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3901 Davis Blvd., two blocks east of Airport Road

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3901 Davis Blvd., east of Airport Road

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A challenge for divisive times

Romans 13:8-14

Sunday Sermon

The Rev. Dr. Thomas A. Thoeni
Rector

Sep. 6, 2020

What you are about to hear is the fifth draft of this sermon. Rarely have I struggled so much to write a sermon.

I started preaching and teaching before I was ordained, before I even went to seminary. If you were to peruse the hundreds of sermons I have given over those years I suppose you could come up with categorizations.

There are sermons that teach. There are sermons that comfort. There are what I call “Household Sermons” that deal with specific issues my congregation may be facing, usually they seem to revolve around financial issues.

Then there are a handful of sermons that are the most difficult to write and the most difficult to deliver because they address current topics that are tangled with emotions and anxieties and deeply felt convictions. 

Today’s sermon is one such sermon. So, I ask that you listen graciously and with as much diligence as it took me to gather these thoughts and offer them to all of us however imperfectly,for our greater good.


Years ago I read an anecdote that I have used numerous times in teaching and in conversations. It was about two members of Congress who were polar opposites when it came to political issues. They were known to be formidable opponents of each other and they argued forcefully and repeatedly over legislation.

But they also attended a weekly prayer meeting together. One week a reporter noticed them sitting next to each other, speaking civilly and peaceably. This puzzled the reporter.

After the meeting he approached one of the Congressmen and asked, “Every time I have seen you two on the floor you have been opponents.In session you are enemies, how is it that here you are friends and supporters of each other?”

The Congressman replied simply, “At the foot of the cross the ground is level.”

I used to tell that story. I don’t anymore because, sadly, I cannot imagine it rings true to any of our ears in our current times.It sounds like a quaint tale from ages ago. This is because division, not unity, is the dynamic of our present time.

This flies in the face of what we read in Scripture, especially this morning. In the Gospel of Matthew we have spelled out for us a sensitive way of dealing with conflict. A close reading of this passage shows that the issue is not so much what is right and what is wrong but healing and unity.

In today’s Epistle reading Paul tells us clearly that, “love is the fulfilling of the law.” This, of course, hearkens back to Jesus’ commandment in John 
where at the Last Supper he tells us to “Love one another.”

Yes, you could argue that all three of these passages speak about our relationships with fellow believers. But do not be fooled into thinking that God is not concerned with how we treat others outside the fold of the Church. The beautiful and beloved parable of the Good Samaritan alone can counter that thought.

What have we become when division and demonizing others is the norm rather than forbearance, graciousness and the seeking the best for all of us and not just for ourselves?

We are 58 days away from our next presidential election. I predict that in the next 58 days we will see some of the most disturbing examples of division and discord that we have seen in our lives.

Make no mistake, I don’t care if your bumper sticker says, “Build Back Better.” 
I don’t care if your yard sign says, “Make America Great Again.” I don’t care what your party affiliation is. I am not your political adviser. I am a priest. It is not my place to tell others how to vote. In fact, it is illegal for me to do so. It is my place, and my sacred responsibility, to issue the call to live as Christians, as people who love their neighbors.

What does that look like just now? I have one challenge for us. It is a small challenge and it will not change the world but it could bring a change to our souls and that is where world changing events start.

We are 58 days away from the election. I call each of us on each of those days 
to once, just once, pause and think before we retweet or forward an email or post on Facebook. 

Pause and consider whether the sentiment you are sharing is one of love, one of reconciliation, one of healing, one that expresses the best of our faith and the best of our country’s aspirations as stated in the Declaration of Independence, 

 “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually
 pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

Pause and consider these things and if they are hurtful, insulting, or divisive 
don’t send them forth.

What I am asking is, 

to paraphrase Paul’s word to the Philippians,

 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, 
 whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, 
 whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence 
 and if there is anything worthy of praise, 

post about these things, 
tweet about these things, 
resend examples of these things.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: 
Guide the people of the United States in the election of officials and representatives; that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [The Book of Common Prayer, 1979, page 822.]

3901 Davis Blvd., Naples, Florida 34104   239-643-0197   Office hours 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday
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