Tag: love

Live Like You Are Dying

Mark 10:35-4571o-YNZUNNL._SY355_

Hebrews 5:1-10

Kid’s Moment – play follow the leader. Good leaders. Bad leaders. Who will you follow?

Sermon:

Christianity has always had a predicament with our Savior – he doesn’t look glorious, or act it, or appear ir, or advocate great glory.

We picture a grand and glorious military leader, coming with an army of angels, to vanquish all enemies and sit on a throne of glory forever.

But scripture gives us a backwoods carpenter, with a ragtag bunch of rejects and fishermen, inviting children, thieves, and our enemies to come eat dinner with him.

We picture a miraculous birth, with kings bowing down and crowning an infant with precious materials. We picture angels filling the skies and a supernatural star pointing to the glowing child.

But that’s the story of  a baby born to an unwed teenage mother. She is homeless and giving birth to her boyfriend’s son crouched in a barn among the animals. Dirty, rough shepherds welcome the child.

We picture a child who grows strong with God, who impresses all those around him, who – so say some stories – speaks wisdom before he can even walk.

Yet that child is a refugee, moving place to place with his parents, and siblings, seeking somewhere to call home.

This tension is in the Bible. It is in our tradition. It is in our lives. Theologians call it High Christology versus Low Christology – focusing on the divinity of Jesus versus focusing on the humanity of Jesus.

It is very hard to follow a suffering, nailed, murdered, weak God. It is very hard to follow a God who is found in fallible flesh, who tells us to meet peace to violence, who welcomes in enemies and friends alike, who is poor, powerless, and a slave.

Slave.

The stigma of that word is fading as we forget what slavery is like. Recall in your minds stories you read or heard of about the slavery of Africans – the long, laborious days in fields or houses without pay. The starvation. The beatings. The abuse of body and soul and mind. Recall modern slavery – found in human trafficking. Where little children are used for sexual pleasure. They do not have any rights. They do not have security and family. Recall slaves were bred like animals, sold on auction blocks, and branded like animals. Like animals they lived. Like animals they died. Like animals, their owners buried or refused to bury them.

Our God identifies, places God’s self, with slaves.

“Whoever wishes to be first among humanity must be a slave to all.”

Who is the first among all humanity? Jesus. A slave to all.

“Who wants to be great among humanity must be a servant to all.”

Great humans are servants. A step above slaves in our mortal world – and step below slaves in God’s world. Servants retain some autonomy and respect.

Slaves do not.

James and John, humans just like you and I, picture Jesus regally. They have heard several times now that he will be going to Jerusalem for his glory. He will die, yes, but the brothers have either ignored that part or they are already rushing past the messy death into the resurrection. They are picturing Jesus as King – with a throne, and lesser thrones on his left and right for his two main assistants. They’re picturing a glorious time and day. They’re picturing our same world where Presidents are above the law, clergy get away with child molestation, and billion dollar arms deals are more important than the genocide of Yemenis. They’re picturing Jesus as the new King over all of this – this same world we know – and they want to be on top with him.

The brothers haven’t realized that this hierarchical world is not the world God is making. This is our human world. God’s reign is a reign unlike that of the governments we see now. God’s reign is reversed… with the most important person being the slave – and the most slavish of all being God, God’s self. Servant-leaders are the great. People who love deeply, serve humbly, inspire others to works of kindness and justice, and who do this without seeking reward and lauds.

Jesus looks at James and John, and I think he has to speak sadly, “You do not know what you are asking to sit at my right and my left when I am in glory. Can you drink the cup I drink – and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

The brothers assert, “We are able!”

Do they know what they have asked?

They have asked to be at Jesus’ left and right when he hangs on the cross. To be crucified with him. To be scorned and rejected and murdered with him. They have asked that the cup Jesus prays over in the Garden of Gethsemane not be passed, as Jesus wishes were God’s will, but to let them drink it. To drink the toxin of the world and the sins of our violence, selfishness, and cruelty. The brothers have asked to be baptized — to be submerged — as Jesus will be again. To go into the grave, dead, cold, and without proper burial rights.

“You will get the cup, and the baptism.” Jesus replies. You will get the woes of the world and you will die. You will get the hope of new life after the grave… but they won’t hang with Jesus on the cross.

The other disciples hear James and John are going to get the cup and baptism, and are angry. They want glory too! They’ve left everything for Jesus, too! The disciples, including James and John, still don’t get it. How often WE don’t get it today! “Jesus, make us great rulers over others!”

But Jesus replies… “Those you recognize as your rulers lord it over you. Your ‘great ones’ are tyrants.”

Tyrants. Most people who are rulers, government authorities, or who have power one way or another… are tyrants. You’ve heard it said before that absolute power absolutely corrupts. Jesus is saying just about as much here, too. The more power and authority someone has, the greater the temptation to use that power for personal gain.

When the Devil tempted Jesus, he tempted Jesus with saying ‘Use a little power to turn these rocks into bread.’ For Jesus was so hungry. Just a little power. And Jesus refused. It was just a little wrong use of power for a little bit of immediate good. Grey area. The devil then told Jesus to step off a high spot and let the angels save him. A bit more abuse of power – but for a much greater good. Let God prove to you, Jesus, that God is with you. Finally, the devil offered the world — all the world. Its kingdoms and countries. Its cities. It citizens. Its animals and plants. All the power. All Jesus had to do was worship the devil.

So many in power get there because of the being they are worshiping: worshiping money, or strength, or themselves.

If you are worshiping the God who said, “Be a servant, be a slave, walk humbly, do justice, love God and your neighbor,” you are not likely going to make it far in most of politics. It is hard to be humble when you need to raise money for your platform. Hard to love your neighbor when you’re publishing and speaking bad things about them. It is hard to do justice if you, yourself, are cheating the very laws you are supposed to enforce. It is impossible to be a servant of the people without true love in your heart. 1 Corinthians 13!

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away…. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Without love, a leader is a tyrant.

There are good politicians. There are good leaders. There are good clergy. But being in a position of power is an immediate temptation to use that power for evil.

And far, far, far too often… we succumb to leading without love.

Jesus says he comes to be served. To lead with love. Not to have servants and slaves. Not to have people waiting on him hand and foot. Not to continue the human story of those in power abusing, harming, taking advantage of those with less power. But that Jesus comes to be a “ransom” for many.

Ransom. Liberation. Jesus comes to liberate many. To liberate us from thinking violence is the only answer to violence. To liberate us from following tyrants. To liberate us from the sinful systems of our world. To show us that it IS possible to life a moral life, it IS possible to receive God’s forgiveness and turn your life around, it IS possible to live a different way than the world around us.

Jesus liberates us from assuming business as usual, with tyrants abusing slaves, with governments being uncaring and having deaf ears, with our leaders failing us — Jesus liberates us from thinking this is the only way the world can be.

Dream bigger. Live more fully. Love deeper.

Tim McGraw sings a song called “Live like you are dying.” He sings about a man who realized, after looking at x-rays and talking with his doctor, that “This might really be the real end,” of his life. How do you handle news like that? You know the lyrics to the chorus:

I went skydiving
I went Rocky Mountain climbing
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu
And I loved deeper
And I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying”
And he said
“Someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dying.”

That is the life Jesus invites us into now.

To live because we are dying.
For tomorrow IS a gift.

“What you’d do with it
What could you do with it
What did I do with it?
What would I do with it?”

We do not have to live dead – live in slavery to a cruel world, live in fear of tomorrow, live in bondage to sin and live thinking this world is beyond hope, beyond repair, and cannot be changed into the reign of God.

We can choose to live into our life of dying – and to embrace the liberation Jesus offers us. We can live each moment for the precious second it is. We can live in the new reign of God that God gifts us in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus that shows us the New Way. Shows us the Way of Peace. Shows us the way of Forgiveness. Shows us how to live while alive.

We ARE the great leaders among humanity if we CHOOSE to live and love boldly – as servants, caretakers, and neighbors of all people.

Go and be the church – the hope and liberation for many! Go and be servant leaders!

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To Gather Up All Things

Ephesians 1:3-14 glitter
Mark 6:14-29

Sometimes our lectionary hands us readings that are very difficult to understand and fathom. I feel like this Sunday’s have given us two hard to delve into texts. One is an introductory  letter to the Ephesians; and the other is a long aside about John the Baptizer in the gospel of Mark. Supposedly, they’re related! Whoever worked on the lectionary outline believes so.

Therefore, let’s take a close look at Ephesians and see what the author is claiming, and then let’s use that like a lens, something to help us focus, on Mark’s story.

The letter to Ephesians is broke up in English into sentences, but in Greek, it is one big long sentence listing blessing after blessing that is showed upon us from God.

1. The first blessings is that before the world was built, God chose us for adoption. To be children of God, although we have mortal parents, and although most of us aren’t biological descendants of Abraham – God’s chosen. So – why did God do this? Because God is good. God chose this for God’s own good pleasure and will. Not because of anything we’ve done. God just decided God wants to create us, and create us to be loved.

2. The second blessing is God freely chose to give us God’s Beloved. Not only were we chosen to be children, but given God’s beloved child Jesus. When God created us, we were created for praise. So just living praises Jesus.

3. Our third blessings is that in Jesus, we have redemption, forgiveness of our trespasseses or sins, and this is due to the rich grace of God and again – not because of anything we have done.

4. Fourth – we know the mystery of God’s will, because God wants us to know it out of God’s love for us. We know God’s will because we know Jesus. This will is to love God and love one another!

5. Fifth, in the fullness of time, in the right moment, God will gather up everything on heaven and earth and bring us all together as one. Love unites us.

6. Sixth, in Christ we’ve been given an inheritance — a gift– from God. This is the Holy Spirit within us. It, again, is a free gift from God.

7. Seventh blessing – That Spirit works in us to accomplish everything God has planned. So when you don’t know how to love God or love another, you can pause, pray, think, reflect, and listen for the Spirit to guide you.

8. An eighth blessing – As we work for God, we live in praise and glory of God. We’re not asked to live counter to our nature or to God. We’re asked to live our lives, and in living, love. That love is a constant prayer of praise for God.

9. Nine blessings! All who have the seal of the Holy Spirit, all who have the Spirit within them, have gotten a down payment towards the full redemptive work of God. It’s a foretaste, a little snack, of the big meal to come when we’re all one in love and unity in God.

10. And ten! Ten blessings! And all of this is because God is gracious and glorious. Not because of any deed any human has done.

So what does all that mean?

It means Christianity is a weed.

You might try to get rid of it, but it comes back because God generously spreads love’s seeds everywhere. You may ignore God, but God won’t ignore you. You may curse God, but God is going to keep showering love and blessings on you because THAT IS WHO GOD IS.

Who is God? We have seen God in Jesus. What did Jesus do? Live generously; preach courageously; advocate spiritual, physical, and mental health; and confront all forces that harm others. All this he did humbly, and did not return violence for violence.

Like a weed, this movement won’t die. It just keeps resurrecting. Because the love of God is life itself. All of creation was made and is made in love. Although death is a part of reality, it isn’t the final word. Life is the final word. Resurrection. Life after death. Life continuing to beat the odds and find a way because God wants it to.

It means Christianity is a weed, or glitter (as in the kids’ chat), or fire – and spreads and spreads because it is God’s will to spread love all around!

Mark tells us of how Jesus sent out his disciples spreading the movement of God’s love. They came back with good news of the success of healing people, inviting people into God’s new age, and forgiving sins. That’s when our story begins today when Herod realizes this love won’t die.

King Herod Antipas hears of this success of Jesus’ movement too. He hears some people commenting, “Jesus is John, come back from the dead!”
Others say, “Oh no. Jesus is Elijah, come back from heaven!”
And others say, “He is a brand new prophet, but is as powerful as our ancient prophets.”

Herod, however, has no doubts. He is quivering in his sandals. Jesus is surely John resurrected. And who killed John?

Herod.

Perhaps Herod is thinking of the prophets who have wrote God says ‘Vengeance is mine, sayth the Lord.’ Perhaps Herod is terrified because he ordered the death of God’s holy man. This Jesus fellow can heal the sick, raise the dead, and has a direct line of communication with God. What is God going to do to the man who killed God’s prophet?

Herod is scared.

Mark takes a moment then to explain how Herod got in this position. Some years ago, Herod took his sister-in-law as his wife. John appeared from the desert saying, “Hey! That’s not right! You can’t take another’s wife just because you’re the king!” This is much the same situation that got King David in trouble, when he stole Bathsheba from her husband.

Now, Bathsheba hated David for doing this and killing her husband Uriah. She worked against David.

Herodias, however, doesn’t want her brother-in-law-husband to dump her. She likes being the queen. So she works against John.

The issue is… she can’t do anything without Herod’s permission… so she has to scheme a way to kill John and make it look like an accident… or convince her husband some way to kill John.

As Herodias schemes to kill John, Jesus begins to learn from John. This is the beginning of Mark’s gospel. Jesus is John’s disciple until John is arrested by King Herod just a few verses into the story. You see, Herod can keep a close eye on John in the dungeon. It is protective custody. It is saving Herod from Herod’s wife Herodias who has people out in the cities seeking to kill John.

Herod listens to John, and knows John is a holy man. John speaks and it perplexes Herod, but Herod likes it.

The first banquet of Mark is thrown for Herod’s birthday. Lots of people and guests and leaders attend. There, Herod and Herodias’ little girl dances. Her doting father is so pleased, he makes the same foolish offer as the king in Esther’s story: name anything you want, up to half of the kingdom, and it is your’s!

The little girl goes to her mother and asks, “What should I ask for?”

Her mother doesn’t waste a moment. “The head of John the baptizer.”

Picture this little girl, the word means she’s under the age of 12, dancing back out to her daddy before all the heads of state and saying, “I want the head of John the baptizer… on a platter!”

Leave it to a child to embellish their requests with ‘on a platter.’ I wonder if she did it to try to gain her mother’s pleasure. I’m certain Herodias was tickled pink.

We’re told Herod is deeply grieved. But everyone is watching. Will he renege on his oath? If he will, what other oaths will he violate? He won’t even keep an oath to his little girl… imagine the lies he’s telling the other heads of state.

So Herod sends for a guard to behead John. The head is put on a platter and given to the child. She leaves and gives it to her mother. A sneaky, sly mother and a foolish, weak father led to the death of God’s prophet.

John’s disciples hear of the gruesome capital punishment, and come and get John’s body and bury him.

Why does Mark take all this space to tell us this story? Mark – who wastes no words and who’s favorite word is ‘immediately?’

Because it is foreshadowing John’s disciple, Jesus.

Jesus will host the next banquet in the story and invite all the outcasts from the state. He will preach against the state when its leaders are immoral. Jesus will be arrested and brought before the leader Pilate. Pilate will listen to Jesus, and be perplexed, and admire him. Pilate will find Jesus to be a holy man, and not want Jesus killed. But for the sake of keeping face, and staying in power, Pilate will order Jesus’ gruesome death during a time that should be a celebration. Jesus’ disciples will take Jesus’ body and bury it.

Will that be the end of the story?

Was it the end of the story for John?

No. God kept on acting. Bringing out new voices out of the woodwork, raising up new songs from the very stones every time people were silenced.

Like a weed, the movement won’t stop appearing.

Like a mustard seed, it just keeps growing and spreading.

As told to us in the letter of Ephesians, from the beginning of time God’s been working on teaching us humans generosity, love, care for God’s garden, care for each other, and morality.

From the beginning of time, God’s been sending us prophets, messages, dreams and visions and voices to guide us.

From the beginning of time, God’s been creating and recreating our world and we, in it.

From the beginning of time, God has willed, mysteriously, goodness upon all things.

Greed and fear can’t crush this goodness. It might kill it. It might spray Round-Up on it. Greed might steal the last miter of the widow; gobble up the single-parent houses; or make orphans of refugees. But God won’t let greed win.

Fear might drive the people to mob mentalities where they cry out to crucify their very savior; abuse their fellow neighbor; and attempt to exploit the strangers who are angels in disguise. But God won’t let fear win.

Blessing upon blessing continuously and ponderously tip the scales of the world towards goodness. Generosity upon generosity, forgiveness upon forgiveness, grace upon grace continue to counter whatever evil springs forth from our hearts, moves our hands, poisons our minds, and promotes a hell on Earth in the name of security, national pride, or the economy.

God does this not because we’re good. Not because we’ve got it all together. But because God is good. And God wants good for us. God wants good for God’s creation.

Our job is to be messengers of this goodness and help spread it along. We’re the rainbow of hope in our uncertain world. We’re the chosen community working to live into God’s reign, now. We’re the children of God who have chosen to give up our citizenship to the United States of America, or Great Britain, or Canada, or Mexico, or planet Earth and take on the citizenship of the Kindom of God.

So we’re ambassadors. Bringing messages like those very first disciples of repentance, forgiveness, healing, and love to village after village. We’re a rebellion. Preaching peace in war; forgiveness to wrongs; and God’s love for all. We’re God’s children.

Greed and fear will always be attacking us, locking us up, silencing us… but we’re mustard seeds. A light on a hill. A contagious laughter filled with the Holy Spirit that is resurrected again and again again until all things are gathered into one.

Amen.

Immigration Manifesto

This turned into a sermon with more of a solid call to action (see sermon: Overwhelmed! 2018). However, I share these thoughts anyways. Not a sermon. Not a prayer. I don’t know what it is but some have called it the start of my manifesto on our moral crisis.

 


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.


 

While we argued over the border, and protested the trauma of children, our government’s House passed the Farm Bill that creates loop holes for cooperation owners to receive subsitities even if they are not farmers or working on a farm. A bill that requires you to work 20 hours a week to receive food – regardless if you are in an area without employment, or raising children. What happened to Leviticus 19:9-10 and 23:22 – when Moses gives God’s law: “You shall not strip your vineyards bare…leave them for the poor and the foreigner.”? God tells us to share!

While we reeled, overwhelmed at the audio of little babies calling for their mami and papi, the same House proposed a budget that takes 1.5 trillion dollars from Medicare and Medicaid to pay for the deficit of tax cuts to the rich, to pay for increased military spending (which is already the highest in the world) and to pay for the facilities caging these children.

The mainly defunct EPA in this Farm Bill just flat our permits pesticides that kill endangered species and causes cancer on the farmers who are forced to spray it from their corporation owners who don’t live or work on the farm.

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.


 

Our breath was taken from us again on that same day as 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.

Pastors there are sharing stories 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.

As NPR’s Vanessa Romo explained at the time, the operation earlier this month drew some condemnations: “ICE officials had come under fire by immigrant advocacy groups who claimed dozens of children had been left stranded at schools, day cares and with babysitters as their parents were carted off to detention centers elsewhere in the state and in Michigan.” ((npr))

The Sister added, “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. Deuteronomy 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”?


 

God says: 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.” Deuteronomy 14:28-29 and 26:12-13 – Tithing was begun, in part, for immigrants and foreigners.

Deuteronomy 24:14 – “You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or foreigners who reside in your land…”

Deuteronomy 24:17-18 – “You shall not deprive a resident foreigners…of justice.”

Deuteronomy 24:19-22 – Leave sheaf, olives, grapes for the foreigners.

Deuteronomy 27:19 – “Cursed be anyone who deprives the foreigners …of justice.”

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,

Exodus 12:49 and Leviticus 24:22 – “There shall be one law for the native and for the foreigner who resides among you.”

Exodus 22:21 – Moses gives God’s law: “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident foreigner; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

Leviticus 19:33-34 and 24:22 – When the foreigner resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the foreigner. The foreigner who resides with you shall be to you like a citizen among you; you shall love the foreigner as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

Numbers 9:14 and 15:15-16 – “…you shall have one statute [of law] for both the resident foreigner and the native.”

Not two sets of laws. Not illegal criminals and legal natives. Not oppressing those who migrant, immigrant, or are refugees.

God goes so far to tell the ancient Israelites to set aside land and resources SPECIFICALLY for refugees! Numbers 35 and Joshua 20 – The Lord instructs Moses to give cities of refuge to the Levites so that when the Israelites must flee into Canaan they may have cities of refuge given to them.


 

Those foreigners in Salem are from Guatemala. Why are they here and not Guatemala?

Let’s look at that country and consider why.

“In Guatemala, that revolution was stillborn. A democratizing movement in the 1940s tried to institute land reform and rein in the oligarchy and U.S. corporations like United Fruit—until after ten years it was crushed by a CIA-backed counter-revolution. The outrage at the counterrevolution drove a Marxist rebellion, and for the next 30 years the Guatemalan Army rampaged throughout the highlands under the auspices of fighting guerrillas.

But often the guerrillas were only the excuse for old-school wars of conquest. That was what happened in the early 1980s in Rio Negro, where the army attacked a village that had refused to make way for a new hydroelectric project, raping and murdering all but one of the inhabitants. Around the same time, in the Ixil Triangle in the western highlands, the (mostly mestizo) army ran a war of genocide against the indigenous Maya. Most estimates say that around 200,000 people were murdered or disappeared during the war.

These people were murdered, by the Guatemalan state, often with medieval savagery. In the highlands, communities were often forced by the Army to hunt for “subversives,” sometimes to hack their own neighbors to death.

This was a war that happened in living memory; the peace accords were signed in only 1996. After the war, Guatemala put on the trappings of a democratic government. The army returned to the barracks. But there was no accounting, and none of the structural things that had driven the conflict changed. Few soldiers were punished for what they had done in the war, and many were decorated—like the current president, Otto Perez Molina, who in the 1980s participated in the scorched earth campaigns against the Ixil Maya. In his 2012 campaign for president, he was supported by most of the feudal families, who still had a stranglehold of most of the land, wealth, and power in the country.

The only model of power that exists in Guatemala is, in other words, terroristic, extra-legal, and dominated by violence. So is it any surprise that after the war, on the streets—where people grasped for the scraps that were left, where children grew up with no chance at wealth and less at respect—pirate organizations like the MS-13 grew?

What we’re seeing in Guatemala is not quite, in other words, a crime wave. It’s simply the way things have been there for a long time, pushed to the next level. 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.

And so many leave. They leave for the reasons that most of our ancestors came to America, of course—the ones who left places like Italy and Ireland and Russia and China. They came for a better life, and part of “better life” meant not having to live someplace where everything belonged to the aristocracy, and where their bodies were at constant risk from violent men. Those things, in a society like Guatemala, are intimately intertwined. It is a sign of how blessed we are that, living in a country where “security” and “economy” and “politics” all come in separate boxes, we have a hard time seeing that.” ((https://newrepublic.com/article/118675/child-migrants-guatemala-are-fleeing-more-just-gang-violence))

What would you do?


 

I’m overwhelmed. We’re heading towards a genocide. There are 10 stages to do a genocide. They do not happen overnight. They are planned.

First, differences among people are not respected. Us and Them talk begins. Those who are Them begin to be excluded. Such as, “They are going to pay for a wall” instead of ‘we.’ “They are taking our jobs” instead of ‘our companies are outsourcing our jobs.’

Then we make something visual to show those others are THEM. They can’t show birth certificates. Their skin is the wrong color. They are not US.

The third stage is discrimination. The dominate group denies rights or citizenship to Them. This is done with laws. It’s legal. THEY are the ones who are illegal.

Now we dehumanize Them. They are no longer human, no longer deserve dignity. They are called vermin, by the Nazis to the Jews. Tutsis are ‘cockroaches.’ Hispanics are ‘animals’, ‘wet backs,’ ‘spics.’

Midway through, with the dominate people now believing the propaganda, organization for the genocide begins. Police forces are militized. Weapons distributed. Like military surplus has been given to our local police stations.

Then polarization starts. Hate groups spread messages of fear and hate. It becomes dangerous for someone of the dominate group to support the weaker group. You’ll lose your job. How could you support breaking the law? Are you one of Them? If you’re hiring illegal spics, then you’re going to be punished. Those Mexicans are all rapists and gangsters. There are no safe black men.

Preparation for the “cleansing” begins at the 7th stage. Euphemisms such as “chain link walls” instead of “cages.” “Work will set you free” instead of “death will set you free” and “National security” instead of “ethnic cleansing.” Fear is instilled in the targeted group. The dominate group’s intentions are cloaked, but there.

Now that terror leads to the beginning of the genocide through persecution. Lists of violators are drawn up. They are targeted. Segregated into ghettos. Deported. Starved. Their property seized. They are not citizens, they are not human, they are a threat, and this is legal, so most people don’t help. Deaths begin to go unreported. Incarceration of blacks is insanely high compared to whites – and not because blacks commit more crimes. Food stamps are being denied to our poor. And those with different skin colors are being deported. Our government has said these people are “animals.” And not human.

Extermination begins once the people are rounded up and lists are drawn. Systematically, deliberately, lawfully – the hate groups and the government work together to murder the targeted group. Have we begun this? I don’t know. God – hear my prayer – I hope not!

When it is all over – the hate groups and government deny there was ever a crime. ((genocidewatch.net))

For it was legal.

We’re at the eighth step of a genocide.


 

If legality is all you base your morality on — slaves were legal. Killing the Native Americans was legal. Hell — lobotomies and forced sterilization and chaining people to beds was legal. The Nazi holocaust was legal in Germany. Governments are NOT moral authority. They are governments. Tyrannical, diplomatic, or something else. They are human. They fail.

I read that cry for justice in Job today. He wants God to come and answer why bad things have happened to him. 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 a genocide, 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. “God loves America” is not true.

God loves you. God will follow after you as you go astray and welcome you back when you turn to God.


 

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? Are you scared of God or scared of your government? Obeying God who said to cross the stormy waters – and goes with you — or obeying governments who say to turn blind eyes to your faith, your neighbor, and do not care for your souls?

Malachi 3:5 – The angels will bear witness against those who thrust aside the foreigners.

Luke 4:16-21 – “…Bring good news to the poor…release to the captives…sight to the blind…let the oppressed go free.”

Romans 12:13 – “Mark of the true Christian: “…Extend hospitality to strangers…”

Hebrews 13:1-2 – “…show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels…”

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


 

Wake up! Wake up! Do not let this become the Latino Genocide. The Guatemala Gulag. The Mexican Massacre. Do not let neo-Nazis, Alt-Right, hate groups, white-Supremacists steal your religion, steal your country, and steal your morality.

Dietrich Bonhoffer was illegal. He was part of the Confessing Church. The Christ Confessing Church refused to follow Nazi Germany. Refused to ignore the plight of the least of these. Refused to give over his morality to the government to dictate and enforce, and instead, lived his morality. Even unto his incarceration in a death camp, and his murder.

I am a Christ Confessor. I will violate any and all human laws to follow the laws of Christ.

May God give us each the power to say this, and lead us not into temptation, deliver us from evil, and assure us God is with us in all places… but as Christians, we are to aim to make earth look like God’s reign as it is in heaven. We pray these things every Sunday. Some of us every day say the Lord’s prayer.

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

Jeremiah 7:5-7 – “If you do not oppress the foreigner…then I will dwell with you …”

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.

They Who Conquer the World

1 John 5: 1-6
John 15:9-17

00-muslim-helping-old-lady-in-london-underground

Jesus gives only one commandment. He teaches much. He asks of us things. He commissions. He appoints. But he commands only one thing:

Love one another.

Love one another as I have loved you.

When asked what the greatest commandment is in the Bible out of all of them, Jesus says it is to love God – but the second is to love your neighbor.

Love one another.

If we love one another, we’re told, we live in the love of Jesus.

Jesus lives in the love of the God-Our-Parent.

Therefore, if we love each other, we live in Jesus, and we live in God. The Holy Spirit testifies to this truth. Testifies that God loves us so much, the very Son of God came in the waters of the womb, the waters of baptism, and shed the waters of his blood, loving us enough to wholly pour out his life for others. To lay down his life for his friends.

Those people who keep his commandment to love each other — those are his friends.

Not his servants. Not people who are just learning how to love.

But his friends – people who you can point out in any group – known by their love.

They will know us by our love.

That is what Christianity MUST be known for.

Not crosses. Not fish. Not the right radio stations or right books or right movies.

But love.

Not for voting the right political party, or being behind the right stance on hot button issues.

But love.

Love that is so strong, a person is willing to give the shirt off their back for a stranger.

Love that is so extravagant, a person is willing to share their hard earned money with people who may, or may not, deserve it.

Love that is so bold, a person is willing to violate social taboos, cultural lines, even break the law to show love to another.

Love conquers the world.

A conqueror doesn’t listen to the local rules. They are actively leading a revolt, actively resisting a government, and a people, and a way of doing things.

Our memory is scant of conquerors, but some of us remember: some of us remember the invasion of Poland, or Normandy. The rules are what the conquerors make them. Nearly all of us remember our own country in 2001 invading Afghanistan. We forcibly changed the government from the Taliban to popular elections. We changed the rules, and the ways of doing things, for people there.

But the Bible says all of these governments are passing. These are kingdoms built on pillars of sand. Only one thing will conquer the world – love.

Love is the rock.

Love is our God.

God alone is eternal.

You see, wars breed future wars.

Violence begets violence.

Consider, we attacked Afghanistan because of the 9-11 attacks on us.

A child who grows up in Afghanistan and sees his country bombed by the USA will likely grow up to hate the USA, and cause more violence here as an adult.

An American child who witnesses violence here from that Afghani adult will likely grow up to do violence to those who look Middle Eastern.

And so racism gets generational. Fear of the other becomes cultural. What happened between grandparents, or great-grandparents, affects what is happening between future generations.

Violence begets more violence…. we can trace this violence, world wide, generation to generation, all the way back to Cain killing his own brother Abel.

How does the cycle end?

How does a child learn peace?

What snaps through and stops pain for pain?

Love.

Love wins.

Love conquers hearts.

When Jesus refused to use a sword on his attackers, he freed us from the chains of revenge violence. When he chose to forgive the woman accused of adultery, rather than stone her, he freed us to forgive instead of blame. When he died, instead of using lightening to strike down everyone who opposed him, he freed us to choose peace instead of violence.

Jesus is our liberator from the cycle of an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. Like Gandhi said, when we follow that creed, the whole world ends up blind.

Jesus is sight for the blind.

Release for the captives.

Freedom for the slaves held in chains by generations of violence.

We are to love one another.

We are the end of the violence. The end of retribution. The end of revenge. The end of tit-for-tat.

To lay down our own pride, our own wealth, our own lives – even – is to shock and awe the world. It is to conquer the world by changing hearts, and liberating others. It is to be Christian.

The only way we are to be known is by our love.

Love one another.

Amen.

Made for Good Works

John 3:14-21gandhi
Ephesians 2:1-10

Paul is writing to the little group of religious refugees in Ephesus.

He says, once — all of you — including all of us here at Saint Michael’s — were existing in the course of the world, following the ‘aeon’ or spirit of the air, the gestalt, or the common way of doing things. And the common way of doing things is disobedient to God. It’s full of trespasses and sins. We harm each other even though we don’t mean to just because we’re in the world. The systems we live in have racism, sexism, and ableism, agism, and all kinds of isms built into them. Without meaning to, we participate. Our clothes are made overseas in sweat shops. Our food is often gathered in by hands paid 10 cents a basket – almost slaves. Our electricity comes from the lives of men and women and kids who suffer from coal pollution.

Just by being – we are harming others.

And even if we die, we still harm others – because now we’re embalmed with chemicals, and our relatives burn fossil fuels to come to our funerals, and those fuels pollute the air, and water, and ground and…

You get the idea.

Living or dying, the “normal” way of the world is to harm others… even if we don’t mean to and don’t want to.

So we become the children of wrath, anger, and frustration. If we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t, why put the extra effort into fair trade and local food instead of the cheapest food? Why bring your own bags to the store when they’ll happily give you plastic? Why conserve electricity. Or not litter.

The world, as it is, encourages us to follow our impulses, our short-lived desires, and have faith only in that which we can touch and sense with our bodies.

Paul says all of this made us dead.

Dead.

Not physically – but inside.

Dead.

Dreading to get up in the morning.

Dead. Depressed and seeking escape.

Dead. Not feeling generous, or merciful, or loving.

Dead. Just existing. Not living. Not thriving.

But, says Paul, God — rich in mercy — rich in love — reached out to us. We didn’t change. We didn’t do anything to merit this. God just in God’s love, and mercy, and grace chose to reach out and touch the world – touch us – full of sin and trespasses and stuck in these systems that force us to just keep sinning against one another – God reaches into this world, and picks us up one by one, and places us in a new world.

A world not ruled by the way things are.

A world instead ruled by the Messiah.

This new world lays atop of the world with the way things are, and we exist in both simultaneously. The new world, reigned by God, is a world of justice, and mercy, and peace. A world where it is possible to live in unified diversity. A world of light, and love, and understanding.

It is the world that one day will be the normal world, the way things usually are. But that heaven on earth is not yet here.

Instead, we get little glimpses of it, and invited to live into it now.

We’re the people with just a foretaste, a little snack, before the big meal.

And since we’re the snackers, it’s our job to get the house ready for the big meal. We know what is to come, and we’re to live that new world into fruition. Live like that new world is already here. Because the more we live like that, the closer by is the realm of God.

Paul says we — who stand with one foot mired in the way things are, and one foot in the realm of God — we’re created for this very work. Created at the very beginning to do good works.

I don’t know if Paul means when we are reborn in Christ, or when God first creates us, but I am confident Paul is saying we Christians have a mission, a purpose – and that is to live our lives in the realm of God.

Living in the realm of God is doing good, doing right, to ourselves and to others.

Now – works and deeds never save us from sin. No one can be perfect. Don’t think church and heaven and God are for the perfect. Paul is not saying earn your way into heaven. Remember? He said God already moved, already opened the door, and is welcoming us into the new creation.

Rather, Paul is saying when we live in that new creation, we cannot help but do goodness to one another. It is what we’re created to do. So keep encouraging it!

Truly, Church and heaven and God are for the sinsick, the people who are sick and tired of the way things are, and want change. The people who want sin to be no more.

We are saved from sin and harm and evil being the norm by God – who came, and showed the world that God is stronger than the sin and harm and evil we inflict on each other, or even God’s own son.

The Easter story is: God won. Jesus is resurrected. Sin, harm, evil, death are defeated.

This is what John and Paul are writing about.

We read today part of Jesus’ speech to Nicodemus in John. Nicodemus, you may recall, is the man who comes to Jesus in the middle of the night to ask questions. And in the book of John, Jesus says — remember Moses lifting up, exalting, the serpent? The serpent was a symbol of death. Yet, through it, came life. So, too, do I have to be lifted up – exalted – through a sign of death.

God defeated the serpent at the serpents’ own game. Defeated death through death. And defeats the way of the world, the way of sin, by entering the world and changing the way of the world to one of love.

Remember – “God so loved the world…” God so LOVES the world… that God’s love is transforming the “normal” from sin to love.

And we’re the people asked to participate.

That’s the condemnation, writes Paul. Judgment doesn’t come from Jesus, or the cross, or even God.

We are our own judges and judgment.

If we love light, and goodness, and Truth, if we want to work for harmony, and peace, and love; then we are already living into the new realm, the new reign, of God.

But if we love darkness, being evil, and lies, if we want to work for self-security, profit, and out of fear, then we don’t like God’s message. And we are choosing to live in the world ruled by the way things are right now.

That is our own judgment. We choose to live into the new world, or we choose to try to keep things the way they are.

John writes like it is super easy to pick one or the other.

But, I find it is SO hard.

Change is scary.

I like being secure and I’d like to be rich.

Sometimes, I don’t want to understand what goes into making my shoes because if I understand, and still choose this brand, then I am implicated. I am guilty. I am now choosing to participate in the sin of harming those workers in India and China.

Sometimes, I prefer the darkness. The not understanding. The not knowing.

Knowing, the light, is too painful. I’d rather my deeds not be exposed.

You’ve heard it said before that ignorance is bliss.

Yes, it is.

The judgement is whether we’ll give up that ignorance, and bliss, and choose the narrow path – full of heart-ache, and full of great reward – but not easy in the least.

Being Christian is hard work. It is heart work: the hardest kind. And changing the world is not easy.

I cannot help but wonder how my own little deeds have any effect on the world. What a penny? A jar of peanut butter? A smile? What are these tokens of kindness compared to the massive amount of harm occurring?

I am a single drop of water in a dry desert.

So Paul writes us encouragement.

Every dollar is made out of pennies.
Every forest is made out of trees.
Every house is made out of nails.
Every Christian is made out of single prayers.

In the body of Christ, no eye can say an ear isn’t needed, and no face say no “part we cover up” isn’t needed. Everything, every little bit, together, makes a difference.

And it all comes down to the little daily things we do.

Comes down to the very atoms of our bodies.

The atoms of the world. And universe.

Changing the world begins wherever you are.

For wherever you are, you are called to live into the realm of God and show it, and its victory, over the realm of the way things currently are.

Today we took an offering for the One Great Hour of Sharing. This helps organizations large and small all across our world.

Consider Sarah. She is a young mother, and was faced with an incredible challenge: her nine-month-old daughter couldn’t consume solid foods — or any food, for that matter — and as a result, the little baby wasn’t growing. Starving.

Willing to try anything, Sarah would feed her daughter new foods in the hope that her daughter’s body would finally accept some type of nourishment. Time and time again her hopes were dashed.

Enter Bread for the World, and the One Great Hour of Sharing, and WIC on Wheels of Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Enter the physical, and spiritual, and mental, and social powers of the World That Will Be. The world of generosity, inclusion, and love.

The mobile clinic brings services for young families directly to communities and offers services such as healthy foods, nutrition education and healthcare referrals.

The mobile clinic has been a godsend for Sarah and her daughter. It was there that Sarah was given a voucher for a literally lifesaving formula for her daughter.

Sarah’s daughter has gained strength, and her sensitive stomach has become more agreeable to some foods with the help of the mobile clinic’s nutritionist.

How was this child saved? Through a mother’s prayers, through the pennies we pay in taxes, through the money we donate to the UCC, through the people who volunteer and promote Bread for the World, through all of us who are living into God’s realm now that says no one – not even a young mother, who lacks transportation, with a sickly child, should suffer physically, socially with stigma or mentally with fear.

Pennies and prayers.

Or consider Ramona of the Dominican Republic. Ramona is a widow with three children who feared she would become destitute – and on the streets.
But things started to turn around when Ramona received and raised her first piglet. She gave four of that sow’s initial offspring to neighbors and sold eight, using the proceeds to invest in more animals. She’s sold over 50 pigs to date and made more than $4,000. Ramona’s business has thrived with help from her children and the day laborers she hires from among her neighbors. She now has nearly 100 animals and a brighter future.

Likewise, Juliana, mother of three, saw everything improve thanks to that one small gift. She has made $620 so far from selling piglets after giving six to neighbors. She’s thrilled that the money helped her send her two sons to school and pay for their school supplies, uniforms, backpacks, shoes and transportation.

Best of all, Juliana’s pig business has brought her back to her community. She used to be a domestic worker in the nation’s capital, Santo Domingo, and made the commute home only on weekends. Now, she earns enough to stay home, raise and sell pigs, and run a small grocery store she and her husband opened in their home.

The pig project is part of the Foods Resource Bank’s Dominican Republic Bateyes project. These programs are supported by One Great Hour of Sharing and encourage love of neighbor. Today, families are “paying it forward,” enabling more and more of their neighbors to make life-changing improvements to their circumstances as well.

The program works and is modeled after Heifer International.

Pigs. Pennies. Prayers.

Now consider, when you are an immigrant and disaster strikes, where do you turn for help?
Listen to one survivor’s words of the California fires last year: “The fire busted open the window in the house and woke us up. We left wearing our pajamas, not even wearing shoes. We spent two nights in a parking lot because the shelter was full. We finally came home and we had no food. [A man from the UCC church] brought food to our house so we could eat.

 

Another survivor said, “Gas stations were selling water for two times the usual price. We left our home with nothing. [The UCC] made sure we had food, water, information, whatever we needed.”
A third survivor added, “The people I worked for evacuated so I lost my job. [There are] seven people [in my family] and we’ve moved four times.”
Because these are immigrants, they were unable to receive support from FEMA or other relief organizations. But we are living into the world that could be, not the world that is.
So – we are called to help everyone.
The UCC of California became a safe place to find assistance, food, water, gift cards, holiday food baskets, connection to recovery resources and social support. They became the advocates of the most vulnerable.
Several women “were being asked to clean up fire damage at the hotel where they were employed and were not supplied with any masks or special gear. When they resisted, their manager berated them and threatened them with the loss of their jobs.”
With the help of the church, these women kept their jobs AND were given the proper gear to not breathe in the toxic ash.
Months after the fires, there are still scores of people who need assistance. Out of work since flames sent them fleeing their homes, many are dealing with unpaid bills and food insecurity.
So the church is still helping. Still sending people out, creating a supportive environment where everyone recovers from the fires together as a community.

People. Pigs. Pennies. Prayer.

The world changes with little deeds, and with how we live our life.
I leave you with two guiding quotes:
First, Mahatma Gandhi: “My life is my message.”
Second, Mother Theresa, “Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you.”

Who is the person nearest you?
Live your life as your message- the message of Christ.

Amen.

_________

 

Benediction

 

Sponsor a child . . . Plant a tree . . . Rebuild a home . . . Visit a prisoner . . . Be a mentor . . . Teach . . . Serve a meal . . . Bring water to the desert . . . Pray . . . Donate . . . the opportunities are endless. And they’re all right here. What part of our world is waiting for you to make a difference?

Fish Tales

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

Pieter_Lastman_-_Jonah_and_the_Whale_-_Google_Art_Project
Jonah and the Whale (1621) by Pieter Lastman

Mark 1:14-20

 

I like fish tales. Great big stories with excitement and adventure, great big stories with humor and a bit of uncertainty. Great big stories with questionable details but big truths.

 

I fell for them as a kid all the time. Even after I learned to watch for the hand that shows the little minnow with finger and thumb, versus the giant fish the two hands show together, I still fell for them because I wanted the story.

 

And often, they weren’t about fish at all.

 

My dad is a master of fish tales. One day my brother and I asked him how he came to have a scar and he replied, “Didn’t you know? I was abducted by aliens as a kid.” He proceeded to tell us about how the aliens took him into their special ship, to their mother ship. How they all had a third eye right up here on their foreheads. They all wore uniforms that matched and made it hard to tell one from the other. They spoke in a strange language, and poked and prodded my dad. They made him do weird experiments and asked him hard questions. In the end, they shot him with a strange syrup and dropped him off back at his home.

 

My brother and I were so shocked and impressed, we told all our friends. Soon all the kids were talking about how my dad had been abducted by aliens.

 

It took a few years before I realized he’d gotten hurt as a kid, been taken in an ambulance to the hospital, got a tetanus shot, and was sent home by the doctors and nurses. That’s how he got the scar.

 

… The alien story is way cooler, isn’t it?

 

It’s the same story. Just we picture different things in our heads when we hear ‘alien’ versus ‘doctor.’ Or ‘third eye’ versus head mirror. Special ship instead of ambulance.

 

But for a little kid? This totally felt like an alien abduction! My dad told us a fish tale, but it had roots of truth. And it communicated what this experience felt like to him when he was a child.

 

The Bible has stories that seem like fish tales too. Consider the book of Jonah. No Biblical scholar really knows what to do with this story. Is it true? But whales don’t eat people. They can’t swallow anything that big and eat plankton. Was it a large fish? What fish could swallow a person whole and alive? Not a shark.

 

No Biblical scholar really knows what to do with this story. No one really knows if we’re supposed to read it as a parable, or a historic truth, or a retelling of a classic tale with a Jewish spin, or a parody. Since no one knows, let’s consider it as a fish tale today.

 

Let’s look at the story: God calls to Jonah – a no body – and tells him to get to Nineveh and convert the people there. The story humorously explains all the ways Jonah tries to escape, but God keeps bringing Jonah back to the path God wants. Each run away is more drastic and over the top than the last. Each pull and yank on the fishing rod in this fish tale is told to keep you entertained and on the edge of your seat.

 

And in the end, Jonah is THE most successful prophet in the Bible and converts an entire city with just a few words. The city converts so strongly that they order even the animals to wear sack cloth and ashes and pray. The gigantic fish is pulled in!

 

And instead of rejoicing, Jonah complains, “God, I knew you were going to forgive them in the first place. You’re too kind!”

 

I hear here the cue for the drum snare for the punch line joke! God… is too kind.

 

We want God to love the people we love and hate the people we hate.

 

If the book of Jonah started out this way, telling us the punch line first, it likely wouldn’t strike home. It wouldn’t make us feel. Wouldn’t make us think. Just as if my dad had answered my brother and I ‘Oh, I fell on a nail,’ neither of us would have considered what it felt like, how scary it was, to be injured as a little kid.

 

The story – the wind up, the way it invites us in to view the world through Jonah’s eyes – the way things are exaggerated and blow up large – gives us just enough humor to deal with the not funny part of this story. Just enough humor to look at ourselves… and laugh.

 

We’re Jonah.

 

You and I are Jonah.

 

And when God calls, we try running away.

 

When God tells us to be loving to enemies, we’d rather see them crash and burn.

 

And when God forgives and loves people we hate… we get angry with God.

 

We want God to love those we love, and hate those we hate… we want to tell God what to do. We want to be God.

 

But… God is uncontrollable. And God chooses to offer love and forgiveness to all.

 

I think the fish tale of the book of Jonah brings that message home.

 

The story is not about whether or not you believe in giant fish, bushes that grow up over night, or donkeys and goats wearing sack cloth. The story is about how wide is God’s mercy… and facing our own mercy shortcomings.

 

No one likes critiqued. No one likes being told they’re in the wrong. So Jonah holds the mirror up to us gently, with humor, to let us see the flaws and laugh. Let us see how ridiculous Jonah and we are being. Lets us be glad God is that loving and forgiving. That loving forgiveness that we rely on, so too does the whole world.

 

A big message… delivered in a way to make us think.

 

Mark plays with words to make us think, too. Mark’s word is IMMEDIATELY. If you ever want to read a gospel out loud, try reading Mark. It is breathless. It is fast. It sprints a marathon and when you read it or hear it in one setting, you end up at the end befuddled and breathless and left with all the messy pieces and unanswered questions that the first disciples had tossed on their laps.

 

When you come to the end, and the final bit is — the women ran away from the empty tomb and told no one because they were frightened — you have to wonder, what then? What then?!

 

Others have wondered this too. And various manuscripts of Mark have a note at the end that adds Jesus appearing to Mary, and giving the great commission, and rising to heaven…

 

But in the oldest copies we have of Mark?

 

The story ends as frightfully and short and as immediately as it began.

 

The urgent telling of Mark conveys the urgency of his message. He doesn’t mince words. He doesn’t even name Joseph as Jesus’ dad — just the barest minimum of details are told because Mark wants us to know the time is NOW.

 

Urgently NOW.

 

The Gospel of Mark begins like whistle at the beginning of a race and runs from scene to scene in sentence to sentence. What Matthew spends fourteen verses on – Mark spends 2. (Jesus’ temptation.) And while the other Gospels talk about the predictions of Jesus and how he was born… a whole birth narrative… Mark just starts off saying, ‘Jesus came to John.’

 

Mark is rushing. Running.

 

And Jesus in Mark isn’t saying, ‘The time is soon,’ but the time is NOW. NOW is the kindom of God. NOW is the time to repent. NOW is the time to believe in the Good News.

 

Not the future. Not yet to be. NOW.

 

People need God NOW.

 

People need forgiveness now.

 

People need love, now.

 

 

Like a fish tale, Mark has us focus on the experience of Jesus’ story, not the details. We don’t know if the first disciples had heard about Jesus before they were called, and that is why they are ready to leave their nets. We don’t know if they had heard sermons before hand. Or had visions and dreams. Or asked Jesus questions when they were called. We know nothing about what leads up to their calling — only that Jesus calls, and they come ‘immediately’.

 

They respond as quickly as Jesus arrives.

 

The experience of Christian discipleship, for Mark, is the experience of immediacy. Whenever you hear or feel that call, immediately things are changing.

 

Immediately you’re swept up into the story of God.

 

Immediately, not in the future, not after you die, you are in the reign of God.

 

Mark isn’t concerned with details.  He doesn’t want us concerned with details. He wants us concerned with the message and the feeling.

 

The Good News — as he calls it — and the feeling of the Spirit. The Good News that our waiting is over and Christ is among us. The feeling of a way to God for all peoples, all nations, all ages, all genders, and all sinners and saints. The experience of living as God’s children NOW.

 

This focus on message rather than details is how we as the United Church of Christ function. You and I can wholly disagree about how many angels were in Jesus’ tomb. We know — Christianity is not founded on how many angels. Christianity is founded on the love of God as known through Christ and is maintained with the Holy Spirit.

 

You and I can have different ideas on what is, or isn’t, the right way to pray or worship, or baptize. We know these things are important, but even still, are details.

 

And we’re not caught up in the details. We’re caught up in the story of God.

 

In the experience of God.

 

And the experiential story of God is urgently happening now, urgently calling us to unity with one another and with God, and gifting us the good humor to laugh at ourselves, admit our faults, ask forgiveness, and begin again.

 

And again and again and again.

 

No one is keeping a detailed record of how often we are Jonahs. Instead, God is remember we’re God’s beloved children, and God wants to share the experience of being that beloved child urgently right now.

 

So get thee to Ninevah! Or Lancaster. Or wherever God is calling you to go make amends and preach the good news of love and forgiveness. Get thee from the details and thoughts about God — to the experience of God’s love, mercy, and acceptance. Get to the reality of God felt and lived urgently now!

 

Amen.