Tag: Politics

Blessed?

Jeremiah 17:5-10
Luke 6:17-26 jesus-refugee-1

God stands with the outcasts, the hungry, the poor, the sorrowful. God is sobbing because her child is stolen from her, taken away, lost. God is crying because his only son was murdered by the authorities for peacefully seeking a better life.

At our southern border today these stories are in the thousands. People that came to our country in desperation have arrived to only be cursed, imprisoned, have their children taken in many cases to never be returned. When I see this news, the same news we all get, I think of how far away it is, how little I can do…

But the truth is it’s happening in our own state.

God is with Rachel who is here, in central Ohio, because her husband attempted to kill her with acid and burned off most of her face.

God is with Daniel who is here, in central Ohio, because he witnessed a crime gang murder his older brother. And now they want all the witnesses dead.

God is with Joshua who is here, in central Ohio, because he wants his little children to grow up where they don’t have to dodge landmines.

These are different names, but these are real people living only minutes away from us, not just some distant story on the news.

These are the people we are putting into concentration camps. And we have work camps.
What’s going on at our borders is controversial; some people focus on protecting our wealth, our jobs, our safety from strangers.

Others focus on what is being done to protect those borders. Children taken from their parents with reports of them being beaten, raped, and even killed through sheer neglect. Children whose only crime was to have parents think Americans were honest in our desire to help the helpless.

Many people that feel ‘We’d like to help, but we have problems of our own’.

I think most of us see these stories, and meet these people, and KNOW bad things are happening this very moment…

But what are we to do?

No one in this room is personally harming a refugee or immigrant.

Yet the politicians we’ve chosen have decided our taxes will pay the salaries of the people doing this, pay for those prisons, and now will likely pay for an eight billion dollar wall.

As a country we stopped reading our Bible and instead have chosen bits and pieces of it that tell us prosperity is the right of Christians.

We stopped living our faith. Our faith that says in all ways we are to be salt for the earth – a flavoring, a blessing. Not a curse hateful of others.

When God sent Jesus, God sent our savior born of a refugee. An immigrant. A woman and man who traveled seeking a better life for the child.

God sent Jesus born into a family like yours or mine. A normal family. With brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles. A messy family.

God sent Jesus born to share our common lot. To know what it is to be human. To know blessings – honor – and woe – shameful times.

God sent Jesus to stand not in Rome among the honorable, nor the honorable of occupied ancient Israel — but to stand level with the poor, the deported, the huddling masses considered shameful, embarrassing, undesirable, and sinful.

Luke wrote his gospel to people like us. It is addressed to Theophilus who is a citizen of the ruling people. Much like we are citizens of the ruling people. And Theophilus was part of the popular religion. Much like we are. And Theophilus generally always knew where he would get his next meal, where to rest his head, and whether or not his relatives were alive, and safe. Much the same with us.

Luke writes to Theophilus to tell him why this impoverished foreigner Jesus came to Theophilus, too; and why Theophilus needs Jesus.

Why we NEED Jesus.

We NEED Jesus because of the torture of innocents. We NEED Jesus because of our faith being corrupted, turned into a weapon, and used against our own Christian body. We NEED Jesus to open our eyes, forgive our sins, and let us begin again our life with all people in the name of Christ.

“Our salvation depends on the poor.” ((Dorothy Day))

Jesus came down and stood on a level place.

No mountain top. No pulpit. No temple on the hill. Jesus came DOWN from heaven and stood right in the middle of earth – in the muck, with the common people, with the throng, with those in the cheap seats.

And around him came a great multitude a people. A huddling, starving mass. Jesus came and was with those no one else wanted.

Our Statue of Liberty speaks of us as the promised land, as a heaven on earth, where all are welcomed. All are equals. All are honorable. At the foot of the Statue of Liberty is a plaque with words we’ve aspired to live:

The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Are we hypocrites? We place Lady Liberty on a pedestal and forget her. We forget we are the children and descendants of wretched refuse, refugees and immigrants, who yearned to breathe free.

We place God on our money and forget God sees the love of money as the root of all evil.

Forget God does not care for lip service but cares for justice.

God does not care how we treat the honorable but God deeply cares how we treat the least of these, the least among the world.

We say we’re Christian as we live in a manner only Satan would love – a manner that loves ourselves before all others.

As a country, we are forgetting who and who’s we are.

Jesus said… “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” You have traded heaven for money.

“Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.” You are physically comfortable now, but starving your soul.

“Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.” For when Jesus returns, and we feel the full weight of our sins and separations, we will tear our clothes in anguish and cry out inconsolable.

“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” When you’re called such a good Christian, such a good citizen, such an upstanding member of society… woe to you because you’ve sold yourself to the false prophets of the world and not to the True Prophets who stand with the shameful of society.

Luke is pleading with Theophilus and with us through his stories of Jesus that we give up the path of woes, and turn to the path of blessings! Of honor!

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” God lives among those who are poor! Poor of spirit. Poor of health. Poor of money. Poor in all ways. For those who know want know their need of God. Know their need of mercy and assurance. Know they NEED God.

“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.” Those who are not satisfied are seeking. Seeking better worlds. Better ways of living. Deeper religion. Is your soul hungry? Do you hunger for justice, for a reversal that brings the low high and the high low? Do you hunger for God? You WILL be filled!

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” Laughter! The reign of God is here more every day. And it brings joy to those who weep now. Those who weep to see what we are doing at the border and weep. Those who weep to see our leaders corrupted, self-centered, warmongering and ignoring the plight of everyday people. We who weep now will find joy in God and God’s great reversal.

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.” If you’re in hot trouble with your family because of your beliefs – good job! You’re doing Christianity right. If society tells you to be less radical, to be more practical, and to stop caring… GOOD. You’re doing your faith right. On account of the son of man, we should always be pressing the envelope and challenging people to live more into the reign of God.

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.”

We’re not living for rewards on Earth.

What do we do? How do we – who are not politicians, whose letters go ignored when we write, who are not at the border, who are not affluent – what do we DO to live this narrow, outsider way our Savior leads us?

We don’t turn a blind eye. We look. We watch. We pray. We donate money to charities helping refugees and immigrants such as CRIS – the Community Refugee and Immigrant Services.

We speak. We speak on social media, to family, to friends. We refuse to continue to let the hate spread. We act as antibodies, a cure, where we are, healing the body of Christ here. Preventing the cancer from spreading.

We are here for a reason and a purpose. We are born for a time just as this. We are in the drought with too much heat but we have deep roots. Dig into your faith. Delve deep for the ever-living waters. Bring forth that new life, those green leafs, that hope. BE the church. BE the body of Christ. BE the people who have seen the goodness of God and live like it.

Blessed, honorable, are you when you are unpopular on account of your lived out faith.

Blessed are we when we let go of possessions
for the kingdom of God unfolds in open places.

Blessed are we who know the ache of hunger,
for the empty places in body and soul are the fertile soil for new growth.

Blessed are we who know sorrow,
for the ache of love lost is witness to the seed planted.

Blessed are we who know scorn,
for the rejection of humans keeps us mindful of that beyond.

Blessed are we who live in the harmony of life in the Spirit, for we will recognize abundance.

((Katherine Hawker (2004) and posted on Liturgy Outside. http://liturgyoutside.net/beatitudes.pdf))

Blessed are we who answer God’s call to love ALL.

Amen.

Advertisements

Make Way! Make Way!

bonhoefferMalachi 3:1-4
Luke 3:1-6

In 1937, a German theologian and pastor named Dietrich Bonhoeffer was watching the rise of the Nazi regime in his country. He saw how faith in Christ was becoming muddled with faith in country. It was anti-German to be welcoming outsiders. It is anti-German to not be Christian. Therefore, not welcoming outsiders and being Christian go hand-in-hand — since they’re both pro-Germany.

This very same kind of fuzzy logic happens in our own country right now. When a person says they are Christian, immediately some assume that means they must also be pro-life, love America, vote Republican, and be against immigration.
But that’s not true… that’s fuzzy logic. Logic that makes grand assumptions. There are pro-choice Christians, and there are pro-life atheists. Polarizing language that breaks us up into two camps — the enemy and the good guys — (always, we find ourselves in the good guy camp no matter which side we pick) makes this fuzzy logic grow.

Soon there is no middle ground. Soon there is no real self-reflection. Soon, churches begin to offer only cheap grace.

Bonhoeffer coined this term in the book The Cost of Discipleship. Hear his words:

“Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace.

Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjack’s wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! …

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the Cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

Cheap grace, to Bonheoffer, is when the church bows to society and silences those who question the way things are. It is cheap grace when we tell ourselves we’re good people because we’re Christians… but don’t actually follow Christ. It is cheap grace when scripture and faith don’t challenge us, and God looks and thinks and acts just as we do.

“You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” ((Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies.)) It’s a mirror. It’s yourself. An idol.

Our church gives cheap grace when it says “Things are fine for me, so stop your complaining.” “I’ve never been gay, so nor should you be.” “I’ve never needed to flee my country’s violence: so go home and leave me be.” Cheap grace is grace not from God — but from ourselves. It is patting ourselves on our backs and saying “What good Christians we are!”

Cheap grace is the love we give ourselves at the expense of following Jesus.

Opposite of this, says Bonhoeffer, is costly grace. He writes,

“Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods…

Costly grace is the Gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.

Above all, it is costly because it costs God the life of His Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon His Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered Him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

Bonhoeffer’s words mean Christianity is costly. It doesn’t let us follow society. It makes us follow a different law – the law of love. Christianity demands repentance – repentance means to radically change your life. It isn’t just “I’m sorry,” when you do something… it is “I’m sorry and I will never do that again.” Repentance is the idea that we are walking the wrong direction and must completely turn around, back towards God The baptism of repentance that John calls for is having a water baptism as a sign of washing away the old life and beginning a new. The baptism in the name of Christ, the Father, and Holy Spirit we do is a sign of what happens invisibly of the new life a person has. And when we take communion, we confess our sins and pledge to begin anew our life with God and one another.

New as in… not repeating those wrongs.

And that is costly.

But grace is defined as a free gift. Confusing? Let me explain…

Cheap free gifts, cheap grace, are like… the really cheap chocolate you can get for Christmas. It’s mostly wax. The sugar tastes good. For a moment. Then it is awful.

The cheap free gift of a faith that doesn’t challenge us a faith that won’t stand up to pressure. When we face truly awful things – the death of a child, the betrayal of a friend, the injustice of law, the sexual abuse of clergy on children – and our faith hasn’t grown beyond the basic step… that faith crumbles. How could God permit such evil? How could I ever forgive such a friend? How can I have faith in any laws or any clergy? When our faith is given to us cheaply without challenge… it just wilts and has nothing to say to these situations.

Costly grace is a gift that cost a lost to give. It’s like the expensive chocolate. Just a little bit goes a long way because it is mostly cocoa. It tastes good, and leaves a good taste. But it cost way more.

The costly gift of faith that does challenge us is faith that stands up under the pressure of the evils of life. It reminds us that God is a parent grieving the loss of their child. God-in-Christ knew the betrayal of Judas… then each disciple… all the way to Peter, his best friend, who denied ever even knowing Jesus. It reminds us that wherever there are humans, there is sin… this includes our most sacred institutions and worship spaces. Costly grace is messy. It can’t be summed up on a coffee cup. It says there are real sins, real evils, but also real forgiveness, real repentance, really changed lives.

Malachi writes at a time the cheap grace of the Jewish faith is failing people. He prophesizes that God will refine the priests and make them strong – strong enough to lead the people back into costly grace. But costly grace – faith that can move mountains – costs.

So Malachi warns us this cost is like a fire that burns away impurities to leave behind the gold and silver. It is like bleach, that will turn dull and dirty cloth into dazzling white as snow cloth. Who can withstand this, wonders Malachi. Who can handle the cost of discipleship?

Bonhoeffer wrote about this in his own Advent sermons a few years before writing The Cost of Discipleship. He wrote,

“It is very remarkable that we face the thought that God is coming, so calmly, whereas previously peoples trembled at the day of God . . . . We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for every one who has a conscience.

Only when we have felt the terror of the matter, can we recognize the incomparable kindness. God comes into the very midst of evil and of death, and judges the evil in us and in the world. And by judging us, God cleanses and sanctifies us, comes to us with grace and love.”

Fear and wonder. Terror. Like the shepherds seeing the angels. Like those who came to hear John preach. Like those who found Jesus’ tomb empty.

But also grace. Love. Forgiveness. Acceptance.

God’s question to us again and again is who shall I send? Who will go? Who will prepare the way? Who will keep awake? Who will walk the narrow way, the costly way, instead of the wide way, the way that offers no challenges… but no rewards? Who will be silver and gold? Who will withstand the bleach to be washed whiter than snow? Who will tackle their own sins?

I wonder, sometimes, if the paths Isaiah speaks about are us. “Prepare the way of the Lord, make God’s people ready. Everyone who is low should be encouraged and lifted up. Everyone who is high and powerful should be humbled and lowered. The crooked and sinful shall be made straight and true; the rough made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

It’s what John was doing. He was offering repentance. A way to turn our crooked path around and walk right back to God. And what Malachi foretold.

It is easy to love upon a cute baby cuddled in his mama’s arms.

But Christmas means so much more.

Are you preparing yourself for the more?

Amen.

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.

Things Unseen

Protesters Demonstrate In Philadelphia During The Democratic National Convention

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

Our election this season is one of fear. Fear, feelings of persecution, feelings of unheard, feeling misunderstood, feeling marginalized, feeling belittled, feeling silenced. Fear leads it all. Followed by anger, and hate, and more fear.

Our African American citizens fear the cops. The cops fear the African Americans. On edge, the two confront one another – and far too often someone is misunderstood, marginalized, and forever silenced. Fear of authority; fear of the other; these fears fuel terrors into our election.

Sexual fear drives us. Fear of loved ones being abused; fear of being killed for whom one loves; fear of sex and bodies and passions themselves. A rhetoric of hate comes out of these fears and spews from the mouths of politicians and Christians alike. There is no attempt to overcome the fear – just destroy anyone or anything that reminds us of the fear.

And so: education on sexual health is banned from schools, access to sexual health services are denied, protection for gays and lesbians is denied, and transgendered adults and even children are murdered. All of this coming from fear of our own bodies.

And this fear drives our votes, too.

Insecurity is a major fear among us right now. There is the insecurity of being a white, high school educated, man. At one time – that’s all you needed to be to be very successful in America. But now – women and non-whites compete for the same jobs. This means college is often needed to stand out. It means when once being born a straight white man was ticket to wealth is no longer the truth. And that insecurity, that feeling of being less-than, drives our election.

When you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression. Just as Jesus said: the low will be raised and the high lowered, so all are equal. But this feels like oppression to those who once were high. And that makes them feel fear, insecurity, and hate.

The fear inside insecurity is what makes us speak of a wall between ourselves and Mexico. Speak of bombing other countries. Speak of banning whole religions, whole regions, from ever visiting family or friends here. Fear drives us to isolate ourselves, and inside our little bubble… we forget that we fear a very small minority… and the majority of the world’s people are just like you and I. But because of a few, we fear them all.

The very early church knew much fear, too. They had once been privileged: Hebrews, Jews, people of not great but not bad standing. Middle class, per se. And now… as soon as they began this Christ business… they were banned from places of worship. The cops always thought they were up to no good. Some people said they were planning a rebellion and so abused, terrorized, murdered Christians. Some people hid their belief in Christ for their, or their family’s safety. Some people were more open. But all together… they knew fear.

What would they do with it? Isolate themselves and stop living out their faith? Would they pretend to be secular, or follow Zeus or Caesar, in public?

Would fear drive them to make strict rules about who could, or couldn’t, enter their congregations? We now have a rule that only those with a Christian parent may enter the sanctuary. We now have a rule that only those who haven’t sinned in the last week. Now only straight people. Now only Americans. Now only white straight Americans whose parents were born here and none of them have ever ran into the law or defaulted on bank loans or crossed the street without looking both ways.

How ridiculous do we want the rules to get to make us feel safer? Will they help?

No.

There’s always more to fear… because each of us have a little portion in us that fears even the very things we do. What if someone else finds out? Will they still accept me? How long until I’m kicked out?

A cycle of fear is a cycle that works like setting a pot of water on a hot stove. A little bubble, a little fear, leads the water of people to a rolling boil, roiling fear; leads to fear flowing over the edges of the pot and eventually – no water, no people, are left in the pot at all. Everyone is gone. Fled. Hiding. And there is no more church.

Paul, when he writes the Hebrews, addresses their fears. Jesus, when he talks to his disciples, addresses their fears. The Bible tells us not to fear more than any other phrase! Do not fear, I am with you. Do not fear, I am your God. Do not be afraid, you are loved. Do not be afraid, I bring you good news. I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.

To the early Hebrew church, Paul reminds them that we aren’t walking by this world’s standards, and this world’s answers to fear are not God’s answers. He reminds them, and us, that we walk by faith, we are convinced of things not seen, and we do not have to be ashamed of this faith and assurance in things that we cannot see at all.

For instance, I turn on the news, and I don’t see love. But I have faith in it. I trust is exists even through I don’t see it. My hope and my promise is in God, who is love, and who says love conquers all things.

I see people using our faith as a weapon, and committing religious violence, acts of terrorism, against others in the name of God. I see this – I see the hate and fear – but I trust what I don’t see.

I trust the unreported, unremarked upon woman who drops pennies and quarters into the charity jars and donates her time to volunteer work.

I have faith and believe in the man never interviewed by the news and never praised by politicians; this man who stops to help change a flat tire and who lets people ahead of him in line.

I don’t see it, but I believe in the children who stand up for one another against bullies. I trust in the children who make ‘get well soon’ cards for teachers and bus drivers.

My eyes don’t tell me, but my heart tells me, to believe in the teenager girl who struggles with so many issues, so much daily fear and misunderstanding – and yet, not to participate in hate speech at work.

I have faith in the unseen. I trust in the hope of God. I trust in what the world ignores. I know we are sojourners, travelers, in a strange land. This land would have us believe that everyone is selfish, evil, and out to harm us. I know there’s a lot to fear, I have been scared… but I also trust in the promises of God.

As Paul writes, Abraham and Sarah never saw their descendants be more than the stars… they died without seeing the full promise come to fruition. Yet they had faith, and what God promised came to pass.

Isaac and Jacob too. They died without the full promise occurring… but their faith led to the next generation, and generation by generation, God worked and fulfilled the promise.

Do not fear, little flock, do not fear.

We walk by faith – not fear, not hate. We walk together – not isolated, not cut off from the world. We walk with God – and because we walk with God, we do not have to fear any evil.

You and I will likely die without seeing God’s full reign on Earth as it is in Heaven. We’ll likely die without Christ having yet returning in full glory. And yet, we can pass on this faith and trust for we know… as Jesus told us, it is God’s delight to gift us the kin-dom. It is God’s good pleasure to work with us to make the promises of peace on earth a reality.

Amen.

What Just Happened?

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

Can you feel it? Something is afoot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King, prophet, messiah, God…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What just happened?

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

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

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

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

And God is love.

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

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

Amen.

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