Nancy was recently contacted by a stranger who is helping one of Nancy's distant relatives work on this relative's family tree. She was happy to find Nancy on Facebook, as she knew she was part of this family tree and was hoping Nancy might be able to answer some questions and help complete the "Tree." From time to time, I find Nancy peering over her ancestors, trying to make sense of the various branches and dynamics. It has been interesting for her to have answers to questions she long wondered about.

There has been work done on my Family Tree on my mother's side, but not my father's side. His parents came across from the Ukraine in the early 1900s. I was told they never talked much about the "old country." Undoubtedly, they left to escape deplorable conditions and found it too painful to talk about.

Our ancestry is very fascinating. It is sometimes surprising to learn of our roots. Most of us are from "somewhere else."

When the children of Israel were about to enter the Promised Land, following their 40-year sojourn through the wilderness, God reminded them that, even as they lived on the land, they would not be the only ones there—that there would be travelers, strangers and aliens among them. Some would simply pass through the land, while others might decide to settle among the people.

In all cases, God, speaking through Moses, taught the Israelites the importance of welcoming the stranger and loving one's neighbor: "When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt." (Leviticus 19:33) As God reminded God's children, "You know the heart of an alien for you were aliens in the land of Egypt." (Exodus 23:9) In God's world there is no place for hateful behavior; there is no place for divisive talk, much less violence against another person, because the person differs from us.

As Jesus often does, He reinforced God's lesson with his simple prescription we call the Golden Rule: "In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you." (Matthew 7:12) In one of the apocryphal books, this advice is put in such simple terms: "Judge your neighbor's feelings by your own, and in every matter be thoughtful." (Sirach 31:15)

That's good advice for us as we begin a new school year and start a new program year at our church. We are a diverse group of people with different backgrounds and ancestry, but we share a common faith, all of us are the body of Christ.

We can disagree without being disagreeable. We can (we must) treat each other with respect, dignity and kindness.

Peter Scholtes' 1966 song, "They'll Know We Are Christians by Our Love" states:

We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand,
We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand,
And together we'll spread the news that God is in our land,

We will work with each other, we will work side by side,
We will work with each other, we will work side by side,
And we'll guard human dignity and save human pride,

And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love;
yes, they'll know we are Christians by our love.

I am constantly in awe, and constantly giving thanks, for the blessing of serving the Body of Christ known as the Sewickley United Methodist Church, a congregation filled with God's children from varied places and backgrounds who are willing to work together for the furtherment of God's Kingdom.

May we take each other's hand as we step into a new church season, as we strive together to be about God's work! 

Pastor Russel