Column by Emily Perper.
“I want to talk about how we bridge the chasms that divide us,” the Rev. Buzz Thomas said. “We must move beyond our tribes. Now, there’s nothing wrong with our tribes … (but) the Constitution of the United States does not begin with ‘We the tribe.’ That vision is too small for our republic. We are people, many tribes.”
Thomas continued his Week Two sermon series with “If God Be For Us…” The readings were John 8:2-11 and Romans 8:31.
“I want to convince you this morning that you have theological permission to do what America needs you to do, that God wants us to make common cause with our neighbor … that despite our theological and political differences, we can be one nation,” he said.
When asked to summarize the crux of Christianity, Swiss theologian and philosopher Karl Barth said, “Jesus loves me; this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
Thomas said, “I think I can boil that down even further. Are you ready? God is for us. That’s my word to you today. God is for us. All of us. Not just my people or your people — all people. Women and men, gay and straight, liberal or conservative, black or white, rich and poor, Arabs and Jews, cowboys and Indians, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Ba’hais, atheists and agnostics, immigrants and the native-born, thin or fat, young or old, and yes, transvestites and transgender (people) — all people. God loves us all. And not just some of the time. Not just when we’re behaving … God loves all people, all the time.”
In John 8:2-11, an adulterous woman is brought before Jesus as a test. Jesus commands those without sin to be the first to stone the woman for her crime, and, one by one, everyone leaves the scene.
“The story of the adulterous woman tells us — and I wish I could put this on billboards all over America — that when push comes to shove, which it does, Jesus chose people over the requirements of God’s law. Not man’s law, God’s law,” Thomas said. “If Jesus is the revelation of God, as Christians believe, and as many, many around the world believe, then God chooses people over his own religious rules.”
Jesus demonstrates this same principle in the story of Zacchaeus, who is reviled by his townspeople but shown forgiveness. Jesus tells the thief who is crucified alongside him that he will see him in the Kingdom of Heaven.
“Again, we see that the God who revealed God’s self in Jesus is a God who doesn’t care what you’ve done wrong, who doesn’t worry about your past,” Thomas said. “The Bible portrays a God who forgives and forgets.”
He disagrees with St. Augustine’s belief that a holy God had to kill his perfect son and Jesus had to, in essence, “buy off” God to save humanity from God’s wrath.
“I think that’s a false view of our heavenly Father,” Thomas said, and shared his view: “When you look at the cross, you see God. That’s the kind of love God has for you.”
“Here’s the good news,” he concluded. “God is love, and when you allow God to fill you with her love, you will love the world as she does, and that is how to become one human family.”
The Rev. George Worth presided. John Ridgeway and Danny Chucry from The International Order of the King’s Daughters and Sons Chautauqua Scholarship Program read Scripture. Ridgeway is from Ocean Springs, Miss., and attends the University of Southern Mississippi, studying entertainment industry production and music. Chucry is from Lebanon and read the scripture in Arabic, his native language. He studies philosophy and theology at Université Saint-Esprit de Kaslik. The Motet Choir provided sacred music; the anthem was “Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart” by David Schwoebel. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship and sacred music coordinator, led the choir.