Meditation on Jeremiah 31:31–34 and John 8:31-36
Pastor Karen Crawford
First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown
Oct. 30, 2022
Here is a link to the worship service, with my message:
I was all set to begin writing my message for Reformation Sunday, when I found a letter that one of our members—Ron DeHart—gave to me after last Sunday’s service. I read the letter and tears came to my eyes. I pray the Spirit will touch your heart as it touched mine as I share some of it with you.
It was written by a young man named Joe Zimbler, a student of Gettysburg College. He writes of his plan to attend an event hosted by the campus chapter of the conservative Young Americans for Freedom (YAF). He is going to listen to the speaker, though he does not agree with the group’s views. Joe describes himself as someone “who hung a rainbow flag in (the) locker room.”
Joe is Ron’s grandson. His letter was published in school newspaper, The Gettysburgian, on Oct. 18. The headline is “Opinion: I Have Two Moms, Yet Will Be Attending YAF’s speaker.”
He sees polarization as the “biggest issue facing the world today.” “People on both sides of the political spectrum generally refuse to interact with those with different beliefs,” he says. “When your friends share similar beliefs, you are not exposed to other ways of thinking of ideas. It is so easy to look at the other side of an issue and say things such as, ‘How can people possibly support this?’ and ‘What is wrong with these people?’ and ‘Why don’t they see it the same way as me?’ People become so entrenched in their views and surround themselves with others with the same opinion that, over time, they cannot imagine how anyone can view it differently.”
He writes in response to the “hostile environment,” he says, that has “taken over the school.” “Everyone is frustrated, believing that their side is being silenced by the other. Listening to the other side of this issue would allow people to see that those on the other side of the aisle are not monsters, they are just people.”
He emphasizes the importance of taking time to try to understand why the “other side” feels the way they do. When his friends learned that Joe wanted to attend the event and hear the speaker, they were “appalled,” he says, “claiming this to be hate speech and feeling as though interacting with this speaker empowers him to spread a message of hatred towards members of LGBTQ+. And I understand this fear,” he goes on, “as giving someone a voice to challenge your identity or the identity of those close to you can be terrifying. However, if we want to change and coexist, we must listen to the other side and understand why they do not support the LGBTQ+ community. It is easy to say that it is because these are bad or hateful people, but how can you ever know until you engage them?”
Joe adds, “Change comes with active listening, listening, not to respond, but to understand. With that, we can work to foster a more inclusive world and understanding, a world where no one must feel threatened by sharing their beliefs. And a world where, regardless of your race, sex, gender, orientation, etc., you can walk around with little fear of being hated by others for those factors. So I will be attending the event.”
Here on Oct. 30, we commemorate the day Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg in 1517, and, along with other reformers, helped bring the necessary changes in belief and practice that have made us who we are today. This is also the day we have chosen to welcome our seven confirmands into membership.
If there’s a word to describe this confirmation class, I would say it’s “gentleness.” I was warned, before we began meeting, that these students are “quiet,” and that I shouldn’t take it personally if they don’t talk. But in this short time we have had together, and through their faith statements shared through word and music, we have come to know each other better. And I have come to appreciate their kind and gentle ways!
They still need our help and encouragement to become the people God wants them to be.
Are we prepared to invest the time and energy into getting to know them and encouraging them to grow in faith, hope, love and service, not just by our words, but by our own acts of kindness, compassion, and generosity? Will we help them find how they may use their gifts and talents to serve the church and participate more fully in ministry at First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown?
Some of our confirmands would like to help with children’s programs or continue with their strong involvement in music ministries. Some will serve as liturgists and others may be working behind the scenes, such as helping with our church-wide cleanups, such as the one coming up in November. Others may labor on our Stream Team, helping us to share our hope in Christ beyond our church walls, something we never thought we would be doing until 2020 and the pandemic forced us to adapt to a strange new, virtual way to “do church.”
As we celebrate Reformation Sunday, this is a good time “to reclaim the great motto of the Reformation for our congregation, “Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda”: the church reformed and always reforming.”
Dr. Fred Heuser at the Presbyterian Historical Society says, “While Reformation Sunday may prompt us to look back to the great truths and insights articulated by Reformers … 500 years ago,” “it is even more important to look forward, especially at this time in the history of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A). … Shaped by our theology, (a) common heritage unites us, despite what differences may divide us as a people of faith. As with other periods of transition in our church, our history has helped to both inform and inspire us. But it also continues to challenge us to listen and discover what the Holy Spirit is calling us to do in a new time.”
Friends, this is a time to seek God’s face and listen for God’s voice and remember that the Holy Spirit speaks through the young, as well as the old, as it did on Pentecost, when Peter preached with the words of the prophet Joel:
“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit,
and they shall prophesy.”
I pray that we, together, will recognize the promise of Jeremiah and the New Covenant come to fruition in the Triune God—Father, Son, and Spirit. For “the days are surely coming,” the prophet proclaimed, “that I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest…”
I have said this during our confirmation class—and I say it again to this quiet, gentle group. I pray you will be brave and find your voice and share it with the world through words and actions. Speak up for the oppressed. Work for peace and justice. As Christ told those who wished to follow him, we must live out what the Lord is teaching us, at the risk of our own lives. “If you continue in my word,” he says in John, “you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
And I pray that more people will listen to young people like Joe, who speaks the truth in love, with a heart of peace, when his college has become a hostile environment, where people are not free to be themselves. A place where people are afraid and feel unsafe.
May God bring about the changes for which Joe and many others long—so that people with different beliefs are able to talk to one another and “listen actively, not to respond, but to understand” and “foster a world where no one must feel threatened by sharing their beliefs.”
“I will not yell at the speaker or be angry with those who disagree with me,” he says. And “maybe I will have the chance to ask one good question… Or maybe I won’t. Either way, I will walk out with a newfound understanding of the opinion of the other side, an opinion that, just like all others, deserves to be heard.”
“And after,” Joe says, “I will call my moms and tell them how much I love them.”
Let us pray.
Gracious and merciful God, thank you for creating us all in your image, but giving us the gift of diversity—being delightfully different from one another, in many ways. Thank you for the Holy Spirit that unites us, when the visible Church around the world is still scandalously divided. Help us all to be One, as your Son prayed for us, and to be peacemakers, sowing seeds of kindness and modeling active listening when we encounter hostile environments. Lead us to follow you more faithfully and live justly, by the power of the Spirit, as people grateful to be saved by your grace and know the truth that has set us free to love, in Jesus’ name. Amen.