Our neighbor George recently commented that the Christian church season of Lent offers us the opportunity to take a critical look at ourselves in light of the Gospel's messages of sacrifice and love.

In agreement, I said a passage of Scripture that I find meaningful is: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me" (Psalm 51.10 NRSV). But one must go a little further to these related verses, George added: "for you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." (51.16-17).


As we examine ourselves we must take a wider view and see some of the issues that face our society in light of "a broken spirit." Let me share a trinity of my concerns.

My first Lenten "wider view" concerns the thousands of migrants or refugees who are trying to escape conflict, persecution, human trafficking and sexual exploitation. As believers we share not only compassion, but also some Biblical responsibilities for them. The Hebrew Scriptures remind us "the alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall have the alien as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God" (Leviticus 19.34).

The problem, I pointed out, is that many — people of faith as well — feel that terrorists might be included in any groups of refugees that we accept and therefore compassion is secondary to security. National security is important, but we cannot use the security issue to override humanitarian compassion. There must be a way to weed out those who would cause terror in our midst while giving safe haven to those who truly want it. There is only one God who has nurtured each one of us. We are family, whether we like it or not — sometimes strange family members but family nonetheless.

The second "wider view" concerns our relationship to those of the Islamic faith. The other day he saw a bumper sticker with symbols of major world religions that spelled out "Coexist." Is that possible? Religious faith has been a powerful resource in doing good in our world. At the same time, the way some so-called religious people interpret their holy Scriptures and practice their faith has not only been destructive but deadly to anyone who disagrees.

I admit I am troubled, he went on, by the way some Muslims interpret the Koran as spiritual justification for killing those who do not practice their faith. Or better yet, the way they put their interpretation of Scripture into practice. Or use their faith interpretation to make women second-class people. On the other hand, we must develop some form of religious and social dialogue not only to better understand one another, but to stop demonizing those we disagree with. I believe that politics both national and international has used religion not to worship God but to extend its own interests. We are in this together. We must find a way to live together even if we believe that the religious faith we hold is right and others are misguided, even wrong.

The third "wider-view" concerns attainable health care for all Americans. The Christian faith in America was one of the first groups to start hospitals and nursing care. Good health care should be a right for everyone, rich or poor. There is no reason that conservatives and liberals cannot come together in some way to develop a national health program for all. We like to think that our health care system provides adequately for all, but in actuality millions of our people, especially the poor, women, children and those with mental health issues, often fall between the cracks. Preventive health care has been promoted as one answer to the growing cost of medical care. But those who live at the edges of society who need a wellness approach to their health are the very ones who cannot afford it.

The 40 days of Lent offer us a scriptural opportunity to take a critical look at ourselves in light of the Gospel. We are called to give up those things that are destructive in our own lives. They also offer the opportunity to take on new opportunities for those around us. The choice is ours.

Let the dialogue continue. I only ask that you think on these things.

The Rev. Dr. Wm. Louis "Lou" Piel is pastor of Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Finksburg and can be reached at julo1@verizon.net.