of this year, the leader of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. troops.  Our current president told those of us who wondered whether this assassination was necessary that we should have our heads examined.

Our grief and anger have also led to ill-effects at home.  A nation that once prided itself on its immigrant roots has grown intolerant and insular.  Muslim Americans have become the targets of hate crimes and deep suspicion.  Ignorant Christians have hosted burnings of Islam’s holy book.  Congress has even held hearings casting a wide net and suggesting that all of Islam is threatened by radicalization.  Muslim Americans, who lost their own on 9/11, have had their patriotism put into question and been forced to become apologists for their faith.

We all know that we should forgive.  But the question remains, “Just how much?”  When asked to put a number on it, Jesus said, “seventy times seven.”  In other words, as much as it takes.  God’s forgiveness is limitless.  What about ours?

[1] Throughout this treatment of the parable, I am following David Buttrick rather closely.  David Buttrick, Speaking Parables:  A Homiletic Guide, (Louisville, Kentucky:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), pp. 107-113.

The Law of Love

“The Law of Love”

Romans 13:8-10

Daniel J. Ott

As a pastor and a religion professor, I’m often asked some interesting questions.  Students, parishioners, neighbors, hairdressers seem to save up their questions and pop them on me when they get me alone.  And I don’t mind, but I’m sometimes surprised at the nature of the questions.  They are not usually about what God is like, or, “What is a Trinity?,” or “How should I pray?”  They’re almost always about ethical or moral issues.  “Let me tell you what my cousin did.  Do you think that’s right or wrong?”  “What do you think about premarital sex – or abortion – or divorce?”  These are not easy questions and I think I almost always leave the person asking the question a bit disappointed.  You see, I don’t give the most straightforward answers in the world.  And it’s not just that I don’t want to get on the wrong side of my hairdresser’s debate with her cousin as she cuts my bangs, it’s also because I don’t think morality is as black and white as we would like for it to be.  We’d all like to have a little rulebook where we could look up our particular moral dilemma in the index, turn to the applicable page and read the answer.  Problem solved.  Or even better, just corner the local expert.  See what he has to say.  But it’s just not that simple or easy.

When asked to name the greatest commandment, Jesus famously responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest commandment.  And a second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and prophets.”  Paul likewise says succinctly, “The one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  Love is the fulfillment of the law.”  Jesus and Paul both rejected legalistic approaches to morality and emphasized that love alone has the power to put us into right relationships with one another and with God.  No set of rituals, no legal code however sound, no abstract ideals or moral postulates can ultimately put us in right relationship with God and neighbor.  The only thing that can set us on the right moral path is real, concrete love.

And that complicates matters.  That might sound funny to say, but grounding our morality in love complicates matters.  For one thing, love is boundless.  If we could consult a rulebook, we could just do what it says and be done.  But love demands that we go further.  Love shatters the law and asks not, “What am I required to do?,” but “What should I do?,” “What is the best I can do.”  Love demands that we go not only the mile required but a second mile, that we give not only our coats, but our cloaks as well.

Another reason why love complicates matters is that love is risky.  If we could ascertain the highest ideals or perfect our legal code, then we’d know when something was right and when something was wrong.  We could rest assured that if everyone would just abide by our guidelines, then the world would be all right.  But love gives no guarantees.  The famous psychologist, Erich Fromm said, “Love means to commit oneself without guarantee, to give oneself completely in the hope that our love will produce love in the loved person.  Love is an act of faith, and whoever is of little faith is also of little love.”

The third reason that love complicates matters is that love takes effort.  If love is to be the ground of morality, then it will demand that we press past moral deliberation or discernment toward the hard work of actually acting lovingly.  We can’t just think about it, we have to do it.  Love is work, hard work.  Love demands sacrifice and compromise.  Love demands that we listen to others and strain to understand them.  Love demands that we give of ourselves for the good of another even if the other may give no good in return.

But even though love complicates matters, even though love is complex and risky and difficult, Jesus and Paul boldly assert that morality should be rooted in love, that love is the greatest commandment and the fulfillment of the law.

Well, I was taught well that when talking about moral matters we shouldn’t stay too long in the abstract.  We should tackle some cases.  And lucky for us, Paul mentions a few.  Paul writes, “The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love.”  Now at first blush this might seem a fairly random selection of commandments.  They’re not the first few or the last few as they’re listed in Exodus or Deuteronomy.  So it got me wondering about why Paul mentions these commandments.  Then it hit me:  Sex, Violence, and Materialism.  If that list doesn’t get at the heart of morality, then I don’t know what list would.  Let’s look at each.  I’m going to take them out of order.

First, materialism and covetousness:  I’ve been working with students this week, reading the Bhagavad Gita, a holy book in the Hindu tradition.  Hinduism teaches us that many people are on the path of desire.  Many people spend their lives seeking pleasure or success or some combination of the two.  But the Gita teaches that we should seek to transcend our attachment to things and to worldly accomplishments, because these things are only temporary and pursuing them can lead to suffering.  There’s a great passage:   “If a [person] keeps dwelling on sense objects, attachment to them arises; from attachment, desire flares up; from desire, anger is born; from anger, confusion follows; from confusion, weakness of memory;  weak memory – weak understanding; weak understanding – ruin.”[1]

I told my students that we could think about this in terms of a promotion at work.  I start thinking about the promotion.  I get attached to the idea of a promotion.  I start dreaming about it and planning on it.  It becomes the object of my desire.  I want that promotion.  I deserve the promotion.  I think the promotion is rightfully mine.  Then the numbskull in the cubicle next to mine gets the promotion.  Now I’m angry.  How could my idiot boss give numbskull the promotion?  How could numbskull get MY promotion?  Now I’m confused.  I start rehearsing what it is that I did or didn’t do.  I obsess over little things that were said and I even start to create my own story about what went wrong.  Soon the story takes on a life of its own.  My memory is tainted.  Now I know why numbskull got the promotion – He’s always been a kiss-up.  And my idiot boss never has appreciated me like she should.  Going to work becomes hell.  Every interaction with numbskull and my idiot boss drives me up a wall.  I can’t understand why they do the things they do.  They seem to have it out for me.  I’m ruined.  Soon my boss will have no choice but to let me go.

What law code could free us from this sort of moral failure?  We can say simply, “Thou shalt not covet,” but we see how things easily spin out of control, how we are trapped by our desires.  The law of love might free us, though.  And here the love does not even need to be for the other.  I could free myself from this vicious cycle by first loving myself.  If I love myself more than that promotion; if I love myself more than the things I possess or the things that I accomplish, then I will not be so attached to those things and I will not be tempted to travel the road of desire toward ruin.  Further, if I love myself more than that promotion, then the possibility of loving numbskull is opened up.  I can love numbskull, even if he has something that I thought I wanted, because I realize that both numbskull and I are much more valuable than things.  The law of love can free us from covetousness and materialism.

Test case #2, adultery:  Talking about the law of love is helpful in two ways.  First, as we’ve noted we realize that love is the fulfillment of the law.  Love sums up the law.  But it’s also helpful to note that love is a kind of law itself.  Love takes moral effort and requires responsibility.

Our culture can lure us into mistaking love for an emotion or mere sentiment.  Or maybe it’s even worse than that.  Sometimes we begin to think of love as a sort of primal drive or even a kind of magic.  We imagine that we fall in and out of love.  We forget that we are responsible agents when it comes to love.  A woman looks at her husband and thinks with wonder, “I just don’t love him anymore.”  And she thinks that this has just happened to her, that she has no responsibility in the breakdown of love in their marriage.  A man has sex with a woman who is not his wife and he thinks to himself, “I can’t help it.  I fell in love with her.”  Do you see what has happened here?  The word love becomes a tool to abort the law, rather than being the power that enables us to fulfill the law.  If we fall in and out of love, if love is some magic that happens to us, rather than an action for which we are responsible, then infidelity and unhappy and failed marriages follow quite readily.

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke observed, “Like so much else, people have also misunderstood the place of love in life, they have made it into play and pleasure because they thought that play and pleasure was more blissful than work; but there is nothing happier than work, and love, just because it is the extreme happiness, can be nothing else but work…”[2]   Love is work.  It takes effort.  It requires moral strength.  But love is blissful and has the power to heal our relationships and make us whole.  The law of love can free us from adultery.

Our final test case is murder.  There’s a fascinating documentary that I watched some time ago now, called “Flight from Death.”  I recommend it.  It’s based on the work of psychologist Ernest Becker and some contemporary psychologists who have furthered his line of research.  The basic premise is that our fear of death is one of the biggest psychological drivers in our lives. What we do is construct coping mechanisms that allow us to deny the reality of death or otherwise flee from death.  We become the heroes and heroines of our own stories.  We try to make ourselves immortal by building a financial empire, or creating the perfect work of art, or even rearing the perfect family.  Or another way to cope would be to connect ourselves to ideas and structures that help us to think that we are bigger than we are.  Our religions or our national identities become extensions of our selves that secure our immortality.

The problem is that when these false selves or extended selves are threatened, then we perceive the threat as a threat to our very lives.  This is when anger, violence and even murder arise.    When a liberal hears conservative rhetoric, she becomes inordinately angry…Why? – Because she takes it not merely as a threat to her ideas, but a threat on her life. When Western Christians come into contact with Arab Muslims, the clash of ideas causes the two to feel threatened to the core.  Anger, violence and even killing result.

Love, again, is the only way forward.  Jesus asked us to love even our enemies.  He asked us to love even when we feel threatened.  He gave us the example as he loved even from the cross.

Paul says, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor” – the neighbor next door with whom you disagree; the neighbor who lives down the street, but comes from another country; the neighbor across the aisle who sees the world differently than you; and the neighbor across the globe who has a different way of life, a different culture and a different religion.  The law of love can free us from violence and killing.

Sisters and brothers, owe no one anything, except to love one another for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  All the commandments are summed up in this, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  The law is love and love is the law.

[1] Stephen Mitchell, trans. Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation, (New York:  Three Rivers Press, 2000), p. 58.

[2] As quoted by Bell Hooks in All About Love: New Visions, (New York:  Perennial, 2000), p. 183.

“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.

Follow Me

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

“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/




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.