The Very Reverend Donald W. Krickbaum DKrickbaum@aol.com
Dean, Trinity Cathedral
THE SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
MAY 5, 2002
ACTS 17:22-31. 1 PETER 3:8-18. JOHN 15:1-8
"Abide in me as I abide in you." This wonderful and familiar passage about the Vine and the Branches took on new and profound meaning for me this week. Since September 11, we have all been made painfully aware of the great gulf that exists between our country and some other countries of the world. We have been caught up in the anger and the fear that has come to the surface between us and people who differ from us. In many cases, so much in our daily freedoms of movement, the openness in public places, and the expectation of security and safety from war and international violence within our own boarders has drastically changed. We have seen emerge all kinds of reactions and prejudices to people who are different from us, who are from certain regions of the world, and who are of non-Christian religious backgrounds. There has been a negative reaction especially towards those of the Moslem faith since so much of the terrorism that has been directed towards this country and other places around the world has been in the name of Islam.
In recent months we have seen the escalation of violence and hatred within Israel between the Israelis and the Palestinians and, of course, the obvious divisions between those of the Jewish faith and Islam. In that region of the world those two faiths represent the ethnic and cultural fears and prejudices that have existed for ages and the general distrust, if not open hostility, towards the United States leave people everywhere deeply divided and suspicious of one another. The added tragedy is that so much of the violence and hatred that is escalating around the world and within our own hearts is being expressed in the name of religion. We believe Christians to be a people of peace and love just as every major religion of the world holds that same basic belief as central to their own understanding of God and God's expectations of us, yet the violence that is done in the name of religion, right within Christianity as well as within and between other religions, is terrifying. There are people in every religion that have used religion to further their own political, economic, or prejudicial agendas and to excuse their own violence and hatred -- there are fanatics everywhere who have taken their own religion hostage.
Out of all that has emerged a deep desire to bring to an end the religious prejudices that have deepened in the hearts of so many people and to open new levels of communication and understanding between the various faiths. Moves have been made to reach out to our Muslim friends and neighbors and to begin a process of better understanding of one another and to learn to respect the dignity and the good intentions of people who may differ from us. The leadership of some individuals of Saint Thomas' Church in Miami approached me some months ago after having seen some comments I had written and preached concerning the situation with which we are faced. They expressed some genuine concern for people of other religions and the attitudes of Christians towards other religions. Since I had expressed the need of openness and greater understanding they asked if I would participate in a panel discussion of some depth as the Christian spokesman in a group of three clergy, the other two being Jewish and Muslim. I said I would be delighted to do that. As a result, they organized an event which featured the three faiths. I was on this program along with Rabbi Terry A. Bookman of Temple Beth Am, and Dr. Abdul Hamid Samra, the Imam of the Miami Gardens Mosque. The event was entitled "The Three Faiths of the Book: a Look at Christianity, Islam and Judaism." The goal was to initiate a dialogue with the hope to promote better understanding and mutual respect. This took place this past Tuesday evening at Saint Thomas' Church. It was a great success. No, we did not solve the problems of the world nor the divisions which exist between and among our three faiths, but we did begin the dialogue, we expressed our deep care and respect for each other's faiths and stated clearly that this was only a beginning, but it was a deeply felt need among all three of us to show our common heritage in Scripture, our unity of faith in God and love of God, to name and even celebrate our differences, and to rejoice in our similarities.
First, let me say that those two religious leaders are absolutely delightful and we began a wonderful new friendship. A large number of people of all three faiths (and probably some of no faith) attended this event and participated eagerly in the open discussion with their own questions and comments. This is a portion of the statement of intent expressed by the organizers:
It is intriguing that Christianity, Islam and Judaism are three faiths centered in the same geographical region, claiming their incipience from the same Book -- the Hebrew Scriptures, the Bible, and the Koran -- embracing various ethnic cultures within their scope. Each not only developed its own tradition and culture that was proselytized among various ethnically and geographically diverse people, but was changed and affected by each ethnic and geographic region. There are generalities that apply and are valid . . . [and] there are enormous divergences within each religion. There are political and territorial claims within and among the faiths. We cannot begin to reach a deep comparative understanding in such a short time. That would take a lifetime of study. However, we can begin the journey of understanding each other better and in so doing build a community that is more tolerant and peaceful, assuredly the desire of all three faiths.
I am very pleased to say that we accomplished, or at least began, the movement towards this goal. Tough questions were asked and addressed by all three of us. We acknowledged the gulf that sometimes exists between the religions and within each religion, and we acknowledged the pain and violence that has been fostered on humanity in the name of religion, but that the three of us were committed to the same God, created by that only God, redeemed by God, and sustained by God's love and care for all of creation and all creatures. The same Lord of all humankind and the ground of being in every individual was calling us to join hands and declare God to be the God of us all. That same God of all of us is calling us to dispel hate and ignorance where we can, on a local level, in hopes that one day we can have peace among us in all places.
How can we do this? Abide in God, be joined with one another, and live and thrive by being nurtured by the same roots. We are reminded that we are branches of that same vine and that apart from God and apart from one another, we cannot survive, much less thrive. I believe that we made the point that the search of all people of faith is for the presence of God. Out of that search comes a life-changing awareness of the holiness of God, a sense of the love of God, and an experience of a peace which passes all understanding. Is this not the mission to which we have committed ourselves?
Is this not what Jesus sent his apostles into the world to proclaim? Is it not really that simple? Is not the mission of each of us that we are to tell the world that God is present; that God is Holy; that God loves me and you and everyone else without distinction; and that God brings us a peace which passes all human understanding, a peace which brings harmony, love, and unity to all humanity?
I think that these present times bring this issue ever closer to the hearts of each of us. Christians need to be cautious of our tendency to believe that we are the sole possessors of the truth. I believe that the Christ we worship as the Incarnation of God is the same Emmanuel (God With Us) who lives in the hearts and souls of all people and is the root of the Vine of which we are all its branches. Among my comments to those who gathered Tuesday night, I said, "God calls all humankind to an awareness of the Holy and the Good and invites us all into the peace -- shalom -- that is only his to give. We are all the people of shalem-- meaning that we are among those who are moving towards shalom, seeking after that peace, harmony and unity with God and one another. I believe that all people of faith and all who believe in the love of God and one another, are a part of the shalem -- that journey towards God and the peace which God desires for all of his creation. Violence under any guise cannot be tolerated among any people of faith, prejudice cannot be a reality in the hearts of people of faith, and exclusivity has no place in the hearts of the people of God.
First, our overall desire on Tuesday was to make very clear that all faithful, godly religions have at their foundation a desire for God and that we believe that God is love. Secondly, we wanted to make clear that the peace of God is central to our lives and the life of our communities and of the world. Therefore, the purpose was to bring into being a body of the faithful of the several religions of the same foundation in a united effort to address our common needs and issues. We are not looking for the breakdown of the individuality of any religion or its theology, but through all people of faith finding ways to work together for peace; for knowledge; for the concerns of children and families; to address issues of education, poverty, health; and for building an awareness in all humankind of the power, grace, and love of God.
That we can and must do together. Together is the only way it will be done and it simply must be done now. We can try to be God and attempt to decide who gets saved and who doesn't. But we had best cease this nonsense and get together on what is truly important. We are one; we are loved by God; and we must grow to recognize the image of God in each other, his love of all of us, and the grace with which he has blessed us.
There is a portion of a prayer in the liturgy of the French Reformed Church that I included in the Epiphany sermon and I ask that we pray that prayer again today:
O God, whose will it is that your children should be one: we pray for the unity of your faithful people. Forgive our pride and our lack of faith, understanding, and charity, which are the causes of our divisions. Deliver us from narrow-mindedness, bitterness, and prejudices. Let us not consider as normal the separateness that is an offense to your love. Teach us to recognize the gifts of grace among all those who call upon you and who confess their faith in you. Amen.
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