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Pastor’s Message: Nov. 15, 2019

This Sunday (Nov. 17) First Pres is hosting an event by the Bethlehem Interfaith Group from 2:30 –
5 p.m. The event is focused on the theme of stories of immigration, and will include several people from different faith traditions sharing their own immigration story, an opportunity to reflect on those stories through our faith in conversation groups, and a multifaith Thanksgiving worship service that will include an extraordinary choir of over 70 people from different faith communities in Bethlehem.

I expect it to be an insightful and powerful afternoon, and I urge you to be a part of it not only for your own experience, but to help us offer authentic hospitality to our guests from different faith communities when they come.

From time to time, the question arises, “what is the point of Christians doing interfaith work?” Often, what’s behind that is a sense that interfaith work is somewhere between an optional extra and a distraction when it comes to the mission of the church. So I want to suggest a few reasons why I think it is an important part of any church’s mission.

First, there is a practical dimension. We can share common values even while those values are grounded in different theological commitments. Christians, Sikhs, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, and others all believe that their faith demands that they care for the poor, welcome the stranger, and pursue justice and peace in the world, even though they have different theological reasons for why they believe that.

But because of those shared values, we can accomplish our own goals and fulfill our own callings more effectively by working together than we can separately. This also goes to our congregation’s core value of having “an Active Faith.”

Second, there is a learning dimension. It should not be surprising that we generally learn much more from people whose viewpoints and experiences differ from our own than just from people who think and live exactly like we do, even when the learning simply helps us clarify why we believe what we believe and do what we do. This corresponds to our congregation’s core value of having “an Inquiring Faith.”

But finally and most importantly, interfaith relations are an important way we fulfill what Jesus identified as the greatest commandment of them all: loving God with our whole heart and soul and strength and mind, and loving our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40; Mark 12:30-31;
Luke 10:25-28).

For disciples of Jesus Christ, love of God and love of neighbor are inseparable; to do only one means that you are no longer following Jesus. So in building relationships with our neighbors, learning from them and teaching them, caring for them and standing with them, and working together to promote love, justice, mercy, and peace in the world, we are fulfilling our congregation’s core values of being both “Christ-Centered” and “Welcoming to All.”

But most importantly, we are fulfilling our Lord’s commandment to love God as we love our neighbors, and to love our neighbors as an essential dimension of how we love God.

So, I am looking forward to being part of this special event on Sunday afternoon, and that you will be able to join me as we welcome, learn from, and share faith and fellowship with our neighbors.

Grace and Peace,
JC

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