Father Mark, Sermons

Acceptance and Tolerance

Thanks Moms for feeding us in so many ways….

Happy Mother’s Day!  I was asked to address the subjects of acceptance and tolerance.  Mothers practice acceptance and tolerance a lot.  I will begin with a personal story.  God has a habit of playing tricks on us—not out of meanness but because God likes to reveal our inconsistencies to us so that we might be made whole.

During my venture into bi-vocational ministry, in 2001, my first employment outside of the church was with Child Protective Services in Ft. Worth.  I can’t begin to tell you how much I didn’t like it, but as all in experiences when you’re forced to swallow medicine we don’t like such as castor oil, we plug our noses, gulp and take it because it’s good for us.  It was good for me as I learned much. I also learned much about myself.  It doesn’t take long for a CPS caseworker to develop a sense of what we call being jaded, against those who abuse or neglect their children. 

My initial positive attitude to be accepting didn’t take long to wither into tolerance and then to border on intolerance.  We had to guard against intolerance because then we would no longer be able to offer enough acceptance to help parents who were abusive or neglectful.  Our first responsibility was to protect the child which for me involved many sleepless nights wondering if anything I was doing was making any difference.  

I didn’t last long at CPS—few do, looking to work at a place that was better suited for my gifts.  Problem solved.  So I thought.  Until years later in Tennessee. 

I worked with many abused children and adults as a therapist.  But for the first time, what walked through my door were a few adults who were perpetrators of child abuse or neglect.   Right there the dragon of my intolerance awakened from the grave. 

I hit the wall of my intolerance.  If I were to offer them any hope of recovery in their mental health, I had to see and accept the individual as a person.  Intolerance gets in the way of accepting others because we fear the threat of personal physical, emotional or spiritual injury. The stories of others remind us of our real or imagined counter-stories.

So God and I had a face to face about what was it within me that blocked my ability to accept these persons as human beings who could not accept themselves.  I had to come to terms with my belief that the source of the suffering was not redeemable as verified by statistics.   I came face to face with my doubt in God’s ability to heal the perpetrators.  If I were to accept God into this part of my life, I had to come face to face with my own beliefs and memories—to realize they were memories and they no longer had power in my life.  That wasn’t fun, nor was it easy.  But it freed me of many fears.

All of this to say is that acceptance and tolerance are totally dependent on the health of one’s spiritual life.  Acceptance and Tolerance are interrelated.

Acceptance is receptivity—a receptivity to God yields a life reflecting the nature of God.  God’s acceptance of us pays it forward to us accepting others as God accepts us. 

Tolerance, not found in Hebrew, has Latin origins meaning to bear, or to endure—more of a strained acceptance.   Intolerance indicates a personal reaction to something within ourselves triggered by another, making it difficult to accept the person. 

I learned that there was a difference in at least tolerating or at best accepting the person while not tolerating the act.   Jesus’ life modeled the saying: “hate the sin but love the sinner.   Jesus is the way to acceptance.  Paul Tillich summarized the gospel into three words:  You are accepted. 

Jesus’ words, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except by me,” has been misunderstood and taken out of context into a legalistic frame of mind, similar to the Jewish leaders of his day.  

The words, “I am,” in Hebrew, ehyeh asher ehyeh, is the name of God, meaning, “I am that I am” or  “I am the cause of what is.”  We might also add: “I am what is happening to you,” as God is always moving about within us.

The Aramaic word, urha, means path, or way—with the image of the Father passing on to the son his nature of what he knows—his way of being, much like how a father would pass down a trade, to the son, who later passes it on to his son.   On Mother’s Day, think of all the loving care, values, teachings, skills and traditions you offer your children and that were offered to you by your mother.  The Father’s beloved nature, is passed to and through the son—to us.

Jesus is preparing a “place” for us.  My original images for a place as a child, were thinking of beautiful rooms in a magnificent manor.  Of course, the mansion about which Jesus speaks refers to his finding his home within us.   Life is a course in home remodeling—the rooms are within us.  We are constantly being reformed in the image of God.  We’re in a lifelong apprenticeship. 

The term, B’SHEMI means ‘in my name.’  To ask in Jesus’ name means “according to my method, my way of doing things.”  For example Jesus’ teaching and his way is modeled in the beatitudes—defined in the Aramaic:

“Blessed are the humble, those who long for healing, those who have softened their rigidity, those who hunger and thirst for spiritual stability, those who are merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers; those who forgive and express loving kindness. 

We receive these qualities from God. We can’t just “act” this way.  Our will needs to be inspired—even transformed. 

Inspiration means to be breathed into—the same dynamic Jesus breathes into the disciples to receive Holy Spirit—the breath of God’s life coming into us while exhaling His life to others. We learn His breath, His method:  to inhale God and not hold our breath. His breath, his method instead of our breath, our method.  I learned that over 95% of the population do not breathe correctly when I learned contemplative prayer—due to breath restrictions. We were created to receive and offer the Breath of God—his life, way and Being.

God’s acceptance has always been here for us.  The same accepting Spirit moves though us with the acceptance of others.  Acceptance doesn’t mean we agree with what others do, condone it or do not distance ourselves from their actions.  

Acceptance reveals that the love of God moves through us as an offering to others—offering the Kingdom to others as Jesus makes his home within us.

May you know the acceptance of God and practice it this day more fully. Today, you moms especially.

Fr. Mark