Morning Worship: ‘Do unto others’ is the message for our times

The Rev. Joanna M. Adams began “The In-Laws,” her sermon for the morning worship service at 9:15 a.m. Thursday, with two commandments: never ever lead with hate and do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

“I have ugly feelings, but it is my choice what I do with them,” she said about the first. As for the second, “that is the message for our times,” she said.

Her selected text for the service was Exodus 18.

“A pastor went to visit a church member who had not been seen in church in months. The church member asked the pastor, ‘How are they doing down there?’ The pastor knew she had her sermon title for Sunday and preached on ‘We are They,’ ” she said. “Throughout history, humans have separated we from they, in from out, involved from uninvolved, my kind from your kind.”

Adams attended a church council in Hungary in the 1990s, and on a Sunday she crossed the border into the Romanian town of Cluj-Napoca. The area had once been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

“They were Romanians and Hungarians,” Adams said. “I was there for two-and-a-half days, and I could see no difference in their appearance. But they could tell and there was a tradition of animosity between them. They had a mutual disdain for the Romani, the gypsies. And so it is in so many places — the we versus they.”

Adams recalled a story from a friend of hers, who had just retired from teaching second grade.

“She watched three buddies from her class on the playground, one African-American, one Chinese American and one a white WASPy kid. She said they were great buddies today but wondered if they would still be friends when they grew up.”

The basic reality of human nature is that we tend to stick with our own kind, she said. Some might reach out and have international experiences. Even the Bible has accounts of enmity, of hearing the Lord giving orders for the destruction of those who go against the ways of the Lord.

“I asked the Rev. Robert Franklin [head of the Chautauqua Department of Religion] about what writer Phyllis Trible calls ‘texts of terror,’ and he said ‘God doesn’t like ugly even when God is ugly.’ The basic thrust of the Bible is that God is a God of love and God’s goals and purposes are about shalom.

“God created us with differences,” she continued. “God likes differences. Otherwise, we would be all alike. A theologian said that God is the glue that binds us in our divisions.”

Adams then cited the prophet Isaiah, who said that all the peoples of the earth, in their uniqueness, would come together to beat their swords into plowshares and they would “not learn war anymore.”

“We have to learn war; by nature, we are more like the guys on the playground,” she said. “God never wanted us to be bored, which is why women are different from men, but difference can lead to division and divisions create wounds and hard lines of hatred. Hard lines of hatred have never been or will be part of the will of God.”

Adams recalled the words of John Lennon, “You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”

“God is the other dreamer, the original peacemaker who sent Jesus to tear down divisions,” she said. “A grandson was talking with his grandmother and he said, ‘Do you know how you and God are alike?’ The grandmother started to polish her golden halo and said, ‘No, how?’ He said, ‘Because you are both very old.’

“I hope we are like God in other ways, that we have a vision of the world set right, of people living together in respect and civility,” Adams continued. “I heard Tom Brokaw say on Monday that members of Congress are literally not speaking to each other. Can’t we do better than that? I hope we will go from Chautauqua and get clear leadership of our leaders. We just not ought to put up with that.”

The congregation applauded.

“For the salvation of the nation — indeed the world — we ought to be able to offer the kind of leadership that leads to mutual respect, to change how we behave to each other,” she said.

As an illustration, she used the story of Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, coming to visit the Hebrew camp in the desert. They were vastly different, she said, yet they treated each other with respect and honor. Moses followed the advice that Jethro gave him to use the help of others to deal with the day-to-day problems that the people were bringing to him.

“They knew each other for a brief time. They were only related by marriage,” Adams said. “They did not follow the same religion, but Jethro showed respect to Moses’ God. Like the Magi in the W.H. Auden poem, they are on the journey to discover how to be human.”

Adams then quoted the late Will Campbell, Baptist preacher and ambassador for Christ to the Klu Klux Klan. Campbell believed that all people were already brothers and sisters and should act like it. If humans accept the gift of reconciliation, he said, they will be free, but if they do not they will be imprisoned by the fires of distrust.

“We have to live today as if what God is dreaming is a reality,” Adams said.

She told a story of a woman who fell to her knees in prayer and rage and asked God why He did not do something about all the hate and division in the world. “Why don’t you tear down the walls?” she said. “God answered her: ‘I did do something. I made you.’ ”

In one of the churches that Adams served, a young woman decided to go to Colombia to serve as an accompanier, a witness who walked with people who were being persecuted. Her mother came to Adams and asked her to stop her daughter from going.

Adams said to her: “It’s your fault. Didn’t you bring her to church and let her learn about the make-up of the family of God?”

“We have to learn to live together in peace in the great world house that God has given us,” Adams said. “We are not longer unduly separated — we have to live together. We have to do what we can, where we are, to honor all people.”

The Rev. Carolyn Grohman presided, and Roger Yazbeck and Alexandra Paul from the International Order of The King’s Daughters and Sons’ Scholarship Program read the Scripture.

Yazbeck read first in Arabic, and then Paul read in English. 

Yazbeck is from Batroun, Lebanon, and is studying theology at the University of the Holy Spirit of Kaslik (Maronite Patriarchal Seminary). 

A voice major from Dallas, Paul just completed her freshman year at Texas Woman’s University. 

For the prelude, Barbara Hois, flute, and Joe Musser, piano, performed Sonata in G Major by Georg Philipp Telemann. The Motet Choir, under the direction of Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, sang “The Lord is My Shepherd” by Thomas Matthews.

The Geraldine M. and Frank E. McElree, Jr. Chaplaincy Fund and the William N. Jackson Religious Initiative Fund provide support of this week’s services.