The Wisdom to Know the Difference

Consider this:  Come if you have a weak faith. Come if you are convinced in the strength of your convictions. Come so that you might be strengthened and challenged. Lead us into life, O God! Come if you are chased by the demands of others. Come if you feel threatened by a loss of security. Come so that you might be strengthened and challenged. Lead us into life, O God! Come if you need forgiveness. Come if you need strength to forgive others. Come so that you might be strengthened and challenged. Lead us into life, O God!      

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The morning Scripture   Romans 14:1-12. 14 Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. 10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister[a]? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’”[b] 12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

The Wisdom to Know the Difference

Prayer: O God, our hope and refuge, in our distress we come quickly to you. Shock and horror of that tragic day have subsided, replaced now with emptiness, a longing for an innocence lost. We come remembering those who lost their lives in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania. We are mindful of the sacrifice of public servants who demonstrated the greatest love of all by laying down their lives for friends. We come remembering and we come in hope, not in ourselves, but in you. As foundations we once thought secure have been shaken, we are reminded of the illusion of security. In commemorating this tragedy, we give you thanks for your presence in our time of need and we seek to worship you in Spirit and in truth, our guide and our guardian. Amen.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, / Courage to change the things I can, / and wisdom to know the difference.” – The Serenity Prayer. This is the beginning of the Serenity Prayer – a prayer that is often repeated at AA meetings — the key words are “The wisdom to know the difference between things I can change and those I cannot change.” Once again, we are confronted with the truth that this simple prayer radiates.

Twenty years ago, the worst attack in the modern history of the continental United States occurred, and thousands lost their lives. Our national leaders asked themselves what could be changed to prevent this from happening again. Now, twenty years later, all of us expect to have enhanced security inspections as we board airplanes. We have seen our national intelligence gathering organizations more focused. All of us have a national awareness of security. But do we feel more secure?

Whether our leaders had the wisdom to know the difference of things that could be changed and those things that could not, continues to be the subject of political debate.

As a nation, we thought that there were things that could be changed. Thus began our involvement in Afghanistan, and later Iraq. Twenty years later we have left Afghanistan but still have a military presence in Iraq, but the unrest continues now in Syria along with Iraq and significant uncertainty in Afghanistan.

In the ensuing two decades, we have become less trusting of people who were different from us. We have especially become judgmental of people of the Muslim faith – whether they were of the radical Jihadist or everyday American citizens. And that feeling continues! Whatever we currently read in social media or watch on television, the judgmental attitudes and demonstrated hate that we have toward Muslims continues unabated. Are we fearful of the newly arriving Afghan refugees in our country? Or can, after careful vetting, welcome them as the friends and allies that they were to us in Afghanistan?

Then this morning we have as our Scripture reading a passage from Romans that provides guidance for dealing with significant differences among the Christian communities at Rome. Of course, this was directed to those Christian communities in ancient Rome—more than 2000 years ago – and this conversation is just as essential for Christians today. Paul is insisting that we all respect each other in and across such wide social and religious differences. Yet, each person is to live faithfully in reverence to Christ and in support of one another.

Once again, we remind ourselves that this Scripture is a call for mutual respect for differing religious practices within the Christian community and it extends to the larger global human community of which each of us is also a part. Paul’s words to us today cause us to ask ourselves what the difference between judgment and condemnation is.  Judgment is the ability to objectively make an informed decision. Judgment is not emotionally based.  Condemnation is the strong sense of disapproval – and again should be based upon informed, not emotional understandings.

Jesus continually offered words of judgment. Remember Jesus said – “Judge not, that you be judged. – you neglect justice and the love of God.” So does Paul. In chapter 14, he calls these people not to condemn each other for differences in personal Christian practices. These words are words of judgment, but they are words of judgment against condemning others.

Five years ago, Amy Waldman, nationally acclaimed author, and NY Times editor, published an editorial article in the Jewish Daily Forward, entitled, “Remember Who We Are,” imploring Jewish Americans to reject the extremist voices of hate that target American Muslims and specifically called on, by name, the few Jewish people involved in the Muslim hate movement to stop. We must stand together today as Americans, just as we did in 2001 after the attacks. We cannot allow those who promote hate, either here or abroad, to divide our nation.

Here is where Wisdom comes in – as in the Serenity Prayer – we as Christians are to show respect to our neighbor. Wisdom is the ability to take knowledge and insight along with common sense to help make an informed decision. This is not about saying other religious paths are equally valid. It is about us learning how to love our neighbors as ourselves out of reverence for Christ! The wisdom to know the difference.

Today we remember September 11, 2001. As Bishop Easterling wrote yesterday Remembering is a sacred act that bears witness to the indelible moments in our lives. Through the act of remembering, we make meaning, hold space, recall traditions and give reverence to experiences almost too precarious or precious for words. We have told stories – we have and will pray. We will remember with hope. Remembering is part of the liturgy of life. We recall the events of September 11th, as though it were yesterday; people rushing to exit buildings, rescue workers rushing into buildings to save lives with the great possibility of losing their lives in the process. Buildings fell and lives were broken. The world as we knew it would never be the same again.  

We remember the victims, the heroes, and the stories. We remember the families who lost loved ones. We remember where we were and what we were doing on the ill-fated day. Remembering rekindles sorrow, anger and a deep sense of loss. It also, hopefully, rekindles a spirit to make our world like Christ. Memory is a gift that connects us with not just the past, but with all people and feelings that are an integral part of our soul.

But we hold on to more than memory. We have hope! Despite all the devastating evidence to the contrary, hope is that we are known, each one of us, by name, and that out of the burning moments of our lives, Christ will call us by our name to life.Hope that into the secret grief and pain and bewilderment we share, Christ will come to heal and to save. Hope is personal and comforts our wounds, and it is also communal and draws us to serve with all of God’s family.

On 9-11, in the buildings and planes, people acted and connected like Christ would want us to, assisting people and putting others before themselves. We prayerfully remember the heroes, those who lost their lives and the families who lost loved ones, and we know that Christ will come to heal and to save. As we remember 9-11, let us all commit to be heroes of hope, to be healers of despair and to bravely step forward in a divisive world and be the witness of the living Christ. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, / Courage to change the things I can, / and wisdom to know the difference.”

Thanks be to God.