Tag: Justice

Forgiveness is not Reconciliation

Genesis 45:3-11,15 download
Luke 6:27-38

We’re back in that time of year again… we’re entering Lent. There’s going to be lots of talking of forgiveness and reconciliation. Lots of focus on guilt, shame, and unearned mercy. A lot of time of talking about being… a Christian doormat.

Does anyone want to wipe their feet on a mat? Here I am! Choose me!

For literal centuries if not millennia Jesus’ phrases to “forgive seven times seventy times” and “pray for those who abuse you” have been used to keep the abused in prisons of faith. They’ve been used to keep victims silent, compliant, and going along with whatever horrible things their abuser does.

Don’t complain about the harm done to you. Grin and bear it. Pray for your abuser.

Forgive your abuser, or else God won’t forgive your own sins.

If you’re ever striked on the cheek, offer your other cheek.

And the one I hate the most? Be like a silent lamb led to slaughter, just as was Christ.

NO! No! Before we step into this Lenten season, let’s stop right now. Right now and put away this damaging language and theology. This kind of bad theology literally kills people. It kills women who stay with their abusers. It kills children who are scared to speak up. It kills men ashamed of what they’ve experienced.

If ever scripture is used as a weapon against victims… then someone is using scripture in a wrong way.

We must pause here and take the concept of forgiveness away from the toolbox of abusers… and place it back into context. Back into the toolbox of grace, and love, and healing where God intends it to be.

Jesus today speaks his words while still on the level place. While still standing right here, with us, in the middle of our messy lives. He uses hyperbole, extreme language, to point out truths of how we are to live in the way of blessings.

He says: pay attention. Most of your relationships are business transactions. You expect to be treated a certain way, and you react as how you are treated. This is just what every human does – sinners or not.

If your spouse is loving towards you, you are loving towards your spouse.

If your waiter is rude to you, you are rude to your waiter.

And you expect the same back. If you treat people poorly, expect them to treat you poorly back.

This is the Silver? Rule. We relate to one another based on how we assume the other will treat us, or is treating us.

It’s a logical, human, rule. A fair rule.

I hear it utilized most often with taxes. Consider… I pay taxes for my roads. Therefore, I expect my roads to be maintained. However, I don’t use the public school – so why should I pay taxes for it? I pay taxes for my government representatives. I expect them to represent me. When they don’t, why should I keep paying?

When we apply the Silver Rule to forgiveness, it sounds like this: I will forgive you when you apologize. If you don’t apologize, I won’t forgive you. I will forgive myself when I correct the wrong I did. If I can’t fix it, then I shouldn’t forgive myself. It is dangerous to forgive an abuser, because then you’ll become a victim all over again. And just be the door mat. So do not forgive those who will keep hurting you.

But reconciliation is not the same as forgiveness. These are two different things.

Forgiving someone is not the same as permitting them to be in your life.

Forgiveness doesn’t belong to the Silver Rule of reciprocal relationships.

Whether or not taxes belong to the Silver Rule tends to determine your political leanings and whether one likes big or small government. That’s out of my specialization.

Forgiveness, however? Don’t make it a business transaction.

When Jesus is speaking about “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who abuse you” Jesus is speaking about the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule of “To Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You.” The Golden rule which is not about fairness, but about the virtue of compassion.

The Golden Rule supersedes the Silver Rule. The Golden Rule says I can forgive someone without reconciling, without entering a relationship again, with them.

To forgive is to stop expecting that person to get what they deserve. It is to let them off the hook and stop seeking repayment from them. It never means forgetting. It never means re-entering that relationship. It never means the person you forgive even needs to apologize.

All of these things CAN happen, but are not NECESSARY. All of these things CAN be steps towards reconciliation… but are not prerequisites for forgiveness.

Forgiveness is about giving up the desire for revenge.

God has forgiven us. Every single one of us. While we were still sinners. God chose to stop looking for a way for humanity to make up for all the wrongs we’ve done. God chose to stop seeking a way for us to pay. This is mercy. Unearned grace. This is forgiveness. We cannot do a thing about this because it is God’s choice.

We have the same power. We can forgive someone and they cannot do a thing about it.

God hopes to be reconciled with us. To re-enter relationship with us. But that means that we have to respond and want this. We have to seek out God as God seeks us out. We have to begin again anew.

We also have this power with one another. We can choose to seek out those who have forgiven us, or those we have forgiven and begin anew our relationship… or we can choose not to. We can choose who we are in relationship with.

For forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things.

In our first reading we heard a historic account of how these things are different. Remember Joseph is the youngest of the many, many sons of Jacob. When Joseph was little he was the baby and the favorite of his dad. His dad gave him a coat of many colors. Well, Joseph began to have dreams of the future. And in one of these dreams, he dreamed all his brothers AND his dad would bow down to him one day.

This went over pretty poorly with the whole family. They thought their little boy was getting very full of himself and spoiled. So the brothers schemed to kill Joseph. But one bargained to just throw him in a well. Meanwhile, another brother sold the kid into slavery.

So Joseph grew up a slave. And changed hands. Ended up in Egypt. And eventually became an adviser to the pharaoh himself because of Joseph’s prophetic dreams and dream interpretation skill.

A famine comes to the land and everyone is desperate for food. Joseph had assisted pharaoh with dream interpretation for this, and Egypt was fine. But Joseph’s brothers outside of Egypt are not. They appear in Egypt to beg for food.

It’s been… decades. But Joseph hasn’t forgiven his brothers who tried to kill him and sold him into slavery. Before today’s reading, he does deeds to make them pay. He makes insane demands. He sends them on errands. He keeps their littlest brother a hostage. He is making them pay.

Joseph is following the Silver Rule. His brothers hurt him, so he’s going to hurt them back.

But Joseph’s heart changes. He ends up forgiving them. They are hungry. They are scared. They cannot do anything to ever make right what they did all those years ago. Joseph forgives his brothers.

They never even know it is him. They never apologize. He gives up his need for revenge and takes on the need for compassion. He feels compassion for the brothers. This is the Golden Rule. They have given him harm, but he chooses to stop the cycle of violence. He gives compassion where he was given hate.

And then Joseph chooses to move from forgiveness – move from trying to make them pay for their sins – to reconciliation. He reveals himself to them as Joseph.

“Come closer to me. I am your brother, Joseph, who you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.”

Come closer to me. Come, rejoin a relationship with me. Let us be brothers again… not lord and servants. Not enemies.

Yes, you sold me into Egypt. It is important in any reconciliation to not ignore the past. To not sweep it under the rug. Otherwise, it will become a cyst. A sore that remains toxic and lying there, waiting for someone to touch it and make it weep again.

“Do not be distressed or angry with yourself because you sold me.” I have forgiven you. I’m not going to seek to make you pay. I’m not going to throw you in the dungeon or kill you. It is okay for you to forgive yourselves, too. We can’t change what happened. We can seek to move forward.

“God sent me before you to preserve life.” Joseph interprets his time in Egypt as God’s plan to save the family. Joseph recognizes he has the power here of life or death over his brothers …. Much as they had the power of life and death over him. And he chooses to preserve life. He chooses to stand with God. He chooses to forgive, and then, if his brothers are willing, to reconcile with him.

We read that Joseph kissed his brothers, wept upon them, and after that – his brothers talked with him.

They chose to re-enter the relationship with their brother Joseph, too.

The group moved from enmity, anger and shame, to forgiveness… to Joseph giving up the desire to harm his brothers. To reconciliation. The brothers all choosing together to begin anew their life together.

In my own life I am struggling with my old obstetrician. After my daughter died, I desperately wanted justice. I wanted her to pay for the death of my daughter. I wanted her license stripped. I wanted her to know my own pain. I wanted everyone to know what a horrid doctor she is to ignore me and my concerns and how I would be dead had not my husband intervened and saved me after our daughter died. I could not do good to her. I hated her. Maybe I still hate her.

I hired lawyers and I had violent dreams and I said many horrible things.

And I feel justice was denied to me.

Now what?

She will never apologize to me. It would cost her her license and livelihood. She will never admit she did wrong. No lawyer could guarantee a jury would side with me over a licensed doctor, so although they said there was wrong… the laws are not in my favor.

The OB’s life goes on. Unchanged. My life stopped. Hung up. Forever radically changed.

I don’t even cross her mind. She is on mine almost daily.

I continue to suffer. How long?

Jesus’ words on the level plain today are for people like me. People who will never get the justice they believe they deserve, and the person who wronged them will never pay, and who know we are never able to turn back time and fix things we, or another, did. People who cannot ever change the fact they metaphorically were sold into slavery… or sold a brother into slavery.

That doesn’t mean we have to keep the burdens on our shoulders. We can choose to lay them down. Choose to give up our right to revenge … and choose not fair, unearned, mercy. Unearned grace. We can be merciful just as God is merciful.

Through a process of acknowledging the hurt, acknowledging the pain, and taking all of this to God… we can begin to awaken compassion again. Awaken forgiveness. Awaken ourselves to the life going on now… and have new growth out of the ashes of our woes.

Jesus’ sermon on the level is about taking the power back from those who hurt us. It is about how forgiveness is our own to give, or not give. But giving it – choosing to wish good on others, even those that hurt us – is good for our own souls. Grudges are heavy. They harm our current relationships. They assist in keeping us in depression.

It is like… when the harm first happens, we invest 100% of our energy into revenge. Over time, that drops to 80%, to 60%, to 40 to 20 to 0…

Forgiveness is like grieving. It takes time. It takes work. It isn’t clear cut. I might feel very forgiving today, and much less next week.

But forgiveness IS freeing. It releases us from the burden of seeking recompense. Payment. It gives us that energy back to invest into other relationships.

Now, as I’ve said, I must reiterate… Forgiveness is not reconciliation. I will not go back to that OB. I don’t want that relationship. I don’t want her in my life. I do want to forgive her… but God knows I’m not there yet.

So as we go into Lent, know we’re on a journey together. A journey where we are in the process of forgiving ourselves and each other. A journey where there is opportunity for reconciliation, but it is not a commandment. And this journey doesn’t begin and end over 40 days. It is our entire lives. Perhaps into the next life. But it is a journey we each are on together.

Amen.

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Shocking Scandal

Jeremiah 1 4:-20
Luke 4:21-30

Epiphany 4C

ajAerM1_700b_v2

Jesus is… so confrontational today. I’m tempted to paint his village as unkind, but they ARE kind. They welcome Jesus in and speak well of him. They speak with amazement. They’ve heard he’s been doing miracles, and welcome him home.

Oh sure, some point out this is just Joseph’s boy. Maybe they elbow each other about silly antics Jesus did as a baby. They don’t think of him as a prophet. They especially don’t think of him as the son of God; or as God incarnate.

But they’re not intentionally cruel. Just a little… belittling.

While they’re still in amazement at how Jesus has grown, Jesus puts words in their mouths. “You’re going to say ‘Doctor, cure thyself!’ and you’re going to ask me to do the miracles here I did in the past. But I’m not going to, because you won’t accept me.”

I bet the town is confused at first. Accept you? Of course we accept you little sugarplum! But yet, if you want us to think you’re more than the kid we babysat, you’ll have to show us a miracle.

Jesus continues to their shocked and scandalized faces, “Do you remember the prophet Elijah? There was a severe famine. It didn’t rain for 3 years and 6 months. There were widows everywhere and everywhere were people suffering. But God sent Elijah to none of these widows but one – a foreign widow in a foreign town.

When Elijah arrives, God tells him the widow is going to provide food and shelter for him. But the widow tells Elijah she is gathering sticks to make the very last of her flour and oil for herself and her son… and then they are going to die from the famine. Elijah tells her, “Give me this last bit of bread, and my god will be sure your jar of flour and jar of oil don’t run out until it rains again.”

The woman face a choice. She could believe this stranger and give her last meal to him… or she could give the last bit of food to herself and her son. She could have faith in this strange god, or she could keep to her local gods.

She chooses to give Elijah the bread.

And God makes sure they have oil and flour for herself, the boy, and Elijah during the whole famine.

Elijah was sent to the marginalized, the powerless, those starving, and those in need of hearing about God. Elijah was sent to those who would accept him.

Picture it, anger is appearing on the faces of Jesus’ neighbors and cousins and brothers and uncles. His aunts and sisters and nieces getting the second hand account outside of the synagogue. Our Jesus, OUR Jesus, isn’t going to do any miracles here?! We raised him! And he won’t even do a single awesome thing here?

He should show preferential treatment to his own family and town! THAT is US!

He thinks WE won’t accept him? We raise this kid! He OWES us!

Jesus implies his hometown doesn’t need miracles: they already have them and live with God. And, that although they are suffering, there are worse off people that Jesus is being sent to by God.

Do you feel the anger growing? Why don’t we who faithfully serve get rewarded miracles? We, who are born into the faith, we should be the special ones.

Jesus continues by bringing up the next beloved prophet of our shared history: Elisha. In Elisha’s time, many, many people had leprosy. But Elisha miraculously cured only one: Naaman.

Naaman isn’t Jewish. He is haughty. He doesn’t trust God or the prophet Elisha. But finally he bathes in the river as directed, and miraculously is cured of his leprosy. From there, he changes faith and honors God and the prophet, and shares his faith at home.

But the Jewish lepers continue to have leprosy.

This is NOT fair.

Jesus’ relatives and neighbors get up to their feet furious. You’re saying God is showing preferential treatment to those who don’t honor God?

You’re saying WE won’t accept YOU? Physician, heal yourself!

And they run Jesus out of his hometown and try to kill him.

… And they were right. Jesus is not about what’s fair. He tells parables of a master giving his servants all the same amount of money whether they worked an hour or eight hours. That’s not fair.

He talks about sons who run away, spend all their father’s wealth, and come home broke being honored while sons who stay and obey their father get their normal lot. Really not fair to that older son.

Jesus is not about fair.

Jesus is about just.

Justice says those in Jesus’ hometown knew God loved them and knew how to live according to God’s word. Jesus’ ministry is to show the world of God’s love… not just those who already know.

Justice says everyone should have enough money to eat, even if they can only find work for an hour.

Justice says God welcomes home the sinners and the sinless, because all are God’s children.

But it’s not fair.

Not fair in the least.

But it is justice.

Picture three boys trying to watch a baseball game, but there’s a wooden fence in the way. Each boy is a different height: tall, average, and short. The tall boy can see over the fence. The other two cannot. We have three box they can stand on to help them see. How shall we distribute the boxes?

First, lets be fair. We give each boy one box to stand on. Now the tall boy is even taller and can still see. The average boy can now see. But the short boy is still too short.

We can’t give preferential treatment to the last, right? That wouldn’t be fair. But all three boys cannot see the game.

So let’s be just. Justice says the tall boy doesn’t need help to see. Justice says the second average sized boy needs just one box to see. And the third boy needs two boxes to see. Now, all three can see the game. But we had to distribute the boxes according to need instead of all getting some.

If you’ve seen or heard this illustration, then you know what comes next: the best world is where we don’t need boxes at all because we take away the barrier of the wooden fence. All three boys can watch the game through a chain-link fence without help.

That is shalom. That is wholeness. That is curing the world of systemic sin and barriers and woes. That is the heaven on earth we are called to create.

But in the meantime… there is sin… and there are boxes to help people cope with it… How are we going to use our resources to help people?

Jesus tells us to lower the high and lift up the low, so all are equitable. That means for his hometown, and for us, there’s not preferential treatment JUST because we’re faithful.

The reward for being Christian is being among the people of God, and living aware of God’s love of us.

Miracles, an easy life, favoritism from God? Those are not a given. Very faithful people are denied miracles and very faithless people get them. And the reverse happens, too.

The reward for being Christian is the life lived. The life reborn. The foretaste of the life God is bringing.

And it ain’t fair. And its scandalous.

But it is good news to those who need it the most.

Amen.

Impossible but for God

Mark 10:17-31 america-wealth-distribution
Hebrews 4:12-16

Today’s reading is one of those readings pastors are often told to “manage.” Manage it – don’t tell your congregation to be aesthetics and own no possessions. Don’t tell people to live in communes and hold all things in equal possession. Don’t advocate communism, or socialism, or speak of the writings of Karl Marx. No word of the groundbreaking work of Max Weber in his book “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.”

Manage it, and don’t let the genie out of the bottle!

A lot of pastors listen to the advice and try to manage the story.

Have you been told the story before that there was a gate in Jerusalem named “Eye of the Needle.” After dark, the big gates were closed and this little gate left open. The only way to get a camel through it was to unload the camel of all their baggage. Then the camel could get through on his knees. Therefore, Jesus must mean that the rich can get into heaven on their knees once they’ve gotten rid of their riches that are burdens.

It’s a great story.

It’s also utterly false. A monk made this up in the 9th century. No such gate existed.

And most rich I know don’t feel burdened by their wealth. Do you feel too wealthy?

Managing Jesus with the gate story – makes the rich hopeful, does nothing for the poor. That’s not the way of Christ.

I’ve heard this story managed by explaining the word translated as camel was actually supposed to be the Greek word for cable – like a ship cable or very thick rope. Sounds awful hard to get that through a needle… but you could get part of it through, or a little bit over time, or even could get a bigger needle. Big, big needles are used to sew ship masts.

We could manage the story this way and argue that the rich slip into heaven with difficulty, but heaven grows to accommodate them. Or the rich leave behind all their extras when they die and just the soul slips through. Just the center piece of rope.

More hope for the rich. Again – nothing for the poor. This is not the way of Christ. Christ came preaching good news for the poor.

In the history of the church, the church once became more powerful and rich and influential than kingdoms. As the wealth became accumulated, popes and bishops and archbishops and even local clergy lived in homes better off than their neighbors. Monasteries became little kingdoms unto themselves owning large tracks of land with serfs – almost slaves – renting the land from them to scratch out a living. The more power and wealth was concentrated into the church, the more corruption and sin snuck in. Eventually, all you needed was money to be made a clergy member. No skills at preaching, no calling from God, no commitment to living Christian needed. Just money.

How did they manage this passage? By not reading it. By controlling who could read the Bible. By reading the Bible only in languages the common people didn’t understand. The King James Version, understandable to the common person, drew on a manuscript that had the added words, “how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God”

Riches aren’t the problem. Trusting riches are. This is comfort for the rich… and again doesn’t help the poor. This is not the way of Christ. Christ decried the clergy who wore large tassels, spoke long prayers, and said ‘Thank God I’m not like that poor sinner over there!’

Modern pastors like to argue Jesus knew the particular weakness and sin of the rich man who came to him. So when Jesus tells him to give away his possessions to the poor, Jesus was hitting the man in his secret sin spot. This passage is managed by saying THAT RICH MAN, not me, has an issue with money. Jesus doesn’t ask me to share my wealth, but rather to give up whatever I treasure that separates me from following God. Maybe cursing. Maybe TV. Maybe road rage.

This is comfort for the rich, and doesn’t help the poor. Although it is good advice to get closer to God… Jesus doesn’t view God and you having an isolated, exclusive, relationship. God is found wherever two or three are gathered. God is in community. Giving up cursing is not good news to the poor, the captive, the slave.

Other modern pastors say the man was trying to EARN heaven, and Jesus shows how futile it is to earn heaven. No one could follow the commandments, or really give up all they own. Only the grace of God lets us in heaven. So why try to earn heaven? Just let go and let God.

But the belief in Judaism is that people really can follow the commandments. And Jesus looks at this man, and LOVES him. A rare use of love. Then Jesus invites this man to become a disciple – maybe one of the closest like Matthew or Mark or Peter. All the man needs to do is give all he owns to the poor, and follow Jesus. If this was just to show heaven cannot be EARNED, why does Jesus let the man go away grieving? Why not add, “You cannot earn heaven, but you can be given it?”

No. Jesus says: How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kindom of heaven.

The disciples are as upset as we are to hear this. Peter believes in the prosperity gospel. He believes that God favors those who help themselves – much as Benjamin Franklin would have us believe. Peter believes that God sends wealth to the righteous and moral and hardworking, and the lazy and sinful and immortal are poor. Peter points to this man who has followed ALL the commandments, and is clearly so blessed for this that he is quite wealthy, and Peter panics. If that holy of a man can’t get into heaven, how are we supposed to ever get into heaven? If the super rich priests in the temple can’t get into heaven – they who have nothing to do but pray and study God and don’t need to fish and hunt – if even they can’t get in… what about the rest of us?

We who curse? And sin? And forget to pray every day? We who don’t always have God’s blessing? Jesus – what about us? The poor?

The “first will be last, and the last will be first.”

The good news for the poor is that nothing is impossible for God. The very rich and the very poor, the very holy and the very sinful – God is able to bring anyone into heaven. Anyone into the reign of God.

For the wealthy, it is much harder than it is for the poor to live in this new reign. The wealthy have so much more to lose.

Homes.
Land.
Businesses.
Families.
Honorable names.
Comfortable lives.
Wealth.
Money.
Power.

The poor have much less to risk by following Jesus. The poor live into the realm of equality, of sharing equally, of treating all as equals much more easily than the rich who are usually born way, way more rich than others. Who are not used to viewing others as equals. Who would have to make drastic, drastic changes to live as equals with others. Changes that don’t feel fair.

Consider wealth in the USA. Wealth is calculated by your assets minus your debts. So let’s say you have a $250,000 house, but you owe $200,000 still to the bank. That means your wealth is actually only $50,000. Assets are things like your house, cars, bank accounts, retirement investments, and land. Debts are your student loans, credit cards, mortgages, and so forth.

Wealth distribution in the USA is easier with visuals. So let’s picture the USA as having only 100 people. And all their wealth together is 100 cherry pies. In an equal distribution, every person would have 1 pie. This is Jesus’ goal in the Bible. Everyone has enough. No one has too much. No one has too little.

But this world is not yet liberated from all sin.

In reality, twenty people take 90 pies for themselves in the USA, and leave 10 pies for 80 people. How do you think the 80 people will share their 10 pies?

The next 20 people take 8 of the 10 pies for themselves and pass on 2 pies. Just 2 pies for 60 people to share.

When we go back to thinking of these as dollars, when you reach the middle incomes of Americans to the bottom incomes, we are splitting 2% of the country’s wealth among us all.

60% of Americans – most of us – have only 2% of the country’s wealth.
1% of Americans own 40% of the country’s wealth all by themselves. That is a greater wealth inequality than the 1% wealthiest in France, or England, or Germany, equal with Russia and worse than Zambia! While 1 person in our story has 40 pies…

20 people have no pies at all. The 20 people in the middle income bracket take the 2 pies left from the rich and divide the slices among themselves. The next 20 people have nothing. No investments and saved money, but also no debt. It all balances out. They can’t stop working or retire or they’ll sink into the next category…

20 Americans in our story not only have no pie to eat, they owe a pie. They have more debt that income.

There is enough pie here for everyone. Even if someone took more than their share of one pie, someone else could give up a slice. But instead, 1 person sits on fourty whole pies and 40 people sit with nothing.

1 in 3 households in America are considered impoverished right now. They’re struggling to pay utilities, food, for a roof over their head.

Angry, yes? Why isn’t the pie shared so at least everyone has a bite to eat?

Why isn’t it? Not knowing? Not caring? Fear of scarcity?

What did you answer? Because the hard reality is that if you’re earning $32,000 annually… you, yourself are in the world’s 1% of richest people. Every 8 of us here together, make as much as 3.6 BILLION people.

Globally, people don’t just struggle to have food… they die from lack of food. Globally, there is still enough pie… but we’re the ones sitting on a massive store of it.

It feels very unfair that we are sending money to foreign countries, yes? Why do we owe them? No one in this room personally hurt them. And we work hard for our money!

Why do we owe them? We don’t.

Who has worked for the money? You have.

We have an ingrained morality that those who work the most should have the most wealth. You don’t eat if you don’t work. Work will set you free. We also have an ingrained idea that those who are affluent are more moral than those who are poor. The poor must be thieves, and vandals, and lazy. The rich must be honorable, and build up society, and productive.

Jesus’ time had the same ideas about wealth — and Jesus challenged them. Jesus actually spoke more about wealth than heaven or hell combined. Think about Jesus’ parable of the servants sent out to the vineyard at different times. It’s not fair those who worked an hour get a full day’s pay. Think about Jesus feeding the 5,000 — and feeding again and again. Everyone was given food and everyone invited. No work required. Jesus also spoke blessings on the poor and curses on the rich. The realm of God is found among the poor – and the rich find getting into heaven as hard as passing a camel through the eye of a needle. Utterly impossible.

We ARE the world’s rich. We ARE here, asking Jesus, what can we do to be in the realm of God? What can we do to live more fully in line with what God envisions for the world? We ARE the rich man speaking with Jesus.

And Jesus says – give all you own to the poor and follow me.

… My heart aches for this man who came to Jesus. I’m him. I’m going to walk away sad because I own a lot. I’d rather give some of my pie and not all of it away. I’d rather those richer than me give up their pie.

I look at Saint Francis with amazement. He had this much wealth. And he literally took it all off – before his family and village – and walked out of town completely naked. He left his name, his great riches, his home, his everything to follow God.

I look at the disciples with amazement. They gave up their businesses, and families. Left their homes and left their reputations. They gave up everything to follow Jesus.

I’ve never made a great sacrifice like that to follow Jesus.

Family have told me not to feel the guilt and weight of my wealth. “You’ve given your life to being a pastor!” I hear in their words, “Then who can be saved?!” much like the disciples panicked.

And the answer is still the same: For mortals, it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible. And we who are first on this earth must accept that the reign of God is first among the world’s poor, belongs to the poor, and we are dependent on the poor to be taught how to live in harmony with each other, with the world, with God. How to live humbly.

In the letter to Hebrews, we’re told God knows all out thoughts and intentions. God knows when we try to be good. And knows when we do good deeds for wrong intentions. We “are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.”

What will we say when we’re caught holding 40 pies and billions of people starve?

What will we say when we’re standing before God and accounting the sins we committed, and the sins that over took us?

Or that we were born into?

Or inherited?

The author of Hebrews tells us to be honest with our accounting. Be honest with ourselves, and our God. This isn’t because God knows us inside and out, but because God KNOWS what it is like to be human.

God has come to us, and shared our common lot.

God, in Jesus, sympathizes, understands, our weaknesses.

“Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Let us approach God, and confess we are sinners living in a sinful world – and find God’s grace – unmerited favor. Let us receive mercy – forgiveness for our intentional and unintentional sins. And let us be given the grace to help in time of need. Let us be given that Holy Spirit that say

Yeah. Things are awful. Unfair. Unjust.

Yeah. I’m just one person compared to all of this.

But you know what- I’m one person in Christ. And although this is too much for a mortal to fix, it isn’t for God.

With God, all things are possible.

We just need to dream bigger, work towards that dream of God, and live into God’s new realm now. We can do this by supporting efforts of wealth distribution: unions, farm co-ops, international and local charities, taxes on wealth and tax breaks on the poor – programs that are not fair… but that are just.

Go and be the church! Amen.
((https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/12/06/the-richest-1-percent-now-owns-more-of-the-countrys-wealth-than-at-any-time-in-the-past-50-years/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.ee96add9264b))

Overwhelmed!

Job 38:1-11 410aa5cda50273cb8dcb934ffda5455f
Mark 4:35-41

Overwhelmed. Just… overwhelmed.

A country falls when its people are divided against themselves. When we become numb to atrocities. When we tune out, look away, and protect only our own. When we become overwhelmed.

I’m feeling overwhelmed.

Puerto Rico continues to have no power. People continue to die there.

Mining is beginning in state national monuments that has been sold, by our government, to private owners.

Flint continues to have no safe drinking water. Children continue to be contaminated with lead there.

The refugee crises worldwide has reached a new record of 69 million people displaced by war, natural disasters, ethic cleansing, gang violence, global climate change and poverty.

Last Wednesday, we began to take a breath – the separation of children from their parents at our border was finally being addressed by our President… but the law he signed is causing even more issues.

Jailing families is not a solution. It is a political band-aid against outcry, hoping we’ll give up the fight and go back to being placid. It is tossing a bucket of water on a house fire our government started.

It’s going to do MORE harm.

Now, families may be detained indefinitely. Before, children could not spend more than 20 days detained before they were sent to relatives in the USA, or their home countries, or foster families in their own communities. Now, without limits, children will grow up in concentration camps indefinitely. Inside cages. In facilities not designed for children. Without education, without toys, without area to play. Some of these people are being sent to tent cities, some to abandoned Wal-marts, some to military bases, and 1,600 have been send to federal prison – not because of a federal crime, but because prisons had room to cage more humans. (https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/08/us-sending-1600-immigration-detainees-to-federal-prisons.html)

Any who take in these “prisoners” receive funding from the government to keep them. For-profit-human-detainment. Indeed, GEO, the company that owns the largest immigration detention centers, are paying money directly to politicians to sway more immigrants arrest. (dallasnews.com)

Some American citizens worry about the language of the executive order. It says -families- are to be held together. What if you are a USA citizen who has a relative who enters the USA seeking asylum? Will you now be rounded up and sent to a camp, too?

And, it does nothing to help the almost 3,700 children separated from their parents already. They continue to be in kennels with armed adults who are not allowed to comfort their cries. They are relying on one another to change their diapers and wipe their tears.

This is not some far away country or state or border. This is in our own backyard, too. The same day that the new Executive Order was signed, Immigration and Customs Enforcement — ICE — raided Salem, Ohio — a rural town just outside of Massillon.

What happened? ICE showed up at a factory and arrested about 150 people. Some were here legally, but did not have their ID on them. Most are parents.

A pastor there shared a story of a husband crying – his wife is now somewhere in Michigan or Ohio, being held indefinitely, without bail, without rights (our latest Executive Order specifically states “illegals” and those suspected of being such have no rights), and his 2 year old and 4 year old are crying ‘where is mommy?’

There are children now orphaned. They sit in the local Catholic church who has opened their doors. Sister Rene Weeks said, “Most of the [parents] are here legally, but they were taken yesterday because they didn’t have their documentation with them at the time.” And so, little children, with no parents or aunts although here legally, sit numbed and terrified in the shelter of the church. ((https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2018/06/20/ice-ohio-arrests-100-during-undocumented-immigrant-raid-meat-packing-plants/716953002/)) The nun added, “One woman who was taken was the sole adult at home… She has five children.” The school system found kids at their day care not picked up – alone – or coming home to an empty house. “It’s the terror of: ‘What’s happening to my family? I can’t contact them,’ She works with about 60 families, and she estimates about three-quarters of them were directly affected by the raid.

“A few people managed to send some text messages, but for the most part, people couldn’t talk to anybody,” she said. “They were terrorized.”(npr)

There are children who are refusing to go to day care, school, or leave their parents’ sides for fear they’ll never see them again. A real possibility.

In Ohio, we have an estimated undocumented population of 83,000, but there are only 35 pro bono immigration advocates statewide, according to the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation. Many people are facing these hearings without translators, without legal advice. This is legal, technically, but it is not Biblical.

Deut. 1:16 – “Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident foreigner.”

In many cases, people couldn’t reach their relatives for days.

You wonder – were they captured?
Deported?
Raped — yes, this is happening. And then silenced or else face their family deported. Sometimes this is happening to their children before them.
Killed? Yes. This is happening. Who cares if you kill “animals”?

The Salem workers who were released when their IDs were found are who brought word home of what had happened. But that doesn’t lessen the trauma. The terror. The systemic government-ordained abuse of children of God.

Have we forgotten we’re Christian? Have we forgotten the Holy Book?

No where does it say terrorize children and abuse the foreigner! Instead, it reads,

Deuteronomy 10:18-19 – “For the Lord your God…loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

I can cite another fifteen verses on this very topic – love the foreigners, the strangers, the aliens, the illegals among you.

Who are these people among us in Ohio?

The people in Salem are from Guatemala.

Guatemala is a country that’s known 80 years of warfare. I’ve heard people call it the “game of thrones” of the real world. The government is corrupt, gangs rule the streets, who you are related to is everything. The natives are considered not-human and are hunted with machetes. The army forces people to hack to death their own neighbors.

“If you are a civilian there, beneath the labels—soldier; gangster; policeman; army; cartel—is but one underlying reality: men with guns who do what they want and take what they want. Your options are to buy your own security and gunmen; to join a gang yourself; or to leave.” ((https://newrepublic.com/article/118675/child-migrants-guatemala-are-fleeing-more-just-gang-violence))

What would you do?

In the past, if you left Guatemala, you could come to the USA to plead for sanctuary. Asylum. Be a refugee.

And we would hear your story, and if it were true, welcome you, for our ancestors were the poor huddled masses, too.

Now… who is listening?

These are our neighbors. Here. In Ohio.

I’m overwhelmed.

I read a cry for justice from overwhelmed Job today. He wants God to come and answer why bad things have happened. He’s demanding to know how justice and fairness works. Why have his wife and children been taken from him? Why have the people he called friends now sitting and mocking him? Where are you God? Answer me!

And God does. God comes in a whirlwind and doesn’t tell Job that the world is right and fair; that we all get our just desserts; that the good people prosper and the bad are harmed. Instead, God explains how God is present in all of creation. Everywhere.

God isn’t going to stop our cruelty, although God weeps as we go, because God has limited God’s self and given us free will. We can choose to eat of the forbidden fruit. We can make laws that say all fruit is good for eating. Or we can deny ourselves the forbidden fruit because we’re listening to God’s laws.

Job can leave his worship of God at any time. God isn’t our safety net. God isn’t going to arbitrate between Job and his friends… or ex-friends.

God is our creator. God is present with us. God loves us. God weeps over us. God gives us free will.

“God would never let us go astray” is not true. True love leaves open the other’s freedom to walk away. God truly loves us. Enough to let us be free to love God back or to reject God. God lets us go astray, and follows us as we stray ready to lead us back to the narrow way.

God loves the world. We’re called to love the world, too. Not just ourselves, but others, too.

God’s love isn’t bound by borders, God loves everyone in this room and all the way beyond regardless of what it says on their birth certificate or even if they have one.

How I’m feeling overwhelmed!

In the boat, the disciples are overwhelmed. Taking on water. It is all around. They wake up Jesus, who is sleeping like the dead, and say “Don’t you care we’re all going to die?!” And Jesus rebukes the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And there is an great calm over the sea. Just as great of a fear sits in the disciples’ hearts over Jesus’ actions. And he asks, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Have you no faith God is with you?

Stormy waters happen. But God is with us the whole way.

We need to see God with us. We need to stand on the side of the marginalized, the oppressed, the foreigner, the least of these… for that is where Christ stands.

Stand, like the Catholic church in Salem, who opens its doors as a safe place for Latinos to get education on resources, to learn English, and as a place to meet if an ICE raid occurs.

Stand, like our sister UCC church in Chillicothe. Orchard Hill provides space for lawyers to meet immigrants in a safe, neutral, and private place. A table, cup of coffee, and hospitality.

Stand, like protesters at local government offices, showing that we of the dominate group care. We are not turning a blind eye.

Stand, and when our friends, and neighbors, speak poorly of foreigners remind them of our one faith, one Lord, one Baptism, and one Body of Christ.

I John 4:7-21 – “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God…” We love because God first loved us.”

Even the wind and the sea obey God — ought we too?

Ought we not love and aim for peace and justice, too?

Amen.

((Was with a kids’ message on the difference between fairness and justice; with three asked to throw paper into a basket set right before one child. When the others missed, the basked was moved 1 inch closer to everyone. It was fair. Even easier for the closest child. Then we did just – and moved it between everyone. But it wasn’t fair, and now was harder for the child who it has been easy. Spoke about if you are born here white, you are the first child. We need to do justice, which is not fair.))

 

Given to Saint Michael’s United Church of Christ 6-24-2018

Sheep and Sheep

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24ararat-sheep-20

Matthew 25:31-46

Today is Christ the King Sunday – the day we proclaim Christ is King over all the world, the lord over all lords, the highest politician, highest ruler, over all rulers. Everyone and everything belongs under Christ’s rule and we anticipate the day this reign is fully actualized.

This sounds fantastic.

Until you consider there are 1.3 billion Muslims; 1.1 billion atheists, 900 million Hindus, not to mention a billion some more Buddhist, Pagans, Jews, Sikhs and hundreds of more religions. These people are not Christian.

If Jesus were to return right now, this very moment, would 70% of the world’s population be instantly damned – just because they were born in non-Christian areas, or to non-Christian families, or found a connection to God in a non-Christian religion?

Matthew’s gospel is addressed to early Christians living among all the non-Christians. And Matthew recounts Jesus talking about sheep and goats among the nations.

Nations. Peoples.

Not just the Jews Jesus was speaking with, but the nations – the gentiles – the non-Jewish, non-Christian, Romans or Grecians or Egyptians or Babylonians — people who did not confess Jesus as Christ. People like all the neighbors and communities, indeed, families, of the early Christians.

The neighbors and communities and families of ourselves.

Jesus says when he returns, the whole world will be judged.

Are all non-Christians going to hell and all Christians going to heaven?

Jesus’ parable says that to the shock of the nations – to the shock of Christians and non-Christians everywhere – there are blessed people among all nations. There are heaven-bound men and women and children who are Muslim, and who are spiritual but not religious. There are faithful Hindu priests and Buddhist monks in heaven.

And each and every one say, “Jesus – when did I serve you? I didn’t.”

And Jesus, in his parable, replies, “Whatever you did to the most vulnerable in your community, you did to me.”

And Jesus takes the sheep, the people who followed the Good Shepherd without even realizing it, and takes them into his heavenly flock.

And what of the goats? When Jesus talks about the nations — all peoples and all religions – this includes all religions, including Christianity. We’re the largest religion on the face of the Earth.

Jesus tells his disciples that the goats are just as shocked as the sheep to be NOT included. They thought they were sheep, thought they were following the Good Shepherd, but instead, they were following other lords and kings and gods while giving lip-service to Jesus. They ran with the flock of sheep here on earth, but their hearts and deeds didn’t reflect the heart and deeds of Jesus.

These Christians say, “Jesus, when did we not aid you?”

And Jesus replies to them, too, “Whatever you denied the most vulnerable in your communities, you denied to me.”

Jesus here is referencing but also advancing the words of the prophet Ezekiel.

In Ezekiel, the Israelites are scattered in exile across many lands. Why has this happened? Ezekiel says because the people have been exploited. The exploitation of the vulnerable, the weakest, the people have ruined communities and destroyed the nation. The shepherds of the people, their leaders, have failed them. The shepherds have gotten rich and changed rules to benefit themselves while the people have gotten poor and suffered injustices. As Ezekiel puts it, “Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep” (34:2b-3).

Ezekiel spoke about how God would go out and gather in God’s people from all the nations… and then God would separate the sheep from the sheep. They all look the same, but God sees a difference. A difference in who these sheep truly belong to. Remember – sheep follow the voice of the one who leads them – not a stranger.

Ezekiel says when God comes, God comes with justice. God reverses each wrong dealt to the people. Wounds are healed, bellies are filled, rest is given. God, God’s self, takes over and is in charge. And God separates the fat sheep from the lean. “Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide… I will judge between sheep and sheep.” And the fat and strong sheep are destroyed, while the hurting ones are fed justice. Injustice has made them lost, injured and weak. Justice will make them strong, united, and healthy again.

Ezekiel is not speaking about Israelites and non-Israelites. He is speaking about all the Israelites. Among God’s own people – among the sheep and sheep – God is judging which of us have been bullies, and have led soft lives at the detriment of others. Which of us have gotten rich off the labor of the poor. Which of us use more resources than others. Which of us refuse to share and attack the starving, injured, or weak when they come to our areas.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, and he sits on the throne to judge all nations… the surprise is there are many non-Christian sheep, and many Christian goats. The surprise is there are many holy and good people who are not Christian; and there are many sinful and evil people who ARE Christian.

The judgement is, who has, in the words of Micah, done justice, loved kindness, and walked humbly with God?

In Matthew, being a Christian does not make you good or bad; does not mean you are Saved or Unsaved; does not mean you are pleasing or displeasing God. What you believe, and how you act upon that belief, determines your destiny. If you believe in the goodness of the world, and you believe we are meant to love one another, and you act in loving deeds – you are a sheep, whether or not you know it. And if you believe its a dog-eat-dog world, and no kind deed goes unpunished, and you act in selfish ways – you are a goat, whether or not you go to church.

Now, in our country, it is rare to find any politician who says they are a religion other than Christian. Being ‘Christian’ gets you votes. It means you’re mainstream, respectable, trustworthy. Being ‘Christian’ means you can claim God is on your side, and if people don’t vote for you, they are voting against God. Being ‘Christian’ means you are above any wrongs.

These ‘Christians’ are fat sheep and goats. These Christians are the ones who cry ‘Lord, lord,’ but who never actually know Christ. You know who these false Christians are because the way they vote in the House or Senate, or their executive orders, or the policies they advocate, harm the most vulnerable.

The most vulnerable people in our country are illegal immigrants, legal immigrants, gays and lesbians, transgendered, unwed single mothers, children, teachers, and those with criminal records. The most vulnerable people in this country are blacks, women, Native Americans, the elderly and millennials. The most vulnerable people in this country have mental health issues. Physical ailments. Addictions.

The fat sheep in our country are born here, are sexually ‘straight’ or pass as heterosexual, they are white, married, and male. The fat sheep in our country have never been in trouble with the law – or if they have, had had their record expunged. They are affluent, educated, and are able to shape the world about them through their financial, political, or social sway. Instead of using all the power they were born into to be a wise leader, a good shepherd, a guide to make the world a better place… instead, they use their power to make sure they have more power, more money, more sway.

The Internet Freedom movement is anything but freedom for you and I. It permits the rich to have freedom to choose what the poor must pay to access websites. Sites that speak truth to power, sites that challenge the way things are – sites that advocate for the most vulnerable – may not be accessible because you don’t pay enough… or may be blocked all together.

The tax bill the House passed gives steep discounts to owners of private businesses — but makes teachers pay for their own teaching supplies. It drastically reduces the taxes on the most affluent in the country and raises the taxes on the poorest. In other words, it rewards the rich and punishes the poor.

Those fleeing the lack of infrastructure, intense crime and poverty, and earth quake after tsunami after hurricane of Haiti are kicked out of the country. Along with all who try to escape Sudan. Although, we are now free to import all the oil we want from Sudan… but its people are denied sanctuary from the Sudanese wars where 6,000 some children fight in Darfur and crucifixion is still a legal way to kill political prisoners.

If what we do to the most vulnerable, we do to Christ…

We are deporting Jesus.

We are forcing Jesus to pick between paying his water bill or eating today.

We are telling Jesus he was born evil, thinks evil, and the world would be better off if he killed himself.

We are cramming Jesus into little prison cells and giving him 2 cents a day for his slave labor.

We are punishing Jesus for being born not-White, for being not-Married, for being Middle Eastern, for being a refugee, for being an advocate of the poor and destitute, for being a promoter of women’s rights, for thinking children matter, for challenging authority and government, and for being a lean sheep.

We are only as Christian as how we treat the most vulnerable among us.

Now… being white is not a sin. But it is being born with power. Born as a shepherd. Are you a good shepherd? Or are you a shepherd who’d rather ignore or harm the other sheep?

Being rich is not a sin. It is owning power. But it means we have a responsibility to generously and lavioushly share that wealth with others – so none are fat and none are thin.

Being straight, and/or male is not a sin. It means, however, responsibility as the ‘norm’ to invite the other in and LISTEN to how life is different. It means you are responsible to help make the world a better place for ALL PEOPLE.

This is Christ the King Sunday. We are celebrating the current reign of Christ, and anticipating the full reign.

Think of what that day will be — when the low are lifted and the high are lowered so all are equals.

Think of what that day will be – when we all eat justice. Will justice be sweet or bitter to you?

Do you look forward or do you fear that glorious day?

We are called to a radical life. Radical. Outside the norm. We are envisioning a radical future. A time of reversals. That time and day are ever closer – and we are invited to live into it now.

Come – live as Christ’s own and give up the selfish idols!

Come be a lamb of God! For God is seeking you, welcoming you.

Come, repent, change your ways, and return to the fold of Christ.

Come, follow the good shepherd, born in a barn, yet king over kings, yet lord over lords.

In your own hearts, recommit yourselves to being Christian.

Amen.

One Thing I Do Know

muddyhandsJohn 9:1-41
Ephesians 5:8-14

Why do bad things happen? It’s something we ask, again and again. And the people of the Bible ask it again and again. And just like we come to different conclusions, so, too, do our mothers and fathers in the faith. The most common conclusion back then, and today, is that a person gets what they deserve. This makes us feel good, and speaks to our sense of right and wrong and justice. Bad people get punished. Good people get rewarded.

It goes like this: why is a man in jail? Because he has bad morals and is guilty of a crime. Why is a woman poor? Because she spends too much money and doesn’t work hard enough. How do you be successful? By following the rules.

This is an easy answer to why bad things happen, and it is usually the first answer we concluded. So-and-so had something bad happen because they caused it to happen to themselves. The Bible goes further and some authors conclude that even things like blindness, sickness, and death are caused by moral failings – caused by a person sinning. Some interpretations of Genesis? Adam and Eve ‘earn’ death because of their sin. Plenty die in the Bible because they ‘ired’ God. Today, AIDS is often called the ‘gay disease’ and called a punishment for homosexuality. People with opiate or painkiller addictions are often accused of being thieves, druggies, addicts – others say their whole identity is their addiction.

This reasoning gets tricky when we see bad things happen to good people; or good things happening to immoral people. This threatens our notion of right and wrong, of justice. See, Job was righteous – yet terrible things happen to him. Jesus is literally SINLESS and yet horrific things occur to him. We know people who would give the shirt off their backs to help another, and yet they can’t seem to catch a break. And we know of cases, like my own daughter, where a child dies before they even take a breath. Who, then, is to blame? Surely you can’t say the baby sinned. Surely you can’t say Jesus sinned.

Over the centuries, some came up with the idea of Original Sin – the idea we are all born sinful. So even brand new babies carry sin – and that is why bad things still happen. In our scripture today, some of Jesus’ disciples assert the stance that parents’ sins are passed on to their innocent children. These aren’t outdated conclusions. Both Original Sin and parents’ sins are active conclusions nowadays on why bad things happen.

It’s why so many want their children baptized super young – to wash away that Original Sin.

It’s why we always ask, “Was her mommy a druggie?” or “What did the parents do wrong?” when we hear of young babies dying, or miscarriages, or stillbirths. Someone, somewhere, sinned. Someone, somewhere, is to blame.

If we don’t have someone to blame, our sense of right and wrong, our sense of justice, is thrown out the window. We don’t like to see innocents suffering, but it makes more sense to us if we can reason their suffering is because of their parents, or grandparents, or Adam and Eve… or any sin somewhere. It lets us still say that what people get, they deserve.

Today – Jesus’ disciples ask: did this born blind man sin, or did his parents? Who do we blame for him being blind?

Jesus replies: neither. The blame doesn’t lie on the man nor his family.

Why is he blind, then? The NRSV adds the words to the scripture, “he was born blind.” The original reads, “So that God’s works might be revealed in him, we must work the works of He who sent me.” Our translation into English with its added words say the man was born blind SO THAT Jesus could show God’s work. Our translation adds in blame, and places the blame on God.

The Greek original doesn’t do this. Jesus doesn’t add blame. Doesn’t say blame the man, nor his parents, nor God. Jesus skips the blame and says if we want to see God, we must help this guy. No judgment. No placing morality on the blindness. Just saying – bad crud happens. Help each other out, and you will see God in the helping.

So Jesus does as he preaches.

And you see the result – the blind man comes to testify Christ while the whole town goes about finding someone to blame. Someone must be to blame for the blindness! Some blame Jesus – who worked on the Sabbath. Some blame the man, for secretly harboring sin. They call in his parents to try to blame them for doing something that caused their son to be born blind. In the end – they toss the man out of the town. That is easier than admitting…

… sometimes… terrible things happen… and no one is to blame.

God’s will? Maybe. Primordial chaos left over from God placing order and making creation? Maybe. Result of Original Sin, or just sins? Maybe. Just meaningless? Maybe.

Jesus doesn’t offer the answer. He says don’t worry about placing the blame, instead, do something to help the situation. Don’t fret about if the person who is addicted has an ‘addictive personality.’ Be their friend and support now. Don’t fret about if parents didn’t eat right while the baby was in utero – comfort them now. Don’t fret about if a beggar has a job, or is getting food stamps, or deserves a hand out, or what they’re going to use that cash for… just help them out, now.

Jesus isn’t amoral. He isn’t advocating let everyone do as they please and let there be no consequences. He isn’t saying sin isn’t real. Jesus picks up John’s message telling us to repent and turn to God. However – Jesus is way more concerned that we live our lives helping one another than blaming one another.

Look at how much of this chapter is people blaming each other rather than helping the blind man and his family!

Look at their final action – tossing the formerly blind man out of the town – rather than rejoicing he now has sight!

Jesus isn’t answering our theodicy questions; he isn’t telling us why bad things happen. Instead, he’s giving us a way to respond to the bad we see — respond with love. Not judgment.

As the formerly blind man said, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” No need to decide is someone is a sinner. Just be able to see them—help them, know them, love them.

None Too Small

ieshia-evans-batonrougeJeremiah 1:4-10
Luke 13:10-17

Crises are terrible, horrible situations – a time when things are a disaster, catastrophe, and calamity.

But did you know they’re also the turning point? Whatever happens in the future from that moment, for better or worse, is influenced by the critical time of the crisis.

City after city, we keep seeing a crisis appear where a cop shoots an African American dead. And city after city, riots and protests appear. City after city — after months of looking into it — the cops are never charged, and if charged, almost always found innocent. Last year, 102 unarmed black people were shot and killed by police — five times as many unarmed whites killed. Unarmed. No weapon. Another 200 some blacks were killed by police who did have weapons… now mind you, this pocket knife (1.5 inches) I have here is counted as a weapon. Whether these men, women, and even children, had pocket knives or automatic rifles isn’t counted. Of all these lives lost, a single offer was sentenced to jail on the weekends. All other officers walked free. (mappingpoliceviolence.org/unarmed)

Who has been shot? You’ve heard about 12 year old Tamir Rice, and Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling, and Philando Castile who was asked to hand over his wallet and was shot dead for doing so — before his girlfriend and 4 year old daughter.

But… hundreds of other names never made national media. Did you hear about Bettie? She opened her door to the officers when they arrived and they shot her in the neck.

Or Keith. He had an unknown item which scared the officer watching him and so the officer shot Keith. It was a cell phone in his hand.

There was Chandra – hit by a patrol car. And Stephen – another patrol car hit him, too – as it responded to a non-emergency call.

And India – officers chose to shoot 30 rounds into her stopped car because they believed India’s boyfriend had a gun. Their shots killed India, her boyfriend, and only through a pure miracle missed their 4 month old baby sitting in a car seat with them.

There is a crisis. A crisis going on – with some cities’ police and justice departments abusing their power, racially profiling, and overwhelmingly murdering blacks. Non-whites in general are often targeted with harsher responses. Sometimes, this is the accepted way not just the police, but the entire city deals with its non-whites. Violence. Suspicion. Hate.

Don’t think I’m talking about the Deep South. I’m talking about right around here. Here in Fairfield County. We have people flying confederate flags, we have a very high Ku Klux Klan presence.

Ever heard of ISD Records? They’re based out of Lancaster, and listed as one of the 34 most dangerous hate groups of Ohio. (Southern Poverty Law Center). Their CDs include “No Remorse: Hitler was Right.” and “The Klansmen – Fetch the Rope” Our Lancaster. Supported by our community.

There is a crisis. And few white people — few of the people in power, few of those with the ability to change things or bring attention to the crisis — are noticing.

And so… there are protests. So you see roads closed off by Black Lives Matter activists; and see angry, tearful mothers leading chants. So you see young men who are being told their lives don’t matter, and they are better off dead because their only other option is prison – you see them respond with riots. So much anger is bottled up.

And this isn’t new. Not new history. Regardless of what the media says, or what anyone younger than 50 believes. Many of us here today lived this once, and here it is again.

Listen to these prophetic words of history: “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

… there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust…

[There is] nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience [you’ve seen.] It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire… In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” … It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany…

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

These were penned by Martin Luther King Jr., in his letter from Birmingham Alabama jail, to the pastors who opposed his activism.

These words, minus some of the terminology, and location, are still true today.

Why are there protests and anger? Why is Black Lives Matter an organization and why are there sit-ins, demonstrations, and law breaking?

Because – there is a crisis going on, and only 1/3 of us suffer it. There is a crisis going on, and until it is a crisis for more of us, we will keep being lukewarm, white, moderates who delay and delay justice — therefore, making justice denied. Even though we mean well, and are sympathetic: justice delayed is justice denied.

Today – in our reading – Jesus and a lukewarm moderate square off. The leader of the synagogue is indignant. This woman who was healed was ill for 18 years – what was one more day? Six days of the week it’s good to heal and work to help others. Why couldn’t Jesus wait less than 24 hours? Why did he break the Sabbath?

The issue isn’t that the woman ought not to be healed. The issue isn’t that things need to change so that officers ought to treat all citizens fairly. The issue is WHEN the woman should be healed; and WHEN the cops will be held accountable. The issue is how long can justice be delayed?

Jesus said justice should never be delayed. The time is NOW. The kindom is near. NOW is the time for action. NOW the harvest is ripe. NOW we must act. For 18 years this woman was bent over and crippled.

What was one more day?

To the Rabbi who didn’t suffer — nothing.

To Jesus who knows how we suffer — everything.

Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. Almost fifty years have passed. What is one more day of things not changing? In his day, he said 380 years have passed while blacks were treated as less than whites. What is one more day?

For many – one more day is nothing. Wait. To them, they do not suffer.

For us – for the Body of Christ – one more day is everything. Act now! We suffer!

Remember! “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” We are one body.

But who am I? You’ve got to ask. I’m just me. Most of us consider ourselves plain ‘white.’ We don’t know any cops who are racists, we don’t know anyone who has been profiled, abused, or shot at by cops. In fact, this whole Black Lives Matter thing is a nuisance, a pain, someone else’s crisis and nothing we want to deal with.

I hear you.

*I* don’t know a bad cop.

But what I don’t know, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

When my ear tells me there is a bee nearby, I look for it with my eye. I don’t assume my ear is lying. When I taste a tomato, I don’t hold it to my ear and get mad it doesn’t sound like how it tastes. Different parts of our bodies experience life differently.

Our body, our Christ body, is crying out and pointing out what life is like for many, many non-Whites. Are we going to say to our eyes or ears we don’t need you? Shut up, go away, and keep waiting for another time for your justice?

Or are we going to listen to Jeremiah, listen to Luke, listen to our Christ who says: there is NO ONE too small. With God, we HAVE the power. We ARE the power to change the world. With God, all things are possible.

When is the time for justice?

When is the time for action?

When is the time to say no to ISD Records, to the KKK, to the mediocre, sympathetic but uninvolved moderate white life style we live? Now!

Now we wake up. Now we take action. Now we stand with our siblings who cry out that black lives matter, too! NOW we bring liberty to the oppressed, set the captive free, and proclaim the time of the Lord! Amen.