A united and peaceful community

Good morning, Friends!

I hope you’re all doing well this week. Thank you all for coming this morning. I know the weather isn’t great, and I appreciate the effort you made to be here!

Last week, we talked about prayer. Jesus encourages us to pray for everything we need. He said, “Seek, and you will find. Ask, and it will be given. Knock, and the door will open.”

But last week, we also recognized that everybody can pray. Not just the pastor. Every Christian can pray.

Last week, I invited everyone to take a half sheet of paper and write your own prayers on it. Then you all brought your prayers down to the front of the room. It was really moving, and many people said so. I don’t know that we’ve ever done anything quite like that here before.

I read through all the prayers this week, and I’d like to share some of them. I’m not going to identify anyone. Last week I said that your prayers are private.

Reminds me of a story my wife’s mother used to tell, about when she was growing up. Everyone in the family took turns saying Grace, and one night it was her younger brother’s turn.

He must have been only 6 or 7, and he said Grace in such a low voice that nobody else at the table could hear. The family said, “Speak up, James! We can’t hear!” The little boy said, “I wasn’t talking to you!”

So, I read through every prayer. Some of them were heartfelt and beautiful. I just wish we could loosen up and pray out loud more, like you wrote down last week.

A lot of prayers were for things I expected, like good health and family. But what surprised me, was how many of you were praying for the same things.

More than half of you prayed, one way or another, for Springfield Friends to grow. To grow spiritually, to grow in love and fellowship with each other, and to grow in numbers.

I’d like to encourage all of us to adopt that prayer. If we all pray together for God to help us grow, I believe it will happen. I’ve been a part of at least three Friends meetings where remarkable growth took place. I believe that God can help us to grow here at Springfield. That’s not just optimism speaking — it’s experience.

But the other thing which over half of you prayed for last week – and it wasn’t always the same people – you were praying for peace. You prayed for peace in your families. You prayed for peace here in our meeting. And over and over, you prayed for peace here in our nation.

The way you said it was different from one person to another. One person prayed that we support each other. Several people prayed that we could come together again. One person said they wanted “to see the beauty that is all around us and find happiness, and find joy and peace with everyone.”

But a lot of people just said, “peace.” Some said, peace and unity. Others said, peace, and less divisiveness. One person said, “to come together and turn off the TV!”

But don’t you see, how all these prayers are heading in the same direction? Over and over again, you were praying to God for peace and for an end to the epidemic of divisiveness that’s all around us.

The most beautiful prayer that anyone wrote last week was one I wish I’d written myself. The person said, “I pray that the world can one day breathe, and live the life we were each given.” Wow! I wish I’d written that.

Anyway, that’s what we did last Sunday. Today, I’d like to read a Scripture which addresses this issue. Last week, we talked about being a praying community. This morning, let’s talk about being a peaceful and united community.

Our Scripture today is a famous one. It’s from a letter the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome.

Brothers and sisters, God has shown you his mercy. So I am asking you to offer up yourselves to him while you are still alive. Your bodies are a holy sacrifice that is pleasing to God. When you offer your lives to God, you are worshiping him in the right way.

Don’t live the way this world lives. Let your way of thinking be completely changed. Then you will be able to test what God wants for you. And you will agree that what God wants is right. God’s plan is good and pleasing and perfect.

God’s grace has been given to me, so here is what I say to every one of you. Don’t think of yourself more highly than you should. Be reasonable when you think about yourself. Keep in mind the faith God has given to each of you. Each of us has one body with many parts. And the parts don’t all have the same purpose.

So also we are many persons. But in Christ we are one body. And each part of the body belongs to all the other parts.

We all have gifts. Our gifts differ according to the grace God has given to each of us. Do you have the gift of prophecy? Then use it according to the faith you have. If your gift is serving, then serve. If it’s teaching, then teach. Is it encouraging others? Then encourage them. Is it giving to others? Then give freely. Is it being a leader? Then work hard at it. Is it showing mercy? Then do it cheerfully.

Love must be honest and true. Hate what is evil. Hold on to what is good. Love one another deeply. Honor others more than yourselves. Stay excited about your faith as you serve the Lord. When you hope, be joyful. When you suffer, be patient. When you pray, be faithful. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Welcome others into your homes.

Bless those who hurt you. Bless them, and don’t curse them. Be joyful with those who are joyful. Be sad with those who are sad. Agree with one another. Don’t be proud. Be willing to be a friend of people who aren’t considered important. Don’t think that you are better than others.

Don’t pay back evil with evil. Be careful to do what everyone thinks is right. If possible, live in peace with everyone. Do that as much as you can.

My dear friends, don’t try to get even. Leave room for God to show his anger. It is written, “I am the God who judges people. I will pay them back,” (Deuteronomy 32:35) says the Lord.

Do just the opposite. The Scripture says,
“If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat.
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
By doing those things, you will pile up burning coals on their heads.”
(Proverbs 25:21,22)

Don’t let evil overcome you. Overcome evil by doing good.

– Romans 12

I think a lot of us are at the point where we’ve given up on our government leaders. We’ve also given up on the media, on our religious leaders, and each other. The forces which are supposed to hold us together are tearing us apart.

Let me ask you something. Any of you here got a penny in your pocket? Or a penny in your purse somewhere? Could you do me a favor? Just reach in and get it out for just a minute. Don’t worry, I’m not taking up a collection. I just want you to notice something.

Go on. Take ‘em out. If you don’t have a penny, maybe the person sitting next to you has one, and you can look on with them. OK?

I want you to read what it says on the back of every penny. It’s pretty small. You may have to squint to see it. There’s a phrase in Latin there. Can you read it out loud for me, please? What’s it say?

E pluribus unum. Do you know what that means? “Out of many, one.” It’s right there on the smallest, most humble coin in our nation. “Out of many, one.”

Actually, it’s on all U.S. coins in circulation, and I think it’s on most of our paper currency as well. But even on the smallest coin of our nation, you’ll find that phrase, E pluribus unum, “out of many, one.”

It means our country is made up of many parts. Many different kinds of people. Folks with different backgrounds. People who came here from different nations. People with all kinds of beliefs. People with many different opinions.

The fact that it’s on the smallest, humblest coin says to me that each of us is responsible for the unity of our country. We can’t leave it up to our leaders. We are responsible for whether our country is at peace or not.

We’re not all the same. We never will be. And that’s good! We need all the different people we’ve got. We need the different experiences, different insights, different gifts. “Out of many, one.”

And the same thing is true of our church, as it is of our society. We need every one of you. Every one.

Paul says today that every person has a gift. And the church needs all the gifts. When people hold back and keep their light hidden, the church suffers. It’s like trying to walk down the street with one foot in a bucket of cement. Or it’s like trying to put supper on the table with both hands sewed into your pockets. It’s not going to work.

Paul says that all the gifts are needed in a healthy body. Not just the ones that most people notice. All the gifts need to be working. You may not feel like a gifted person, but I assure you that you are! Everone’s got a gift. No one’s useless!

One of the biggest mistakes that a church can make is to say, “We don’t need people like you! We don’t need to listen to you. We don’t need to understand where you’re coming from. We don’t want to hear about your hopes and your prayers. We don’t care about your questions.”

There’s a trend, which has been building for a long time now in many churches, to try to force people out, because they hold different opinions than the ones some church leaders do. They divide people up into “good Christians” and “bad Christians” based on whether they agree with them or not. It’s happening all over the country, and it infects nearly every other part of society.

See, I come from a whole different direction. We’re all here because Jesus said that he loves us. And it’s not up to us to reject anyone who Jesus welcomes.

I knew, the very day that I got here, that there are all different kinds of opinions and beliefs here at Springfield. I wasn’t surprised. I expected it! It’s been the same in every other church I’ve ever visited or led. We’re all very different. What would surprise me, what would worry me, would be if everyone was the same.

Politically, we’re conservatives and liberals, and a lot of people in the middle. Theologically, some of us are more evangelical, and some are more at the other end, and a whole lot of people are in the middle. They just want to love Jesus.

I guess I fall into that middle group myself. You’ve heard me say before that God doesn’t judge us by what we think, but by whether we love each other. So, think away – it’s great mental exercise! But loving God and loving our neighbor comes first.

I have opinions, same as everybody else. May be right, may be wrong. But as pastor, I believe that our church needs all of us. And my job is to care for every one here.

One of the earliest Quaker statements on this subject was made almost 350 years ago. Edward Burrough, one of the most powerful ministers of that first generation, said: “We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government, nor are we for this party nor against the other. . .but we are for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom, that these may be exalted in our nation. . .”

I don’t know how much we can really influence what’s going on in Washington this month. I don’t know how much the two sides are even listening to each other. Seems to me that both sides care more about beating each other up, than about getting things done. And a lot of ordinary people are being hurt in the process.

Here in our church, I think that we can try to turn the atmosphere around. We can go on doing the things we already do – to listen to God, to help the poor, to build up our young people, to support each other and pray for each others’ needs.

If we can’t change the way our national leaders act, at least we can work on the way we ourselves act. As Jesus said, take the log out of your own eye first. If we want more peace and less divisiveness, we can start right here.

I can try to tell the truth, all the time, and not overstate or exaggerate, or claim to know anything more than I really do. Insisting on the truth is a great first step.

If we want our leaders to be trustworthy, then we start by being trustworthy ourselves, by keeping our promises and by being the kind of people God wants us to be. Keeping our promises. Looking out for the needs of others. Not demanding trust, but being worthy of trust. That would be another good starting place.

If I want there to be less tension in society, then I need to be the kind of person who never knows a stranger. I need to value people, and respect them, even if their opinions don’t always line up exactly with mine.

In the Quaker tradition, we value being united under God. When we make church decisions, the majority doesn’t always rule. We figure that God really knows that we need to do, and our job is to figure out what God wants. Sometimes the majority is right, but often it’s that one or two voices crying out in the wilderness who are actually closer to what God is saying.

There’s a very old Christian saying that goes back at least 400 years and possibly much earlier. We don’t know exactly who said it first, and several different people have been given credit for it. I think it may be one of those crowd-sourced pieces of Christian wisdom that we all need to adopt.

It says, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials or doubtful issues, liberty; in all things, charity.” [In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis (or, dubiis) libertas, in utrisque (or, omnibus) caritas.]

If we could live those words, and set an example to the rest of the world, I think things might get better.

You may not be able to change the gridlock and the hate speech and the fake news on both sides at the national level. But you can choose whether you want to spread it and pass it on. Part of building peace is choosing what you want to say.

Same here in church. We can choose what we talk about, in Sunday School or in fellowship. Let’s support the conversations that can unite people and build us up, not the ones that are going to turn people away. It’s a choice, if we want to grow.

One of the most important sayings in the whole Bible is in this morning’s Scripture. It says, “Don’t let evil overcome you. Overcome evil by doing good.

You know, that’s exactly what Jesus did. He overcame evil with good.

Our job is not to win every cat fight, or even get involved in it. Our job is to reach out, and bring every resource of heaven, to strengthen each other, to build the church, to make peace, and bring God’s light into the world.

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