Tag: America

A Rainbow of Hope

169c6430c0941b6d00f7885d2bb1d7f0--noah-ark-art-partyGenesis 9:8-17
1 Peter 3:18-22

Noah’s story is a strange one. I usually hear it in one of two ways. The first way is the cute animal ark story. In this, a zoo of animals ride a boat with little smiling Noah under a rainbow. You see it on nursery walls and stitched on baby blankets. Aww – giraffes and lions and zebras! It’s the story we sung for our children’s chat today.

The other way I hear Noah’s tale is as an awful story about God’s wrath and how terrible the Old Testament is. In this version, one day, God lost God’s temper, and so in a fit of rage, drowned every man, woman, child and even all the animals. Then God felt bad, and so like any successful abuser, lured God’s victims back with gifts and apologies until God lost God’s anger again in a generation or two.

Both of these versions of the Noah story the Bible doesn’t contain. The one handed to us to much more nuanced, and can’t be summarized neatly into either a story of wrath or of cuteness.

The story begins with how the world has gotten worse and worse. Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and were banned from the perfect garden. Then their son Cain murdered his brother Abel. And Cain’s son murdered another man. And chaos and violence and rape spread across the face of the earth as humans did.

Genesis 6:5 “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” Humans had become evil, all the time. The following verse reads, “The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.”

It doesn’t read that God was wrathful and angry. Not that God wanted to punish humanity. But rather, God regretted. God was sorry. God’s heart was heavy and troubled. God was sad. Not angry.

Genesis 6:13-14a – “So God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark.” God sought out the man who still honored God, who was not 100% evil, and before the evil could overcome him and his family, God told this guy God’s plan to save the world from absolute evil. God will make a new creation… but will save humanity, imperfect as it is, and give it a fresh slate to try again.

Genesis 6:17b-19: “Everything on earth will perish. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you.” Everything will die, and the evil will be washed away. But the seed of life that is still good – Noah’s family, these animals – will be released back into the world to cover it with goodness instead of evil. And a covenant — a promise — will be made. God says God will make the covenant, but does not tell Noah at this time what it will be.

So Noah builds the ark. And God God’s self seals him and the animals and Noah’s family into the ark (Genesis 7:16b). And we’re told that for 40 days it rained; and for 150 days the world was flooded. And still longer it took until the waters were down enough that Noah was able to leave the ark. Remember he send out a dove, and it comes back without anything. Noah knows there is no where to land, nothing growing. Later the dove is sent out and it comes with an olive branch – a sign today of peace! – and lastly the dove is released and it doesn’t come back. It has gone on to live in the recreated world.

And God tells Noah to leave the ark then, Genesis 8:17 “Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.” Does that sound familiar? In the Creation stories, God tells the world to do the same: be fruitful and multiply. Here, in this new creation, God tells them the same.

Then Noah makes an altar, and thanks God. God smells the cooking meat on the altar and says, “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.”

In other words – God knows we’re sinful. From childhood we start lying, harming ourselves and harming each other. God knows this – but accepts it. God will not destroy the world because of the sin of humanity. Whenever God intervenes again, it will be in a different way. God will recreate and redeem us from evil — the evils of our own hearts even — in a different way.

God tells Noah that we may eat all plants and all animals now – but that God will demand an accounting of our lives. And will demand an accounting of our animals’ lives. How have we treated one another? How have we been stewards of the earth and siblings to each other?

Noah’s ark story ends with God’s rainbow and God saying, Genesis 9:12-16 “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

I’ve heard it said before that the rain bow is like a bow — what you use with an arrow. And when a bow is hung up, like a rain bow, it is a sign of peace. God’s bow – God’s violence – is hung up. A new way of dealing with evil on earth will have to be used, now.

I’ve also heard of rainbows being like a bridge, connecting heaven and earth. It symbolizes how we affect one another. What happens in heaven changes things on earth, and what happens on earth changes things in heaven. God promises to keep that in mind, and to be with us working together.

In our communion, we ask God to make God’s church — which is all of us — a rainbow of hope in an uncertain world. When there are clouds, and doubts, and flooding rains… we are the rainbow that says this will not last forever. There is still hope. Even in the most violent, most awful, most terrifying situations… what is will not always be. We can keep hope.

We know humanity needed saved again. And again and again. And God intercedes in and finds new ways to address the evil.

Consider Moses. Just like Noah, water is used to save Moses from evil, but the water doesn’t cover the earth. But just like Noah, Moses is saved by an ark. (That’s the word used for his little basket!) And like Noah, Moses is given a new covenant… this one not sealed with a rainbow but written on stone tablets and seal with blood of an animal and put in — here’s that word again! — an ark. This ark is to carry the tablets and be the movable house for God.

And consider Jesus. Like Noah, and like Moses, water plays a major part in Jesus’ life. The water of baptism. The water turned into wine. The water Jesus stills and walks upon. There is no ark in Jesus’ story, and Jesus doesn’t refer to himself as an ark… but he is, in a way. He is protecting, carrying, humanity from evil and into the newest creation of God. Jesus does tell us the newest covenant is sealed not with stones or animals or rainbows – but with Jesus’ own blood: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”

When God saves us from evil the next time around, we are saved through the covenant in Jesus, and sealed with the water of baptism and Holy Spirit.

The first letter of Peter writes to the struggling persecuted church to remember their baptisms. It’s not a bath for dirt. It does not make you stop sinning. It is an appeal to God to remember our covenant, and an appeal to us to remember our covenant. We are one people, many persons, but one people – belonging to one God. And it is together we’re all going to make it. Even those people who died in Noah’s days, says Peter, after disobeying God all their lives, even they – although dead – are offered to repent, apologize, and return to God through Christ.

In other words, says Peter, there’s hope. Even for the dead, there is hope of new life, new creation, new reconciliation and relationship with each other and with God. This is the covenant of Christ. A covenant of hope.

You don’t hope for things you have. You hope for what you don’t have. You don’t hope for sun on a day that is sunny. You hope for sun on rainy days. Rainbows of hope are visible only with storm clouds. Christ’s resurrection hope is only possible if Christ has died, and if we, too, physically die.

The hope is that the story of Noah doesn’t end with an ark. It continues. It ends with a rainbow, a promise, a new covenant.

The hope of Christ is that the tomb is empty. This symbol – a cross – is not just a reminder of our mortality, and of Christ’s death – but it is an EMPTY cross. Nobody hangs here. This is a cross of hope. There is more. The story continues. There is a resurrection.

And we need this hope, now. Our country is deeply divided. We’re told by our Federal Agents that this division, which has always been there, was exacerbated by another country.

The evil inclinations of our hearts were always there. The inclinations to distrust one another, to fear one another, to HATE one another. Those inclinations were incited, and we fell for it with glee. With glee, people passed on hate messages. With glee, we heard only the news we wanted to hear. With glee, we believed only what we wanted to believe. And with glee, we turned our own neighbors, our own brothers and sisters, into our enemies.

Lent is a time of making amends. A time of reflecting on our own sins, and building bridges – rainbows of hope – connecting ourselves to each other.

Lent is a time to reflect – what messages are we sharing? Are we seeking common ground and seeking the common good, or are we focusing on our differences, and focusing on just assisting ourselves?

Lent is a time to pray for forgiveness. A time to remember who we have issue with, and seek them out, to offer the olive branch of peace.

Jesus told us that a house divided soon falls in on itself.

Rebuild your house.

Rebuild your burned bridges.

The storm is happening, but we can be the rainbow of hope in this uncertain world.

Amen.

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Caretakers of Love & Knowledge

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Mark 1:21-28

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I like reading websites full of weird facts, stories, and research. This week I fell down the internet rabbit hole of the Smithsonian Magazine online. I read about the Herero Genocide. Never heard of it? Me either until now. But it was where Germany perfected genocide, and tested out the methods used in the Holocaust.

 

The same arguments of social Darwinism and cleansing the world of inferior ethnicities appear in period debates about the Herero and the Jews, Rroma, and gays. The same methods of collecting into death camps and using the captives for labor, their bodies for experiments, and their bodies for profit occur. Indeed – when you look at the names of people involved in the Herero Genocide… those same names appear in the Holocaust.

 

So who are the Herero? They are a cattle herding people in West Africa. They joined with their neighbors in the early 1900s to try to expel the Imperial Germans who were raping their women and girls, stealing their cattle, and taking their land. The Germans debated what to do about the Herero problem, and their general decided the issue the decree,

 

“Any Herero found inside the German frontier, with or without a gun or cattle, will be executed. I shall spare neither women nor children. I shall give the order to drive them away and fire on them. Such are my words to the Herero people.”

 

Their neighbors the Nama and the Herero themselves had their wells poisoned. People were driven into deserts. People were fed to sharks. Those that were captured were turned into labor slaves, or “comfort” slaves, or used as human guinea pigs in the name of medicine and science.

 

Why were these articles coming across my screen this week? Because the grandchildren of the few Herero who survived approached the American Museum of Natural History in New York and asked for hundreds of bodies. The largest collection of bones the museum owns are the bodies of the Herero who were sold for science and curiosity after the victims were murdered. The bones had been cleaned of flesh and muscle a hundred years ago with glass shards given to the still-living captives in the camps. They had to cut apart, desiccate, and then sell their loved ones away. These grandchildren came to ask for the bodies so the Herero story could be told, and funerals finally held. The museum and the Herero are in talks now about how best to tell the story and honor the dead.

 

You and I, everyone, we like to say we’re an advanced society.

 

The Herero, and later the Jews and Rroma and others, were considered ‘lesser’ societies. Backwards. “Sh*thole” societies, if you listen to some American leaders.

 

But it is our advanced society that has perfected mass murder. And recently perfected it.

 

Rev. Fred Craddock uncomfortably writes that “not believing in demons has hardly eradicated evil in our world.”

 

Evil is real. Evil is happening. Genocide is STILL happening today. What I described? Change the dates and the names, and it is happening in Dafur this very moment and 250,000 have died. It is happening in Syria, and Ethiopia, in the Congo and in Burma. ((genocidewatch.org))

 

We don’t really believe in demons much. When we read Jesus expelled a demon from the man in the crowd, we think ‘well, they thought it was a demon. But it really was just mental illness.’ Or Epilepsy. Or some other thing. Demon possession isn’t real.

 

Demon possession doesn’t need to be real. Evil is real. Evil is happening. And evil doesn’t care if we believe in it or not.

 

In Jesus’ encounter, we see what evil does. “People who suffer the effects of being occupied or “possessed” by demons lose their ability to control their movements and their voices; either they are immobilized or compelled to move destructively” ((Rev. Dr. Cynthia Briggs Kittredge))

 

The Herero were possessed by demons. Demons who were driving them into deserts, death camps, and slavery. Demons who stole their movements and their voices.

 

The soldiers who listened to their leaders were possessed by demons. They were immobilized, and thought they had no other choice than to follow orders. They were scared to speak up, scared to look weak, scared to lose their own lives.

 

The leaders were possessed by demons. They dreamed of money and cattle and land. They feared the natives. They were compelled to move destructively.

 

Evil has a way of being ‘the norm’ and that is when we get possessed – taken over – and lose our freedom and agency. Sometimes we give this up willingly. It is easier to say you did wrong because everyone else was doing it. Sometimes freedom and agency is stolen from us. And sometimes we don’t even realize we’re captives.

 

My voice is stolen when others speak at me, instead of listening. Who listens to you? Right now, plenty in my local and national government are speaking to the world for me, but it is not my message – a Christian message of love, tolerance, forgiveness and welcome. My voice is stolen and I am possessed.

 

Immobilized. Are we immobilized? We feel powerless, feel unable to really change things. Feel tired. Feel helpless. Feel as through there is too much pain in the world for us to actually do anything… we’re demon possessed.

 

The norm is evil. The norm is we’re compelled to be destructive. To ourselves – harming our health, our communities, our peace. Destructive. To others. Harming the balance of the world, and damaging the world whether we do nothing or we act. Compelled to destroy just by being.

 

Consider the lights here – we have clean electric energy, but it is only clean for us because down on the Ohio River are people living in the shadow of a coal plant, breathing its smoke, and taking the toxins for us.

 

We are captives to demons. Captive to evil systems.

 

When Jesus appears in the synagogue, it is a normal worship day like any other. People are there to hear the hope that their present world doesn’t have to be this way.

 

Jesus appears in as normal of a place as if he were to walk into Saint Michael’s right now. And those in the crowd were just like us here today – gathered in hope, in prayer, and carrying on the love and knowledge of God.

 

We’re caretakers. Safe guarding a treasure for generation to generation. We share with all our Christian, Jewish, and Muslim siblings the knowledge that God has revealed God’s self to us, and the way the world is — with present evil – with entrapping systems that bring us to violence after violence – this is not how things HAVE to be.

 

Today, just as that time 2000 years ago, we’re gathering in hope, while aware so much destruction has occurred and is occurring. But we have hope. We have love. We have knowledge God is working with us and will not let the divine dream die.

 

Whenever I think about hope, and Jesus, I like the image of a new sprout from the root of Jesse. The idea is that the tree, the lineage, of King David (Jesse’s son) has been cut down by the ancient Romans. But God will cause a new tree to grow out of the roots, out of a cousin or distant relative. It’s why the New Testament spends a lot of time tracing Jesus’ genealogy. Those are his roots back to Jesse to fulfill the prophecy.

 

You may picture a grand oak or maple.

 

I picture in my head a hybrid poplar. Okay, not any hybrid poplar but THE hybrid poplar named The 4th of July Tree. Picture a mulberry with poplar leaves and you’ve got the look of this tree. This little foot long stick was planted on year on the 4th of July, and by the 4th the following year, it was now two feet large. The third year it was up to my shoulders. The fifth year it now spread about nine feet high and wide. Year five it was a story large, and year six two stories large. In six short years it went from a foot to taller than the farm house. In six short years its roots went from its hole fifty feet away from the house to coming up through the house toilet. We cleared out the roots, but year seven… once again they appeared in the toilet bowl.

 

You know what we had to do. The 4th of July tree had to go.

 

So my family cut it down. We stacked the wood so it would season and chopped the base of the tree to the ground so we could mow over it.

 

One week later, there was a strange patch of grass. I went out to look and found that the stump had grown eight little six-inch trees. My dad said – don’t worry – when I mow, they’ll be cut down. Sometimes trees have a little bit of energy stored up in their roots, and they come back after the main trunk is cut.

 

So he mowed.

 

And mowed all summer.

 

And every week the tree came back from its roots.

 

This really befuddled all of us. How much energy did this tree store up in its roots? How long could it keep living without leaves and sunlight?

 

In fall, we went to split wood. But the woodpile was missing. In its place was a little woods of hybrid poplars. Each and every log had not just shot up on BOTH ends with new branches, but had also placed ROOTS. Long roots grew all over the seasoned wood and tall new trees shaded the green wood.

 

Dad decided it was time to gasoline burn all this hybrid poplar.

 

The pyre over the stump burned all day long as we split wood and tossed the bad into the blaze. Inside the hybrid poplar logs and stump roasted.

 

And the following week they all sprouted up from the ashes. The following spring, new hybrid poplars appeared in the grass everywhere a branch had fallen from mowing down the tree over and over and over again.

 

How much energy did this tree have?! It’s been twenty years and my mother is still finding bits of this tree growing.

 

When I think about the root of Jesse, I think about this tree. God’s has way more energy than we can even begin to fathom. Horrible things happen – genocides, murders, possessions of evil of all kinds big and small. We mess up. We hurt ourselves. We hurt each other. We hack and chop and burn and poison the life of the world… and yet… the tree comes back.

 

The ancient people in the synagogue were waiting for the tree to grow again. Jesus said — it is growing now!

 

We modern people in the church are waiting for the tree to grow again. And Jesus tells us – it is growing now!

 

It is always growing.

 

We are the caretakers of this knowledge. It’s our job to guard it, and pass it with love to the next generation. It’s our job to look evil in the face and say ‘not today! Not ever!’ We’re to speak with the authority gifted to us to “heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners” When is the year of the Lord’s favor? Now. Immediately.

 

Paul reminds us not to get puffed up with what we know, because there is always more we don’t know. Maybe demons are real. Maybe there are many gods and many lords. There is much we don’t know… what we do know is love. And love knows us.

 

And love — God– wants the world to know it is loved.

 

And that God can raise up new beginnings even out of stones, cut down trees, and desolated people.

 

Amen.

Expected Justice, but instead, Bloodshed

Isaiah 5:1-7
Matthew 21:33-46


Isaiah writes:

For the garden of God is God’s people.
We are God’s pleasant planting of produce.
God expected us to produce justice fruits, but instead, we hurt one another.
God expected us to follow God’s ways, but instead, we made others victims.

And Jesus continues, “The kindom of God will be given to the people who produce the fruits of the kindom.”

When the religious people heard these words, they were so angry they wanted to arrest Jesus. But they were also scared.

When we hear these words, do we picture ourselves as the good vines who produce good fruit and inherit the kindom? Or do we picture ourselves as the wild vines that have forgotten God?

This week has made me think many of us have forgotten our cornerstone. We have forgotten what we are to measure our life by. And in its place is an idol called the gun.

I’m not going to advocate either extreme on this hot button issue. I’m not interested in banning all guns, or permitting all guns. I’m not interested in debating home-grown or international terrorism nor nitpicking the whys someone chooses to go on a murder rampage.

Instead, I want to talk about what is going on here, and what this means to a faithful Christian congregation. You see, I think we can produce the good fruit or the bad with guns… and it depends on our cornerstone. Depends on what we are using to guide and measure our live by.

First: What is going on here? Gun Law Scorecard ranks the states on their gun laws, deaths by guns, and the accessibility of weapons and ammunition. We get a “D” grade.

12 people die out of every 100,000 Ohioans a year due to gun shots. ((cdc.gov)) Some of these people are intentional. Having access to a gun means one is more likely to commit suicide by a gun. Some of these are intentional against other people – gun homicides. And many are accidental.

See, we permit concealed carry into daycares, airports, school buses, colleges, churches, and elementary class rooms. And you can open carry just about anywhere. But nowhere is there a requirement that you have to be TRAINED in how to use a gun. Yes, you have to be trained to have a concealed carry license. This is a good thing. But there is no training required for open carry or for gun ownership.

Common sense? Gun safety? Keeping toddlers away from guns? None of these are prerequisites for gun ownership. All you have to be is over 18, and not convicted of a violent felony or a drug felony.

This means that we hear of terrible situations where a little girl went for candy in nana’s purse, and accidentally shot herself with nana’s gun. A little boy found a gun in his parents’ room, thought it was a toy, and killed his brother. In both of these cases, no rules or laws were broke… but yet, every 63 minutes a bullet hits a child here in the USA.

A plethora of guns means a plethora, many, accidents.

Owning a gun doesn’t mean you own gun sense. But we don’t require all gun owners to go through education courses.

I know I sure never was allowed to fire the .22 growing up without an adult educating me. I was taught. But many are not.

And we as a society are not requiring gun courses of people who purchase firearms.

Also here in Ohio, we don’t require a background check on private sales. So, I – with a clean background – can buy a gun from any store, and then sell it to anyone I please. It doesn’t matter if that person I sell to has a long history of gun crimes. He or she can still legally buy the gun from me.

We also don’t permit local governments from passing gun laws… such as if Fairfield and Licking Counties decided that to sell guns in our counties, you must have a gun selling permit from the state, so that the state knows who you are selling guns to in case one of those is used in a crime. Nor would we limit how many guns are sold at once — if someone wanted to buy 50 assault rifles, (that is, rifles designed to fire rapidly, hold many bullets, designed for infantry use, and accurate at 300 yards) she could do so. And also buy all the ammunition to go with those rifles at the same time. There is no waiting period here to get guns. Just walk in — no matter how furious you are — and walk out with a gun. Will shooting the person you’re angry with seem like a good idea in three days? In Ohio, that option to cool off and think is not automatic. ((gunlawsscorecard.org)) Ohio is among the top 7 suppliers of crime guns because it is so easy to get a gun here and give it to another. In both West Virginia and Michigan, we are the number 1 supplier.

Nutshell – want to do a crime? Come to Ohio and buy your semi-automatic mass-murder assault rifle guns from flea markets. There will be no record. And if you kill everyone at the scene of the crime, no witnesses, right?

I support gun ownership. I think we need guns, especially in rural areas, for hunting and for defense. However, I do not support private ownership of military guns – guns that leave such wounds and trauma that there’s nothing left of a deer to eat. Or that shoot 500 rounds a minute, thereby killing your entire family with an accidental pull of the trigger. I support guns for fun – .22s and bbs and airsofts.

Armor piercing ammunition is not for fun and does not belong in the hands of the general public.

Bullets designed to “take down a man,” as one advertisement lauds, shouldn’t be what we’re packing. Even in self defense situations, it is not the default that we have to kill someone to be safe.

I believe, however, no gun laws will change. Time and time again, we have a mass shooting… which once was six people dead, and then 10 Amish school kids and then a whole elementary school, then a movie theatre, then a dance club, now a country music show with hundreds injured and 58 or 60 dead… and there is an outcry for change for a month or so… then we forget. Worse, we let already existing gun laws to slip or be repealed. In three months, gun lobbyists — who make their money by swaying politicians to make it easier to buy guns — will be back in local, state, and national offices donating money and promising votes if more guns are sold. In a month, there will be signs combining gun ownership with a patriotic duty, advertisements for Black Friday steep discounts so you can give the gift of “protection,” by rebranding the ability to murder hundreds in a minute as something you and I need to feel safe in our homes. Already, there are advertisements promoting gun sales.

This is the Columbus Dispatch last Thursday. Here are all the articles talking about the victims of the Las Vegas shooting, and here – published beside them – a full page advertisement for guns. ((Columbus dispatch 10-5-17)) 

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Second: what does all of this mean for us, a congregation of Christians? Rev. Susan Thistlewaite accurately states – for many of us, we worship the God Gun.

See, worship is when we give our time and attention to something. When we are devoted to it. Sacrifice and change our lives for it. Wear its images and symbols. Promotes it beliefs. Live and preach its teachings and ethics. Live and die for it.

Many people worship guns.

Time and attention. The advertisement of the Dispatch alone shows how gun sellers clamor for our time and attention, our money. The more time and attention we invest into a hobby, the harder it is to step away from the hobby and take a honest look at it. Once you are several hundred dollars – several thousand dollars – invested into guns and gun accessories, clothes, and ammunition… it gets very hard to step away and think straight about guns. All this time and attention lead to devotion.

Devotion. Am I ever willing to step back and question my loyalty to guns? If we are never willing to question gun ownership or laws, even in light of scripture calling for justice and an end of bloodshed, then the gun is more our god than the God of the world.

Sacrifice. We are paying the lives of children, elderly, men and women, sacrificing them time and time again for our Gun Idolatry. Whenever someone dies by a gun, their death is considered ‘justified’ for the ‘right to bear arms.’ Maybe our Gun God is demanding too many innocent lives. Maybe we have replaced the Commandments of God with the 2nd Amendment.

Change our lives. The Idol the Gun preaches “They Are Coming For Your Guns.” They are not and cannot. Private citizens own 79 guns for every 1 gun the government owns — this includes all cops and the military. There is no way “the government” can “come” for the USA’s guns. They may start a buy back program to have less guns on streets- but there won’t be a military vs. civilian wild west showdown. The Idol is lying. But we are changing out lives to live ready to go to war with our own country, our own neighbors and family.

Wear its images and proselytize. Do I wear signs of my god? Logos, caps, t-shirts, bumper stickers, public displays of loyalty. What facebook things are you posting? What phrases are we repeating? Do we say ‘GOD GUNS AND GUTS’ or ‘MY OTHER AUTO IS A 9MM’ or ‘I PLEAD THE 2nD’? What we publicly support, publicly advertise, we are proselytizing – attempting to make disciples out of others.

Teachings and ethics. Do the ethics of the Bible match up to the ethics we are living and preaching? “Keep honking I’m still loading” does not seem Biblical. I seem to remember the Bible says something about forgiveness and compassion. “Trespassers will be shot, survivors shot again” does not seem like the same teaching as “welcome in the stranger, for in doing so, you may unknowingly welcome in an angel.”  Helping strangers and loving one another is a different set of ethics and teachings than the ones advocated by Gun Worshipers.

The Gun Idol tells us that it is the source of our peace. An armed society is a polite society. Yet, those with guns in their cars are 44% more likely than those without guns in their cars to instigate road rage incidents… and states like our own with Stand Your Ground laws, like our own, have a 10% increase in homicides than states without such laws. Guns make people feel bolder, and more aggressive. Guns are not where our peace comes from.

Live and die for it.

The Gun God preaches “Guns Don’t Kill People – People Kill People.” Yet people with easy access to guns are much more likely to kill other people with guns. States with the highest number of gun ownership see the highest number of gun murders. In fact, it is so tied that for every 1% increase in private ownership, there is a 1% increase in firearm homicides. The Idol attempts to make itself exempt from all blame.

The Idol says keeping a gun at home keeps you safer. For every home defended by a gun – and I am in one such home – there are 7 assaults, 11 suicides, and 4 accidental shootings by guns. Half of all homes with guns and kids keep one of those guns unlocked. The gun tricks us, lies to us, and says I will only hurt others and not you and your loved ones. Having a gun about does not make us safer just by default – just because there is a gun. Guns are not our shepherd and do not guide us to green pastures.

Guns are a tool. Tools can be turned against their owners. Tools can hurt their owners. Tools are items. Objects.

Impersonal. Nameless.

Tools are not our identity.

We are the disciples of the Good Shepherd, the God of Peace, Hope, Joy and Love. We following a living God, a person, who has a relationship with us.

Not an item made by mortal hands.

Not an idol.

Who’s Country is this?

Isaiah today talks about how God planted a vineyard called Israel and loved it very much. But the vineyard refused to yield good fruits. Instead, even with all the tender care of God, it was wild and unruly and forgot God. God expected justice and righteousness from the vineyard, but got instead bloodshed and heard crying.

Jesus continues the story. He says God sent people to the vineyard to collect those good fruits – prophets with messages – but the people murdered those sent by the owner of the vineyard. One after another – murdered them. God sent God’s own child, and the people chose to murder the child – saying – if we kill the child, we will be able to do just as we please. We will inherit the earth when we get rid of God and God’s messengers.

Jesus then reminds us that someday, God will return to the vineyard. The Messiah comes again. And the kindom of God belongs to those who produce the good fruits of the spirit. The fruits of righteousness, justice, forgiveness, and love.

This isn’t NRA country, as they advertise. This is God’s country. This is God’s world.

So here we are. If we do not change a single gun law, there will be another mass shooting in a few months. The time between them is reducing. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. We want a different result – an end of this violence – but we do the same thing – decry the act, and forget, and change nothing.

How are we going to respond? By continuing to worship and promote the God of Guns, or by serving the God of Peace and Unity?

 

What we do to the least we do to Christ. And what are we doing doing to the least, our own children, and ourselves, and our God by teaching guns and violence are the answer? What are we doing by holding up guns as what it means to be American? To be Christian? What are we doing by ignoring the plight of our  nation’s violent, abusive relationship with guns?

I will own a gun. I will not worship the Gun.

I will not live and die by my gun. I will live and die by my God.

I hope, whether you own a gun or not, you do not pray to a gun for your salvation.

Amen.

 

Additional Sources consulted…

 

https://www.aol.com/article/news/2017/10/03/las-vegas-gunman-stephen-paddock-used-a-perfectly-legal-device-allowing-him-to-fire-400-rounds-per-minute/23230992/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/10/03/america-is-exceptional-for-its-unique-deadly-gun-culture/?utm_term=.e0ee61116f6d

https://twitter.com/Calebkeeter/status/914872808110510080/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2F2017%2F10%2F02%2Fus%2Fjason-aldean-vegas-shooting.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/03/opinion/rosanne-cash-country-musicians-nra.html

http://www.theonion.com/article/americans-hopeful-will-be-last-mass-shooting-they–57093?utm_content=Main&utm_campaign=SF&utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=SocialMarketing

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/when-we-worship-the-god-of-fear-the-idolatry-of-gun-culture/

https://churchplants.com/articles/6455-the-top-7-gods-americans-worship.html

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/01/pro-gun-myths-fact-check/

The Sacrifice of…

Genesis 22:1-14 us-healthcare-urrepublic
Matthew 10:40-42

Three bucks a day. Do I really want to pay three bucks to save a life? You know, that three bucks could also get me a serving of French fries and pop. Those three bucks could also be used towards group health care, or my own health care. Or I could just pocket it. You see, what if I give that money to save a life and that person doesn’t live their life like I live mine? What if I save a life that isn’t worth it?

Jesus doesn’t ask us to consider three bucks. He asks a single cup of cold water. Starts even smaller and asks : Do you really want to give a stranger a cup of cold water? We could use it to water plants. Or use the time it takes to pour it for something better. It could be risky. What if they sue us for the water being too cold?

Maybe, we don’t want to make either of these concessions. What is mine is mine and what is your’s is your’s. Work harder if you want that 3 bucks and cup of water. Be born into a richer family. Be born without physical or mental conditions. Be lucky. Be luckier.

I am not your savior.

Yet, Christ tells us whomever welcomes another, welcomes Christ. And whomever derides, blames, ignores the needs of others… derides, disowns, and ignores Jesus.

Christ lives through us. Through Christ, we are each other’s earthly saviors. Through us, Christ loves and acts upon the world.

3 bucks. A cup of cold water. Jesus tells us even the smallest acts don’t lose their reward. God notices all mercy and hospitality.

3 dollars. A cup of cold water. A child, deeply loved.

God in Genesis gives Abraham a choice: take the child you have prayed and prayed and worked for, your beloved son, and give me that that little boy.

What will Abraham choose? God leaves it up to this human.

And Abraham doesn’t deny 3 dollars. Or a glass of water. Or even his own son. For the betterment of the world, so that God can work and enter more fully into human history, Abraham is willing to give up the person he loves the most.

God stays Abraham’s hand, and says God knows God has chosen the right person to be the father of God’s people now. Abraham is willing to sacrifice even what and who he loves the most for the salvation of the world. Abraham and God share a similar heart- a heart bent on mercy and hospitality.

When Jesus comes, he reminds us again and again that mercy and hospitality are core ways God loves us. And that we, those who profess we follow Christ and Christ’s ways, should also show much mercy and hospitality.

So why do so many balk at giving up $3 for health care?

Why do so many Christians balk at this?

The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, raised taxes .9% on people who made $200,000 a year individually. If you made less than this, your taxes didn’t go up. Your healthcare costs likely did, because premiums tend to increase 3 to 5% every year normally.

It also made health insurance mandatory if you make more than $16,000 as an individual – not talking families or couples here. If you make less than this, nothing changed for you. You’re still considered too poor for health care. If you make more than $16,000, then you have been required to either pay between $695 to $2,085 as a yearly tax to have no coverage, or purchase a coverage plan for $4,500 to $12,000 yearly.

Why?

Because when we all give a little, there is enough for everyone to have care. Those who chose to have no coverage contribute money towards the group funds just like those who choose to have discounted coverage and those who make enough to be taxed. All of this is to attempt to provide coverage to people like a little boy I met this week. Let’s call him Adam.

Adam was born with cystic fibrosis. This is called a ‘childhood disease’ because people who are born with this genetic condition tend to die in childhood. It is where a defective gene causes mucus and thick sticky gunk to build up in the organs. Ever had bronchitis? Think of life-long bronchitis that just keeps getting worse. Our Children’s Hospital in Columbus is one of the leaders in treating and researching CF.

If you were born with CF in 1960, your parents would rejoice you reached your tenth birthday.

Today, most people with CF reach 37. This is because of new drugs and treatments. There is still no cure, but doctors are working on it.

Doctors are working with Adam. He is on an experimental drug. So far, it has literally stopped the gene from making mucus. As long as he has his medication, it is like he doesn’t have CF. He is a healthy, happy, normally developing boy. If this drug continues to work the way it is now, he will live a full life – live as long as any of us here.

But the drug is $3,000 a month.

Right now, he is a child. His parent’s insurance covers him.

When he is older… what is going to happen to Adam?

You see, insurance companies are not non-profits. They are not out to help you and I. They are out to make money. It is a gamble. You and I and they gamble on who is going to cost the other money. Each month, your premium is actually a bet. You are betting you will need health care. They are betting you will not.

However, just like at a casino, the house always makes money. The house, the insurance company, sets the odds. If you are someone they think will need health care, they’re going to make you pay more in premiums because it is more likely you WILL need care… which means they pay money out.

If you are more likely healthy, then they charge less, because it is less likely you’ll charge them money.

If you clearly are ill… something called a ‘pre-existing condition’… then insurance companies used to just deny coverage.

Have you ever tried to pay for any medical things without insurance coverage?

Now, Adam, he has a pre-existing condition, and an expensive one. Had he been born fifteen years ago… would his parents’ insurance still cover him? Or would that company have denied him? In fifteen years from now… will our public insurance cover him? Will companies with private insurance be allowed to deny him?

Should we revoke the limitations on lifetime maximum payments and pre-existing conditions, does that mean that when Adam becomes an adult… it will be his death sentence as no insurance company helps pay for his life-saving medication?

But some insurance companies are even more insidious than denying coverage to people like Adam. A ‘pre-existing condition’ is ANYTHING that a person has before they are insured with the insurance company.

You know a pre-existing condition?

Life.

Stinks to be alive, you know, because you’re going to get older and get sick and injured and… well, we just don’t cover people who are alive. There’s evidence that the disease of being alive is 100% fatal.

Every woman here? I’m sorry. You were born a female. Pregnancy is expensive. Since you are a woman, your coverage will not only cost more… but may be denied if some of the Senate and House coverage changes occur. It doesn’t matter if you’re past the age of getting pregnant.

A major part of the new plans being debated now are on how much to cost women… and the disabled… and specifically elderly people.

If you are young, healthy, and male… the changes being debated help you out.

If you are older, need medication, and female… the changes mean you, like Adam, may be looking at the end of your health care… and the beginning of your rapid decline to death.

Did you know those without health care insurance have a mortality rate 25 to 40% higher than those with health care?

That means, you catch pneumonia and you have insurance. You recover just fine with some antibiotics. Or, you catch pneumonia, and you have no insurance. You can’t afford antibiotics. You have a higher chance of dying compared to the person who has the antibiotics.

Harvard estimated before the national health care, the USA lost someone every 12 minutes due to lack of health care.

Who is this the sacrifice of?

Why are we sacrificing our elderly, our disabled, and our women? Why are we sacrificing our poor, our at-risk, our fellow Americans?

Why, when Jesus tells us to give cups of cold water to strangers, do we argue about denying life-saving medication?

Abraham was willing to sacrifice his beloved son for the benefit of the world.

Are we willing to sacrifice far, far less to keep beloved sons like Adam alive?

I pray so.

Amen.

(Sources https://cysticfibrosisnewstoday.com/cystic-fibrosis-life-expectancy/ and http://www.thebalance.com )

 

Rest on Grace

John 3:1-17jesus_nicodemus_2
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

Paul’s writings are thick, complex, and wrote in a style of rhetoric, argument, that we don’t use much anymore. So let’s break him down into little bits today. First, let’s replace Abraham in our scripture with George Washington. Think: What then are we to say was gained by George Washington, our ancestor according to the flesh? Or rather, why do some people brag George Washington is their great-great-grandpappy? Does that make them more American than those not related to George Washington? In other words, it’s great to have grandpappies who did great stuff… but God doesn’t care who your grandpappy is… just like your American Citizen status doesn’t rely on being related to George Washington.

Next, Paul argues Abraham didn’t work for God, and God didn’t pay Abraham his due. This wasn’t an employee and store owner relationship. Instead, God -granted- -reckoned- -gifted- Abraham righteousness in return for Abraham’s trust. Paul even calls Abraham ungodly. God gifts grace to people who haven’t even turned their lives around towards living faithful lives. Faithful lives doesn’t win you God’s grace. God gives it freely. So, God doesn’t care who your grandpappy is… and God doesn’t require living a sinless life to receive God’s love.

If we’re going to use our American analogy, it would be that your citizenship to America doesn’t depend on being related to George Washington… and, it doesn’t depend on you speaking English, dressing in jeans and a tshirt, and being Christian. You can be American and speak Spanish, or wear a hijab, or pray at a Synagoge.

Why is this important to Paul? Because he’s writing to ancient Jews who had always been taught that their literal ancestor – Abraham – is what made them Jewish, and made them God’s people. These new converts to The Way of Jesus (seen as form of Judaism at the time) are NOT biologically related to Abraham. How can they, too, be God’s children?

Sorta like… many say that to be an American citizen, you have to have been born here. Raised here. OR act, look, speak and pray like you were raised here. But what about people born abroad to American parents, but due to the military, are raised in a foreign country and speak a foreign language and hold dual citizenship? Are they Americans? People who immigrate here – are they Americans? What about the Amish – are they Americans? We’ve got a lot of people who don’t wear tshirts, jeans, and speak Midwestern English. So what is the criteria for being an American?

Paul’s churches are asking – what is the criteria for being Christian?

He argues if being a child of God means being a literal descendant of Abraham… we have no reason to follow God. None. Born Jewish? Bam! You hit the jackpot. Automatic inclusion. Born Greek? Chinese? Sorry. You’re not loved, and even if you convert, you still are excluded. This way of thinking doesn’t promote faith. It doesn’t even promote living a good life style. It just promotes keeping a strict genealogy record so you can prove you’re related to Abraham, and so got your golden genetic ticket to God.

Instead, Paul argues that Abraham existed before there was really a Jewish people or Jewish faith. There wasn’t even a Torah, a Bible, at the time. So… being Jewish or following the Torah doesn’t include or exclude people from God’s children. Abraham was loved before the Torah and before Judaism. Instead, God’s children, Abraham’s heirs, are all of those who follow his faith. All of those people who trust God. And all those people – regardless of their biological ancestor, or their depth of knowledge of religion, or how little or how often they sin — none of this makes or breaks your relationship with God. Instead – you’re a child of God – just as you are, who you are – because God loves you.

What do you call this? It’s called grace. Unmerited favor. God loves you because God loves you. There’s nothing you can do to gain more love or to lose that love. To be Christian is to accept that love as reality with faith. With the belief in things unseen, not wholly proven, but chosen to be accepted. Paul writes, “God gives life to the dead, and calls into existence the things that do not exist.”

Biologically, you’re likely not related to Abraham… but you are his descendant through things that don’t exist. Living faith flows from him to you. You are Abraham’s heir. You are God’s child, too.

In our American analogy, you’re likely not related to George Washington, but you are his political heir. The spirit of democracy, freedom to speak, freedom to worship in your own way, freedom to influence your government is known to you. You’re an American child too, regardless of where you were born or what language you speak or how you worship.

Spiritual heirs are what Jesus and Nicodemus are talking about.

Nicodemus is walking a faith like our own, and like many of those whom Paul wrote to. In John’s gospel, light and dark, day and night, mean a lot more than just how much illumination there is. It also means whether or not someone is understanding Jesus, or if they’re misunderstanding Jesus. So Nicodemus comes literally at night and figuratively in misunderstanding. He thinks he knows who Jesus is: a great rabbi from God. Jesus tells him, “Bingo… and more. But to see more, one has to be born again or born from above.” The word used here in scripture means both — both again and from above.

Nicodemus is in the dark. He misunderstands and takes the literal translation — born again. He gets caught up in the literal – and starts picturing himself trying to get into a womb to be born again. SO not possible.

For our American analogy, it would be like saying Americans are those who are born American. But what about all the immigrants? Even if they get their greencards and are full citizens, are they still not Americans? They can’t be literally born again here. People don’t have two births.

Jesus explains – spiritual birth. The Spirit of God moves here and there, people here and there are reborn with it.

In our analogy, some people are spiritually born as Americans and come here with that spirit, that love, of liberty from wherever they were biologically born.

You just can’t predict who is going to faithfully vote and faithfully attend church based on their birth certificates. There are people born in America who never vote and there are people born with Christian parents who never attend church. Just as there are people born in Middle Eastern countries who move here and never miss voting, and there are people who have atheist parents who never miss time to pray.

Biological birth is not the same as spiritual birth.

Nicodemus, like many of us, still can’t get his head around it. He wants a clear checklist of what it means to follow Jesus. Sorta like we want a clear checklist of what it means to be American. But Jesus won’t give it to him. Grace isn’t earned. Grace — God’s love — is just given. Faith isn’t something to testify and be good for all time. Faith is lived. It is a verb.

Nicodemus asks for more help. He’s a scholar, he knows his religion, he’s affluent and educated and clearly devoted to understanding and practiving his faith. Jesus replies look – you disbelieve me about these earthly things. You know I’m doing miracles, but you still question. I told you God’s love is for more than Abraham’s biological children, but you didn’t believe. How am I to explain heavenly things to you? God loves you. God is saving the world through God’s son. God is giving new life — full life — life to the depressed, the lonley, the outcast, the foresaken, the poor, the ignored, the hopeless. God is welcoming in the “huddled masses” and “wretches refuse” and “temptest tossed.” God isn’t condemning them, isn’t condemning the world, but opening the door of welcome wide to all.

Have you ever pictured yourself back in ancient Israel? Like, say you woke up one day and you’re back there — 2030 years ago — and you actually meet Jesus in the flesh. I’ve always thought I’d instantly recognize him. I’d not be like Nicodemus and be sneaking in the dark. I wouldn’t be the religious leaders and spit on Jesus. I would know my Lord and drop everything to follow him.

Professor Karoline Lewis posed these questions that made me pause: “Do we really think that we could have understood Jesus any better than [Nicodemus?] this well-versed, well-educated Pharisee? And if we do, what makes us think so? What makes us so sure? Because we have two thousand years of Christianity under our belts? Because we have more theological insight? Because we have more faith?”

Nicodemus has more than two thousand years of Judism education under his belt. He’s literally speaking with Jesus in the flesh before him. He’s risking his reputation, his job, maybe even his life to speak with Jesus. Do we have more faith than that? And yet – here he is, misunderstanding because he is carrying so many expectations of who Jesus is and what God is doing.

… I might be carrying those too and stuck to my misconceptions more than God’s reality.

Jesus’ words are that whoever does good to the most wretched has done good to him. Whoever has spat on others has spat on him. Where did I see you Lord?

I don’t need to time travel back to ancient Israel to see Jesus in the flesh. Jesus is attempting to get his kids to school around Immigration Customs Enforcement agents. Jesus is sitting in a 103 tent watching her son slowly starve to death and praying the money comes through to get him help and out of this refugee camp. Jesus is the last survivor of a capsized boat in the Mediterranean.

In reality, I am Nicodemus. I get stuck in the literal. I get stuck thinking I’d recognize Jesus in the flesh 2000 years ago when I don’t even recognize him in the flesh today.

I try to follow Jesus. I try to understand, but I often look at the world with literal eyes and ignore the spiritual. Nicodemus shows up twice more in our gospel. He defends Jesus before his peers… and he helps bury Jesus. Nicodemus walks a faith life that goes into periods of darkness and light. Periods when he is attuned to the way God views the world, and Nicodemus does much good. And periods when he is confounded by God, and Nicodemus flounders, messes up.

That is why Paul’s argument and Jesus’ argument is so important to us during Lent: being a child of God, being loved by God, is God’s gift to us. We don’t earn it. We don’t lose it. We choose to respond to it.

We do wrongs individually, and collectively. We hurt others intentionally and unintentially. We miss seeing Jesus in others. We choose not to see Jesus in others. But God still loves us… even as we hurt God. Even as we take God’s child and shame him, torture him, murder him… God still loves us. Today, we still take God’s children of all backgrounds and shame them, torture them, murder them often by just ignoring them. But God still loves us.

And from that love, offers forgiveness. Offers us to begin again. Offers us a new life where we live more Christ-like and extend not condemnation, but salvation, to others. Out of God’s love for the whole world — not just Americans, not just Christians, not just Abrahamic faiths, but the WHOLE WORLD, Out of God’s love for the WHOLE WORLD, Jesus is given. Forgiveness is offered. We are given a new chance at peace, embracing each other, and living in harmony.

Amen.

What Just Happened?

Meister_der_Palastkapelle_in_Palermo_002.jpgLuke 19:28-40
Philippians 2:5-11

Can you feel it? Something is afoot.

It doesn’t matter if you are a Trump or a Sanders supporter… either are promising something new. A revolution. To make America great again. Can you feel the energy? The possibility? The people gathering, a new SOMETHING on the horizon!

Or maybe you’re a Cruz, a Kasich, or a Clinton fan: why rock the boat? Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!

There is uncertainty. What will home look like? Who will lead us? What kind of future are we striding in to? Who will control what that future looks like? Can you feel the struggle, the hope, the worry, the dreams, the possibility, the feeling that we are on the cusp of a unique moment in our history?

… Or maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re one of the many who are already sick of the political ads, and political Facebook posts, feel like you’ve lost friends and the election isn’t even here yet. You just want this whole thing to blow over so you can go back to your normal life.

And you know, we are speaking of politicians. Not potential messiahs.

The level of built up possibility, energy, change on the horizon was even greater in Jerusalem when the people saw Jesus arrive. So too the wish things would just go back to normal! And, he wasn’t a potential new president of a democracy; he was the potential promised savior from God AND new king AND herald of God’s reign on Earth.

Just as we go to rallies to wave banners, and greet politicians with cheers and whistles. We sing their victory songs and repeat their chants. So too, did people 2000 years ago.

When Jesus arrived, they ran out with their banners — in this case, palm branches and tall grasses. They cheered and whistled. They sang a victory song from scripture and changed the lyrics to be “Praise the KING who comes in the name of the Lord” rather than “Praise the one who comes.”

Today, we gather around potential presidents knowing they’ll take the stage, teach us, inspire us, lead us – and we hope they end up at the capital where they do a ritual – swearing in – and become our leader.

In Jesus day, too, the crowds gather with stars in their eyes and dreams on their sleeves – inspired, ready to be taught and lead. They hoped he’d head for the temple – the capital – and do a ritual sacrifice where he proclaimed the city belonged to God and no longer Caesar.

People around Jesus cried, “He is the promised Davidic King! He will take us to war, destroy our enemies, liberate us, and we will be great again!”

Others cried, “He is the promised prophet! He will turn the people’s hearts back to God, rid our institutions of corruption, and restore our faith!”

Still others proclaimed, “He is the Messiah! The one who brings God’s holy reign on earth; when peace and prosperity flourish and all things are made whole!”

And some proclaimed, “He is the Son of God!”

King, prophet, messiah, God…

If you weren’t in the crowd, you were standing to the side shaking your head at the words being thrown around. You were thinking, “Can’t we have this Jesus business over with and get back to normal life?”

Others, not waving fronds, grumbled, “These people are blockheads; this is some charismatic carpenter with pie-in-the-sky ideas. He just says whatever the people want to hear. Look at this ragtag lot – jobless peasants, cripples, sinners, the mentally unstable and the foreigners – following their pied piper.”

The claims of king, prophet, messiah, God; the people, welcoming Jesus as their victorious conqueror and king… these are very troubling developments to the people in charge of keeping order. This might be fun and exciting for the rabble today… but tomorrow, when Pilate hears there is a king? When Caesar, who is called the Son of God, hears there is a new Son of God? What then? Will the people cheer and rejoice when this ‘king Jesus’ brings fifty-thousand soldiers bent on bloodying their blades and scattering the people, murdering the educated, and enslaving the children? Only the stones will be left to testify what once was here. Only the stones will remember the great people and city that was Jews and Jerusalem.

The ones worried about the coming future tell Jesus, “Rabbi – tell your disciples to stop!”

Jesus replies with a reference to scripture. What Jesus references is the prophet Habakkuk who heard God say: (Chapter 2)

…Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.
Moreover, wealth is treacherous;
the arrogant do not endure.
They open their throats wide as Sheol;
like Death they never have enough.
They gather all nations for themselves,
and collect all peoples as their own.

Shall not everyone taunt such people and, with mocking riddles, say about them,
‘Alas for you who heap up what is not your own!’
How long will you load yourselves with goods taken in pledge?
Will not your own creditors suddenly rise,
and those who make you tremble wake up?
Then you will be booty for them.
Because you have plundered many nations,
all that survive of the peoples shall plunder you—
because of human bloodshed, and violence to the earth,
to cities and all who live in them.

‘Alas for you who get evil gain for your houses,
setting your nest on high
to be safe from the reach of harm!’
You have devised shame for your house
by cutting off many peoples;
you have forfeited your life.
The very stones will cry out from the wall,
and the plaster will respond from the woodwork.

‘Alas for you who build a town by bloodshed,
and found a city on iniquity!’
Is it not from the Lord of hosts
that peoples labour only to feed the flames,
and nations weary themselves for nothing?
But the earth will be filled
with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,
as the waters cover the sea.

In other words, when Jesus says, “If I silence the people who are testifying, the stones and wood and plaster will cry out the truth: The arrogant, the wealthy, the creditors, the people who think they are safe because of their possessions and because they have destroyed the people they don’t like – those people are being lowered. The people who live by faith alone are being raised up.

This feels like oppression to the oppressors. This feels like liberation for the oppressed.

What just happened?

Jesus has told the religious leaders, and the politicians, and the people around him that God is going to do a new thing – and it is nothing at all like that most people are expecting and many won’t like it.

It is a reversal from the norm, a scandalous equality. The knowledge of the glory of God has arrived – and even if the people are silenced, God’s truth can never be silenced.

This is God’s truth: That all of us are brothers and sisters, equals.
God’s truth is that equality is not something to exploit. We ought to serve one another, not lord over one another.
God’s truth is a king on a humble donkey, not a war horse.
God’s truth is a messiah who says show love to your enemies, not sword and war.
God’s truth is a savior who doesn’t save even himself from suffering – but who saves us from isolating Sin.

God’s truth is that love – not hate or fear – is the strongest power on Earth.

And God is love.

Jesus’ reply is God’s truth is so integral, so a part of the world, that no politician, no media, no person or people can ever fully silence love.

During this Holy Week and always, may we have a mind like Christ’s – and not exploit others. Let us be humble, servants, loving. Let us confess Jesus is Lord – and we follow the humble, loving, peasant God, who died a shameful death, and who defeated the evils of the world to be resurrected into eternal life. Let us live into that eternal life – and as we wave our palm branches, celebrating, let us remember we celebrate one who loves us enough he willingly walked into the city of his death, let himself be betrayed, captured, let himself be made a fool of, let himself be crucified… let us go with him to dark Gethsemane and let us rise with him next Sunday victorious in love.

Amen.

Given to Saint Michael’s United Church of Christ, Baltimore, Ohio, Palm Sunday 2016

Entering Holy Space

Hebrews 10:11-25
Mark 13:1-8

Not a stone will be left on top of another.

Our buildings provide no security. Our buildings will not save. We saw this with the September 11th terrorist attacks. Buildings, which we thought immovable, crumbled to the ground. Planes we thought ever secure turned into weapons. Places we thought lasting… ended.

And our lives, our reality, was never the same.

Buildings do not save us.

So we cling to our institutions.

Institutions, structural ways of doing things — the government and the police, the firemen and women, nurses and doctors — rules and laws! – the rules that say who is a combatant and who is a civilian… our communities, our churches…

But institutions do not save us.

Civilians watched the marathon in Boston. Civilians were ripped to shreds. Civilians attend our movie theatres and civilians are shot, in the dark, unarmed.

The institution of our military is no more of a guarantee of security. This year we have seen soldiers shooting soldiers at base. We have seen civilians trying to encourage the enemy to murder our soldiers by posting the soldier’s own home addresses online… go and murder their wives, their sons, their husbands, their daughters.

Race crimes, religious hate crimes, sneak into our churches and shoot pastors – shoot them while they minister and preach. Shoot parishioners as they come and go. Set bombs in churches and murder little girls as they go to Sunday School just because they happen to have black skin.

No. Institutions do not save us.

Do we have any security at all?

Are we in the End Times?

I mean, are we?

Two nights ago, I watched the development in Paris with a group of friends. We tweeted and IM’d international friends. And for a moment, a miscommunication told us that suicide bombers were also attacking in Germany. I don’t know who said it, but I heard, “My God, we are next!”

Fear fell over the room and settled in my stomach. This wasn’t something happening ‘over there’ somewhere far away, this wasn’t any threat to me… this might be happening somewhere in America… what if it happened at midnight here, too?

A fear I hadn’t felt in… fourteen years… made my dinner sour.

I had forgotten that feeling.

I am ashamed to admit it, but I had. I am ashamed because I know that fear of ‘am I next?’ ‘where is safe?’ ‘where are my loved ones?’ ‘are they safe?’ is known daily in the countries many of these terrorists come from. For the refugees fleeing these counties in the Middle East, and Africa, are fleeing terrorists.

Just like you and me, they want their children to be fine. They want to be able to go to work, go out to eat, go see a movie and not worry someone is going to murder them randomly, just because they are standing there. Murder them regardless of their ethnicity, their religion, their citizenship, their institutions, or who they are… who they are leaving behind… what good or evil they have done… just purely random acts of utterly evil violence.

… And we’re causing some of this fear ourselves.

Dear God, forgive us! Forgive Americans. Our drones are not as accurate as we’d like to think, and our targets are not as well chosen. We Americans are terrorists too — in the effort to protect ourselves, we have murdered Middle Eastern people who are ‘too tall’ and so might choose to join the military, or who were related to someone we thought might harm us, or who had the misfortune of standing beside a school that secretly was a hide out of extremist fighters.

Fear, counter fear, secret attack and revenge secret attack, and caught between the warring nations are moms and dads, babies, grandma and grandpa… who all want the same thing: a peaceful, happy life.

I ask again, is this the end times? Is the apocalypse nigh?

As if the failure of our security systems, our buildings and governments, checkpoints and vigilance, wasn’t enough… as if the terrorists were not enough… the Cold War is returning, bit by bit… you may have seen how Russia is now showing their nuclear arms and warning America. You may have seen how America is testing missiles off the West Coast.

We have wars, rumors of war, nations rising and falling… Jesus also warned us of natural disasters.

Global climate change is so very real – the climate, all over the world, is changing. Our west, they are in a drought that seems to have no end. Around here, we’ve had such cold winters and hot summers — all over, when it rains, it rains harder and floods…

The sea has rose eight inches in the last one hundred years, which may not seem like much… until you look at a place like Vienna, or Florida, and realize these very flat places are slowly sinking into the ocean… and we have 8 less inches of drinkable ground water all over because the ocean is sneaking in. This week, with the glacier in Iceland sliding, we have no idea how many more inches we’ll gain this and next year– not in hundred of years — but in months…

And for the 30th year in a row, world Co2 levels, the chemical that works like a wool blanket over the earth, has grown. With each day, each minute, this thick blanket gets thicker… how thick can it get before we cannot breathe?

In places in the Middle East and India, it is already too thick… and temperatures there rose this summer to the level that the roads literally melted.

What can grow, what can survive, in 140 degree heat?

Are the end times here?

Jesus’ disciples wanted to know the same thing. The author of Hebrews was writing to the early Christians, who wanted to know the same thing. Look, look at how horrible things are — surely they cannot get worse! Surely these are portents, these are signs from God, these are telling us to prepare and get ready.

The audience of these old texts saw horrible things happening. Think: their country had been invaded, and their leadership replaced with pawns from the occupier. Their holiest place, the Holy of Holies, had been desecrated twice now… and by the time of Hebrews, it was desecrated a third and final time… the temple, the only place to go and worship God, to be in the presence of God who lived behind the veil which the most holy high priest approached only once a year — on the day of Atonement for the nation’s sins — that most sacred spot was destroyed. The priests murdered. The area used to make offerings to other gods. A statue of Caesar was scheduled to be erected there for the people to worship.

Because of their faith, or their rumored faith, or the supposed faith of their third cousin – people were being dragged out and murdered.

A Roman citizenship was the difference between instant death without a trial – as in the case of most of Jesus’ disciples – and death with at least a hearing… as in the case of Paul.

When the readers of Hebrews secretly gathered, illegally gathered, to speak about Jesus… they took their lives and the lives of their loved ones in hand.

And they retold the words of Jesus, “Do not be alarmed.” And they recited the words of Psalm 46, “Be still, and know I am God.” And they read pastoral letters, like the letter to the Hebrew Congregation which reads, (to paraphrase The Message) “Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. God always keeps God’s word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping each other out, let’s keep worshiping together and not give up, especially as we see the big Day approaching.”

Instead of asking, “Is this the end?” and losing hope… the early Christians looked how to preach the gospel, and be the good news, and give their lives for God. They knew the covenant, the mutual promise, between them and God was wrote on their hearts.

And that covenant is God’s love for us, and our love for God.

As things got worse and worse, instead of hoarding up ammo and turning away strangers — lest they be spies, the enemy, or another bothersome mouth to feed — these Christians kept meeting together. Kept at their faith.

When Jesus’ disciples ask when the Temple would fall, Jesus didn’t answer. He didn’t give them a sign. Instead, he told them — you’ll frequently think this is it — the end is near. But it won’t be.

There will be wars.

There will be natural disasters.

There will be false prophets.

But this won’t be the end.

In fact, Jesus never tells them WHEN the end will be. He tells us his return will be like a thief in the night — something we never see coming. If we knew the thief was coming, we would have been home with some friends to scare him off. But we don’t know, and we cannot know. Jesus tells us that God alone knows. Not even angels. Not even those who have passed on before us. Only God knows.

For centuries, millennia, this has proved true. So many people believed the Black Death was the End Times. WWI was called the War to End All Wars — as in, after this, Christ’s peace would rule the world. With the A-Bomb, and the Doomsday Clock, we saw our end looking us in the face. We see this now — see how fragile our existence is. See how very mortal we are. See how nothing we build, nothing we create, nothing on this earth can fully protect and save us.

And Jesus’ advice for these centuries, these millennia, is to let God worry about when the end is. Our job is to encourage one another. To love one another. To forgive each other. To do loving deeds.

Be still… and know… I am God.

Be still… and trust… I am God.

Be loving… and do not be afraid… I am God.

Did you know the Bible says “do not be afraid” in some form or another more than any other phrase? Some count 365 times, others count 103. Followed by Jesus telling us 125 times in four books — just the Gospels — to love others.

Whether or not it is the End Times is not for us to know. We can’t know. If history is a teacher, this year is no more likely the end than 1346 when the Black Death swept Europe. It is no more likely the end than 2220 will be… but we can’t and we don’t know.

Our God tells us not to be alarmed, not to be scared, not to be thinking of all the possible ‘what ifs’ and to hide, to avoid others, to be scared of the stranger, to be scared of what tomorrow will bring…

No… our God says love me, and love each other.

Love carries us through… for God is love.

Let us end in the prayer of David in Psalm 56:

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise—
in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?

My brothers and sisters, what can a mere mortal do to us? We live IN holy space, we live in Jesus Christ.

Given to Saint Michael’s UCC, Baltimore, Ohio, 11-15-2015