What do you believe?

What do you believe about God?  I mean what do you really believe?

Do you believe in the creeds? Are there parts that you struggle with?

Do you believe that God is alive and in our midst?

Do you believe that God isn’t just in our midst, but also has something to say about our lives, our society, our politics, and how we interact with others? Now we’re getting uncomfortable, aren’t we?  Do we want God to have something to say about our lives, society, money, politics?  If this is true, then we might have to change.

If someone were to look at your life and how you talk, and they were asked to describe what you believed about God based on that, what would that say about you and your belief in God?

Do your words and actions, how you live your life, and how you deal with others, match with what you claim to believe about God?  If there is a difference, why?


Homeless Summit

Yesterday we held a homeless summit.  We didn’t know what else to call it, so that was the working name.  This came as a result of conversations I had with the Superintendent of the local school district about homelessness in our region.  We had over two dozen people in attendance representing a variety of agencies and interests – school-related, police, various non-profits, government agencies, social services, etc.

The goal was to agree that we have a problem in our region, that we have been trying to do things on our own, that there is a better way to communicate and coordinate, and to determine some next steps.  Or as I put it – this is like a first date where we get to know each other to determine if there will be a second date.

We broke down into smaller groups several times for discussion – to share how we encounter homelessness, poverty, and hunger in our agencies and personally.  We spoke of the challenges we face in dealing with homelessness and what roles we each play.  And we talked about some possible areas to move forward on.

At the end several of us made commitments on next steps – tangible things that we can do.

Many of the challenges people talked about was communication – not knowing where to send people.  There are many agencies and things are shifting often.

We will be gathering again, figuring out how to draw in communities that are on the margins – some of which self-select themselves away from such conversations.  In the meantime, there is work to do, information to share, partnerships to continue to forge, people to assist and walk with, and advocacy to be done.  All of this came from this summit.

We didn’t solve the world’s problem, or even solve homelessness.  And that was not the goal.  We moved one step closer yesterday – just a little step, but an important one. It’s something to build on. Awareness was raised, discussion about a real problem took place, some next steps were committed to.  That’s a great start as far as I’m concerned.  I look forward to seeing how this progresses.

My vision is that there is a real, affordable, home for everyone in this region.  A home, not just shelter, not living in motels, not living in cars.  A home surrounded by community that cares about one another.

Our speech and action proclaim who we worship

How we treat and talk about others tells them much about ourselves and our beliefs about God.

How we treat and talk about the poor, strangers, the sick, and those in prison says a great deal about ourselves and the God we claim to follow.  How we treat and talk about our enemies says more about us than our enemies.

How we treat and talk about others proclaims loudly to the world the gospel we truly believe and have faith in.

If we blame the poor for our budgetary problems, then we believe in a god who only blesses the wealthy and blames the poor for being lazy.  We are saying we put our faith in a god who only helps those who help themselves.  We are rejecting the God of the bible, the one who specifically says that God favors the poor.  Read James 2:1-13

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please’, while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there’, or, ‘Sit at my feet’, have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For the one who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’, also said, ‘You shall not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgement will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgement.

Or Luke 6:20

Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.

Or just google Jesus or God and the poor to find the numerous references to this.

If we reject and cast out and turn away the stranger, the refugee, the asylum seeker, then we believe in a god which values our safety and security over the lives of those fleeing certain death.  We are rejecting the God of the bible, the one who specifically tells us to welcome the stranger. Read Matthew 25:35

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

Hebrews 13:2

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

Romans 12:13

…extend hospitality to strangers.

Leviticus 19:33-34

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

How we treat and talk about those that are sick and in prison tells the world what we truly believe and have faith in.  If we speak and act as those the sick and those in prison are less valuable, then we are proclaiming what we believe about the god we worship.

Matthew 25:36 speaks about this.

I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.

Hebrews 13:3

Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.

How we treat and talk about our enemies certainly says more about us, than it does about our enemies.  It proclaims loudly what we believe about the god we worship and follow.  When we dehumanize and demonize our enemies, we are proclaiming that we worship a god who also dehumanizes, demonizes, and sees no value in the lives of our enemies.  And we reject the God of the bible who proclaims in John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Luke 6:27-36

‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Romans 12:14-21

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

1 Peter 3:9

Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.

If we can make excuses for why we aren’t following Scripture in relation to how we treat and talk about others, then do we really worship God?  Do we really follow Jesus?

It seems that our technicalities and excuses are given because we don’t like what God has to say.  We don’t think God knows what God is talking about. We prefer to do things our way, which leads us back to the very first sin in the garden – thinking that we know more than God.

In essence, we are reshaping God in our own image so that God serves us, not the other way around.  We are making God in our image and likeness.  We are embracing brokenness rather than being embraced by God who promises to dwell with us, renew us and live in peace, love, mercy, and grace. We are proclaiming our preference for an anemic god who won’t mess with us, won’t change our lives, won’t change the world, won’t make us uncomfortable, won’t inconvenience us.

We are also proclaiming that God doesn’t go all the way to death and back for us.  We are proclaiming that God leaves us alone and to our own devices to figure out the world for ourselves.  We are proclaiming that God doesn’t care about our politics or our policies – especially when it comes to how we treat others.  We are proclaiming that God doesn’t have a say about our money and possessions.

What kind of god is this?  A sad and pathetic god frankly.  A god who values stuff over people.  A god who sees nothing wrong with mass shootings and violence – why would I serve such a god?  That is a god who doesn’t give a damn about any of us.  That kind of god doesn’t call on us to do something to stop such massacres.  A god who turns a blind eye to corruption and abuse.  A god who is sleeping at the wheel.  A god who doesn’t care if we worship other gods – such as money, power, strength, work, guns, violence, sports, health, food, sex, intelligence, education, and anything else that we can put in front of God.  I’m not interested in such a pathetic god.

I want the God that encounters us and changes our lives.  I want the God that intervenes.  I want a jealous God who loves us to the point of death.  I want the God that is bringing a new order and brings God’s kingdom and reign.  That’s the God I want.  This is the God who calls on us to live differently, to speak differently.  Because it is in living and speaking differently that we get a foretaste of the feast to come.

So, let us treat one another differently from the world.  Let us love one another. Let us follow Jesus and what he says about how we are to treat one another.  Let us stop the memes, the dehumanizing and devaluing of people.  Let us stop the blaming and scapegoating.  Let us stop promoting policies and politicians that proclaim a gospel of fear, anger, and anxiety – a message of us versus them.  Let us close our ears to messages of division and might makes right.  Let us reject the gospel of the ends justify the means.

Instead let us follow the live according to 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 –

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Where we go from here

He’s a fascist.  He’s a communist.  They are trying to destroy the country.  He’s funding groups that are trying to destroy the country.  Memes that imply this person is an idiot.  Memes that imply that person is a danger.

Insults.  Blame.  Scapegoats.  Labels.

What is a follower of Jesus to do in an environment where it seems that everyone is ramping up their rhetoric?  What is a follower of Jesus to do when everyone is waiting for the other side to take the first step in acting/speaking in a civil manner?  The implication is that if I am first, then I will be perceived as weak and will be walked all over.

It is much easier to complain about the state of affairs than to do anything about it.  We can rationalize away any action by ourselves as merely a small drop in the bucket, so what’s the point?  We can rationalize away the name calling when it is our side doing it (whatever side that is) because those other people don’t know what they are talking about – if only they would listen to us!

But what is a follower of Jesus to do?

Turn the other cheek?  Love your enemy?  See Jesus in the other person?  Live out the faith that we claim regardless of what anyone else does?

There are many who will dismiss these ideas as something that we can do when everything is smooth sailing, but they can’t possibly work when there is conflict.  When times are difficult, we seem to think it is ok to tell Jesus that he doesn’t know what he was talking about.  We tend to start to think that Jesus isn’t alive and in our midst, but was some guy that lived 2000 years ago and is still dead.  We seem to forget that Jesus is resurrected and alive and in our midst.  Or we purposefully ignore this, choosing not to see Jesus in our midst.  We fear embracing the idea that Jesus is really alive and in our midst.  If that is the case, then our lives would have to change.  We rationalize this behavior and langauge by asking how Jesus could be in our midst at the same time as evil?  So we much handle evil our way.  And we fail.

I’m not saying we are pushovers.  We are called to call out injustice where we encounter it – to name it for what it is.  That isn’t easy and it won’t win you friends.  It may cost you friends, a job, and maybe even your life eventually.

People claim they want there to be a change in the world.  But they aren’t willing to do something different to bring this about.  They are waiting for someone else to go first.  People like the idea of change, as long as it is someone else changing and not ourselves.  Why do we need to change – it’s them that are the problem.

But if we all wait for someone else, it will never happen.

What if you are the someone else that is called to start?  What if you are the ones that needs to be changed?  What if you are the person God is calling to be a light in the world first?  What if you are the one that can set the example?  Scary, isn’t it?  But here’s the question again – what is a follower of Jesus to do?  Call names and scapegoat an enemy?  Or love your enemy?

What we do in response to something speaks louder than anything that you or I can say or write about it.  It expresses what we truly believe.  And it can contradict everything we claim.  But our actions will not lie about what we really believe.  Our actions come from our true beliefs about the world, God, others, and ourselves.  Being true to our true beliefs is very important to humans and we will not violate those beliefs because to violate them would be to go against who we believe we are.  This is why we can be hypocrites and yet still believe we are not.  While we may claim the beliefs and teachings of Jesus, our actions will declare our core, deep values and beliefs that guide us.  We will be consistent with our core beliefs and values.

When we claim that we follow Jesus and our actions conflict with what Jesus taught, we are really good at rationalizing away the difference.  When Jesus tells us to welcome the stranger and we fear the caravan at the same time, we feel we can get off on technicalities – we rationalize that the caravan doesn’t apply because of A, B, and C.  Besides we welcome D, E, and F, so technically we are keeping this command.  The reality is that our technicalities form the essence of our core beliefs about the world, God, others, and our self.

We claim to follow Jesus and yet our language conflicts with what Jesus taught – “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.”  (Matthew 15:18).  We rationalize that the politician we are talking about is a danger, evil, etc., so technically we are keeping the command because we are just pointing out what kind of person they are.  Yet, what does this labeling say about ourselves and what comes from our own heart?  It is one thing to point out an injustice that is occurring – even when caused by a specific person.  It is another thing to name call, dehumanize, and demonize – even if that same person is doing that thing.

No where in Jesus’ teaching does he talk about using the methods of the world to change the world, or defeat the world.  No where.

Instead, we are called to be different, to employ different methods and means.  Jesus cared about the means more so than the ends.  Jesus never taught or lived by the belief that the ends justify the means.

‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

(Matthew 5:14-16, NRSV)

Where do we go from here?  We live out what we claim to believe.  It’s really that simple.  If we claim to be a follower of Jesus, we live that out – as much as possible.  And when we fail, and we will, we seek forgiveness, we repent, and we get up again.

We are called to live out the baptismal life – to join Christ in his life, death, and resurrection every day.  Every day we are called to deny ourselves – deny the desire to be right all the time, to dehumanize and demonize our enemies, to destroy our enemies, to adopt the ways and expectations of the world.  We are to deny these things every day, to pick up our cross, and to follow Jesus.  Not waiting for someone else to go first.  Jesus calls us to follow, regardless of what others will do.  And others will do what they do.  Others will follow the way of the world.  Others will be critical and label us.  Others will attack us.  Others will crucify us – either figuratively or literally.  We are called to discipleship every day regardless of what others will do.  Our lead is Jesus – to keep our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus.  When we look away, we start to drown like Peter did when he tried walking on water.

Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’

(Matthew 14:28-33, NRSV)

Where do we go from here?  The same path those who have gone before us did.  We aren’t the first to go.  We never have been the first.  There have been many who have gone before us, living out the faith they were given regardless of the consequences.  The risk of being first was already taken by so many before us.  We stand in the company of the saints who surround us.  We are not alone.  It is time to live the faith, as fully as we can.  Not pretending to be Christians anymore.  Not pretending that we can say we are followers and then acting differently.  The time for pretending is over.  The time to be the light to the world is now.  We need Christians to be Christians, followers who live out discipleship, to live out the teachings of Jesus, to proclaim discipleship with their actions.

The world is desperate for this proclamation.  Let us proclaim the faith with our lives.  And if we have to, to use words.

Election Day

Today is the day people will go to the polls.  Some have described this as the most important election in our history.  Of course, that phrase has been said every presidential election.

People are going to vote for candidates, against candidates, for their party, against the other party.  People are voting looking forward to a change.  Others are voting as a way to cement what is happening.

And then night will come. And we will go to sleep.  And rise the next day.  Wednesday comes regardless of who wins and who loses.  Regardless of how happy or sad we are.  Regardless of anything we do or believe.  Wednesday comes.

And so many will be surprised to hear that the 2020 presidential campaign starts on Wednesday.  The fact is that in America, politics doesn’t take time off.  It puts itself in front and center.  It sucks all the oxygen out of the room.  Politics knows no boundaries.

People are expecting that regardless of the results, their anxiety level will be able to go down for a while.  Except it won’t.  Politics won’t let it.  Politics will only ramp up the anxiety level.  It needs to in order to keep our attention on politics.  Politics sees itself as a god.  It expects us to worship at its altar and make sacrifices to it.  Politics is a harsh master.

While we have a choice today as to what our government will look like, the bigger choice comes tomorrow when we wake up.  For those of us who claim the label as a follower of Jesus, will we act like a disciple of Jesus?  Will we take the words Jesus tells us and do them?  Will we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, visit the sick and those in prison?  Will we pray for our enemies?

Or will we decide that Jesus doesn’t know what he was talking about and continue to live in fear, anger, and anxiety – blaming and scapegoating others?  Will we continue to worship at the altar of politics?  Will we offer verbal attacks and insults to our opponents?  Will we dehumanize the other?  Will we put blinders on so we don’t see Jesus in the other?  Will we replace Jesus with the idol of politics?

What identity will we embrace or be embraced by?  Child of God or partisan hack?

Will we pray for those we disagree with, or will we prey on them?

Who will we be disciples of?  Jesus, or someone else?  A disciple listens to their teacher, follows their commands, adopts their beliefs, and lives according to their master’s way of living.

Today we vote.  Tomorrow we decide who and whose we are.  My prayer is this – that those who claim to follow Jesus actually start doing just that.  You want to see the nation change – that’s how it happens.  It starts with you.  And me.  Living what we claim to believe, without excuse.  It starts by recognizing that our salvation comes through God, not any politician, party, ideology, amount of money, power, or might.  It starts by encountering God in our lives – seeing God active in our lives and in the lives of others, especially those we don’t like.

God has already started.  Let those who have ears hear.  Let those who have eyes see.

What lens do you look through?

A lens is something that assists you in seeing.  Glasses have lens.  Sunglasses do to.  They allow us to see things in front of ourselves much clearer than our eyes can do on their own.  Lenses assist us in seeing the world that is before us.

So what lens do you see the world through?  What lens do you see people through?  What lens do you see policy and politics through?  What lens do you see money through?  What lens do you see through?

In the last couple of weeks, I have heard people speaking of the variety of lenses they see the world through.  They don’t use this language, but their arguments, language, and actions show everyone else what lens they look at the world through.

Instead of spending time identifying what these lenses are, I’m going to get right to the point – mostly because all of the other lenses are scratched at best, or detrimental to our vision at worst.

If we are followers of Jesus, we have been given a lens to look at the world through – the Jesus lens.  We are called to look through this lens for anything that is occurring in the world, or in our lives.  Not sure what to do?  Look through the Jesus lens.  Not sure if a policy is in alignment with the teachings of Christ?  Look through the Jesus lens.

The Jesus lens offers us a couple of questions to help us see the world more clearly.

1. Is this assisting us to follow Jesus?  How is this making me/us into disciples?

2. How are we able to see Jesus in the other by adopting these practices and beliefs?

I challenge you to apply these questions, to put on this lens, when you look at what is going on in your own life.  I challenge you to apply this lens to your politics, your ideology, your beliefs.

What does it mean to be a disciple?

What is a disciple?  A disciple is someone who follows Jesus.

What does it mean to follow Jesus?  To listen to what Jesus says and to do that.  To emulate and copy the things that Jesus does.

What are the things Jesus says for us to do and what are the actions that we are to copy?  To feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to welcome the stranger, to care for the sick, to visit those in prison, to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, to show hospitality.

Any questions?


All Saints Day

Today is November 1, also known as All Saint Day.  In a way it’s a bit presumptuous to assume that everyone who dies is a saint.  But as Martin Luther stated, “Sin Boldly.”

Yes, we make the assume that people are saints.  It is more of a hope than anything else.  It’s a hope based on what Jesus talks about.

Often people desire a sermon on what happens after you die, or what happens at the end of time.  Here’s the deal – know one really knows.  I don’t.  Here’s what I’ve got – promises that are made to humanity and all of creation in Scripture by God.  I take Scripture to be God’s inspired Word.  When I read Scripture I hear God’s promise.  I hear God’s promise made in baptism.  I hear God’s promise in Revelation about making all things being made new.  I hear God’s promise in Isaiah.  I hear God’s promise throughout Scripture.

On this All Saints Day, I think remembering God’s promise is what is needed for all of us.  God’s promise is hope-filled.  Something that our political environment is not.  Something that our politicians seem to be lacking for the most part.  God’s promise is about thriving life.  God’s promise is about grace, mercy, forgiveness, and joy.  God’s promise is about walking with us in the shadow of the valley of death so that we are not alone.  God’s promise is about resurrection and new life.

Today I will remember those who have died.  I will shed a tear for them, remember them fondly.  And I will turn to God and God’s promises.  I will take comfort in them knowing that these promises are for my loved ones, and for me too.  They are for all of creation.

Today is All Saints Day.  Today is a good day.

Nationalism is a sin

I saw a video of a man being interviewed by a reporter concerning the migrant caravan.  The man said that they should be shot at, and that will scare them and they would go back where they came from.  The reporter responded by saying that many of the people in the caravan are escaping horrendous political circumstances and are fleeing for their lives.  The man repeated what he thought should be done.

That’s right, his perceived safety, privilege, and comfort was more important than people fleeing for their lives – literally.  Their humanity was subject to his desires.

If this man claims to be a Christian, then he has stopped seeing Jesus in others.

The President issued a statement that he believes he can overrule a constitutional provision by issuing an executive order eliminating natural birthright citizenship.  If that is allowed to stand, then what we are saying is that one man gets to determine what the law is from now on.  That isn’t democracy.  That’s tyranny.  That’s not rule of law – it’s the rule of a king or emperor.  If the President gets to decide who is a citizen and who isn’t, does he get to decide who is a human or not?  His rhetoric pertaining to Muslims, immigrants, women, the media, and everyone who doesn’t fawn over him as if he were a god has shown itself to be dehumanizing and devaluing at best.

In NY harbor stands the Statue of Liberty with a torch of freedom.  The flame burns on.  At the base of the statue is a poem that reads:

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-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Given the recent comments by the President and his supporters about the caravan (“They are invaders”), those that support this empty, immoral ideology, like the man in the first paragraph who suggest we shoot at refugees, it has become clear that there are plenty in this country that have traded the Statue of Liberty, and all it stands for, in for an angry and fearful old white guy raising his middle finger to the rest of the world.

We have traded in the de facto motto of the US, E Pluribus Unum, (meaning: out of many, one), for another motto – Hostis.  Hostis is latin for an enemy of the state, stranger.  There are many who shout this motto loudly because they live in fear and hatred.  Hostis is the de facto motto of nationalism in all its forms.  Nationalism is a sin.  It is evil.  It leads to death and destruction.  It is the antithesis of Christ.  Nationalism, much like Legion, the name of the set of demons Jesus cast out of the man in Luke 8, manifests itself in many forms – racism, Anti-Semitism, misogyny, bigotry, homophobia, greed, corruption, lying, manipulation, power, dehumanizing, devaluing, scapegoating, blaming, vile language, hatred, fear, anxiety, and more.  These are the tools in Nationalism’s belt.  It’s goal is to build up the privileged by tearing down and eliminating all others.  It is a theology and ideology of empire.  And it is wrong.  And it will fail.  And unfortunately, it will take down many with it.

A week or so ago the President defined globalist and nationalist.  His definition of globalist was – “A person who wants the globe to do well.  Frankly, not caring about our country so much.  And you know what, we can’t have that.”

Nationalism is a rejection of God.  It is a rejection of Christianity.  All we need is one verse to show that nationalism is not compatible with Christianity.  You may recognize it. John 3:16 states “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”  The world.  The whole world.  Or to use the language of the President, a follower of God is a person who wants the globe to do well because God loves the whole world.  Frankly not caring about our country more than other ones.  I’ll gladly stand with God on this and take the label globalist.

We have traded Christianity, all it teaches, and how Christ calls on us to live, in for the gods of power, money, guns, violence, war, fear, anger, wrath, and narcissism.

We have attempted to silence God from saying anything political because we know deep down that we won’t like what God has to say.

We have traded in John 3:16 in for a different verse – That the idols we create so love us that no one else matters.  It is the creed of ultimate selfishness.  It is narcissistic to it’s core.

We, like Adam and Eve, now believe that we are smarter than God.  And we will pay the price of our giving the finger to God.  Not with anything God will do to us.  God doesn’t need to be wrathful with us.  Instead, God will allow us to go our own way and suffer the consequences of our decisions.  God doesn’t withhold grace, but continues to offer it.  It is us who reject God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s peace, God’s forgiveness, God’s love.  We have traded in God’s grace for karma.

Woe to us, O America.  Woe to us.

And yet the Statue of Liberty still stands.  A beacon of freedom, in spite of hardened hearts of her people.  It stands as an ideal – something we are far from right now.  But it will remain standing.  And we will once again move towards it at some point in spite of our people.

Our motto remains.  An ideal that is under assault, but still visible and embraced by many in spite of those blinded by fear and anger.  It is a motto that we will strive for again at some point.

And finally, God’s kingdom is still unfolding.  We are still invited to participate in this unfolding in spite of sinful mortals who temporarily spew their venom around.  We wait patiently for God.  We pray.  And we respond to God’s grace and invitation by living out the Christian life. We will follow Matthew 25:35-40

…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

God’s kingdom will prevail.  No earthly kingdom will last.  No earthly power can stay in power permanently.  Only God is eternal.  Only God.  No mortal can outlast God and God’s will.

While this world attempts to build a Nationalist nation, God offers a contrasting vision.  We hear it in Revelation 21:1-7.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’

And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.’

God’s kingdom is a glorious kingdom.  In it we not only encounter God, we live with God.  We see God all around us.  We are embraced by God and God’s love.  There is no room for death and it’s associates.  We see God in all those around us.  We encounter God in them.

God’s vision is a vision of resurrection – that after death God brings new life, thriving life, far better than we ever imagined.  Far better than anything this world or any person can offer.  Far better, far bigger than Nationalism and anything it can possibly offer.  God isn’t a nationalist.  God is a globalist and his global vision lifts people up, and does the impossible – defeats death.  No ideology can ever offer that.

Arming clergy

In light of the recent killing of 11 Jews in a synagogue, a suggestion was made by President Trump, that it might not have happened if there was an armed guard in the building.

Yeah, and if you bought a Powerball ticket, you might have won.

An extension of this argument has been raised – let’s arm clergy.

My answer to that – not this clergy person.  No way, no how.  How can I possibly preach consistently if I am armed with a weapon?  Or is our safety more important than the Gospel?  How do I preach with my mouth a message of love, forgiveness, trust, and mercy, and then go and carry a weapon on my body in worship?  How do I preach a message that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us and at the same time carry a weapon in worship?  It is not congruent.  How do I proclaim a message that Jesus tells us to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow him and at the same time arm myself with a weapon – which exclaims the polar opposite.  The actions that I do are louder than the words that I speak.  I will not carry a weapon – especially in worship.  I would rather quit.

A clergy person arming themselves in worship means they don’t believe what they are preaching.  A clergy person arming themselves proclaims for all to hear that Jesus doesn’t call for us to die, so that resurrection can happen.  It proclaims that protecting our lives is more important than anything Jesus proclaims or promises.

The Gospel isn’t some feel good, comfortable message.  It is a message that is very uncomfortable, that calls on us to die to self and our selfish desires – even our own safety.  It is a message that calls on followers of Jesus to pick up our cross – the very thing that will kill us – and to willingly carry it to our deaths.  That’s what Jesus did and that’s what Jesus calls on his followers to do.  Don’t take my word for it – read Scripture.  Read Jesus’ words.  It’s all there.

The Gospel message isn’t a message about preserving our safety.  Or our rights.  It is a message about giving up everything in life to follow Jesus.  Jesus plays for keeps – he wants the whole kit and caboodle.  We don’t get to compartmentalize our lives with Jesus – choosing what parts of our life fall under Jesus’ jurisdiction and what doesn’t.

Following Jesus was never meant to be safe.  Following Jesus cost people their lives – it still does in parts of the world.  Following God cost 11 Jews their lives this past week.  Would an armed guard have been able to stop the man who did it?  I doubt it.  Maybe, but is arming everyone the answer to this sickness and addiction to violence and guns?  No.

I do know this much – our nation and culture has become literally insane.  Too many Christians believe that the way to stop violence is through more violence – the exact opposite of what Jesus taught and lived.  Too many Christians are willing to excuse murder, violence, and dehumanization of people in the name of political rights and false safety.  Too many Christians aren’t willing to name the sin that exists – the worship of guns and violence in our nation.

Too many Christians fully embrace the theology of glory and reject the theology of the cross. In 1518, Martin Luther wrote “A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.” (Heidelberg Disputation, point 21).  The violence that is occurring is a sin.  It is evil.  Is it wrong.

Talking about guns has become more taboo than discussing the divine nature of Christ. I don’t say that lightly.  Far too many Christians think that following Jesus means we get to pick and choose what we follow.  Too many Christians believe that Jesus has no say over their ideology, political beliefs and loyalty.  Apparently Jesus isn’t allowed in politics.  Apparently Jesus isn’t Lord of everything – God forbid he be allowed to speak on political matters, or about our money, or our rights, or our freedoms.  We might not like what he has to tell us.  We might not like the implications of what he is commanding us to do if we are to continue claiming the label as his follower.  And then what?  What happens when there is a conflict between our ideological/political beliefs and our faith?  Too often our faith is set aside, excuses are made, and we reject Jesus in favor of doing things our way – we think we are smarter than God.

Instead of doing something to end the violence, we choose to do nothing and suffer the consequences – blood on our hands for valuing guns above people.  Blood on our hands for valuing violence over people.  Blood on our hands for valuing death over people.  Sound extreme?  Then explain how we continue to allow this to happen as we sit by and do nothing.  We have made our decision as to what is more important and valuable to us as a society – it isn’t the people of the society.  It isn’t even our cherished safety.  Safety is just a line that is used to maintain the status quo.  It is the idols we create.  That’s what we have chosen.

Lord have mercy on our souls.