Monday, September 11, 2017

Grace and Forgiveness

Thanks to my friend Evan Garner for reminding me how important it is to read a Gospel passage in context with the surrounding verses, in order not to lose or distort the real purpose of the passage. The Gospel recommended in the Common Lectionary for this past Sunday was Matthew 18:15-20 in which Jesus tells his followers how to deal with a person who sins against them.

Jesus said, “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

Think about the implications of bringing your offender before the entire church. The mechanics are good, but the act could be awkward, to say the least. If we look at the passages before and after, however, we begin to see a larger story. We see a story not just about “how to confront a sinner,” but, one about how to give as well as receive forgiveness.

In Matthew 18:10-14 we read Jesus’ parable about the lost sheep, in which God searches out the one lost sheep and rejoices in heaven when it is found.

‘What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.

“So the purpose of Jesus’ process of confrontation is not just about setting up an elaborate process for seeking reconciliation, or excommunicating the sinner but about showing the great lengths to which one must go for forgiveness.” (Evan Garner, A Long Way From Home) In fact, Matthew moves us quickly to a piece that pulls Jesus’ message together, ‘the question of forgiveness.’ Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’  Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22)

Jesus’ message is not about rooting out sin, but about showing forgiveness.

The Amish response to the killing of 10 young girls in 2006 brings Jesus’ message of forgiveness to our day in a very powerful way.

In the hours and days following the tragic Amish school shooting of 10 young schoolgirls in a one-room Amish school in October 2006 , an unexpected story developed.

In the midst of their grief over this shocking loss, the Amish community didn’t cast blame, they didn’t point fingers, they didn’t hold a press conference with attorneys at their sides. Instead, they reached out with grace and compassion toward the killer’s family.

The afternoon of the shooting an Amish grandfather of one of the girls who was killed expressed forgiveness toward the killer, Charles Roberts. That same day Amish neighbors visited the Roberts family to comfort them in their sorrow and pain.

Later that week the Roberts family was invited to the funeral of one of the Amish girls who had been killed. And Amish mourners outnumbered the non-Amish at Charles Roberts’ funeral.

It’s ironic that the killer was tormented for nine years by the pre-mature death of his young daughter. He never forgave God for her death. Yet, after he cold-bloodedly shot 10 innocent Amish school girls, the Amish almost immediately forgave him and showed compassion toward his family.

In a world at war and in a society that often points fingers and blames others, this reaction was unheard of.

Me: “How many times must I forgive one who sins against me?” Jesus, “As many as it takes.”
 


Thursday, September 7, 2017

It Takes a Village to Overcome Disaster: Reflections on Jesus and Hurricanes


Sermons grow out of the interaction of Holy Scripture, prayer, and the life that is going on around us right here and right now. As I reflected on the scriptures this past week in preparation to preach, I also kept track of the news of Hurricane Harvey and the devastation poured upon the people of Houston and Southeast Texas, a place once home for my wife and me. We still have friends in the area, some of whom lost everything they had, and others are working as I write to help those in need. How do the Scriptures and the teachings of Christ inform our lives in situations such as this?

On Sunday, we prayed: “Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works. Amen.”

This prayer was followed by a reading from Exodus 3:1-15 in which Moses encounters God in a burning bush, and is reminded by God that he is standing on Holy Ground. Truly the Earth is the Lord’s for he made it, the whole Earth is Holy Ground, and we, as God’s people, are its stewards. This is especially true during times of devastation such as that experienced by the residents of Texas through the winds and waters of Harvey.

St. Paul (Romans 12:9ff) encourages us to love genuinely, to rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering and to persevere in prayer. He encourages us to contribute to the needs of the saints and to extend hospitality to strangers. Finally Jesus challenges us (Matthew 16:21-28): “If any want to become my followers, they must deny themselves, take up their crosses and follow me. Those who want to save their lives will lose them, and those who lose their lives for my sake will find them.”

Twelve years ago, I was involved with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. I lived in Beaumont, Texas and am a hurricane survivor. First we welcomed thousands of Katrina refugees into Beaumont. After helping provide food, clothing and shelter to those in need, Rita headed our way and we were forced to join our Louisiana refugees and evacuate to safety. The evacuation and clean up, were difficult physically, mentally and spiritually.

People in Beaumont, many my friends, as well as people in Houston and other coastal towns have had their homes flooded. Water anywhere from a few inches up to eight feet fills some homes. Beaumont was without running water for four days, and even now those who have water must boil it before drinking. Power is slowly being restored, but still some are without. Many have been evacuated, and some of these may never come back to Beaumont, and will begin a new life in a new location.

Those following Jesus’ admonition to “pick up their cross and follow him are making a difference and are bringing life back to a soggy and exhausted community. The Coast Guard, friends and neighbors, the Cajun Navy from Louisiana, FEMA, as well as other people with boats and dump trucks have rescued people and are now helping them get back to their homes to begin the difficult task of rebuilding their lives. Power companies from other states are there, and local churches and synagogues, including my friends at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, are providing food, water, clothing, books for children and even reading to the children. They are providing Bibles and prayers and a listening ear.

These people need our support. We cannot be there with them on the ground at this time, but we can send money through our denominations, The Red Cross, and other organizations on the ground. We who are Christ Episcopal Church are supporting the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, centered in Houston and St. Stephen’s Church in Beaumont with our gifts. I pray that you will find a way through your Church, Denomination, the Red Cross or other reliable organization to partner with in this rebuilding of God’s Kingdom on the Holy Ground in Texas.

I leave you with a prayer from my friend, the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, The Right Reverend Andy Doyle:


Heavenly Father, in your Word you have given us a vision of that holy City where the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea: Behold and visit, we pray, the cities of the earth devastated by Hurricane Harvey. Sustain those displaced by the storm with food, drink, and all other bodily necessities of life. We especially remember before you all poor and neglected persons it would be easy for us to forget: the homeless and the destitute, the old and the sick, and all who have none to care for them; that, among all the changes and chances of this mortal life, we may ever be defended by your gracious and ready help; through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN. 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Canaanite Woman, Jesus, and Crossville, Alabama

Most of us have heard the story. Jesus is traveling with his disciples when he encounters a Canaanite woman who asks him to heal her daughter, to rid her of a demon. Jesus does not even answer her, but he does tell his disciples, in her hearing, that he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
She then comes and kneels before him and asks again, “Lord help me,” to which Jesus responds, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She stands her ground and replies, “yes Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table.” Jesus then commends her faith and grants her wish. (Matthew 15:21-28)

This was always a difficult story for me to hear. How could the Christ, the Son of God, be so uncaring, so cruel, to a mother whose child was in dire distress? That is, until I remembered the fourth century struggles and fights and shouting matches that led to the creeds: the creeds that declare Jesus both fully God and fully human. As I reflected on a fully human Jesus I was able to look at him in the same way I have looked at and studied the human race as a whole. Human beings are and always have been a tribal species. It is only the grace of God that allows us to see ourselves and all human beings as children of God.

Jesus as God was above this tribalism. Jesus as a human being was a first century Jew and like all human beings, first century Jews had their own religion, customs and foods. They were loyal to their families, their tribe and their religion. Other nations and peoples in the region and at that time had the same loyalties. The human Jesus lived into his time and place on Earth with all that implies. The Canaanite woman stood her ground, looked Jesus in the eye and pushed him to expand his human boundaries, to enlarge his vision of God’s plan for him. Jesus saw the world through both human and divine eyes, and after this encounter his two views of the world became one. We see this in an encounter with another woman, at a well in Samaria. “The time is coming,” he told her, “that true worshippers will worship God in Spirit and in Truth.” (John 4:23)

The important lesson for us is this: like the human Jesus, we human beings are bound by family, tribe and nation. We are peoples of different denominations, different faiths, or no faith at all. We eat different kinds of food, have different customs, ways of worship and languages. We used to be a national society, but now we are a global society. We may or may not like it, but this is the way life on this earth has evolved.

So, how do we adjust to these changes? How do we adapt? Do we even want to adapt? How can we be loyal to our family, our tribe and our nation, and at the same time be loyal and faithful to our God? Remember, it was not easy for Jesus either.


David Uptain grew up in all-white Crossville Alabama, and forty-three years ago he was Quarterback on the all white football team. Today he has just retired after two decades as Principal of his Alma Mater, now a high school whose student body is 70% Mexican and Guatamalan. The immigration debate in the United States today is not an abstraction in Crossville, where languages, cultures and assumptions collide.

In the early 1800’s the original English and Scots-Irish settlers came to the isolated mountain top in Alabama, and like many immigrant communities they were proud, resilient and hard working. With the wave of new immigrants from the south, those who had lived there for generations were angry at worst, wary at best. How do you look out for your neighbors when you don’t speak the same language, eat the same food or have the same history? How do you learn to trust “outsiders.”

Uptain freely admits that he was prejudiced just as many of us who grew up on this mountain were. His attitude began to change when his sister started to date a Kuwaiti Exchange student. He did not want to lose his sister so he got to know the new boyfriend and learned to like him.

David Uptain saw himself as an ambassador of sorts, and made a commitment to use whatever influence he had as Principal to “take hold of both sides and pull them together.” “Patience is the key,” he said, “and understanding, prayer and a belief that everybody deserves a shot at anything we have to offer.”

Maria Quintana sits at the main desk in Crossville High's front office, about 10 steps from Uptain's office. She is technically the School Secretary, but also serves as translator and assists parents and grandparents in filling out forms and helps them make the school experience better for their children and grandchildren. Quintana came to Crossville as a child in the early 2000’s and began school in kindergarten and graduated from Crossville High School. She says the Crossville she loves today is not the town she experienced when she and her family arrived. “Then the whites and Hispanics didn’t mix, the new culture was not accepted and one could feel the tension.” In school she was bullied and the white boys would pull her long black hair. The English Learning Language teacher was called a “Wetback Lover” and worse.

Looking back, she says, “Things have changed so much. People are more accepting of each other; they are friends with people of other races.” And, she says, white people now shop at the Mexican grocery store and bakery. Everyone is trying new things.

Uptain reminds us that “Crossville still hasn’t made it to a place where everyone’s ok with everyone else. Most people, including Crossville’s teachers and students will tell you that.” But, he continues, “Profound change takes decades to work through. Crossville is home. I could have been one of have been one of those folks that said, I’m not doing this, I’m leaving. But Crossville means more to me than that. It meant we need to accept and change and grow, and become the right kind of person. It’s way beyond picking a side. It’s rooted now, down in my soul.”

The Canaanite woman, and Jesus would be proud!









Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Tale of Two Marches:

A Tale of Two Marches:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times
(With Apologies to Charles Dickens)

Two marches took place on Saturday, August 12, 2017: one in Hayneville, Alabama and one in Charlottesville, Virginia. I had written my sermon on Friday, August 11, before the events and aftermath of the two Marches. It was entitled, “If you want to walk on the Water, you have to get out of the boat,” and was based on Matthew 14:28-33.

Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’

It was, I thought, a pretty good sermon. By late afternoon on Saturday, I knew that today, Sunday, was going to begin very early in the morning, before daylight. Who knew we would have to “get out of the boat” so soon?

I did manage to keep the first couple of paragraphs of the original sermon, so there is that. I began with two questions: What is the situation in the church and the world today? Of what are we afraid? And, if we are afraid, we get out of the boat anyway. At Christ Episcopal Church, our drive circles around the church building and the entrance and exit are marked with signs, “Enter to Worship, and Exit to Serve. The message we receive each week is “come together in community to worship and receive strength, then go out into the world and do what Jesus did.” And do this, even if our feet get wet, and even if we are out of step with the world. To quote from the Beatitudes,

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil
against you falsely for my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in
heaven, for in the same way the persecuted the prophets who were before you.
(Matthew 5:11-12)

Now back to our two Marches. The first March in Hayneville, Alabama, a March for justice, peace and equality, is in memory of Jonathan Myrick Daniels, an Episcopal Seminarian and graduate of Virginia Military Institute, who came to Alabama in 1965 to help African Americans register to vote. Daniels and several others, including Ruby Sales, an African American teenager, were arrested and held in the Lowndes County Jail. When they were released, some of them crossed the street to Cash’s Grocery to by something to drink. As they entered the store, a part time Deputy Sheriff leveled a shotgun at Sales and fired just as Daniels stepped in front of her to save her life. He died instantly. The Episcopal Dioceses of Alabama and the Central Gulf Coast sponsor this yearly pilgrimage to commemorate Daniels and all other martyrs of the civil rights movement.

The second March, which took place almost simultaneously, was “Unite the Right,” and was about hatred, terrorism and murder. Both of these Marches force us to “get out of the boat.” As we get out of the boat, we, like Peter, must keep our eyes on Jesus in order to withstand the storm and stay afloat.

Where were the Christians on this weekend in Charlottesville? On Friday night they were inside St. Paul’s Church on the Campus of the University of Virginia praying for justice and peace and surrounded by White Nationalists with torches. They were not able to leave until marchers disbursed. On Saturday, clergy and lay Christians were on the sidewalks carrying signs proclaiming justice, peace and equality and singing “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” I believe Jesus would be and was there with them.

The White Nationalists were also on the streets. They were carying Nazi flags and Confederate Battle flags, making Nazi salutes and proclaiming Blood and Soil, a German expression coined in the late Nineteenth Century which refers to an ideology that focuses on ethnicity and territory. The phrase was popularized in the 1930’s with the rise of Nazi Germany.

President Trump finally made a generic statement that condemned the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides, on many sides.” But in this case there were not “many sides,” the perpetrators were White Nationalists. Terror is terror whether it is carried out by an ISIS driven car or a White Nationalist driven car, whether people are killed by radical Islamists or radical White people. Thank God for Congressman Paul Ryan, Senator Marco Rubio, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and others who were willing to call this a terrorist event carried out by White Nationalists. Sessions has called for an investigation into the incident as a terrorist attack.

We as Christians, as Americans, must call terror, terror. We must call racism, racism, and we must call hate, hate. One of the people interviewed in Charlottesville was David Duke, a former Grand Wizard of the KKK. I have met David Duke, looked into his eyes and felt I was in the presence of pure evil. I believe we as Christians can never, ever be a part of any movement that Mr. Duke is involved in. Historian, Howard Zinn wrote a book several years ago entitled, “You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train.” We can never be neutral, we must choose sides. Remaining neutral, not choosing sides, is to side with the oppressor.

Remember what Jesus said: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely for my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way the persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12)

Rejoice and be glad! Proclaim God’s Kingdom “on Earth as it is in Heaven!”



Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Jesus is Transfigured, We are Transformed


The Gospel of Luke records the remarkable story of Jesus’ Transfiguration. The story tells of the Mystical Experience that Changed Jesus’ life as well as his disciples, Peter, John and James. I believe hearing and reading and living into this story also transforms our lives.  

Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions. . .saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. . .Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. . .” While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen (Beloved); listen to him!” (Luke 9:28-36)

Like Peter, John and James, we want to preserve our mountain top experiences, we don’t want to let them go. Mountain top experiences can take different forms for different people: a retreat, a beautiful worship Service, a profound course of study, time spent outdoors in God’s Creation. We all have had experiences that touch our souls and bring us into the presence of the Creator of Heaven and Earth.

This story stimulates my imagination to envision this conversation between Jesus and Peter. In my imagination, Peter says to Jesus, “this is great, we can build these shelters for you and Moses and Elijah, and we can put you in a box, and we can worship you, and sing songs to you and about you, and take you out when we need or want you. Then we can put you back in your box so you won’t get in the way of what we want to do.”

But, Jesus says to Peter, “Peter, don’t you understand that I am bigger than that. You cannot box me in, you cannot create me in your own image.” Jesus continues, “I came to set you free, to create you in my image, and not only you, but the whole world, all people, nations and races.” As we read in the Gospel of John, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17)

I believe that we like the three disciples have seen God’s Glory. I invite you to let your imaginations reflect on that glory. Is God calling us to live into that Glory and to share it with others?

This past Sunday, we at Christ Episcopal Church celebrated the lives of our students and teachers and prayed for them and their backpacks, brief cases and book bags. We prayed that God will bless them in their learning and teaching as they journey together in search of both knowledge and wisdom. As important as this is for us to do every year at this time it is just as important for us to realize that we are all teachers as well as learners. As Jesus said on another mountain top:

 All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ (Matthew 28:16-20)

As we teach, reading, writing and arithmetic, as we teach computers, music and sports, and how to think, we are also called by our God to teach one another how to love our Lord and our neighbors as we love our selves. (See Mark 12:29-31)

God is using us to teach others how to let God out of the boxes we put God in, to teach others how to let God be God, and how to experience God on “the mountain top,” and then come down the mountain and live in the world God has created. For it is in God that we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17:28)

As we see the Glory of God, my we live so that others may see God’s glory through us.



Friday, July 28, 2017

Our Values, the Boy Scouts of America, and a President
An Essay by the Reverend Ben Alford

(Note from the writer: although this essay was inspired by my reaction to the President’s Speech to the Boy Scout Jamboree and I refer to the President and the Boy Scouts briefly, the essay is about you, me and how our values are formed.)

I have been thinking a lot about values lately: how we form them, where they come from and why they are important for survival, our survival as individuals and nations. I began to reflect on these things as I watched The President of the United States address over 45,000 scouts and leaders at the National Boy Scout Jamboree.  Any speech to a group composed mostly of boys 12 to 15 years old that begins, “Who the hell wants to talk about politics when I can be with the Boy Scouts of America,” cannot end well, and it did not. I have written about the speech elsewhere, all 38 minutes of it, so I have nothing to add here other than, “in my opinion it was extremely inappropriate and an abuse of presidential power.”

What I want to write about is how we as individuals and society acquire our values and how our values change the world, for better or for worse. I will explore the search for meaning through my own life’s journey and how my values where formed and how they have formed me. As you walk with me on my journey, I hope you will get excited about looking again at your own journey. This has been an exciting, frustrating and enlightening three days as I have looked again at the forces which have shaped me into who I am. So, put on your mental hiking shoes and your imagination and join me.

The primary forces and sources that have shaped me and allowed me to grow as a human being are my parents, the Christian Church, the Boy Scouts of America, Civitan International, the people who have been a part of my life, and last, but not least, lots of time spent in the great outdoors, much of it alone. As I look at each of these groups I will outline their teachings, oaths, creeds and missions that have changed my life and by which I live. I guess this negative experience of the President and the BSA has had the positive effect of turning my thoughts inward so that my life can move outward.

As for all of us, my first teachers, by word and example, were my parents. Bennett and Eunice Alford gave me life, loved me, fed me, cleaned me up, introduced me to a larger family and took me to church. They did a good job, not a perfect job, as they were human, but their love held all things together, as St. Paul reminds us in Colossians. I remember the simple things, like trusting Daddy enough to fall back blindfolded into his arms, knowing he would catch me, and of after school Fig Newtons and milk with Mama, talking and talking and talking. Mama took me to church on Sunday Evenings and Daddy was my Scoutmaster. They also gave me, for better or worse, three younger brothers and all the lessons that come with siblings.

In the church we learned the Golden Rule, the First and Great Commandment, the Beatitudes, both Matthew’s and Luke’s versions and later the Creeds and the Baptismal Covenant.

The Golden Rule: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12) 

The First and Greatest Commandment:

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:34-40)

The Beatitudes (Matthew’s Version)

 

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:1-12)

 

Blessings and Woes (Luke’s Beatitudes)

 

 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor,
   for yours is the kingdom of God.
‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
   for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,
   for you will laugh.

 ‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man .(Luke 6:20-22)

 

Note that when we put the two versions side by side, we see that Jesus seems to care about our physical, earthly needs as well as heavenly needs. This was an important lesson for me to learn, altering the way I look at the world.

 

The Baptismal Covenant

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers?  I will with God’s help

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? I will with God’s help.

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? I will with God’s help.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
I will with God’s help.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? I Will with God’s help.

The message and the values I have gained from these proclamations of faith over almost 70 years of worship and study and life are: that God loves us and created us to love one another, friends and enemies alike, and to love ourselves; that we are to look for Christ in all persons created by God, showing our love in our actions as well as our words. One of the most important values and most difficult for me to fulfill is to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? We truly are called by God to be instruments of God’s peace, as we learn in the Prayer of St. Francis.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of being part of a religious community is that we consciously join together in worship and service with all sorts and conditions of people: old and young; conservative and liberal; red and yellow, black and white, and people of every nation, faith and creed. My faith and its values have shaped my values as I do my best to relate to all people as God’s children. These relationships also allow me, or perhaps force me to look at the world through their eyes as well as my own.

As I followed my father’s footsteps into the Boy Scouts, the values I learned based on the Scout Oath and Law supplemented and built on what I had learned and continue to learn in church and family to this day.

The Scout Oath

On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.

To always do the best of which I am capable, to do my duty to my country, while always putting duty to God higher than even my duty to my country. At times duty to both God and country can be difficult because standing up for God’s people who may be mistreated or persecuted by some of the laws of our nation can put God and Country into conflict. Jesus is the greatest example of this, standing up against the mistreatment of God’s people by the Religious and Civil authorities. This cost him his life, but he did it anyway because it was the mission God sent him into the world to carry out and his duty to God was more important than his duty to his country or even to his religious institution.

       The Scout Law

A Scout Is: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.

Like the Baptismal Covenant of the Episcopal Church, some of the 12 points of the Scout Law can be difficult to accomplish or keep, but like the First and Great Commandment of Jesus, they state values that if followed, even if we sometimes fail, will change our lives and the lives of all those around us. There is always the fear, and sometimes the realty, that if we live by these values, that less scrupulous people will take advantage of us and even try to destroy us as they did Jesus. Just as Jesus’ life and values changed the world, even though he appeared to have lost the battle, we see in his resurrection the spread of the values for which he lived, died and rose again. All who share his values of love, justice and peace will have the same impact on the world as He did, even if we, at times, suffer some of the same persecutions he suffered
.
Civitan International, a civic group founded in Birmingham, Alabama in 1917 and dedicated to “Service above Self” is one more major force in the formation of my life and values. My connection with this organization goes back to the 1920’s when my Grandfather Alford joined the Albertville Civitan Club. He was later followed into the club by my father and after that my Uncle Bill became a Civitan as well. Boy Scout Troop 71 (now 4071) of which I was a member and my father Scoutmaster was and continues to be sponsored by the Albertville Civitan Club. In fact, the Troop is the longest continuously Civitan Sponsored Boy Scout Troop in the United States. My life has been personally touched and changed by Civitan through family and personal experience as a Boy Scout in a Civitan Sponsored Scout Troop.

My Civitan connection continued as a Junior Civitan at Albertville High School, and I first became an Adult Civitan in Montgomery, Alabama in 1983. In 2010 I became a charter member of The Greater Wetumpka Civitan Club and over the years served as Chaplain, Board Member, President-elect and President. When my wife and I moved to Albertville, Alabama in 2016 we both joined the Albertville Civitan Club, thus bringing me back to my Civitan roots established by my grandfather, and by Boy Scout Troop 71.  I share now the Civitan Creed which weaves in and out with the teachings of Jesus, Holy Scripture and the Boy Scout Oath and Law.

The CIVITAN CREED

Our Creed is unique among service clubs, being the most completely developed ethical statement set forth for a service club and serving as a challenge to every Civitan. Originally written in 1922 by Champ Andrews of the Chattanooga, Tennessee, Civitan Club, it has been modified over the years, most recently in 1984.

It reads as follows:
I AM CIVITAN as old as life, as young as the rainbow, as endless as time.
MY HANDS do the work of the world and reach out in service to others.
MY EARS hear the cry of children and the call throughout the world for peace, guidance,
                  progress and unity.
MY EYES search for others to join in the fellowship and service of Civitan
MY MOUTH utters the call to daily duty and speaks prayers in every tongue
MY MIND teaches me respect for law and the flag of my country
MY HEART beats for every friend, bleeds for every injury to humanity and throbs with joy at
                    every triumph of truth.
MY SOUL knows no fear but its own unworthiness
MY HOPE is for a better world through Civitan
MY MOTTO builders of good citizenship
MY BELIEF do unto others as you would have them do unto you
MY PLEDGE to practice the Golden Rule and to build upon it a better and nobler citizenship.

The Creeds and Covenants and practices of family, faith, friendship and fellowship form a tapestry made of threads of different textures and colors. The tapestry becomes a rich picture of a foundation for life built not on sand, as Jesus said, but on a rock, so that when the winds come and the rain pours, the house will stand, it will keep us warm and dry and will be a place of refreshment and peace from which we go into the world rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves, and striving for justice and peace among all people and respecting the dignity of every human being.

What an exciting journey to be on. Glad you are on it with me.







Sunday, July 23, 2017