Friday, October 27, 2017

The Tree of God’s Love (I John 4:11; 16-19; John 15:4-5) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A person writes: “I came across a sign once that I love—a lost dog sign. There was a big cash reward for whoever found the lost dog.  The description of the dog said: He's only got three legs, he's blind in the left eye, he's missing a right ear, he's almost deaf, and he answers by the name 'Lucky.  That dog is lucky not because of the life he’s led, he's lucky because he has an owner who loves him and wants him back. That's what God’s love, God’s redemption is all about!”   God is the owner who loves us and wants us back.

It is stewardship time and our theme for this coming year is: “The Tree of God’s Love.”  Our life is a manifestation of God’s love.  God created us out of love.  God is the author and creator and source of life.  Everything is owned by God and belongs to God.  God appointed us to exercise responsible authority over all living things and to live purposeful, meaningful and loving lives.    We are God’s stewards, God’s managers, God’s representatives on earth.  We have the resources of the world at our disposal.

Perhaps that’s the difference between an atheist, who doesn’t believe in God, and a theist, who believes in God.  An atheist says: “It’s my life, I am not accountable to anyone, I can live any way I choose.”  A believer says: “My life is not my own, I belong to God and I am accountable to God for the way I live my life.”

The tree of God’s love.  The picture of a tree in the narthex is an apt symbol of God and God’s love.  Trees provide shade, food, wood, oil, fruit, oxygen, nests for birds, and beauty among other things.  Trees and vines are often mentioned in the Bible in a variety of ways.

Listen to other Old Testament allusions to trees and vines in the book of psalms.  “Blessed is the man who is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.  Whatever he does prospers.” “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”  “O Israel, what have I to do with idols?  It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress; from me comes your fruit.”  “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” The prophet Isaiah speaks of the people of Israel as “God’s vineyard.”

In the New Testament Jesus speaks about a mustard seed as a metaphor for the Kingdom of God.  It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it grows it becomes the largest of plants and becomes a tree.  The birds of the air come and perch in its branches.  Jesus then makes a more radical claim by saying: “I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener.  I am the vine you are the branches.  Remain in me and I will remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself, it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  I am the vine you are the branches.  If one remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  As the father has loved me, so have I loved you.  My command is this; love each other as I have loved you.

I am impressed with the hearts, which you have placed on our artist’s depiction of a tree in the narthex.  They are your promises, your commitments of love in response to God’s love for you.  In the New Testament we read in I John 4:10 - 12: “This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”    This is an inspiring truth from the word of God.  When we love others, we know in our hearts, that God lives in us and God’s love in being made complete in us.

Sometimes however God’s love is right in front of our eyes, but we don’t see it.  We miss it. Like the story about a customs officer who observed a truck pulling up at the border.  Suspicious, he orders the driver out and searches the truck.  He pulls off the panels, bumpers, and wheel cases but finds not a single scrap of contraband.  Suspicious, but at a loss to know where else to search, he waves the driver through. The next week, the same driver arrives and is again searched but to no avail.  Over the years, the officer tries each week as the same man drives up, but no mysterious cargo ever appears.

Finally, after many years, the officer is about to retire.  When the driver pulls up in his truck the officer says: "I know you're a smuggler, and you know it, so don't bother denying it.  But I can’t figure what your smuggling.   I'm retiring and I swear to you I can do you no harm. Won't you please tell me what you've been smuggling?"  The driver pauses, looks the officer in the eyes, and says: "Trucks.”  God’s love is sometimes so obvious that we don’t perceive it.

We honor God when we partner with God in the work of His Kingdom, that is, wherever God’s reign, God’s rule, God’s love, God’s will is being accomplished on earth.  Like our weekly Youth program where young people from the community and our congregation are growing in their Christian faith, led by Robert Gerow and his dedicated volunteers.  And our weekly Kingdom Kids program, where children from our preschool, church, and community, led by Grant and Kat, and volunteers, learn about Jesus and enjoy games, meals, crafts, and music.  We have a wonderful Preschool under the leadership of the director Brigitte together with her dedicated teachers.  Our Preschool enrollment is overflowing.  It provides a healthy spiritual, intellectual, and social foundation for children, and builds community among the preschool families.  Some of those families have joined the church.

Our Sunday Evening Roots worship service and ministry reaches young adults in our community under the leadership of Grant.  Some of these young adults have joined our church.  We celebrate our music program, the Sounds of Worship and our Chancel Choir, under the leadership of Esther Jordan and our organist Anne Bay.   We are moved in worship by the music of handbells from our Crusaders under the leadership of Esther.

We see God’s Spirit moving in our prayer and healing ministries and in our congregational care ministry under the leadership of Donna Pierce, which brings Christ’s care and compassion to members and friends.  We offer Bible study and Christian education opportunities for all ages during the week and on Sunday mornings.  We have faith-filled and committed leaders – deacons and elders, who enthusiastically serve Christ in our church.  We serve in partnership with the Lord in reaching out to our community as we participate in events such as Pacific beach Fest and Graffiti Day.  We see God’s hand touching lives in military and other families in our Friday Pizza and Movie Night ministry.

God has blessed the community through our congregation's Sunday Night Ministry, by providing meals for 100 or more homeless people each week for nearly three decades under the leadership of Janice Minor and Neil Charette.  We weekly serve nearly 300 homeless people through our mail service, where we provide our address as a way for homeless people to receive mail, from government checks to personal mail.  I often hear homeless people say: “God bless you, thank you for this mail service,” as people pick up their mail under the direction of our office manager, Meri Murch, and the office volunteers.

We see God’s hands at work as we provide clothing and food, volunteers and financial support for CCSA, Meals on Wheels, Monarch school, Baja Presbyterian Ministries, Military Outreach Ministry, Intervarsity, Heifer Project, Presbyterian Urban Ministry, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and international missionaries like Esther Wakeman in Thailand.  We are greatly blessed by your generous giving to our Endowment Fund which annually contributes money to our ministry both today and for the future.

God’s Spirit is among us, guiding and empowering us.  I want to personally and on behalf of the elders, thank you for your faith, your generous commitment and your support this year.  We are asking for your prayerful support of your time, talents and money for this coming year, as we together reach people for Jesus and the Kingdom of God.

Jesus Christ cares deeply about your life, your growth in faith and your participation in His Kingdom.  Christ will use your giving for His purposes.  Every pledge, every donation, every gift, every offering counts.  Commitment Sunday is next Sunday, October 29.  We will have a basket on the chancel and invite you to come forward to place your pledges in the basket as a sign of your commitment.  Let us give thanks to God for His grace in our lives.  Amen!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Modeling (Luke 9:1-6) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Models are ubiquitous today.   Magazines, television, movies, we see models or pictures of models everywhere.  As we know, Runway Models advertise a clothing designer’s creations when they are walking in fashion shows and posing for photographs. They are the face behind a fashion collection that the designer has been cultivating for months.  Your look and personality are for one purpose, to sell some creative designers clothing line.   A high paid model makes millions of dollars a year.  Not bad.

Oh, yes, that’s not exactly the kind of modeling I am speaking about today.   I am instead talking about role models, mentors, being an example for others.  I am speaking about leading by example.  It’s not nearly so glamorous, you don’t always get positive feedback or much feedback at all, you won’t make the cover of a magazine,  you will likely have to make sacrifices, it will probably cost you time among other things, and the pay is nothing, no salary at all.   However, by your example, by your life, like a model, you are modeling another’s designs, the divine designer, God.  God designed and created you.  So are you interested in being a role model?

I recall reading the story of a woman named Dranafice.  She was also known as Rose.  She was a poor woman who lived for years in Albania.  Rose and her husband opened their home to the poor and hungry in their town.  Whenever one of Rose’s daughters would ask who the new visitor was at the dinner table, Rose would answer that it was a relative.  Rose’s daughters grew up believing that they came from an enormous extended family.

After Rose’s husband died, she still found ways to give food to the hungry and destitute.  One of Rose’s daughters was greatly influenced by her mother’s example of sacrificial love.  This daughter, Agnes, grew up to become an advocate for the poor all over the world.  Young Agnes grew up to become mother Teresa, the 20th Century’s living example of Christ to the world.

Don’t turn away, don’t say “surely not me,” don’t be afraid, be a mentor, be a role model to someone.  Pray for God to send you someone to mentor. That is Christ’s will for us.  The world needs good role models.  Professional athletes are a natural source of role models for young people.   Some professional athletes, like Serena Williams, Russell Wilson, Eli Manning, Le Braun James and Michael Phelps among others are exceptional mentors; they set up sports camps, clinics, and foundations for young people.  They devote time and money to invest in young people. Other athletes don’t like the label.  They say, we are not role models, we are professional baseball players or football players.  Still other athletes are, well let’s say, negative role models, when they get into drugs or commit crimes.  I think Pastor Miles McPherson, the founder and head pastor of the Rock Church and Miles Ministries is an inspirational role model for young people and all people here in San Diego.

But with the pervasive greed and evil we witness daily, the world needs more role models.  An unknown author wrote:  “We have taller buildings, but shorter tempers, wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints, more degrees, but less commonsense, more knowledge but less judgment, we’ve been to the moon but have trouble crossing the street to greet a new neighbor, we’ve increased our possessions, but reduced our human values.”

A four-year old boy was watching his grandfather play golf.  He asked his grandfather if he would teach him to play golf.  The grandfather was so delighted that he immediately went out and bought his grandson a set of golf clubs.  A few weeks later, the entire family had a cookout in the park and the little boy who had been spending time golfing with his grandfather announced, “Watch me play golf.”  He took a club, began to swing and then threw his club as far as he could.  Yes, he was learning to play golf all right, all by observing his grandfather.

As a role model, you need certain qualities: being interested in people,  humility, admitting you are not perfect, a willingness to admit you may have learned a lot, but you don’t know everything, an ability to say you were wrong, but also having the honesty to say you were right, the willingness to take risks and make mistakes,  the ability to forgive yourself, when you could have mentored more effectively, rather than allowing your disappointed in yourself to crush you and cause you to lose confidence, the ability to seek guidance, wisdom and strength from God, rather than relying only upon yourself because of pride.

Even Jesus, the Son of God, fully divine, and fully human had mentors.  I think of his father Joseph, and his mother Mary and who knows how many others in the village of Nazareth where he spent his childhood.  Further recall the story from the Gospel of Luke, where his parents and Jesus became separated when they left Jerusalem to return home after the Passover.  His parents searched for him and finally found him in the Temple, and we read:  “And after three days Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers and scribes, listening to them and asking them questions.”

In our passage from Luke, after Jesus spent three years with his disciples, teaching them, leading them, mentoring them, Jesus sends them out on their first mission.  They have observed and learned from Jesus.  Now it’s their time.  It’s their moment.  Jesus gives them power and authority over evil, they have power to cure disease.  He sends them out to do his work in the Kingdom of God.  We read: “They departed and went through the villages, bringing he good news and curing diseases everywhere.”

Mentors are teachers.  They aren’t perfect, they have flaws, they have overcome challenges in their lives, they have gained wisdom and knowledge, they are persons of good character, they are willing to share.  Mentors are people who have experienced life and are capable of transferring that knowledge to another.  They may be older or younger.  A role model is anyone capable of helping others to grow, to better their lives, to enhance other’s lives, to teach values and strategies for living.  And if a mentor is a person of faith, they are capable of sharing their personal faith in a way that open’s your soul to faith or helps you to mature in your walk with God.

A mother writes:  “One especially stressful day, when I had little time for anything, I was losing my patience with my two young children.  My son, Len, who was three, was on my heels constantly.  Whenever I stopped to do something and turned back around, I would trip over him.  I suggested he go outside and play.  But he simply said, ‘Oh, that’s all right, mommy, I’d rather be in here with you.’   He continued to bounce along after me.  After stepping on my toes for the fifth time, I asked him why he was acting this way, he looked up and said: ‘Well, mommy, in Sunday school my teacher told me to walk in Jesus’ footsteps, but I can’t see Jesus, so I’m walking in yours.’

Second, no matter what our age, I believe we still need mentors, role models, examples for our lives.   We always need people we can imitate, admire, people who challenge us to be better.   We need someone or a variety of people to teach us and help us to continue to grow and mature in our lives and faith.  When former mentors have died or moved on, pray to God to bring new examples into your life.  Look for them, watch for them, God will bring them forth.  As we grow older, admitting that we still need mentors requires humility.  It requires walking humbly with God, as the prophet Micah says.   We always need to learn and there are always good examples we can learn from.

Proverbs 1:5 says:  “Let the wise listen and add to their learning and let the discerning get guidance.”  Proverbs 27:9 says:  “Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel.”  Proverbs 13:20 says:  “One that walks with the wise grows wise; but a companion of fools suffers harm.

The first step toward improving your life is the willingness to watch and listen.  Spend time with your mentor when that is possible.   Use those opportunities wisely. Thank God for giving you someone who can inspire you.  Ask God to help you to be able to know to whom you should open your ears and eyes.

What three people have had the greatest impact on your life?  List one key nugget of wisdom you have learned from each one.  Have you ever thanked your role models, your mentors, for their influence on your life?

Yes, role models still count today.  Worthy examples still make a difference.  Jesus calls us to stand tall for him.  Jesus sends us out to be models of his love and grace.  Amen!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Overcoming Evil (Matt. 8:28-9:1; Rom: 8:31-39) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

On Sunday October 1, in Las Vegas, Nevada, beginning at 10:05 p.m. our nation witnessed a massacre.  A lone gunman on the 32nd floor of a hotel and casino opened fired on some 22,000 people at a country music festival.  It is called the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

I preach this message within a context, that is, remembering that there is also blessing, joy, wonder, love, and goodness in the life we live.  But that fact doesn’t diminish the horror of last Sunday.  As a Christian, as a pastor, as a student of the Bible, I call it an act of evil.   Others many disagree.  This is how I see it.

Within seconds it was sheer pandemonium.   People at first thought the sound was fireworks.  They assumed it was a part of the show.  But then people started falling around them from being hit.  And at that moment terror, panic, confusion and shock began to race through the crowd, as people starting ducking for cover, running in all directions, trying to get away from the rifle fire.  The shooting lasted 10 minutes which must have felt like an eternity.  And in that span of time, some 500 people were injured and wounded and 58 concertgoers died, murdered by one man.  Many people are in hospitals in critical condition.  There has been widespread speculation about the shooter’s motive, but that still remains unknown.  Memorial services are currently being held.

I can’t imagine the fear people felt, having never experienced anything like it myself.  Have you?  First responders, police, firefighters, EMT’s, paramedics were quick to rush to the scene.  They ran toward the gunfire.  We have also heard of many stories of heroism.  Strangers helping strangers, friends helping friends, people shielding others who themselves were killed.  A man saved 30 people before he was shot in the neck.  A husband died protecting his wife.  A couple trained in first aid, turned to the wounded administering CPR, making tourniquets, and saving lives.  A marine commandeered a truck and drove dozens of people to the hospital.  A wounded man put his body over 2 strangers to shield them as bullets rained down.  Many people in the midst of chaos acted with amazing courage to help their fellow concertgoers.  Our prayers go out to the victims, to their families, to the wounded, to the first responders, to the people of Las Vegas.

Amidst the swirl of emotions we feel at hearing of such carnage, such a horrific act immediately raises questions.  Not only questions like who was this shooter, what drove him to a heinous act, but philosophical questions like - why do people commit such evil acts, why does evil exist, what is evil, what is the origin of evil, can evil be defeated.  For believers, in addition, it raises theological questions, like why does God allow evil, what does God do about evil, is God more powerful than evil or is evil more powerful than God?  Is the Bible or our Christian faith silent in the face of evil?  How would you answer these questions?

The first thing to say is this, if there is no God, then theoretically there is no problem.  If one is an unbeliever, an atheist, if one does not believe in a good God who created and who rules the world then logically there is no intellectual problem.

If we live in a chaotic, purposeless and meaningless universe, with no intelligent designer or sovereign God, we have no right to expect that decency, and morality and justice should prevail in this world.  Wickedness should never be a surprise.  We are on our own.  We are alone in this vast universe.  Logically, evil is not a problem for unbelievers.

Evil is a problem for believers, for Christians.   And the deeper your faith, the closer you are in your walk with God, the more firmly you trust in a good, loving and powerful God, the more vexing is the problem of evil.   If God exists and if God is loving and merciful, why is evil so pervasive?

Ideas about evil and suffering have been discussed down through the centuries.  For example, some have explained that all suffering and evil comes from God; God uses it like a hammer to punish sin and immorality.  Some evangelists like Rev. Pat Robertson have stated that hurricanes like Katrina and earthquakes are God’s punishment on sinful and disobedient cities and nations.    It’s possible, but I don’t believe it.

Others have said evil is necessary for the good of the whole, like leaven is to dough.  Others have theorized that evil is only an illusion, and everything will come out good in the end.  Still others have said evil is a mystery, there are no answers.  Some have asserted that human beings are the cause of evil in the world and at least partly responsible for natural disasters because we have polluted the environment.   Human beings with our free will are without question guilty in terms of moral evil, such as this shooting.

Jewish and Christian thinkers have basically made the following three theological arguments.  First, God is all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing and all-present.  This is the central biblical claim about God the creator of the world, the one who formed Israel and the church, and the ruler of the universe.  Other thinkers have said God is all-loving, but not all-powerful, and that explains why evil exists.  God is too weak to do anything about evil.    Still other thinkers have asserted that God is all-powerful, but not all loving and that explains why evil exists.  God just doesn’t care that evil exists.  What do you think?  I believe in the traditional Judeo/Christian view of God, based upon scripture, that God is all powerful, all loving, all knowing and all present.   But yes, that position leaves many questions.

I bring four answers or responses which come out of our orthodox and traditional Judeo/Christian understanding of God.

First, God is involved in the world and in evil with us!  That sounds strange I know. It is saying that God is not beyond evil, above evil, basking in the splendors of heaven.    God entered this world in the person of Jesus Christ to save sinners, to bring salvation to the world.  Jesus is fully God and fully human.  God was incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth to accomplish His will in the world both then and today.  Jesus was subjected to the worst evils that humans can devise.  Jesus experienced rejection, persecution, humiliation, beatings and was crucified upon a cross.  God chose to personally become one of us, one with us and one among us and subject himself to evil in order to atone for our sins, to forgive us, to make our relationship right with God, to bring us back into fellowship with our creator.  God understands, God knows, God is empathetic to the pain humans must at times go through because Jesus himself was subjected to it.  We pray to a God who understands our pain. The letter of Hebrews in speaking about Jesus says:  “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness.”

Second, God battles against and conquers evil today.   There is a strange story in the Gospel of Matthew.  It takes place in the town of Gadarene, on the eastern side of Sea of Galilee, in the northern region of Israel.  We read that two demon possessed men came out of the tombs to confront Jesus.  They were extremely strong and violent and no one dared go near them.   They shout, “What do you want with us, Son of God?”  “Have you come to torture us before the appointed time?”  “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”

Jesus doesn’t hesitate, he says “Go!” Jesus casts out the demons from the men and sends them into this herd of pigs.  The entire herd of pigs rush down a steep bank and drown in the sea of Galilee.  The swineherds, like shepherds, only for pigs, race to town to report what has occurred to the two men and to the pigs.  The whole town goes out to meet Jesus and pleads with him to leave their region.

Like any story in the Bible it must be interpreted.  How would you interpret it?   Here are some possible interpretations.  The message of the story is that Jesus hated pigs?  He despised pigs that went around snorting and wallowing in the mud.  The message of the story is that in Judaism pigs are unclean, they are not Kosher, and should never be eaten. Jews hold that view today.   The message of the story is that Jesus should not meddle in the local economy, in this instance, the pig industry, because it always got him into trouble.   Any of those interpretations are possible.  I believe the story is saying something else, that Jesus, the Son of God, has power over evil, personified here as demons, and conquered evil in his day and continues to do battle against and conquer evil today.  I offer that interpretation for your thinking.

The third response is God cares, God loves the world and God loves us.  The Holy Spirit instills courage and comfort in our faith today in the midst of tragedy and crises.  God gives us the strength and power to endure and overcome evil.   God assures us of his presence with us in all times.  God promises that nothing can separate us from his love.  God gives us the power to endure and overcome evil ourselves through faith.

In Romans 8 we read these inspiring words:  “If God is for us, who can be against us?  God sent his own Son to be with us, among us and for us.  Who will separate us from God’s love.  Hardship, distress, persecution, famine nakedness or peril or sword?  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height or depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In II Corinthians we read:  “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble, with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

Finally, we hold onto the promise that God will ultimately conquer all evil and establish a new earth and heaven.  This is the glorious message of Easter and the resurrection.  God raised Jesus from death on Easter, the message of Easter is that in Jesus’ resurrection, God has ultimately conquered sin, death and evil.   Further, as believers we have the promise and assurance of the second coming of Christ, when evil will be vanquished forever and God’s kingdom, God’s reign, will become visible to all.

Rev. 21:  “I saw the holy city, coming own out of heaven from God, and I heard a loud voice from the throne: Saying See the home of God is among mortals, God will dwell with them, they will be his peoples, God himself will be with them, God will wipe every tear from their eyes, death will be no more, grieving and crying and pain will be no more.

Author Dinesh Dsouza wrote: “Evil and suffering poses an intellectual, spiritual and moral challenge for Christians.  But it also poses a formidable challenge for atheists and unbelievers.  Because suffering is not merely an intellectual and moral problem, it is also an emotional problem.  Suffering wrecks hearts.  Atheism may have a better explanation for evil and suffering, but it provides no consolation for the people.  Theism, faith, which doesn’t have a good explanation, nevertheless, offers a better way for people to cope with the emotional consequences of evil and suffering.

We place our trust and our hope in Jesus.  The good news, of our faith, the light in the midst of darkness, is that in Jesus Christ God has overcome, is overcoming and will finally overcome evil.  Amen!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Blessed are the Peacemakers (Matthew 5:9) by Rev. Dr. Rev. Alan W. Deuel

A young rabbi, fresh out of seminary, and serving his first synagogue, found a serious problem.  During the Friday evening service, half the congregation stood for the prayers and half remained seated, and each side shouted at the other, insisting that theirs was the true tradition. Despite his efforts, nothing the rabbi said or did helped to solve the impasse. Finally, in desperation, the young rabbi sought out the synagogue's 99-year-old founder.

He met the old rabbi in the nursing home and poured out his troubles. "So tell me," the young rabbi pleaded, "was it the tradition for the congregation to stand during the prayers?"   "No," answered the old rabbi.  "Ah," responded the younger man, "then it was the tradition to sit during the prayers."  "No," answered the old rabbi. Exasperated, the young rabbi replied: “But what we have is complete chaos!  Half the people stand and shout and the other half sit and scream." "Ah," said the old rabbi, "that was the tradition."

On this World Communion Sunday, we celebrate our membership in the One Holy Catholic Church.  Notice I said Holy Catholic, not Roman Catholic.  Our world-wide Christian family has well over 2 billion believers.  We affirm our unity with our Christian brothers and sisters in faith around the globe.  Yes, we Protestants acknowledge some theological and organizational differences with other members of our Christian family, but we also respect and pray for the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople of the Orthodox Church.  We firmly trust that God uses His world-wide church to further the work of His Kingdom on earth.

On this Sunday Christians focus on our common faith, on what we together believe in: one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and one Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, fully God and fully human, and one Church, the body of Christ, and one baptism, the sign of forgiveness and admission into Christ’s church, and one Lord's Supper, the sign of Christ's atoning sacrifice and living presence, and one mission to love our neighbors and reach unbelievers for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A central theme of World Communion Sunday is Jesus’ call to his followers to be peacemakers.  Jesus declares: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” Jesus isn’t saying blessed are the peace dreamers or peace wishers, but those who actually engage in the nitty gritty of working to achieve peace.  It is a high calling, a holy calling, a noble calling and a risky, and sometimes dangerous calling.  Peacemaking is rarely ever peaceful.  It is doing the work of God and finding through struggle, set-backs and disappointment a way to peace.

What is a peacemaker?  It is one who strives to bring healing where there is brokenness.  One who strives to be a bridge between conflicting parties, to reconcile parties who are at variance.  It's one thing to define it.  It's quite another thing to roll up one's sleeves and enter into the messy work of peacemaking.  We know conflict, division, dissension exists in our communities, in government, in politics, in relationships, in marriages, in families, in the courts, in terrorism, in foreign relations and yes, in churches.  Forgiving someone who asks you to or apologizes is a form of peacemaking.  Apologizing or asking forgiveness to someone you have offended is a form of forgiveness.  Come to terms quickly with another person if you can.  Strive to resolve your differences before they become intractable.

Without question peacemaking, from a mom settling differences with her children, to Monarch school working with children and parents, to the Secretary of State trying to bring peace to foreign countries in the midst of strife is complicated and difficult.  You can always count on one thing, there's no shortage of opportunities to be a peacemaker.  There are lots of job openings if you feel called by God to apply.

One local example of conflict and peacemaking today has to do with an individual in Pacific Beach, and probably others, but he is leading it, to stop the churches in PB from serving the homeless.  He believes that the churches are the problem. Churches are attracting homeless people here.  If churches just stopped feeding and providing services to homeless people, like we do with our Sunday night meals which serves about 100 each Sunday and our mail service which serves about 300 people, homeless people in PB would leave our community and go elsewhere.  Homelessness is a complicated issue.  To blame the churches is myopic.

This does raise a question.  Why do we serve homeless people?  Because Jesus is Lord, lord of the church and lord of the world.  Because Jesus loves homeless people and he loves us.  Because Jesus died on the cross for homeless people and all people.  Because human beings are created in God’s image and that includes homeless people.

Jesus expects us as His followers to obey his teachings.  We are obeying Jesus when we follow His command to love thy neighbor.  In Matthew 25, Jesus says: “I was hungry, and you fed me, naked and you clothed me, thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, sick and you took care of me; just as you did it to the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.  Come you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you.”    Helping the poor is part of the church’s mission.

Peacemaking comes in all forms.  An article in USA today said: “It’s faith based organizations that provide the most help to local communities in the immediate aftermath of natural disasters like Harvey and Erma.  Faith based organizations around the world work with FEMA officials to deliver the best response to the most people.”  FEMA is the Federal Emergency Management Agency arm of the government.

At its core, the Gospel is a story about peacemaking.  God sent His Son Jesus into the world to make peace with humanity, to save humanity, to bring humanity back into a relationship with God the creator.  The church continues to engage in God's holy work of peacemaking: to bring sinners, unbelievers, men and women, all races and ethnic groups, rich and poor, slave and free, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.    That as we read in the letter of Philippians: “Every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.

Making peace doesn't mean peace at any price.  Peacemaking doesn't mean making everybody happy because everyone gets what they want.  It doesn't mean allowing unjust or evil behavior to continue in order to keep the peace.  Peacemaking and justice go hand in hand. That of course is one reason as to why peacemaking is so difficult.  It means speaking out for what is right, and acting to correct injustice and oppression, rather than being silent or looking the other way.  It means holding true to Christian principles.  Peace and justice, justice and peace are bound together in the business of peacemaking.

One must also acknowledge, that as a peacemaker, there are situations where you need to be honest with yourself.  Where no matter what you do or how hard you try or how many hours you invest, trying to reconcile with someone or finding a peaceful and equitable solution may not work.  And we must let go, trust in God and turn it over to God.  No, that is never easy.

God may not be calling you to be a peacemaker in international conflicts, like between Israel and the Palestinians, but that doesn't let you or me off the hook.  God may be calling you to be a peacemaker in your circle: in your family, in a friendship that has soured, in your neighborhood, as a teacher in your school, in your church, or in your job.  God calls us to situations where we have the ability to make a difference.  God does not call us to situations that are over our heads.   That’s when we need to ask for help.

Peacemaking also applies not just to the earthly realm, but to the spiritual realm.  It is about making peace with God, peace between you and God in your soul and heart. “God I am sorry, God I repent, forgive me.”   When we are at peace with God, we will be a far more effective peacemaker.

Jesus said:  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”   Children of God means because you are involved in the business of peacemaking, you are doing a God-like work, a holy work, a sacred work.  Jesus promises to bless us as peacemakers.  Jesus honors your work.  God uses your efforts for His glory and purpose.  Jesus promises to bless us with His grace now or in the future or in heaven.

Peacemaking is God's work and as Jesus' followers, it is your work and mine.  Is there someone you are striving to make peace with?   Is there some social issue you feel called to engage in?   Pray to God for patience and persistence, for guidance and wisdom.

I close with the Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi, founder of the 12th century Franciscan order of monks: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.  Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying   that we are born to eternal life.”  Amen!