Texas and Oklahoma—where I was reared—are often thought of as the “Bible Belt.” Tulsa—with its Oral Roberts University and a number of Bible Colleges—has been called “the buckle on the Bible Belt.”   As an undergraduate, I remember reading from one of Billy Graham’s books: You are doomed, damned, crushed and bound for hell. That condemnation did not accord well with the more liberal churches in which I grew up.

Nor did the proclamations of Fundamentalist Preachers:   “All have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.” Rom. 3:23. “There is none righteous; no, not one.” Rom. 3:10.

Waiting in our hotel room in Los Angeles where I was to preach later in the morning in 1973 at the great First Congregational Church, Bev and I watched Bob Harringrton on TV.   Harringtron ws the self described “Chaplain of Bourbon St.” He ordered the director to “pan in” on his face until it totally filled the screen.   “This is the face of a SINNER!” he proclaimed. No doubt it was.

Those of that ilk are correct.   We are all sinners.   So what?   I do the best I can most of the time; yet, I am pitifully aware of my faults.   And you may well be aware of my faults that I don’t see.   You may well be aware of your own imperfections and those of your fellow churchmen.   Mostly, however, I am aware of the magnificent Godliness I see in so many of you, day by day.

I remember a country song whose lyrics went: You always hurt the one you love; the one you wouldn’t hurt at all.” Surely that is your story and mine.   Within the past few days, I caught myself ripping into one whom I dearly love.

In his old age, Billy Graham has given up pssing out condemnations.   Now, he uses his considerable influence to build “community.”   Community literally means “with oneness.”   Our job is to bless one another; encourage one another, tolerate one another, and to live together with appreciation in community.

Thank you for forgiving me and for forgiving one another.   Thank you for blessing one another.   Thank you for praying for one another.   Thank you for allowing bubbling streams of hospitality and appreciation to flow from each other person.   Christ’s gift to each of us for blessing each other is the capacity to love and forgive.   In community of appreciation of one another in this place…we are living in the joyful Holy Spirit!   And, every day, our lives are beter than the day before.

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