Are we better than this?

America is shooting tear gas at people at the border.  Some reports claim that rubber bullets are being used as well.

Yesterday I learned that we have been doing this since 2010. I had no idea. Let me be clear – it wasn’t right in 2010 and it isn’t right now.

The question I have seen in response to the most recent use of tear gas is: are we better than this?  Apparently not.

If you claim to be a follower of Jesus, can you support shooting tear gas at people seeking asylum?  Apparently.  I don’t know how though.

We just celebrated “Christ the King” Sunday in church. It’s the Sunday when we proclaim that Jesus is king, not anyone or anything else.  It’s a declaration that the empires of the world, and all they stand for, are empty and pretty unspecial.  The reign of God is what we seek instead.

Being king means that you have control and authority.  A king gets to determine what people do, claims their loyalty, and gives commands.  A king gets to have say over people’s money, their politics, who is an enemy and how they are treated, and so much more.

If Jesus is king, then it means he is in charge.  If Jesus is king, then those of us who claim to be his followers listen to what the king says and follow orders.  When a king speaks, he is not to be dismissed and his words are not to be taken lightly.

This is what we are claiming when we proclaim Jesus as king.  In light of this, I have a few questions regarding our use of tear gas on people at the border.

If you support shooting tear gas at people at the border, tell me how your theology supports this action.  Tell me how this action assists us in following Christ the King.  Tell me how it is a command of Jesus when Scripture tells us Jesus said “welcome the stranger.”

Tell me how you are following Jesus’ commands to love your neighbor and love your enemy when you support the shooting of tear gas at people at the border.

Tell me how you are following Jesus’ command to welcome the stranger when you support the shooting of tear gas at people at the border.

How is America following Christ the King when we ignore, and too often reject, Christ’s commands, whether now or in 2010?  How exactly are we a Christian nation when we think we know better than Jesus?

We shouldn’t be shooting tear gas at people.  We should be shedding tears.  We should see the humanitarian crisis that is at our border and on the hemisphere – a crisis that we helped create.

Are we better than this?  Good question.  Our actions proclaim to the world if we are.

Am I my brother’s keeper?

Right now I am reading the book “Questions God Asks,” by Hunter Beckelhymer.  It was written in 1961.  Except for the a few words that were commonly used to label people and God (labels that have changed since then), you might not realize the book is that old.  I’m going to quote a couple of pages of the book on one of the questions God asks – “Where is your brother?”  Pg. 37-39.

(I’m quoting it word for word here, so you’ll have to excuse the gender and race  language.  These are the author’s words – read for the point being made, and don’t get caught in the details of the language from a bygone era).

The Lord said to Cain, ” Where is your brother?” And in the riven relationships of our tortured humanity God addresses that same question to us.  Where is your brother in his search for a decent human life, and in his efforts to feed and shelter himself and his family?  How is your brother making out in his search for the technical knowledge that will open to him the gates of plenty, and for deeper knowledge that will give meaning to his life and efforts?  Can your brother read and write?  Why not? Where is your brother in his struggle to gain the dignity, and rights, and opportunities which you daily enjoy?  Where is your brother finding sympathy and friendship, if he is?  At what strange idolatrous altars does your brother bow; before what god or gods does he prostrate himself?  If these questions do not haunt us, they must.  For they are addressed to all men by the Father of all men.

Suppose, like Cain, we say, “How should I know? That’s his business, not mine. Am I my brother’s keeper?  I believe in live and let live.  I believe in enlightened self-interest.  I have nothing against the Negro so long as he stays out of my neighborhood.  I want the Japanese people to live, just so their products don’t compete with American-made things.  I want world peace, but we don’t dare negotiate with the Russians while they’re ahead in the armaments race, and when we’re ahead we don’t have to negotiate.  I believe in the work of the church, but not in the foreign missions of it.  (There’s plenty to do right here at home.)”  Suppose our answers be such as these.  Can we not hear the judgement of the Eternal – with a vertical orange cloud for an exclamation point – “Henceforth when you till the ground it shall no longer yield to you its strength.  You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer upon the earth.”

What must we do to be saved?  We must accept now, if we have not yet done so, that we are our brother’s keeper.  It has always been true.  Men haven’t always recognized it as true, and that is one reason there have been so many fugitives and wanderers in human history.  Today the world in which we live cannot and will not tolerate any other attitude.  It is all too vitally interdependent.  Self-interest – in the usual sense of that term – is suicide.  National interest – in the usual sense of that term – is sure doom.

It is literally true that our own interests and the interests of our brothers in the long run are essentially the same.  America’s health and the health of the world are inseparable.

It was true in 1961.  It was true before then.  It’s still true today.

God asks us today – Where is your brother/sister?

God askes us today – Where is your LGBTQ+ brother/sister?  Where is your African-American brother/sister?  Where is your Latino/Hispanic brother/sister?  Where is your homeless brother/sister?  Where is your poor brother/sister?  Where is your asylum seeking brother/sister?  Where is your brother/sister who speaks a different language?

God asks us the question – Where is your brother/sister?

What are you going to say to God in response?

What is hell?

I’m not going to quote Scripture here.  My intent isn’t to scare the crap out of anyone either – mostly because I don’t believe that God is out to scare the crap out of people.

When you ask most people to describe hell, they most commonly give you some variation of Dante’s Inferno where people are suffering punishment actively pursued by God for people’s sins.  It is usually something that involves great pain and torture.  It involves fire and demons.

That makes for a great movie, but I don’t think that’s what hell is at all.  I think it’s time for us to let go of Dante’s poem as a description of hell.  Most people don’t realize that Dante wrote in many of his opponents into the poem – guess what their fate was.

You want to know hell is?

It’s the belief that when someone’s life is out of control, they must exert more control in order to straighten things out.  The problem though is that the person is already over controlling their life, and it is leading to ruin or keeping them in ruin.  This exertion of control separates and pushes people away.  It creates walls and divides – shutting others and God out.

I see it often in people who are abused, addicts, homeless, poor, hungry, etc.  There are those who reach out to help these people – to pull them out of their hell.  Yet…Yet, they reject the help.  Why?  Maybe its fear.  Maybe it’s because change is an unknown – the victim knows what to expect and so it gives a sense of control.  Maybe grasping that hand means admitting defeat or admitting they aren’t in control.  And that can be scary for people.

Hell is the desire to be in control of your own life.  It’s the old line that the serpent gave Eve in the garden.  Hell is separation from God.  Sometimes its self-imposed.  Other times it is imposed by others.  But too often we choose to remain in our hell.

Hell is rejection of God’s love.  Hell is rejection of being vulnerable.  Hell is being an island that is untouched and not on the map.

God is love.  When we reject God, we are rejecting love.  I think that because God is love, God lives the attributes of love – being patient, kind, not forcing itself on others, etc.  So when someone rejects God, I think God honors that – and at the same time continues to pursue the person, always offering grace, forgiveness, mercy, love, and peace.

Hell isn’t God actively punishing a person.  Hell exists because God is love and God loves creation so much that God allows people to reject God and love.  Hell is self-torment.

God doesn’t need to actively punish us – we do a fine job of that to ourselves and to others.

Look at the world and see what kind of Hell we impose on ourselves and others.  Mass shootings, excuses, lies, rejecting strangers, separating people, corruption, violence, war, broken relationships, greed, pride, exploitation of people, materials, and the planet, materialism, consumerism, nationalism, racism, and all the other -isms that exist.

Yet, in the midst of this, God’s reign, God’s kingdom breaks in.  And God invites us to participate in the unfolding of God’s reign.  Love is invitational.  Hell separates and divides.  Love doesn’t force its way on anyone.  Hell controls and manipulates.  Love is patient.  Hell can’t wait and demands unwavering compliance.

God’s kingdom is unfolding in our midst – right in the midst of Hell itself.  The light shines in the darkness and the darkness can not overcome it.  We are called to be light to the world.  Forget what others will do – because we follow God, we follow love.  Love doesn’t force itself on others.  It invites others to participate – always.  There will be plenty who reject this invitation. So be it.  Keep doing it.

We aren’t called to change minds.  We are called to live out the love we have been given. Our lives will show how God encounters us and changes our lives.  Those who see this and want it will come – all are welcome.  Others will criticize and reject our means.  So be it.  Keep doing it.

We aren’t called to win arguments.  We are called to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, visit the sick and those in prison.  Others will criticize us and hate us for doing this.  Many will say that what we are doing is dangerous and risky.  Many will say that these are worthless or not human.  So be it.  Keep doing it.

We aren’t called to change society or be the culture police.  We are called to love our enemies, especially when it is not deserved.  We are called to be peacemakers in the midst of violence and war.  We are called to show mercy especially to those who lack mercy.  Many will say that we are not patriots.  Many will say that the way of peace doesn’t work.  Many will say that might makes right and that the ends justify the means.  So be it.  Keep doing it.

The way of a disciple of Jesus is not popular.  It does not match with the ways of this world.  It is in contrast to Hell.  It is acknowledging that we are not in control at all and that we can not control others.  They will do what they will do.  So be it.  Keep doing it.

The way of a disciple of Jesus leads through the same path that Hell offers – death.  The difference is this – Hell drives people with fear of death, forcing those trapped in it to grasp onto life – even a hellish life.  The way of Jesus goes through death also.  But it is a stop on the way to resurrection.  It is letting go of life as we know it and try to control it.  One must go through death in order to experience resurrection.  Resurrection is death defeated.  Resurrection is Hell destroyed.  Resurrection is out of our hands and out of our control – completely.

At some point every one of us will experience actual physical death.  Jesus promises resurrection.  In baptism we are called to die daily so that we might experience resurrection daily.

Hell proclaims that death has the final say – and that we must do everything we can to avoid it.  Except we’ll never win that battle.  We can only delay it.

Jesus proclaims that death doesn’t have the final say – it is a step on the way to resurrection.  We can’t avoid it and there is nothing we can do to prevent it.  Instead, let go.  Loosen your grasp.  Step out in faith into the unknown.  God has done everything that needs to be done.  And God invites us into right relationship, into love.  God invites us out of hell and into God’s reign.

 

What kind of Jesus do you follow?

There are many types of Jesus.  Which one(s) do you follow/worship?

There’s Comfy Jesus.  He’s got a nice comfy blanket, doesn’t bother anyone, and doesn’t want to be bothered.  Comfy Jesus doesn’t like conflict and certainly respects the old adage that when in polite company, you never talk religion or politics.  Comfy Jesus doesn’t have political views or an opinions about policies.  And Comfy Jesus would never ask you to get your hands dirty with the homeless and poor.

There’s Partisan Jesus.  He’s got an R or a D after his name and he knows that the party is far more important than anything he has to say.  Partisan Jesus turns a blind eye when others who have the same R or D after their name do stuff or say things that conflict with him.

There’s Nationalist Jesus.  He’s all about the nation.  He sleeps with a flag wrapped around himself and knows that the promised land is right here.  Nationalist Jesus rips out the portions of the bible that talk about welcoming the stranger.  Nationalist Jesus knows that John 3:16 is really about the nation first.  Nationalist Jesus sees nothing wrong with violent language and dehumanizing.  Nationalist Jesus has friends who question his background because he’s got darker skin and he might be a foreigner.

There’s Weeping Jesus.  Even though we’re told that Jesus weeps only once in the Gospels – for the death of Lazarus his friend, weeping Jesus does more weeping.  Weeping Jesus is busy while he observes the fear, anger, and divisions in the world.  Weeping Jesus sheds years when he hears and sees scapegoating, dehumanizing, and violence.

There’s Dead Jesus.  Dead Jesus doesn’t do anything.  He doesn’t speak up.  He’s safe for his followers because Dead Jesus doesn’t ask them to do anything.  He’s dead.

There’s Cross Carrying Jesus.  He’s a tough one.  He calls on his followers to carry the very thing that will kill them.  Cross Carrying Jesus isn’t interested in whining and excuses.  He’s too busy carrying the sin of the world.

There’s Angry Jesus.  He’d flipping tables and asking why people call him Lord, Lord, but do not do what he tells them to do.  Seriously.  He’s not happy about what’s going on.  He’s upset by how people are treated, especially the poor, the stranger, the outcast.

There’s Resurrection Jesus.  He’s chill.  He’s done all the work.  Death has been defeated.  He calls to us, shares the Good News, and sends us out – even when we aren’t ready.

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.