Thursday, May 26, 2011

Patience, kindness, mercy: Keeping the faith in our differences

Saint Paul is a hard read sometimes, as members of our Education for Ministry groups have pointed out more than once this year. Paul can be crabby, pushy, self-righteous, and to use a phrase of an old editor of mine, "he is not without ego."

But this morning we get Paul at his finest (Romans 14:1-12):
Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.
Paul is not talking about just diets or the calendar on your Blackberry. He is talking about religious practice and piety. Why do you quarrel over your opinions about religion? Some of you are vegetarians as a religious practice, or you don't drink coffee (Mormons), or you abstain from alcohol (Baptists). Others of you eat and drink anything you like (Episcopalians). Some of you keep Sunday holy (Christians) or Saturday (Jews), some of you observe Christmas and Easter. Some of you don't observe any holidays (Jehovah Witnesses). Some of you say the Rosary (Catholics), some of you keep it simple and without ornament (Quakers). Why do you think you are better than your brother or sister? Each of you is on path to being with God. Stop quarreling. Or, to use the slang of our own day, cut each other some slack, you don't have to win every argument. Let each other be.

What's the test of our faith? We get that from the Book of Wisdom 14:27-15:3 today: "But you, our God, are kind and true, patient, and ruling all things in mercy."

Patience, kindness, mercy. When you experience that, you will be closer to God than you can imagine. Patience, kindness, mercy.

Lately we've been engaged in a parish-wide conversation on same-sex blessings. We've held seven Sunday forums, an all-day Saturday workshop, and last night was the fourth of five Wednesday forums. We have shared a lot of information and many personal stories. Last night, we talked about the development of "traditional" monogamous heterosexual marriage, and we had people of differing views on same-sex blessings. Meanwhile, our Vestry is also engaged in this discussion. You can read all of the presentations at the forums by clicking HERE.

We've heard many differing views, yet for the most part, we've been able to come to the table, and show patience, kindness and mercy with each other. Not always, but when we don't, we've found ways to remind ourselves to have patience, kindness, mercy.

And we don't have to agree, as Saint Paul implores us. We don't have to quarrel either, as he also implores us. And we can still worship the Lord in holiness, share in the bread and wine of our sacraments, and work together to bring patience, kindness and mercy to our world, united by our baptismal covenant.

Patience, kindness mercy -- that is the essence of our faith.

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