Pastoral ponderings . . .
Last month we sadly bid farewell to two of our dearest friends at Mount Tabor: Barry and Marge Saunders. They raised two talented daughters in this beautiful state, Kris and Jenny, who went on in their professional careers to live the same ethic of service to community that they learned from their parents. Marge taught elementary school in Utah throughout her career, and Barry was an engineer for the State. In their prime, they did a lot of hiking, hunting, and camping in Colorado as well as Utah. In their retirement, they have done even more to be a blessing: Their generosity towards the ELCA World Hunger Appeal has attracted national attention. The director of that Hunger program personally visited to thank them last summer, at our annual worship in the park.
Barry and Marge are passionate about many things. Feeding the hungry is probably the most important to them. Their monthly donations to the Crossroads Food Bin always required several trips back and forth from the barrel to their vehicle. They have responded to the world’s great need, not with despair, but with compassion. A compassion for the poor that demonstrates how they choose to “live God’s love in the world.”
They were members of Our Savior’s Lutheran for many years, before seeing the light and coming to Mount Tabor! And as soon as they arrived, their energy and enthusiasm for Tabor’s way of living the good news of God’s love was immediately apparent. Their passion for social justice in the name of Christ inspired their service with our Social Action committee for many years. Education has always been a passion for them too. Marge was an elementary school teacher. She knows how children living in poverty have to struggle more than other kids; coming to school hungry; sometimes ill prepared in other ways; often needing more help to learn to read and write. When Marge retired, she continued her community service with other retired educators in the State who met regularly to advocate for under-served children.
Education is also a passion of Barry’s, but in a different way. Barry’s self-directed theological education is impressive! He’s probably one of the most well-read lay people I know. His never-ending interest in furthering his understanding of religion and philosophy has been fuel for Tabor’s adult education forums for years. Since 2009, the adult class called itself “Living the Questions”, a forum where the quest for understanding, is valued more than answers. “Faith seeking understanding” as St. Anselm put it, means something like “an active love of God seeking a deeper knowledge of God.” That for me is what Barry has been about; always wanting to invite more of us seekers into that conversation.
I will always remember Barry’s first question for me the day I came to Mount Tabor. With a big smile on his face, he said, “Do you think Mormons are Christian?” I know a litmus test when I hear it! And I was sure I was going to fail that one. It’s probably one of the most important things for a person in my profession to sort out, coming here to do ministry. And I must say I believe I have grown into Barry’s question. One that challenged my assumptions about the role of theology, and about what truly matters in life and in society. Barry has taught me that what we say, is not as important as what we do. Actions speak louder than words. Religion can either divide us more than we already are, or religion can unite us as we never have been before.
The Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable is committed to modeling that kind of unity. Its motto is: “Many Faiths. One Family.” Religion can divide us, or it can unite us. And the children around us learn from our example. From us they learn prejudice; they learn to fear diversity; they learn divisiveness. And it is the spirit of divisiveness that leads to enmity and bullying among them. We can say to each other: “Mormons aren’t Christians”and practice the religion of divisiveness. Or we can say that the old debate about who is Christian and who is not in Salt Lake,is moot. It doesn’t matter. Because at the end of the day what really matters is a just and peaceful societ. And we can be about the business of preparing for that society, for Christ’s return, by sharing everything God has blessed us with. Our children learn from our example.
As Lutherans we can choose a way other than religion that divides people into saint and sinner, believer and skeptic, or insider and outsider. We can choose a way that unites. Because Luther’s gift to us is that we see ourselves always as both/and, not either/or: believing and doubtful, faithful and hopeless, kind and unkind, generous and selfish. All at the same time. Luther said salvation is a gift to anyone not because they are better, but because God is unconditional love. I think that this self-awareness and self-understanding that we the baptized in Christ are always in this life both saint and sinner insider and outsider, devout and profane all at the same time is our contribution to interfaith dialogue. We claim no special status before God, and so we are free to represent and advocate for religion that unites all humankind around the ethic of the Golden Rule.
When we no longer see any difference between ourselves and anyone else, might it be easier to do what John the Baptist asked when he said, “bear fruit worthy of repentance?” When we no longer see any difference between ourselves and another human being, might it be so much easier to share because we see ourselves in them? See our family in their family, and our destiny in their destiny? Might that be why our hearts break at the thought of so many families separated on our border today?
When we repent from the religion that divides, we choose unity. We choose peace and justice as the highest expression of our faith in Christ. We share our clothing: we even buy new clothing to share in the Crossroads bin in the church parking lot. We share our food. We even buy more food to fill the Crossroads barrel, like Barry and Marge! We prepare for Christ’s return with every act of compassion for the least among us. A way of preparing by sharing that practices the unity that will be among us someday soon, as God in Christ has promised.