Sunday, July 2, 2017

Independence Day in Church

This Sunday in churches all over the United States, many will hear songs of patriotism and much speech about "our nation." Much of the speech will be positive, some will be critical, but almost all will talk about the crisis of "our nation."
The issue I have is that Jesus called all of us Christians out of the nations of this world. He died on a cross displaying the folly of empire and oppression in the name of "security and solidarity." And he was raised to establish another, unique nation.
A nation where the only law is love.
A nation where the economic rule is giving to the most needy.
A nation where leaders sacrifice themselves for their people, not the other way around.
A nation that is known for welcoming the outcast, especially those in deepest need.
Jesus doesn't call us to fix this broken nation we were born to be a part of. He calls us to immigrate to a nation of forgiveness, grace and peace.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

What Did Jesus Resist?

Lots of people repeat the cliche "What would Jesus do?"

That's a pointless question.  We shouldn't speculate as to what Jesus would do when we have so much evidence to indicate what Jesus DID do.  

Jesus DID resist immoral authority.  He made public pronouncements against them, held protests against them and threatened their power to such a degree that he was killed.  What exactly was he resisting?  What is the example of Jesus in resisting authority?

Power for power's sake
Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces.
Jesus opposed leaders who desired positions of authority simply because of the respect and power they had.  This is one of the forms of covetousness that Jesus warned against-- desiring something that you had not earned.  Jesus taught that power should be given to people who show that they will use their resources or power to help those around them, not to just bolster themselves.

Accumulation of personal wealth
"Woe to you who are rich now, for you have already received your comfort!"  

Jesus rejected all who kept wealth for themselves, because they were flaunting their hatred of the poor.  If one has extra resources and refuses to provide them to those in need, then God rejects them as stewards of His provision.  God does not provide wealth for personal use, but for community use.  To misuse the resources of God, to not give generously to the poor, is to be unworthy of that stewardship. 

Those who support the killing of the innocent
At the proper time he sent a servant to the tenants to obtain from them some of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent them another servant. And that one they beat over the head and treated shamefully. He sent yet another whom they killed. So, too, many others; some they beat, others they killed. He had one other to send, a beloved son. He sent him to them last of all, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’  

According to the Mosaic law, killing the innocent will infect the land.  According to Psalm 82 killing the innocent is the one thing a nation can do which God will step in and destroy a government.  Jesus recognized that although the leaders of his day praised the martyrs, they were actually acting like those who killed the martyrs-- retaining power at any cost, even the cost of the lives of the innocent.

Political or religious oppression of the poor
"Beware of the scribes: They devour the houses of widows. They will receive a very severe condemnation.”

Jesus pointed out how the temple encourages the poorest to give their last cent to a project that will not benefit them.  Thus, they are making the vulnerable homeless and hungry, while not providing for them at all. Jesus condemns all who have power-- the wealthy, lawmakers, religious and political leaders-- for using their power to be poverty pimps-- people who take from the poor for their own benefit.  These, Jesus says, deserve the worst punishment.

Selecting certain groups as outcast
The Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them....”  "I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance."

Jesus stepped out to welcome those whom his society refused to welcome, and then rebuked the leadership for rejecting them.   Jesus' society dehumanized tax collectors and those who did not follow their purity laws, as well as the disabled, lepers, gentiles, the poor and women, considering them all unclean, and in some cases outcast from their society.  Jesus rejected leadership that rejected people according to standards of ethnicity, class, sex or arbitrary purity standards.

Hypocritical leadership
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If one swears by the temple, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated.’  Blind fools, which is greater, the gold, or the temple that made the gold sacred?" 
When Jesus claimed that leadership is hypocritical, it is usually because they claim to represent the God of love and justice, but they reject love and justice in their lives, allowing themselves to be the exception of the rules they are imposing.  But leadership Jesus opposed also would establish laws which give their disciples special knowledge as loopholes for justice.  In this way, those with this special knowledge could avoid the obligations that those without knowledge have to follow.

Systems which perpetuate inequality
"It is written," he said to them, "'My house will be a house of prayer'; but you have made it 'a den of robbers."

Jesus held a protest at the temple, because they were excluding worship for women and gentiles in order to establish support for worship for adult men.  Jesus rejected this practice, even though it was approved by the high priest, the mediator of the people to God.  Jesus resisted authority that made no space for all people. 

Lawmakers that only create burdens for people
And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.

Jesus opposed those who wrote laws for ideologies, without considering how that would negatively affect the average person.  Such people become narrow-minded to their own tribe or class, ignoring how they harm society as a whole. 

Because he rejected this kind of leadership, publicly and authoritatively, he was forced to carry a cross, to die as a revolutionary, as an outcast of his people, as much as a leper or traitor.   Jesus, in turn, said that if we were his followers, we too would have to carry the cross of punishment from the powers that be for resisting them.  If we resist authority for hating the poor and weak and for their hypocrisy, Jesus tells us we will be rejected and punished.  

Amen, Lord, let it be so. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Selected Agrapha

"Agrapha" are sayings of Jesus not found in the canonical gospels, but still early enough to possibly be a true saying of Jesus, or a reflection of something he said.  The most famous agrapha is the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery, with the famous saying being "Him without sin cast the first stone."  It doesn't belong in John, where it is usually placed, but it is an important story that gives us insight  about Jesus.  Here are some other sayings of Jesus that are significant, and gives us insight: 

Blessed is the one who has suffered and found life. (Gospel of Thomas)

Let him who has grown rich be king, and let him who possesses power renounce it. (Gospel of Thomas)

For the sake of the sick, I became sick
For the sake of the hungry, I was hungry.
For the sake of the thirsty, I was thirsty.  (Origen, quoting an ancient gospel)

How can you say, 'I have fulfilled the word of God'? It is written, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' But look, your neighbors are covered with filth and are dying of hunger and exposure, but your house is full of many good things and unused rooms and none of this is given to them.   (Gospel of the Hebrews)

He that is near me is near the fire. He that is far from me is far from the kingdom. (Gospel of Thomas)

Hear me, you lambs whom I have chosen, and do not fear the wolves. (Gospel of the Egyptians)

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The American Dream

The American Dream seeks prosperity.
Jesus says "Woe to you who are rich."
The American Dream says work hard and you will succeed.
Jesus says "Seek the kingdom and you will be given what you need."
The American Dream believes in freedom.
Jesus says "Blessed are you who are persecuted."
The American Dream supports keeping what you earn.
Jesus says, "Sell your possessions and give to the poor."
Jesus said, "You cannot serve two masters." You cannot serve both Jesus and the American Dream.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Responding to a Sermon

"I went to church the other day and heard a sermon. It was like many sermons I’ve heard in the past, giving a very moral point of view. The point was: “Love your neighbor but hate your enemy.” Well, that’s one point of view. That’s one morality. Here’s another: Love everyone, even those who hate you.
"If someone is in the process of destroying you, pray for their peace.
 If someone insults you, say good things about them.
If you don’t get along with someone, do good things for them (especially if they don’t deserve it)
Do this because this is what God does.
"You see, God sees the hearts and actions of every person, and knows who they really are. And he looks down and gives them all sunshine and rain and blessing. Every. Single. One. Even ISIS. Even the thief who took your car. Even the guy who curses God’s name on a regular basis. Even the cop who arrested you for no good reason. God grants them all peace and food and love. Every. Single. One.
"Now, we claim to be God’s children. But are we? If we only love people who love us, how can we claim to be godly? If we give only to the people who are in our in group, how can we claim to be like God?
"Here’s the deal, if you want the fullness of what God has to give you, then show love to everyone, without exclusion, like God."

(Matthew 5:43-48 with some help from Luke 6:27-30, SKV)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Jesus Lives!

Last Friday at a public transportation stop a couple miles from my house, two teenage women with hijabs were standing. A rough man came up to them, yelling at them, telling that Muslims don't belong in this country.  The train rolled up, and the quickly got on, but he followed him, continuing his insulting tirade.  Three men heard this confrontation and stepped in, protecting the two girls from their verbal assailant.

Suddenly the brash man pulled out a knife and quickly stabbed the three protectors.  One died there in the train, another died in the hospital and the other is recovering.  The man was captured by the police because another person followed him from a distance, calling 911. 
I've read a number of statements from some of my friends stating that they are disappointed with Portland, in wake of yesterday's attack on two Muslim women and the injury and death of three men trying to defend them. They are disappointed that anyone would feel comfortable enough to yell at or attack people of another ethnicity or religion.
It is true that we are in an hour in this the whole nation where the open, violent racists feel comfortable to verbally abuse and attack people on the open street. It is true that our city government treats the racist protesters better than the anti-Trump protesters.
But you know what? On that random MAX train stop last night, there was ONE violent racist, and THREE anti-racists putting their bodies on the line to stop the evil. And TWO people were able to arrive home safely. For Portland, that some decent math to occur on a random public transportation stop. This means that there's a fight, but it is a fight that we can win.
To those who insist that the Muslim women/community should be grateful to these men, that may be true. So should we all. Because they weren't just sacrificing themselves for those women, for Muslims in general (although that is true), but for all of us to live in freedom and peace in our community. They died for all of us.  Sound like someone you know?
I pray that we are all ready and practiced to stand up to abuse and violence against any oppressed people. Against Muslims, against African Americans, against Native Americans, against the homeless, against LGBTQ, We need to stand up against anyone who is directing threats against others, even if they are police, in a peaceful but firm rejection of prejudiced.
And may we stand against the just as ugly prejudice against these people created by our structure: the national and local governments, businesses, non-profits, lobbying agencies that separate a group and say, "These are the people we don't want in our society."
Let's use these three heroes as our model. Let's all stand to defend the outcast.
And if we stand, with out lives, then we can say that Jesus is here. Jesus who laid his life down for the rejected, overcoming the system that oppressed them through his sacrifice.  If we stand up for the outcast and the "sinner" ready to lay down our lives for their sake, then we become Jesus in that moment.

Jesus only lives if we live out Jesus.

Monday, May 29, 2017

King of the Perpetual Revolution

"Later guys, I'm outta here"
The ascension of Jesus, him leaving us with the Most Mystical God is a mystery. Why leave us without clear direction, a clear line of leadership, a clear set of commands that do not need to be interpreted? The presence of Jesus is assurance, it is all our questions answered, it is knowing exactly what our nation and religion is. And that's exactly why Jesus left.

The ascension is Jesus' guarantee that people won't put a temple around him, to centralize him and to stabilize him. The ascension means that our nation will never have a throne, a building or a city from which all commands must come. The ascension means that leadership won't be passed on through a lineage or a bureaucracy. It means that every generation must find their own leaders, reflected by Jesus' demand that they primarily lovers of the people and servants of the poor. It means that the only teacher we have are the commands of love and humility, and we have to work out the application for every sub-culture. It means that religion cannot be standardized.

The ascension means that Jesus is and always will be the perpetual King of the revolution. The Lord of change. The master of the always applicable law and government. He will always be the center of the nation that we immigrate to. Exactly because his physical presence is with the Father, and so we must always deem the earth's governments as inadequate, and we are seeking for the perfect love, the perfect rule, the perfect leader, always out of our control.