11/4/18 COEXIST – Pastor Donna Doutt

Oh, how to begin?

My husband is a news hound. He begins every day at 5:00 am with coffee in hand, watching the news on television. Each morning when I get up an hour and a half later, I ask him, “What do I need to know today?” He is MY newscaster. He gives me national stuff first (because that’s his forte), then he’ll move on to local events. I don’t care where YOU get your news source, whether it’s MSNBC or Fox, KDKA or the CW. My news source is B-U-C-K (also known as my husband).

Image my surprise when I came home last Saturday from celebrating the marriage of a lovely, young couple, and the first thing the Buck news channel said was, “Did you hear about the mass shooting?” Of course, I had not. I was busy marrying people and eating good food at the reception. Then he followed with the bulletin update that it was right here in Pittsburgh at the Tree of Life Synagogue. My first response? Oh, no…not again. 

 

As the details began to unfold, I was heartbroken, as many of you probably were too. Especially sadder as we started learning the names and backgrounds of those who lost their lives. It deeply impacted me, because each was a brother, a mother, a father, a sister, and grandparent. People just like you and me. People who love.

What was even more disturbing was the details of the vile accusations and comments that the shooter was shouting not only while he was acting out this horrendous event, but even as he was being loaded in the ambulance himself, and on into the police station. Anti-sematic rhetoric and hatred. [1]I read an article this morning, written by Ari Mahler, the Jewish RN that attended to the shooter. Her words are powerful. She said, “Love as an action is more powerful than words, and love in the face of evil gives others hope. It demonstrates humanity. It reaffirms why we’re all here. The meaning of life is to give meaning to life, and love is the ultimate force that connects all living beings.” 

I had to literally catch my breath realizing that these were people, just like you and me, who simply went to church. The two brothers were greeters in the lobby. Gone! The elderly couple who sat down in their regular pew. Gone! Sweet, sweet neighbors. Gone! All gone. People like you and me. Gone!

How many of you remember Rodney King? He’s the man who was viciously beaten by members of the Los Angeles police department, and someone happened to be able to record it all. If it weren’t for that video tape, we would have never know. Rodney King cried out, “Why can’t we all just get along?” 

I say the same. “Why CAN’T we just get along?”

Who knows what thought process brought Robert Bowers to believe these elderly and innocent worshipers were a threat to him? They were a threat only in his mind. But he was filled with hatred that surpassed common sense. Where else can we say this kind of hatred comes from except from Satan himself?

Why can’t we just get along? Why not make our mantra the greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself?”

In the book of Leviticus, a scripture that makes up part of the Holiness Code, God tells the people: 17 “Don’t secretly hate your neighbor. If you have something against him, get it out into the open; otherwise you are an accomplice in his guilt.18 “Don’t seek revenge or carry a grudge against any of your people.“Love your neighbor as yourself. I am God.19 “Keep my decrees. From Leviticus to James, I found 10 different times, “Love your neighbor.”

What would Jesus do? He’s probably as frustrated as we are. Why can’t we all just get along?

Let us “coexist”. Yes, let’s “coexist.” It simply means to exist together, to exist at the same time or in the same place.

I remember the first time I saw this bumper sticker, I found it to be beautifully profound in its simplicity. Each symbol represents coexistence just being used together in the same word.  

It was designed by [2]a Polish graphic designer based in Warsaw. His original work was chosen by a jury to be one of several dozen images to be displayed as outdoor posters. The exhibit opened to the public in Jerusalem in 2001.

His original image consisted of the word COEXIST in all capital letters, with the C replaced by a Muslim Crescent, the X replaced by a Star of David, and the T replaced by a Latin Cross. Since then, other symbols have been added. The O is made up of a combined symbol for man and woman with a peace symbol too. The E in this one stands for evolution. The I in this case, is an “Ankh”, the Egyptian Symbol of Life and Immortality. The S is the Chinese symbol for Yin and Yang. In this particular version, you can see the word illustrated in rainbow hues, which are representative of the LBGT community. The colors of the rainbow coexist is well, each coloring standing for a different value: life (red), healing (orange), sunlight (yellow),nature (green), harmony/peace (blue), and spirit (purple/violet).

Why can’t we “coexist?”

Our founder, John Wesley, wrote in his sermon [3]“Catholic Spirit”, “By the very nature of the Christian tradition, every follower of Christ is obligated to be a member of a congregation and some denomination. These affiliations entail a specific way of worshiping God. You do not have fellowship with others unless you agree with them. Yet, excepting one’s own conscience, none can be obligated by any power on earth to choose one congregation over another, or one form of worship instead of another.”

When Wesley uses the word “catholic” here, He doesn’t mean “Catholic” as in the religion. He mean “catholic” in the sense of universal. The same universal as our use of it in our Apostle’s Creed.

[4]James Gordon writes in his essay about Wesley’s call to unconditional love, “This sermon is about the spirit of welcome, the formation of a settled and consistent predisposition to love and a commitment divinely maintained to make peace, developing a spirit-inspired instinct for unity of heart and practical good will toward others.”  John Wesley sounds like 1771 hippie promoting peace and love.

Perhaps that’s why I’m proud to be a United Methodist. After all, we’re known for our motto is “Open Hearts. Open Doors. Open Minds.” All are welcome here. We are defined by our social principles. Love thy neighbor.

Our scripture this morning said, “7-8 My dear friends, I’m not writing anything new here. This is the oldest commandment in the book, and you’ve known it from day one.9-11 Anyone who claims to live in God’s light and hates a brother or sister is still in the dark. It’s the person who loves brother and sister who dwells in God’s light and doesn’t block the light from others. But whoever hates is still in the dark, stumbles around in the dark, doesn’t know which end is up, blinded by the darkness.”

Our United States is embroiled in division. Every emotion is in our face. Every opinion is escalated, praised or defiled in social media. It’s them vs us; you vs me; brother vs sister; mother vs father. Our holiday dinners are turning into brawls.

As United Methodists, we have a set of social principles that we are called to apply to our own lives. Let me share a few with you. If any of you would like to see all 25 of the [5]Social Principles of the United Methodist Church, just ask, and I will make them available to you at any time.

Let’s touch on a few of the hot button issues that are boiling up:   

  • As refugees stream toward our border, remember from Exodus forward through 3 John, we are scripturally reminded, of Christian hospitality because, 33-34 “When a foreigner lives with you in your land, don’t take advantage of him. Treat the foreigner the same as a native. Love him like one of your own. Remember that you were once foreigners in Egypt. I am God, your God.” Lev. 19:34 (Msg).

  • Our United Methodist Social Principle states, “We recognize, embrace, and affirm all persons, regardless of country of origin, as members of the family of God. Our social principles oppose immigration policies that separate family members from each other or that include detention of families with children.” Love thy neighbor, no matter where they come from. Let’s coexist.

  • What is your religion? We don’t care if you are Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, or Sikh. Our Social Principles state, “We condemn all overt and covert forms of religious intolerance.” Love thy neighbor, if their religion is different from ours. Let’s coexist.

  • We abhor racism. Our Social Principles read like this, “Racism is the combination of the power to dominate by one race over others races and a value system that assumes that the dominant race is innately superior to others.” Love thy neighbor, no matter their color. Let’s coexist.

  • Sexual orientation? This is another really hot button issue as our United Methodist Conference struggles with what is called “A Way Forward” over the ordination of LBGT clergy. Our Social Principles claim, “We are committed to supporting those right and liberties for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation.” Love thy neighbor, no matter who or how they love. Let’s coexist.

  • And lastly, our Social Principle policy on Media Violence and Christian Values:”In our society, the media plays an important role. It influences people all over the world. Content, representations, pictures, scenes, however, are often in a stark contrast to human and Christian values. These practices degrade humankind and violate the teaching of Christ and the Bible.” Love thy neighbor and be kind. Words hurt. Let’s coexist.
     

I could go on and on, but I hope by now you’ve heard the point of this message. The love of neighbors in the Wesleyan tradition grows out of one’s relationship with God. All human affections and emotions are shaped by our relationship with God, and it is out of our relationship with God that we love our neighbor. That we coexist.

As we go forward in this hotly-contested election week, remember that we are proud to be United Methodists. People that embrace diversity. Jesus and Wesley have given us plenty to think about. Go from here today and love your neighbor. Coexist.

Amen.

 

[1] https://www.facebook.com/ari.mahler/posts/10218102032530177

[2] "Coexist (image)." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 24 Sep. 2018. Web. 29 Oct. 2018.

[3] Kinghorn, Kenneth Cain. John Wesley on Christian Practice: The Standard Sermons in Modern English Volume III. Nashville:Abingdon Press. 2003. Print. p. 110

[4] https://www.ethicsdaily.com/wesleys-call-to-unconditional-love-still-resonates-cms-24224/

[5] http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/the-social-community

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