Word of the Week

This week, our the Epistle lesson from the lectionary took us to I Thessalonians 2: 1-8

It's a passage that we don't often hear preached in church or a book we often study in Bible classes-- but it's a passage that has a lot to say to us about the nature of ministry and what the gospel of Jesus Christ asks us to do.

It's it comes from a context by which many of us are familiar: the Apostle Paul's 2nd Missionary journey. Paul is seeking to preach the gospel to the unreached and lands in Thessalonica alongside his traveling companions Timothy and Silvanus.

And as he visits Thessalonica Paul begins with his standard operating procedure. He preaches in the synagogues. Then, either the people believe or they don't. But in the case of this particular town, the opposition to Paul's message was fierce. He quickly had to leave-- though he truly wanted to stay and nurture the new believers there.

Yet, in his absence, he writes a letter back with words of testimony and instructions. Saying words such as this in chapter 2 of his first letter:

"As you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition." 

Or in other words church: I want you to know that I was faithful to preach the Word of God to you, even though I faced opposition doing so.

In a couple of days, we'll mark as the church Reformation Day-- the movement that started with Martin Luther holding the church accountable.  And as we mark this occasion, it's a day to remember that sometimes what God needs most from followers of Jesus-- both individually and collectively is to call into question the ways that the culture has watered down our faith. And to stand and proclaim the gospel-- even when it is unpopular.

But as I began to think about the context in which I would preach this text-- a gathered community of believers in Oklahoma-- I wondered what in the world do we know about persecution for our faith here?

We live in a very Christian society.

Just last week, I was at the gym and noticed the Christian radio blasting from the speakers. I asked a staff member why, for I didn't know that this was a religious gym. He replied, "Oh everybody in Oklahoma likes Christian music right?"

We live in a place where there are churches galore on almost every street corner. Every flavor at your doorstep!

We live in a place where celebrating Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter bring us no ill will. In fact, our children get off these days at school.

So what about declaring "the gospel in spite of great opposition" as Paul speaks of? How do we do this?

The last time I read the gospel though, the message of Jesus was always about standing with those who are ignored, those who are marginalized and those who may be different from the norm. So who are these people in our context?

It's no surprise to say that Muslims/ Christian relations in Oklahoma are at an all time low.

After the brutal workplace murder last month of  Colleen Hufford in Moore, OK by an alleged man with extremist Muslim views-- all Muslims in our area have grown to have targets on their back as if the actions of one spoke for all.

In fact soon after this horrible murder, OK Representative John Bennett said that Muslims in our country were like a "cancer that needed to be cut out of American society." And many agreed with him.

Some with similar views began making threatening calls to local mosque leadership, sending hate mail and warning children not to attend school in their traditional dress. One group calling themselves "Patriot Pastors" even organized hate rallies at a Baptist Church in Edmond, OK.

But, there are other voices in this conversation-- other voices who believe the Christian message is one that always begins in love.

Many of these have come from  ministers like these from this church standing beside Muslims who are a part of CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations).

But this is the story I most want to tell you:

There's a group of Oklahoma University students who began organizing recently to say that all people of this state are not hateful toward our Muslim neighbors. They began asking fellow students to sign a petition of solitary with Muslims. The university president even signed!

But then they took their "solidarity" one step further-- they began organizing students, faculty and other area pastors to attend Friday Prayers at Oklahoma City's mosque. They wanted to show in person that acceptance stronger than prejudice.

I can't imagine what some of their parents and relatives must have thought when they found out.

But yet they did it, in spite of the opposition to come as Paul speaks about.

And I'm so glad they did, even if their small and courageous act didn't make the headlines on the news. Isn't this what the gospel is all about? Even if we have disagreements, God never wants us to be hateful.

The reformers long ago didn't ask the church to change to be static. No. They reformed so that the church could continue to reform.

So I ask you, in your community what reformation is the Spirit asking you to make?

As for me here in Oklahoma, I want to find ways to stand shoulder to shoulder with my Muslim neighbors so the extremist voices aren't the only ones we hear!

Yesterday, I got this email from the ADAMS Center (All Dulles Area Mulism Society) in Sterling, Virginia of which Washington Plaza Baptist is a friend. As you might remember last January, Kevin and I traveled to Israel in support and friendship of Imam Magid of ADAMS.

What troubles me most about this email is that the state of religion in our world in general is that this email needed to be sent at all. We assume that every Muslim is the same, that every Jew is the is same, and that every Christian is the same. And, thus, when one Jew, Christian or Muslim acts up, all people of that religion are to blame.  I am proud to have friends in these faiths and others and support all well-meaning religious devotees . And, I want to add my name to the list of those who love and support my Muslim friends.

Washington Plaza Baptist along with Oakbrook Church and Northern Hebrew Congregation will be hosting an Interfaith meeting, talking about the book, The Faith Club, on January 18th at 7 pm. Our friends at ADAMS have agreed to host. It will be a great chance to continue to grow in friendship and peace so that more of these emails don't need to be sent in the future!

In the Name of God, The Compassionate, The Merciful

The All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) condemns the terrorist crimes against humanity in the Christmas Day attacks on  Christians Churches in Madalla, Jos, Kano, Damaturu and Gadaka in Nigeria.  Our hearts, thoughts and profound sympathies are with all the victims of these horrific acts, and with their families.   We urge the Nigerian government to take all measures to prosecute all those responsible for these heinous crimes, swiftly and to the fullest measure.   We pray for peace between the Muslim and Christian Community in Nigeria, and must work together to help bring about that peace, and an end to terrorism, extremism and conflict.

We are especially troubled by these events since ADAMS had in October hosted an Interfaith event featuring two Nigerian interfaith icons, Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye, two former Nigerian militia leaders turned peace-makers who have spent several years trying to bring an end to such warfare and conflicts in their home country (http://www.adamscenter.org/announcements/The__Imam__and__the__Pastor)

"It is a sad day for all people when a simple act of worship or community celebration is marked by violence and innocent deaths", said Imam Magid, ADAMS' Executive Director.  "We therefore ask all Muslim community members and organizations in Nigeria to lend support to the families who lost loved ones during these attacks, and we urge American Muslims to join them in praying that God may ease the suffering of all those affected by this terrible tragedy."

As Islam holds the human soul in high esteem, we consider any attack against innocent human beings to be a grave sin.  ADAMS has consistently and clearly stated that those who commit acts of terror, murder and cruelty in the name of Islam are not only destroying innocent lives, but are also betraying the values of the faith they claim to represent.  No injustice done to Muslims can ever justify the massacre of innocent people, and no act of terror will ever serve the cause of Islam.  ADAMS and all its members therefore repudiate and dissociate ourselves from any Muslim group or individual who commits such brutal and un-Islamic acts.  We refuse to allow our faith to be held hostage by the criminal actions of a tiny minority acting outside the teachings of both the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad, Peace Be Upon Him.
Rizwan Jaka
Board Member & Interfaith/Government/Media Committee Co-Chair, All Dulles Area Muslim Society(ADAMS)