Earlier this year, the book “Blood Letters: The Untold Story of Lin Zhao, A Martyr in Mao’s China” written by Lian Xi was published (New York: Basic Books, 2018). I commend it to you. Lin Zhao’s story is that of a young woman who confronted with tyranny, regained a centering point by reexamining and recommitting to her Christian faith. She moved from being a dedicated member of the Communist Party, then experiencing the tyranny of Mao Zedong, to become a voice against totalitarianism. Awakened again to her Christian faith she rejected the deceits and brutality around her exhibited by authorities.
In seeking to find a life of integrity and truth amid the brutality and despotism, this remarkable woman drew on the Christian faith she had learned as a youth when educated in Methodist Schools. Her faith became the source of hope — and truth. She wrote letters and essays that circulated among the faithful outside of prison.
In prison, authorities took away her paper and pens. Lin Zhao continued to write. She wrote on torn pieces of bedding, using her own hair and blood from pricked fingers to compose her letters and reflections. Later, when she was given writing implements again, she often continued to write with her blood. Lin Zhao was martyred in 1968 for her beliefs. She is seen as the most famous of the martyrs of this time. Today, thousands in China continue to be inspired by her resistance to evil.
As intolerance, bigotry and suppression of descent rise in our world today, the witness of Lian Zhao becomes especially significant. As attacks on a free press surge threatening to overtake truth and decency, this singular voice is a gift to us all.
We are arriving at the Reign of Christ Sunday (Christ the King). It is the conclusion of the seasons known as Kingdomtide and Pentecost. 2018 is one of the unusual years when the Reign of Christ Sunday comes after Thanksgiving.
The scripture lesson is from John’s Gospel, the 18th chapter. The lesson tells of Jesus’ encounter with Pilate — the Roman Governor who questions Jesus and has yet to be answered verbally for two millenia. Pilate asks “What is truth?” Jesus is SILENT — He just stands there. He has already given the answer by how he has lived. Truth is discovered in right relationships rather more than in right answers.
Parker Palmer in To Know As We Are Known writes “In prayer I begin to realize that I not only know but am known.” Palmer says “Truth is in relationship… “The hallmark of a community of truth is in its claim that reality is a web of communal relationships, and we can know reality only by being in community with it.”
So the sermon tomorrow will focus on the mirrors of truth I have known over the years — those who included me in the conversation toward truth. [You can find it on the church’s webpage at http://www.fumcsd.org.] I will be speaking of Olive and Sidney Anderson. We knew them in Atlanta when in graduate school and teaching at Emory. They worshiped, as did we, at Trinity UMC in downtown Atlanta. Here is a part of the story that unfolded slowly as we knew them: Anderson, Sidney (An Disheng) (1889 ~ 1978) – Methodist Mission Bicentennial.
Their amazing lives – the lives of these two were mirrors into the Reign of Christ which came into view as we were blessed to know folks like these and call them friends.
Folks like Sid and Olive Anderson and the Bob Wilson, each in their own special way, leave behind a legacy that answers the question “What is truth?” They answer through their lives, each in his/her own unique way.
Yeats speaks of the truth of legacy-making through relationships in this poem.
Though leaves are many, the root is one;
Through all the lying days of my youth
I swayed my leaves and flowers in the sun,
Now may I wither into the truth.
William Butler Yeats, The Coming of Wisdom With Time
Members and Friends of First United Methodist, San Diego,
We learned on national news of the terrible assault on members of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Immediately our thoughts turned to friends in the Jewish communities here in San Diego. I want us, as members of First United Methodist, to speak with a loud and clear voice against any such anti-Semitic acts of terror. In this time, we will stand with these our neighbors.
I ask you to join me in prayer. We will have special prayers in our services tomorrow and we will continue to raise a voice against such crimes in the days ahead. For nearly forty years our congregation has joined in an annual Thanksgiving worship with friends at Beth Israel of San Diego. Just this past week members of our staff met with Rabbis Michael Berk and Arlene Bernstein to plan for our service together on November 21st at Temple Beth Israel. Dr. Fanestil will be preaching at the service this year. Let’s show our solidarity with our neighbors by joining in this service.
First United Methodist Church will stand against such intolerance and violence. It is evidenced so frequently in our nation and world today. I want us to be such a voice for any group targeted for abuse or discrimination in our city. Especially now, however, we stand with these friends at Beth Israel and Jewish communities around the globe.
“CARAVAN” it is a word being used to stir up fear among the good people of the United States. You can hear it daily — the underlying message is “Be afraid. Be very afraid.” Those of us who follow Jesus need to respond. We need not accept the false dichotomy being offered.
There are humane and Christian alternatives we can choose. It is not the either/or of “barbarians at our gates” versus “wide open borders.” As a nation we can respond with safe and honest practices of processing those who seek and deserve asylum and those who don’t. There are many constructive ways to offer hospitality and security at the same time.
Those of us who claim to march with the Prince of Peace, who came to earth surrounded by the message “Fear Not,” must respond. How?
One possible response is to form our own Caravans. Let’s make them “Caravans of the Spirit,” “Caravans of Hope and Love,” “Caravans of Compassion.” Might we join together and march in another direction? All of us can actually move toward the borders of our nation or at least to the borders of our daily routines to welcome, to send a message that we stand with those who suffer from FEAR — all of them — those brothers and sisters looking for asylum from terror in their home countries, AND those in the United States who are being misled by the deceits of some who seek to divide us and leave many to dwell in a muddle of fear.
Might we substitute HOPE for the HATE that is being encouraged? Will you join in making today a day when you participate in Caravans of Hope? From Eastern and Southern Europe, across the British Commonwealth and along the borders of the United States, in our hometowns, in our shopping malls and public spaces —
real people are facing the tragic reality of being demonized by those who seem to have no ethical or Biblical moorings.
Let’s recommit to forming and joining our own caravans — ones that welcome and offer Biblical hospitality to the stranger and sojourner. The time for a new direction can begin today through simple acts of including others with a smile, a kind word, a gift to those who work with refugees and a VOTE in the coming elections. These acts indicate we are part of the LARGEST CARAVAN EVER — a Caravan of Hope.
Week by week we gather at First United Methodist Church in San Diego. I learn more about this good congregation and the ministries they provide. The photo shown here is of the church shortly after it moved to the Mission Valley area over 50 years ago. At the time it moved to a place of dairy farms and orchards.
Today, it can truly be said this is a place that reflects the old hymn “Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life.”
This past Sunday we spoke of the importance of leaders who serve — HANDS OF THE STRONG. Little did I know when I chose this topic back in June that it would also be a week of indictments, guilty pleas, new disclosures of the abuses of Catholic clergy or the tragic misguided leadership at Willow Creek Church, the well-known and influential mega church in Illinois. Nor, did I know that this would be the weekend we would grieve the passing of Senator John McCain. In the sermon preached on 8/26 we spoke of leadership and remembered the remarkable life of integrity and humility lived by Senator McCain. It can be read here: HandsofStrong BLOG 8-26-18.
So, what of the future? The photo to the right was taken last week. It is image of the church taken from a department store parking lot across the busy I-8 freeway. Elaine, my spouse, is pictured here. As I consider our future and the leadership that will be required, my prayers go out to the people who will continue the great ministries of this congregation long into the future. As the United Methodist denomination seems to have lost its way — and is caught up internal controversy — in what Bishop Ken Carder has rightly described as “tacky” (with attribution to Will Campbell). It is places like San Diego FUMC — and hundreds of churhes across the nation — in the middle of the busyness all around that offer hope. Here the vision of a world beyond the corrupt present will endure. In such places.
Thankfully, Bishop Ken Carder continues his witness. Truth and Love cannot be separated. The church he describes is the one that nurtured me as well. For those who think a narrowing of our community will bring growth, I would simply ask them to consider, that it was the “Big Tent” Church following WWII that grew the most rapidly in recent years. Yes, we were riding a cultural wave — even as some “traditionalists” are riding theirs today. Whatever, even if severed away, split into, these who might place themselves on the other side will still be my brothers and sisters in Christ. No General Conference action can change this.
Thoughts of splitting The United Methodist Church trouble me for a host of reasons Some theological and missional.
This polarized and violent world desperately needs the witness of a community that grapples with disputes and differences with humility, mutual respect, and compassion. While divisions have been part of our heritage since the beginning, they never bode well for our commitment to oneness in Christ Jesus.
We need one another, whatever our labels. God has already reconciled us! We have been made one, whether we like it or not. So, I don’t quite understand why we can’t live the reconciliation already accomplished in Christ. If Christ has made us one, should we not live that oneness?
But I’m also troubled for personal reasons.
I’ll always remember that fateful Sunday morning almost 65 years ago when this son of Appalachian tenant farmers and textile workers walked shyly into…