Tag: evil

House & Family

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 good-or-shit_jesus_did-i-stutter
Mark 3:20-35

Who has authority? Today, I’d say it is religious leaders, the government, and social media.

 

In Jesus’ day, it was the government of Rome, the scribes or religious leaders, and family.

 

The crowd comes together, loud and noisy. Stinking and ill. They press in on Jesus so tightly that Jesus and his disciples cannot even get a bite to eat. Everywhere they look there’s people crying out for help and pressing in to see this marvelous healer and preacher and prophet.

 

Two thirds of the moral authority have had enough.

 

Jesus’ family has had enough. They’ve decided to restrain, arrest, Jesus and put him under lock and key. He’s an embarrassment. He’s bringing shame to the family name. And he’s challenging the authorities. What if they come after his family to get to him? It’s time to take control of their wayward son. So in come Mary and Jesus’ brothers shoving through the crowd trying to get to Jesus.

 

Meanwhile, the religious authorities have had enough. The scribe are above reproach. Their word is trusted without question. And they begin to say Jesus’ miraculous healings are due to the power of Beelzebul, Satan, demonic sources. Anyone who trusts the scribes and authorities believes Jesus is bad news. And the scribes stand in the crowd trying to get people to go away.

 

So the two controlling moral authorities in Jesus’ ancient world: the religious leaders and the family — have both declared Jesus should be ignored. He is either insane, or demonic, or both.

 

Jesus preaches: If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. If Satan is casting out demons, then you’ve won, right? Because if the demons are in a civil war, they will fall.

 

If I’m not demonic, then I’m a thief. I’ve come into the strong man’s house to tie him up. That strong man Satan doesn’t stand a chance. Once he’s bound, I’m taking all the treasure.

 

Once the powers of this earth are tied up; I’m releasing all the prisoners, giving sight to the blind, letting the crippled walk, making justice and mercy flow like a raging river and water the parched land; I’m taking this big crowd of desperate people, and all the lambs of every flock who cry out to me, and giving them new life.

 

Jesus looked at the big crowd – full of hurts inside and out. And he declared, “People will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter.” There’s no sin so heinous God cannot forgive it. The only eternal sin is what the scribes have done: seen the mercy and love and forgiveness of God, and call it Satanic, refuse it for themselves, and try to get others to refuse it.

 

The only sin that cannot be forgiven are the sins we refuse to admit, refuse to apologize for, refuse to accept forgiveness for.

 

Perhaps this is why later Jesus prays, ‘Forgive them for they know not what they do.’ We may not understand all our sins, but if we’re willing to accept forgiveness and have a humble heart… they ARE all forgiven.

 

With the scribes dealt with and dismissed, Jesus next turns to his mother and brothers. They are outside of the house, unable or unwilling to enter into the crowd of messy, dirty, sinful people. They call – wanting Jesus to get up and leave those sheep and come to them. Come back to your mind. Come back to your family. Come and leave this messiah nonsense alone. Leave these sinners and be socially acceptable again.

 

And Jesus looks at the crowd, and asked, “Who are my mother and my brothers? Here they are! Whoever does the will of God are my mother and brothers and sisters.” Jesus rewrites the definition of family. He won’t let his house be divided. His house isn’t who we are biologically born to – it is whoever does the will of God. And what is the will of God? To love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.

 

Jesus’ family are everyone who does God’s will.

 

Jesus doesn’t say his family is all Christians. Indeed, there are those who will cry Lord, Lord but are not part of his flock. He doesn’t say his family are all Jews, all Muslims, all people — but rather, WHOEVER does the will of God.

 

Buddhists. Atheists. Hindus. Whoever does the will of God to love God and love the neighbor as yourself.

 

All sins, all blasphemies or false teachings, are forgivable but the calcified heart that refuses God.

 

What does this mean for us?

 

It means a challenge to our own authorities. When our own religious leaders, government leaders, or family members try to label some people as animals, sinners without a hope, or exile them. We’ve got to be the voices saying no. We are to welcome the outcast, the stranger, the exile. Our family is all who love God and love the neighbor. And those who do not love neighbors, do not love God, and are excluding themselves.

 

Some people don’t put much weight into demons and the effect of evil.

 

But evil is very much alive… with or without demonic help.

 

In our own hearts, and out of our mouths and hands, great evil occurs.

 

This earthly tent we live in is a tent. Weak and flimsy. And so very fallible. But we love to judge others based on that tent.

 

Based on that tent, access to basic sanitation is given or denied. The United Nations has a special division to work with the greatest poverty places in the world. This investigator goes to these counties, sees what is happening, and makes a report to the world. The goal is to bring awareness to the poverty, and hopefully shame the government into helping the least of their citizens.

 

That investigator, Philip Alston,  was sent to the USA this last December. (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/dec/15/america-extreme-poverty-un-special-rapporteur; http://undocs.org/A/HRC/38/33/ADD.1)

 

He went to Skid Row in California, where 1,800 people are permanently homeless and share 9 toilets. California passes more and more rules against homelessness – and closes parks and public restrooms at dusk to discourage homelessness.

 

But homeless is generally not a choice. Just like needing to go to the restroom is not really a choice. So these people have to relieve themselves in the streets. Mass infections are passing wildfire through California now because people are leaving body fluid where they can since they have no restrooms, or homes. And why? The cost of housing is so high. Even here, in Ohio, you need to have a full time job paying $10.50 an hour to have a way to your job, an apartment, and food. But minimum wage is $8.30. Start adding in kids… and by the time you’re an average family with two adults and two children… both adults need $14.75 an hour working full time to support themselves and their two kids. (http://livingwage.mit.edu/states/39)

 

This is Ohio.

 

It is way, way more expensive in California.

 

“Why don’t they live with their families?”

 

In Jesus’ time and in our time, our families kick us out, restrain us, or disown us if we’re abnormal. If we have drug histories, or are gay or lesbian, or even too liberal, whatever our families think are the ‘unforgivable sins’… we get kicked out. Often families don’t have the resources and community support to stick by their odd sheep.

 

It’s why Jesus asserts again and again in God’s family, you don’t get kicked out. Everyone is welcome. We have the resources of the world – millions and billions of Christians – to address all needs.

 

But that’s not how our country is running. This UN reporter went to Alabama next. There, sewage is also a problem. Most of the poor are black, and live in trailer homes. These have straight PVC pipes from their toilets away from the house to dump the sewage away. But the ground is rich black soil and doesn’t soak up the sewage. Add two or three trailer homes, or more, like a usual trailer park, and now there are open cesspits. Almost everyone tested positive in these areas for hookworms. The UN investigator said it was as bad as any developing country – any third world country – with barefoot children infested with worms playing in sewage.

 

Why?!

 

The investigator found that it costs $5,000 or more dollars to make a septic tank, and these people cannot afford that. When they go to the government for help, the locally ran white government gives them fines for having straight-pipe systems. A few years ago a sewer system began, but it only was given to white businesses and skipped over black houses. People wouldn’t even give the investigator their name because they were scared the local government would learn, and come turn off their tap water.

 

Due to the color of their tent, their skin, and their poverty, these people are kicked out.

 

But Jesus won’t kick them out.

 

The investigator traveled to Puerto Rico, where months and months ago the hurricane hit but STILL there are hospitals on generators, STILL there are people dying because they lack again, fresh water and sewage treatment. The government aid has pulled out and charities alone try to help. Over 5,000 people have died now because of that storm. And the number is growing. The new EPA rules revoke most of our clean water and air act. What’s left it is cheaper to pay the fine if you’re caught than to properly treat waste. So the locals, who are starving, now watch their fish die out due to pollution. And they still don’t have clean water to drink.

 

There’s still no clean water to drink in Flint Michigan.

 

Puerto Ricans are dark skinned. Speak Spanish. Some say they aren’t American citizens although they are. They’re kicked out. Different.

 

But Jesus won’t kick them out.

 

Lastly the investigator went to rural West Virginia. As white skinned of tents as can be. And there he found the orphans of the heroin epidemic. He found the men and women and children trying to drink well water contaminated with fracking run off and coal mud — toxic, cancerous, actually a bit radioactive water. He found people who cannot find work because all the mines have closed, and the jobs long gone away. He found them surviving on government food stamps, SNAP, and fretting… the proposed rules that you have to work to get government assistance for work means starvation. Literal starvation in these rural villages where there is no work to be had. No money to move away. The investigator found massive malnutrition that is permanently harming the brain development of the children in rural Appalachia.

 

And these people are kicked out. Called in-bred, we make red-neck and hillbilly jokes, and say they’re stupid.

 

Jesus says no. The homeless of Skidrow, the blacks of Alabama, the Latinos of Puerto Rico, the whites of West Virginia — this is our family.

 

Who are my mother and my brothers and my sisters?

 

Whomever does the will of God.

 

Whomever loves God and loves their neighbors.

 

… There’s an internet meme, an internet image, I think summarizes the Gospel of Mark. Jesus is speaking to the disciples and says, “Love your neighbor.”

 

The disciples raise their hands and say, “But what if…?” and they begin to list things. What if they’re gay? What if they’re black? Latino? Lesbian? Sinning? Not American? Not Christian?

 

And Jesus gets upset, “Did I ****ing stutter?”

 

That is Mark’s Jesus. Love God and your neighbor. No what ifs, no dividing the house of Christ, no conditionals. Love God and love your neighbors as you love yourself.

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The Sabbath

Deuteronomy 5:12-15images
Mark 2:23-3:6

Very rarely things in the world wear name tags “HELLO MY NAME IS EVIL” and “HELLO MY NAME IS GOOD.” Instead, we deal with shades of evil and good and have to decide which is the best. And sometimes, it’s just picking between two goods, or two evils.

Today, Jesus and the religious leaders and political leaders debate the gray area.

On the day of rest, Jesus and his disciples are picking up dropped wheat or rye heads as they walk along.

The religious people shake their heads and say, “Jesus! You’re supposed to be setting an example! And this is your example? Gleaning on the rest day? You should have gleaned yesterday!”

Jesus replies with a story from the Bible. King David once was in a hurry and hungry. He went and ate the bread inside the temple.

The rest of the story is implied that then the King and his companions could continue on their journey, and bring blessings to the land. If we have to pick between the evil of eating the consecrated bread, or the evil of King David and his companions starving to death, eating the bread is the lesser evil.

Picture our communion table today. How would you react if when you came in here, you saw a homeless person making a sandwich out of the communion bread before service began? What is the lesser evil? The bread being ate in an unholy way, or the man going hungry?

Religious people would say give the man different bread. Make him wait until after the service and then give him the leftovers. These are reasonable solutions. Just like it is a reasonable solution to say the disciples should have prepared their snacks the day before.

But Jesus would say – let the homeless man eat his fill and then fill his pockets with the leftovers. The Bread of Life is to be shared extravagantly. This isn’t reasonable. It’s extravagant. It’s about choosing the action that most reflects the love of God, than the rationality of the world.

The Pharisees and Jesus both heard the secondary message to Jesus’ analogy, too. Jesus compared himself to King David. The return of King David’s line is a prophecy of the Messiah.

Jesus concludes, “The Sabbath is made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.” The Pharisees agree with this. But they don’t agree that Jesus is the Son of Man, or the Messiah, or as big a blessing to the world as King David was.

The second part of the story has Jesus entering the synagogue on a day of rest and prayer. They think he’ll likely heal someone, and therefore, be caught working on the Sabbath. Jesus is in the synagogue, and he notices the guy with the messed up hand. He calls the man forward, and then asks everyone gathered there: Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath? To save a life or kill?”

Everyone knows you’re supposed to do good, and to save a life. If your kid falls in a well, you pull her out of the well — even if it means work on the Sabbath. Because they agree, also, the Sabbath is for us … we’re not slaves to the Sabbath.

God gave the Sabbath to the Israelites in the desert explaining to them that they were once slaves – and had to work every single day of their lives. This Sabbath is their rest. They are not longer slaves. And this Sabbath extends to their own slaves, hired hands, animals, immigrants and aliens and everyone around them. EVERYONE deserves a day off to rest, recover, and do as they will… Even God takes this time. A Sabbath is a day of wholeness. A day of doing what we need to do to be physically, mentally, and spiritually whole.

So Jesus stands there and asks: Should you do good or harm; save a life or kill on the Sabbath?

Obviously the answer is to do good and save a life.

It means doing good by that man with the withered hand, and returning him to whole life by healing him. With a healed hand, he can provide for his family again. He can provide for the town again. He brings life to all of those around him.

But, it means perhaps violating the Sabbath and working on the holy day. The Pharisees think that man could easily wait until tomorrow. He’s likely been injured a long time. What is the rush? They are rational. They are us.

But Jesus is all about immediacy. This man has waited a LONG TIME to be healed. Why are we going to make him suffer a single additional moment? Why are we going to violate the Sabbath by refusing to do what is necessary to bring wholeness and goodness and life to ourselves?

This is a fight about which is more important — the good of a Sabbath or the good of Healing? This is an argument about thinking individually — I don’t need healed. I can wait. I am not hungry. I can wait. — and about collectively and for the other — He needs healed. We can’t wait. We are hungry. We can’t wait.

The tension between thinking “what is best for me” and “what is best for the community” is a tension that is still happening this very moment.

The Right-to-Work laws are passing more swiftly, 28 states now, and are being brought before our President. Much like the argument about what is or isn’t lawful on the Sabbath, the Right-to-Work is a debate on individual gains or community gains.

It actually has nothing about people’s rights to work. Everyone can be employed.

It has to do with unions.

Unions formed

In the late 1700s and early 1800s, men, women, and children worked 12 to 14 hours a day in factories. There were no breaks, and for lunch, you had to eat while cleaning your machine. If you got hurt, you were fired. Even if you got hurt because of your boss skipping on maintaining the machines. Wages were as low as the employers wanted them because so many people needed jobs. There was no ventilation for the machines, and so you breathed in the coal soot smoke all day. Men received 10 cents an hour, women 2 to 5 cents an hour, and children a half penny to a penny an hour. A loaf of bread was 5 cents, a cup of milk 2 cents. This meant a child barely could feed themselves… and many children were starving, malformed from standing still at factories all day, and missing fingers or limbs from the dangerous work.

Out of the condition of childhood labor, and all the children dying daily in factories, unions formed. They ran by negotiating with the factory and shop owners better working conditions and wages, or else the employees wouldn’t show up to work. It might cost a few more pennies to pay everyone a living wage, but it cost a lot more to have the factory shut down. It cost a few more pennies to enact child labor laws, safety standards, and workers compensation… but it cost less than having your whole business collapse because no one wanted to support the machines that were killing children to make goods.

Bit by bit, working conditions improved. Wages went up. It was now illegal to lock your employees into the store or factory. People had to be given breaks. And time to eat. There was a standard set of hours and time off — and overtime and holiday pay established.

Now, some places became union-only. So you couldn’t work there if you didn’t participate and join the union. This was so that the workers stood strong together. This kind of a place is called a Closed Shop. A lot of people think these still exist and you can’t work at this place or that without joining the union there. This isn’t true.

In 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act said a person couldn’t be dismissed for refusing to participate in the union.

“But there was much more to this law.

The Taft-Hartley Act additionally required that employment agreements collectively bargained for to benefit union members would also be required to inure to the complete benefit of non-member employees, even though these employees elect not to join the union.” (Forbes)

“But did you know that Taft-Hartley further requires that the union be additionally obligated to provide non-members’ with virtually all the benefits of union membership even if that worker elects not to become a card-carrying union member?

By way of example, if a non-member employee is fired for a reason that the employee believes to constitute a wrongful termination, the union is obligated to represent the rights of that employee in the identical fashion as it would represent a union member improperly terminated. So rock solid is this obligation that should the non-union member employee be displeased with the quality of the fight the union has put forth on his or her behalf, that non-union member has the right to sue the union for failing to prosecute as good a defense as would be expected by a wrongfully terminated union member.

Given the fact that Taft-Hartley was providing non-union members with most all the benefits of membership without having to join up, […] it would be unfair for non-member workers to gain all these goodies at no charge while members were obligated to pay dues for the very same services the union provided.

To compensate for this, Taft-Hartley required that, while nobody could be forced to join the union, non-members would be required to pay dues to the union as if they were members. These are called “agency fees”—the equivalent of union dues when paid by a non union-member.” (Forbes)

Now, these agency fees are only for the negotiated benefits the union provides. It’s illegal for them to be used for political lobbying, or any other activities the union does. The agency fee is only for the portion of cost the union incurred while negotiating on behalf of all the employees.

So along comes the new Right-to-Work laws. These say that no one should have to pay agency fees either, but do not over turn the Taft-Harley Act. Therefore, Right-to-Work laws “permit non-union member employees to continue to get all the benefits of union representation and protection, as is still the requirement of federal law, without having to pay so much as a penny in return for these benefits.” (Forbes) AND the non-union, non-agency paying member can SUE the union if he or she doesn’t like how the union represents them.

Why in the world would any states — 28 of them so far! — sign these what seem like Right to Freeload laws?

The national Right to Work movements and political lobbying groups argue that forcing people to join unions is against some religions’ stances. That is true – but because of the Taft-Harley Act, no one is forced to join unions.

The Right to Work groups argue our freedom is restricted if we have to pay agency fees. That money we could pocket. Yes, that is true. But then there will be a weaker union. And a weaker union leads to a union breaking up. In states where Right-to-Work has passed, the average income for workers has reduced by 3% (Forbes). The medium income has increased — this is because that 3% the workers lost is going to the factory and business owners — driving up the maximum income in the state… but not the average. Medium and average are not the same thing.

So this is a case of what is the lesser evil, the greater good?

If you’re thinking as an individual, it looks like it would be better to have a bigger pay check by not paying union or agency fees. If you’re thinking as an individual, it looks like it would be better to pay your workers less, give them less benefits, and therefore have a more profitable company.

If you’re thinking as part of a community, you know that by sacrificing some of your paycheck now for agency fees or union dues, you end up with a larger paycheck over time because the union is fighting and protecting you from being exploited. If you’re thinking as a part of a community, you know if you pay your workers more and give them more benefits, they tend to live happier and healthier lives, are more productive, and more company loyal.

What way is better to think? Think individually or think collectively? For only self or self and other or only other?

Every moment of our day, every decision we make, we have to balance these choices.

Our scripture and our faith is adamant we are to think collectively and with the other. We’re to think as the Body of Christ, as many members but one body. We’re to think ‘I’m glad I have a day off,’ and think about those who are working jobs without a living wage – so much work two or three jobs to make ends meet – and they have no days off. We’re to think that low-income worker is me — for we’re the body of Christ. We’re to think we are as healthy and as strong, as well off and as whole as the least member of ourselves. We’re to think of the resident aliens, the strangers, the immigrants, the people held into slavery of debt, and know God commands we grant everyone time to rest.

We grant everyone wholeness and healing.

We grant everyone compassion and shalom…

… Because God grants it to us.

The Pharisees aren’t bad guys. Those who think individually aren’t bad guys. But Christians are called to look at the bigger picture Jesus shows us, called to think differently, called to think collectively and act generously to all.

Amen.

((https://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2012/12/11/right-to-work-laws-explained-debunked-demystified/3/#4499ec9e6439))

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.

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.

Sola Fide – Faith Alone

Matthew 22:15-22 (34-46)dawn_martinluther
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 (2:1-8)

 

Picture with me the most evil person you can. Historic or not. The most evil.

Got them in mind?

Okay, now, if, on their death bed, they have a change of mind and soul, and had faith in Jesus – would they go to heaven? Even with having not one single good deed their entire life?

If you answer yes – you may be Protestant.
If you answered no – you may be Roman Catholic.

The 500th Anniversary of the start of the Reformation is this October 31st. And it is from that time we get the phrase ‘Sola fide,’ faith alone, and salvation through faith alone is the a root of the division among Protestants and Roman Catholics.

But back in 1517, there was no division here in the Western church. But there was a monk named Martin Luther who was thinking that no matter what he did, he wouldn’t get into heaven.

He could never be good enough.

Martin Luther was from a middle class family in what is now Germany. At his parents’ wish, Martin went into law to be a lawyer. But it’s not where his heart lay. He was obsessed with religion. But the clergy couldn’t marry and carry on family names and lineages. Lawyers could. Clergy gave up their lands. Lawyers did not.

One day, Martin, as a young man, was caught in a thunderstorm and lightening was hitting the ground all around him. He felt his life flashing before his eyes- quite literally. So he cried out to Saint Anne – save me! Pray to God for me! If you save me from this storm, I will be a monk! I’ll stop running away from religion! And the storm subsided. Martin wasn’t injured. So several days later, he left law school and joined a monastery.

To say his parents were happy is a bold faced lie.

Martin still loved studying, and read everything he could to do about religion.

“Many Christians of the late Middle Ages had a great fear of demons and devils, and were terrified of ending up in hell. Mortality rates were high and life was very uncertain due to disease, accidents, childbirth and wars. Luther shared those fears and his first years in the monastery he was tormented with the idea that all men were hopeless sinners in the sight of God and unworthy of salvation… Luther followed all the requirements of the cloister – prayer, fasting, living a spartan life – but carried everything to such an extreme that his superiors were worried about him.

He wore out his confessor with marathon sessions of confessing, going over every thought in detail, then starting again from the beginning. His confessor, Father Staupitz,” – think of that for a moment. His name is Stop-Itz! And stop-it is just what he told Luther. He said, “Look here, if you expect Christ to forgive you, come in with something to forgive- parricide, blasphemy, adultery -instead of all these peccadilloes.” ((https://www.uncommon-travel-germany.com/martin-luther-biography.html))

And still the weight of feeling unworthy before God weighed so heavily on Martin Luther.

See, the church taught that when one was truly sorry for their sins, and confessed them, a representative of God could forgive those sins.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.

Then a person had to pay back to debt they owed God for the sins. Every sin carries a different weight of debt, and priests sometimes kept books with lists of sins and what the debt was for that sin.

Lie? Pray 10 Hail Marys with your rosary.
Kill someone? Time to go on a Crusade and offer your life in return for the life you took. Or pay for someone else to go on a Crusade in your stead.

Other ways of paying off debt, for yourself or on behalf of others (like, say, your son or daughter), was to go view or touch relics. Relics are an item a holy person owned, or a piece of that holy person. By being in their presence, it’s like some of their holiness could wear off on you. And you could pray to them, or to other saints, to intercede for you. To talk with God on your behalf. And to negotiate to lower that amount you owe for all those sins.

And you could visit holy sites, pilgrimages.

And you could give money or land or even your children to the church.

But was it ever enough? How could you be sure you were going to heaven and not hell?

It wasn’t ever enough for Martin Luther.

He wrote, “Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, ‘As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!’ Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience.”

He realized that even if he sat doing nothing, he was still sinning. Sloth. Or he was thinking unholy thoughts. Or he could have been doing something charitable and he wasn’t.

And he couldn’t pay off the debt of Original Sin.

And always feeling like he was a worm, and nothing, and never good enough for God, and feeling God was punishing people in life and in death, made the monk Martin Luther begin to hate God.

Could anyone make it to heaven? Luther was beginning to think the answer was no.

He wasn’t the only one. Perhaps pastorally, somewhere between Jesus and Martin Luther, the church had begun to teach about Purgatory.

Where would a death-bed confession from an evil person send that soul? The church 500 years ago likely would have answered “Did that person receive forgiveness for their sins after confessing faith, and their sins, and asking for forgiveness? If yes – they had Final Rights… then they died without sin… but with a MAJOR debt. So they are not perfect enough for heaven, but may be given the opportunity to choose purgatory versus hell.”

Everyone Luther saw was going to purgatory because everyone was sinning. Purgatory is where those sins are purged, removed, and soul made fully clean. It was hell, but temporary hell versus the hell of eternity.

So how long does someone end up in temporary hell? It depends on what the living on earth do for the departed. Praying for the dead, giving offerings in their names, lighting candles for them, or getting Indulgences. These are given by clergy as a remission, a payment, of some of the time owed. Sometimes it was wrote out as “The name signed below is given an indulgence of 40 years.” Meaning, it was worth as if the person had lived 40 years as a good Christian.

Remember – we are talking about teachings 500 years ago. Modern Roman Catholic ideas on purgatory and indulgences and heaven and hell are, of course, 500 years more advanced and changed and refined. Just as none of us -I hope!- today preach and think just like Martin Luther… who really hated farmers and Jews, among many other categories of people.

Anyways – hell below, heaven above, and purgatory in between is how Martin Luther’s world understood things. The sinful and unrepentant below, the sinful but repentant in the middle, and the sinless and united with Jesus above.

If you answered that if someone has faith in Jesus before they die, that they’ll be in heaven… regardless if the whole rest of their lives they were evil…Then you’re thinking like Martin Luther in his later years.

After decades of beating himself up, Martin Luther read the works of Saint Augustine, from 300 AD. And he read the book of Romans extensively. Older Luther wrote, “I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted. At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, ‘In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’’ There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’

Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me. Thereupon I ran through the Scriptures from memory. I also found in other terms an analogy, as, the work of God, that is, what God does in us, the power of God, with which he makes us strong, the wisdom of God, with which he makes us wise, the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God. And I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the hatred with which I had before hated the word ‘righteousness of God.’ Thus that place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise.” (Luther’s Writings 34:336-337)

Martin Luther had discovered “sola fide,” Faith alone. The righteous live by faith.

Faith alone, in Christ alone, means God alone gives grace, gives salvation.

No one is good enough for heaven. But God chooses to look at us as if we are Jesus, if we have faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior. No works, no deeds, no payments, no prayers, nothing we do on Earth, or in purgatory, will ever cleanse us of all sin. But God loves us anyways. And we can receive this gift of love, which we cannot lose, if we accept Jesus as our Savior. Jesus stands in for all that sin debt.

Martin Luther was so happy and released from his torment that he told EVERYONE about his discovery. We’re going to talk next week about how not everyone thought Martin Luther’s sharing was caring.

This week – we’re looking at sola fide. At solo, only, alone fidelity, faith, or trust.

Luther’s revelation is that NO ONE is good enough for heaven. NO ONE can get to heaven on their own merits. You can’t be a good enough person to stand in the presence of God. Somehow, in someway, you’re always carrying sin. Not a single person living or dead besides Christ is sinless.

But… Jesus promises us life with God, and reunion. So how is that possible?

It must be, Martin concludes, that even though we are sinners, and guilty – God chooses to look at us as if we are Jesus.

And we have to trust this.

No dogmas, no creeds, no teachings, no indulgences, no special prayers get us into heaven. Nothing we do gets us there. This is God’s gift and in faith we receive it through Christ.

That also means there is no one more or less holy, more or less worthy. You either have faith, and receive the gift offered to you – or you don’t and reject the gift. And if received… there isn’t an organization to heaven.

You can’t be the first or the last in heaven. We’re equals. The greatest sinner and the greatest saint are all equals.

So, you might think like Paul – and ask – why should we ever live a life of love and charity then, if love and charity don’t give us rewards?

Some Protestants answered, like the Methodist, that good works are our way of becoming holy and ready for heaven while alive.

But Luther’s answer was we can’t be perfect. Instead, good works, faith works, are our response to God’s love. It is our work to bring the Reign of God closer. It is our voluntary choice to walk closer to God’s Way.

So Jesus, today, in our scripture, tells us to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.

What belongs to God? Our hearts, souls, and minds.

What more we give is out of love and in response to God’s love. It is not required. It is not demanded. It will not earn us Heaven because Heaven is already gifted to us – and we cannot get “more” or it or “less” of it.

So… it is a lie that you have to tithe to be Christian. It is a lie that you have to give money to a church to get into heaven. It is also a lie that willing money to a church safeguards you a place in heaven. Churches promising you a place in the afterlife that have a price tag attached are churches abusing your faith and… working as a cult.

God wants your hearts, souls, and minds. If you choose to support your church, that is your choice. It ain’t giving you more heaven.

It is a lie that if Betty gets 100k likes on Facebook God is going to heal her. Betty is a precious child of God and God wants to best for her whether she gets 100k digital thumbs up or none. Facebook pages doing this gather up all your likes, and then sell the page that used to belong to ‘Betty’ to another business, who changes the name, and then fills your Facebook feed with their advertisements. (Because you clicked ‘like’ on the page when it was for Betty.)

Don’t give Betty a thumbs up. Give a local charity money, or time, or donations if you feel moved to compassion.

What about the posts and messages saying “FORWARD IF YOU LOVE JESUS! Forward to 10 people in 5 minutes to prove you love the Lord!”

Nothing you post, don’t post, forward, or don’t forward, proves your love to God. Don’t get trapped in the guilt and in the manipulation. Don’t start thinking your deeds – or lack thereof – predicates, determines, whether or not you’re heaven-bound.

Salvation, peace, unity, reunion with God is through faith alone.

Trust.

Trust you are loved.

And let that trust, that love, guide your actions.

Let your deeds be faith deeds. Deeds you do out of your faith – not guilt deeds, or shame deeds, or hoping-for-more-heaven-deeds.

You’re good enough. Right now. You’re good enough tomorrow and tomorrow and eternally. God loves you. Right now.

No signing on the dotted line, honking, cross-wearing, movie-watching, radio-station listening, political candidate support or anything else required.

Just faith.

The classical Protestant belief is that faith alone is all that is required.

Amen.

Like Father’s Voice

orlando1 Kings 19:1-15a
Galatians 3:23-29

All over the world, in all religions, people seek messages from the Divine to humanity. Where birds fly, how many times a cat licks her paw, meteors and shooting stars; the birth of a boy or girl; the outcome of a war or a sports game. We want to find evidence of God acting in our world and lives.

You know of the Orlando tragedies – of death after death. Because the terrorist attack was at a gay night club, there are Christian pastors saying this was God’s will, God’s punishment, on the men and women for being gay.

We have heard this rhetoric before. Why was New Orleans swamped and destroyed by Hurricane Katrina? Because of Mardi Gras. God chose to punish the sinful city.

Why did 9-11 happen? Because God chose to punish the sinful city of New York.

Name any catastrophe, any murder, any horror and somebody somewhere will be saying this terror was the will of God.

Our scripture, however, reads: “Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him,”

God wasn’t the hurricane and tornado; God wasn’t the earthquake and wildfire. God isn’t violence and harm and hate and hurt. God didn’t murder the priests in Elijah’s day. Didn’t scheme to raise Elijah as a prophet by destroying all the others. No. God, we must insist, is love. God is good. God is the sheer silence, the still small voice, the God who comes to Elijah and gives him food and drink. The God who hears Elijah’s prayers and responds powerfully. It’s God who is present.

Evils happen. Evils – where life is lost senselessly, where heartache and pain seem endless. God isn’t the evil.

God is in the voices and in the silences responding to evil. God is the voices saying, Let me help you. Let me bring you food. Let me bring you water. Let me pray with you. God is in the silences – the family and friends and strangers going to vigils, writing sympathy cards, and being shoulders to cry on.

When Elijah comes to the mountain top, God asks Elijah again and again – why are you HERE. Why HERE? And Elijah tells God – God! Your people have forgotten your ways. They’ve destroyed your places of worship. They’re murdered your priests! Doesn’t God already know this? Wouldn’t God already be wholly aware? Elijah isn’t there telling God some news. God isn’t remote. God is present.

No, Elijah is really saying: God. I’m scared. They want me dead. I’m alone.

And God’s answer is — no, you’re not alone. A peace beyond understanding, a supernatural silence, goes with you wherever you go. This peace is me, God. Yes, you’re scared. But I am with you. Yes, your enemies want you dead. But I prepare a feast before them and anoint you with oil – for the valley filled with the shadows, the threats, of death don’t scare me. I am God. I am with you.

Then God tells Elijah to go right back into the valley. Tells him to go right back to the Israelites who have forsaken, forgotten, God. Go back. And why?!

Because God isn’t a wildfire, earthquake, or tornado. God is a Word, a voice, a silence, a verb, a deed – God is a presense. And God sends Elijah back so that those who don’t know God will come to know God through Elijah.

God isn’t a terrorist, isn’t out to send hurricanes, or level cities. God didn’t murder the men and women of the Pulse Night Club. Because, God isn’t some disciplinarian, writes John. God isn’t a temperamental father waiting to strike you down if you mess up. No – God is our LOVING parent. God is like a LOVING dad; or LOVING mother, grandma, grandma — a caretaker who wants to wipe away tears and be present with us.

If God was a disciplinarian who sent out disasters, terrorists, and death to every person who sinned… who among us would be here today?

Jesus asked the same: who among you is without sin? You may be the first to judge.

Yes, there will be a judgment, a time, when God directs us to face our hearts and minds and deeds. But that is in God’s hands and on God’s time schedule. As Jesus said, not even the angels know when.

What we do know is to call ourselves Christian, we cannot be casting stones. To call ourselves Christian, we cannot be claiming God is punishing this sinner but not that sinner. To call ourselves Christian, we have to obey the Greatest Commandment: to LOVE God, and to LOVE each other.

LOVE, we have been commanded. Not JUDGE. Love.

Because, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” There is no sinner or non-sinner. There are simply children of God, robed in Christ.

Elijah is sent back – to people who want him dead – to spread the message of God.

We are sent from our churches, our homes, our comfort places – to people of all walks of life – to spread the message of God.

The message of acceptance and love.

This Father’s Day there are at least 49 fathers missing children who were murdered last week. There is a father missing a toddler. There is a father missing a daughter. Since Pulse happened, a 125 more shootings in the US have occurred — most 1 on 1 — but 125 dead by guns. All around the world fathers, mothers, grandmothers, grandparents, lovers, siblings, friends, and children are weeping.

We are sent.

We are sent to carry God’s presence into the world. We are sent to love.

We pray to God as Father, as Jesus did. So we often think of God as Father. But if our earthly role model of father has a raging voice as loud as a hurricane, and a temper as hot as wildfire, if he split rocks and threw things and was violent… we should be very careful not to confuse our Heavenly Father with our Earthly one. For our Heavenly Father wasn’t any of these things… but was the tender voice, the guide, the caretaker.

Your earthly caretaker – whomever he or she is – they speak with a voice like God.

You – child of God, heirs to the promise of God’s abiding care and presence – you are an earthly caretaker. It’s your job to be the voice and be the presence of God – for many won’t make the trip to the mountain, or church, or Bible. So it’s your job to live the Christian message. Your job to be the Christian message. Your job to be love when there is so much hate.

May your presence, love, and voice be a counter to the hate the world likes to think Christians spew. Amen.