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Sermon for October 1, 2006 -- World Communion Sunday

A World Devoted to God
Genesis 12:1-9

Why can’t the religions of the world get along better? After all, isn’t Abraham the spiritual father of the Jews, the spiritual father of the Christians, and the spiritual father of the Muslims? Why is there so much conflict among Abraham’s spiritual children? What is wrong? Hebrew Scripture declares that Moses is a son of Abraham. The New Testament says that Jesus is a son of Abraham (Matthew 1:1). The Koran states that Mohammed is a son of Abraham. Does that imply that Moses, Jesus and Mohammed are brothers? If so, then why can’t the religions of the world get along better?

Today, I invite us to think about Abraham once more. 200 million Jews, two billion Christians and one billion Muslims trace their origins to Father Abraham. If all the descendents of these religions spiritually related, then why has there been so much conflict and war within the family through the centuries? If Abraham is declared a friend of God in the Jewish Torah and if Abraham is declared a friend of God in the Christian Bible and Abraham is declared a friend of God in the Koran, then why can’t the followers of the three world religions be better friends?

In 2002, a bestseller came out entitled, ABRAHAM: A JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THREE FAITHS by Bruce Feiler. Feiler asks the question: if Abraham is the father of the Jews, Christians and Muslims, why can’t the Jews, Christians and Muslims get along? Maybe there is something in the life and faith of Abraham that could inspire greater harmony the world’s three monotheistic religions. Guess who inflames the warring spirits within these three religions. Rabbis, pastors, and imams. That’s right. Religious leaders are partly to blame for the religious unrest we see in the world.

We see Jewish families living in the Jewish settlements in the occupied territories of the West Bank. They have lived and grown there for two generations now, since the war of 1965. In the Roadmap to Peace, Jews were to give up several of their West Bank settlements. What was the response to such an idea among the fanatical Jewish rabbis? Give up our Jewish settlements? Our newest Jewish villages? Absolutely not! Instead, let’s assassinate the Prime Minister. Remember 1995? Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was not killed by Palestinians or Lebanese assassins. A right-wing Jewish radical assassinated Rabin at a peace rally. Just before the killing, Rabin ended a speech with the words of a song, Shir Lashalom – the Song of Peace.

Lift your eyes with hope
not through the rifle sights
sing a song for love
and not for wars.
Don't say the day will come,
bring the day,
because it is not a dream.
And within all the city's squares,
cheer for peace.
And sing, sing a song for peace,
don't whisper a prayer,
it's better to sing a song for peace
with a giant shout!

Christian also play their part in our religious wars. Consider the words of Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son. This is the man who prayed at George W. Bush’s inauguration, and who runs and international relief agency. Speaking after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Graham commented, “I don't believe [Islam] is a wonderful, peaceful religion.” He added, “When you read the Koran and you read the verses from the Koran, it instructs the killing of the infidel, for those that are non-Muslim.” When asked to clarify his statement, Graham repeated his charge that Islam, as a whole, was evil. “It wasn't Methodists flying into those buildings, it wasn’t Lutherans,” he said. “It was an attack on this country by people of the Islamic faith.” Graham later gave a non-apology – a statement of regret.

You can always count on Jerry Falwell for a bigoted sound bite. Here’s Falwell on Islam, from a transcript f 60 minutes. He says, “Muhammad was a terrorist. I read enough of the history of his life written by both Muslims and non-Muslims [to know] that he was a violent man, a man of war. In my opinion … Jesus set the example for love, as did Moses. And I think that Muhammad set an opposite example.” Falwell later gave a non-apology, saying that he inteneded no disrespect to any sincere, law-abiding muslim. At the same time, An Iranian cleric called Fallwell a mercenary who must be killed.

Consider the recent remarks by Pope Benedict. In a recent lecture, the Pope quoted a 15th century Byzantine emperor who once said, “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” In response, Al Qaeda leaders in Iraq called for a continued effort in their war against followers of the Cross. One Arab op-ed piece stated, “The pope’s latest statement cannot be considered a slip of the tongue or a comic bit from a TV show; the situation here is different, and his remarks are indicative of an important and highly symbolic stance toward [Islam] and the prophet of about a billion and-a-half Muslims.”

Muslim clerics also do their part to inflame the sons and daughters of Abraham. Most of us are appalled that there was no chorus of condemnation by the Muslim clerics after the bombing of the Twin Towers. Most of us are appalled by the Muslim schools in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq that teach bomb making and political fanaticism. Most of us are appalled when such these emphasize that “jihad” is to be a holy war against the West and against Christianity. We know that the terrorists who suicide bomb their own people have been carefully taught.

So, I believe that the author, Bruce Feiler, has a point when he suggests that religious intolerance and fanaticism are often inflamed by rabbis, priests and Muslim clerics. Each proclaims a vision of what the world would look like if it were totally devoted to God. But let’s think for a moment – what would it look like if we turned to Father Abraham as a symbol three world religions, as a symbol of being a father of a family that learns to live and love together in the household called Earth.

As a Christian congregation, what are we to do? “What does it mean to profess Christian faith in a world of many faiths? How can I be fully a Christian and at the same time respect the faith of others? What does it mean to be ‘saved’ and to believe in Jesus as the Way to God?” Many of us struggle with these questions.

God calls us to be breaking down walls of division: nationally, culturally, racially, and religiously. As members of the United Church of Christ, we commit to intentional dialogue with other faith traditions. In 1988 and 1989, The UCC drafted statements on interfaith relations. The resolution calls upon all local congregations to actively engage in dialogue with the Muslim and Jewish communities in order to establish relationships of trust and cooperation and to participate in joint witness against all injustice in our local communities and in the world.

Today I call us to a new kind of martyrdom – a kind of martyrdom that today’s world has not yet seen. The world martyr comes from the Greek marturios – it literally means to be a witness – a person who testifies about the faith. A witness does two things. First, a witness sees God. I witness the fact that God is everywhere and in every situation and so my life has nothing to do with my ego, my individual efforts, and my melodramas. No more demanding that my way is the only way . . .Just silent profound watching and worship of God at work. Only then can I do t he second job of a witness – to let my actions live out the truth I just saw.

Today, I call us to modesty in all things, including our faith – to conversation without conversion. As Christians, we do not know – we only trust. We do not own the truth, but we bear witness to the living Truth. We engage ourselves with those who do not belong to the household of faith, including those of other faiths, with the expectation that the other – another human being – has something to bring to our meeting. The other is not a mere receptacle for my message.

There is much for us to learn from Father Abraham 4000 years after he lived and died. From Abraham, we can learn what it means to believe the promises of God, to have genuine faith and lead a devout godly life. From Abraham, we can learn to realize that God blesses us so that we can be a blessing to God’s world. From Abraham, we can learn to love other people who are part of Abraham’s other religious families here on earth.

I want us to remember that as we take communion on this World Communion SUnday. We share a meal with other Christians. We also Watch for God, reenact our faith, and testify to the possibility of a world of peace, in community with our brothers and sisters from the family of Abraham.

Sources:

Edward Markquart, “Abraham: The Father of Three Religions,”
http://www.radiohazak.com/Shir.html.
Preacher's Anti-Islam Remarks Mobilize White House. ”
Todd Hertz, “Riots, Condemnation, Fatwa, and Apology Follow Falwell's CBS Comments,” in Christianity Today.
“Jerry Falwell's statement of reconciliation.”
“Putting the Pope’s Remark in Context,” NPR’s Morning Edition, Sept. 19, 2006.
“Arab op-ed: Pope’s remarks may lead to war, ”
http://www.ucc.org/ecumenical/89-gs-muslim.pdf., http://www.ucc.org/ecumenical/87-gs-jewish.pdf.
Douglass john Hall, The Cross in our Context (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003), 193-194.


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