Thursday, April 30, 2015

Transforming Grace

Based on a true story. Names have been changed.

Trevor was a young man when he became homeless.  He had worked a few jobs, but it was hard to stay with any of them.  As long as he could remember, he was struggling with himself.  He would become furious with his mother.  There were good reasons, always, for him to be angry, but his response seemed over the top.  He would rage, throw things, break things, and people would back off, fear him.  That was somewhat satisfying, but he was as scared of himself as his family was.  His mother would tell him that he was a bad boy, his father would express his disappointment in him.
When he became homeless, his family fully expected it.  They figured he would be a criminal or a bum. It’s the kind of person he was.  So they offered him help, but at a distance.  They would invite him to family gatherings, and most of the time they wouldn’t show up to get him as they said they would.  They didn’t know how to handle him.

Even after Trevor had been camping for a long time, he liked to work.  He wanted the respect and pay of a job well done.  He would clean up bars after they were closed, for nothing.  To work eased his mind, gave him something to focus on apart from himself.  He needed that.  Because he couldn’t stand himself.  He felt he was a good person, but he couldn’t help but look back and see all the mistakes, all the people yelling at him, all the problems he had caused.

Darren was a pastor of a local church.  He allowed Trevor to sleep overnight behind the church on occasion.  Trevor asked to help clean up, to care for the facility, and Darren figured there was no harm in it.  Trevor did a fantastic job.  Every task he was given he did with gusto and did more cleaning that he was originally asked.  Darren invited Trevor to stay behind the church every night, because he was a good man, and helpful.

Eventually, there were problems.  Trevor had a habit of collecting too much stuff around him, making his area look like a trash heap.  Darren gave him a garbage can and asked him to keep his area clean, and Trevor did his best.  People visited Trevor in the middle of the night, and Trevor would allow people to stay there overnight.  Eventually, Darren wrote out a contract with Trevor, clearly stating the rules of their agreement.  Trevor had to keep his area clean, and couldn’t have guests in his space, and if he wanted to talk to someone, they’d have to speak quietly or go off of the property.  After Darren explained the reasons why, Trevor understood and dealt with the issues.

Then Trevor had a bad day.  They didn’t come often, but when he had them, he was on the edge of exploding.  On this day, Darren happened to come upon him and told him firmly that he had to clean up his garbage.  Trevor started throwing all of his possessions at Darren, screaming, “How about this?  How about this?”  Darren stood there, and calmly said, “Trevor, you need to calm down.”  “How about you just leave me alone? Leave!”  Darren stood firmly and said, “No, I won’t leave.”  “Leave!  I’m going to hurt you!  You know I will!”  Darren responded, “If you hurt me, I will still love you.  I will still do what I can for you.”  Another homeless person saw this and went to Trevor and calmed him down.

Trevor knew that he would be asked to leave now.  He wasn’t worthy.  He had screwed up another part of his life.  Another rejection because he was too weak.  Darren saw him the next morning and said, “Great, Trevor.  You got that area cleaned up.  Thanks for doing that. Did you need to come in and use the bathroom?”  Trevor realized that Darren wasn’t going to reject him, no matter what.  He is amazed at the grace he has been shown.  He didn’t know such people existed.

But word got around the church at Trevor’s explosion at Darren.  Many of the church members decided that Trevor was a danger.  What if he blew up at one of the church members?  What if he hurt someone, or put someone in the hospital?  The issue was brought up at a church board meeting, where they asked Darren, “How long will you have this man at the church?  He’s dangerous, and we don’t feel safe.”  Darren responded, “I understand that having Trevor staying here is a risk.  You have to admit, as well, that he is an asset.  When have you seen the bathrooms or the kitchen so clean?  Every true act of grace is a risk.  To accept the difficult or the dangerous is hard and sometimes scary.  But this is what Jesus did for us.  He took us in, when we didn’t deserve it, when we were so much a risk to him that he died for us.  Grace isn’t something that we just receive.  It is something we pass on.”

When it was clear that Darren wouldn’t change his mind, the board was divided.  After much discussion, it was decide that they needed to make a vote as to whether Darren should still be pastor.  They took a formal vote, and the pastor was allowed to remain, by a narrow margin.  Some church members decided that they couldn’t be in a church that had a person like Trevor hanging around, so they left the church. Darren, meanwhile, carefully kept this all from Trevor, so he didn’t feel that is was another mark of rejection against him.

Trevor stayed at the church for years.  He had other explosions, but never with a member of the church.  He softened over the years and was accepted by everyone in the church as a full member.  Eventually, Trevor got a paying job and an apartment, which he kept a terrible mess all the time, but he always visited his friend Darren.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

On Generosity by Walter Brueggemann

"On our own we conclude:
there is not enough to go around

we are going to run short
of money
of love
of grades
of publications
of sex
of beer
of members
of years
of life
we should seize the day
seize our goods
seize our neighbours goods
because there is not enough to go around

and in the midst of our perceived deficit
you come
you come giving bread in the wilderness
you come giving children at the 11th hour
you come giving homes to exiles
you come giving futures to the shut down
you come giving easter joy to the dead
you come – fleshed in Jesus.

and we watch while
the blind receive their sight
the lame walk
the lepers are cleansed
the deaf hear
the dead are raised
the poor dance and sing

we watch
and we take food we did not grow and
life we did not invent and
future that is gift and gift and gift and
families and neighbours who sustain us
when we did not deserve it.

It dawns on us – late rather than soon-
that you “give food in due season
you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”

By your giving, break our cycles of imagined scarcity
override our presumed deficits
quiet our anxieties of lack
transform our perceptual field to see
the abundance………mercy upon mercy
blessing upon blessing.

Sink your generosity deep into our lives
that your muchness may expose our false lack
that endlessly receiving we may endlessly give
so that the world may be made Easter new,
without greedy lack, but only wonder,
without coercive need but only love,
without destructive greed but only praise
without aggression and invasiveness….
all things Easter new…..
all around us, toward us and
by us

all things Easter new.

Finish your creation, in wonder, love and praise. Amen.” 
― Walter Brueggemann

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Dangerous Book

A rich man's wealth is his strong city, And like a high wall in his own imagination.The sleep of the working man is pleasant, whether he eats little or much; but the full stomach of the rich man does not allow him to sleep.The rich man is wise in his own eyes, But the poor who has understanding sees through him.-Proverbs of Ancient Hebrew writings, also known as Proverbs 18:11; Ecclesiastes 5:12; and Proverbs 28:11
Good morning, my brothers.  I am honored that you have chosen me to speak to you, the All-Wealthy Fathers Under Liberty,  for I have been concerned about our plight for some time.  We have been subjected to oppression long enough! (Cheers in the crowd.)  I was shocked last week to hear Brother Steven’s speech on hate crime in motion pictures.  Up until this point, I have enjoyed the James Bond movies—but no more.  Now I understand that they are simply anti-rich propaganda, intended to throw suspicion upon the good brothers who have worked hard to obtain their wealth.  How dare they make Dr. No or the other villains wealthy?  All of them?  Clearly, just as our brother has pointed out, it is simple prejudice and jealousy! (More cheers.)  I thank Brother Arnold for his insider’s view and especially for his work in banning these films, as well as any others which portray the wealthy according to stereotypes, instead of the truly honorable men we are.  Let the media put the specter of suspicion where it belongs—on the government and the poor!  (More cheers.)  Let us bring back more wholesome programming, such as Schindler’s List and The Millionaire! (More cheers.)

           As serious as the prejudice found in movies is, there is yet another, more insidious cultural influence that we must be concerned about.  Movies and magazines, television and newspapers, and, of course, the internet—all have their various forms of prejudice and oppression against the rich and all need to be influenced, such as our Brother Rupert, Brother Ted and Brother Bill have done.  But there is another, greater influence that has been all but overlooked.  There is a medium that has been influential, not just for decades, a century or a century and a half, but for millennia!  It has been used by the enemies of the rich, oppressing us and destroying us since time immemorial!  It is the cause of many of the wars against the rich—The Lombard uprising of the 1400s in England, the Thirty Years War in Germany in the 1500s, and it is still used as a primary inspiration of the Marxists in Latin America today!  And while you may think that these events are too out of touch with our current structure, I need to inform you that this medium—this dangerous piece of literature—is in the majority of homes in the United States.  Right now.  And many of you have read this book, yea, even quoted this book.  By now, you have probably guessed what I am speaking about, but you dare not say its name, nor even think it.  Yes, that’s right, I am speaking of the Bible—the New Testament in particular. 

            Perhaps some of you are ready to stand up and speak against me now, because I am speaking ill of a book that you hold so dear.  Perhaps some are ready to walk out on me, because much of your wealth—the very reason you are here—has come in part because of your talent in speaking on this particular book.  I do not begrudge your use of it, Brothers—especially our dear Brother Robert and Brother Benny.  I appreciate your skill and tact in opening this book and carefully directing the thoughts of those who read it.  You religious leaders have been essential to our cause, and our most important supporters!  You have succeeded to make wealth popular and important among your people with greater success than any of us have!  We thank you for your work! (Scattered clapping throughout the hall.)  But we must also recognize how dangerous this book is.

            The Bible is a complex and multi-faceted piece of literature.  It is sixty-six different books, written by a variety of authors over at least a thousand years.  Their perspectives vary, as do the issues they discuss.  With this, there is much for anyone to expound upon with safety.  There are examples of wealthy people who are heroes in this collection of scrolls—Abraham, Jacob, Boaz, Job, Solomon and Esther.  However, even these are marginal victories.  Abraham and Job are seen as righteous, not because of their wealth, but because of their generosity, faith and sacrifice.  Boaz is righteous for assisting a poor, illegal immigrant.  Solomon is famous for his wisdom, but ultimately rejected for his disobedience of God’s law and idolatry. Esther is of an oppressed racial minority, which is the real focus of her story.  And Jacob is displayed as obtaining his wealth through deceit and the power of God, and suffering greatly in his later life because of his trickery early in his life. 

            In the Old Testament, where all of these stories take place, there are dangerous themes that crop up now and again.   We have a sympathetic woman, gaining a child after praying for so many years, saying, “The weapons of the powerful are cast down and the weak take up strength.”   One of the many psalmists say, “Better is the little of the righteous than the wealth of the wicked.”  In the book of Proverbs it says, “Give me neither poverty nor wealth, lest I become arrogant and say, ‘Who is God?’”  Another psalmist says, “These are the wicked who have increased in wealth.” 

            In the prophets of the Old Testament, the danger to us increases.  Ezekiel says that the sins of Sodom is that the city was wealthy and arrogant, refusing to help the poor and needy.  Jeremiah says that the wealthy in his day became so because of deceit.  Micah claims that the rich of his day were “full of violence”.  Of course, this is blatant prejudice, painting all the wealthy with the same stroke. 

Nevertheless, the Old Testament is not problematic overall.  None of these passages must be thought of as speaking of the rich in general.  While there seems to be a theme—especially that of obtaining wealth through violence and deceit—it is not consistent, and we can avoid such pitfalls by our Bible-brokers speaking of these cases as being rare, while most wealthy are good and right before God.

            The real problem comes in the New Testament.  This is a revolutionary text, and I do not mean that positively.  It is speaking from the perspective of the disorderly elements of society, those that disrupt the proper flow of economics and authority.  As many of us well know, it is within this tome of subversive writers that we have a few passages that support the lower classes being in submission to the upper classes—and this is as it should be.  However, it is always spoken of in the context of the upper classes oppressing and harming the lower classes.  The New Testament has nothing good to say about us, brothers. 

           Let us take, for example, a brief letter to various churches, written by the brother or cousin of Jesus, James-- or perhaps by his students.  James was an important figure in the early church and his word was considered law by many groups of this fledgling— but revolutionary— religious movement.  He had much to say about us, my brothers—and none of it was good.  Listen to this: “The poor brother should be glad for his high position, and the wealthy should be glad for his lowly position, for even as a flower in bloom will soon fade and become ugly, so will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuit of wealth.”  Again, listen to this: “God chose the poor of this world to be rich in faith… but it is the wealthy that drag you into court and oppress you.”  (A few gasps in the midst of a shocked silence.)  But this is not all.  This so-called “just” James dares to make yet another, more horrible, even more prejudicial remark.  This is difficult for me to read, and it is extremely shocking, so please be prepared for it:  “Weep and howl, you rich, for your miseries are coming upon you.  Your riches have rotted and your garments are destroyed.  Your gold and silver have rusted, and its rust is a witness against you in God’s judgment.  The laborers you have hired are crying out against you for you have withheld their wages and it will be heard by the Lord of the harvest.  You have lived… luxuriously on earth…”  I’m sorry, I’m trying… “and you have… fattened yourself for the day of slaughter.”  (Stunned silence fills the hall.)

            I hope you are outraged as much as I am.  This is blatant hate speech.  It is more forthrightly prejudiced against us than almost anything I have ever heard or read, except perhaps that despicable song by Aerosmith.   And if it was only in the letter of James—which our Brother Martin Luther called a “right straw epistle”—then perhaps it could be bearable.  The book is small, it could be avoided.

 But who can avoid Jesus?  Yet Jesus says, “Woe to you who are rich for you have already received your comfort!  Woe to you who are well fed, for you shall go hungry!  Woe to you who are entertained now, for you shall weep!”  It is Jesus who says, “No one can serve two masters, either he will love the one and hate the other.  No one can serve both God and wealth.”  It is Jesus who says, “Sell all your possessions and give to the poor, and then you will have treasure in heaven.”  It is Jesus who says, “None of you can be my disciple unless you renounce all of your possessions.”  It is Jesus who says, “You say ‘I am wealthy, I have need of nothing,’ but you do not see that you are poor and blind and wretched and miserable and naked.” 

Clear lies, all of them!  Our God could not despise us, who has blessed us so?

Do you not see?  The real enemy of our cause in this so-called Holy Writ is not James, but Jesus himself.  It is Jesus that enacted the change that turned the Bible from a humble critic of the excess of the unrighteous rich to an attack on all of us!  These terrible, poor-loving, deceptive words, in blatant opposition to the equality of rich men everywhere were spoken by the founder of the Jesus movement himself!   I know that many of you scholars might be saying, “Well, Jesus may not have said that,” or, “there are certainly other interpretations.”  Of course there are.  Of course there are doubts.  But the clear reading of the text is impossible to deny when brought all together. 

Allow me to repeat a couple main points.  This book is dangerous.  It works directly against our cause, and influences the simple minded to be prejudiced against the wealthy.  Secondly, this book is in the majority of American homes!  There are people who read from this book daily!  Worst of all, there are many who actually believe this book to be God’s own Word and so might very well believe what it says. 

Now, we know, Brothers, that God supports us and our cause—let there be no question about that.  God has granted us our wealth and so wants us to rule the world and influence the people with it.  And so God has given us a commission—we must subvert the clear meaning of this book.  It is a book filled with despicable lies that will tear down the fabric of our very society.  And so we must continue the work accomplished so boldly by our forefather Thomas Jefferson.  We must discourage the reading of this book as much as possible.  If the masses are to read anything, let them read the relatively safe Old Testament. 

Even better, we must follow in the ways of our Muslim brothers and claim through our media that both New and Old Testaments have been superseded by greater, better, teaching.  The best, most popular teaching are the new ethics based upon scientific principles.  This allows us to support an ethics that are based on positive, capitalistic principles.  In this way, the hate speech may be muted, and we will regain our former glory and honor that we deserve to have. 

I see my time is up.  Thank you for your rapt attention, brothers.  (Wild applause breaks out.)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Breaking Down Hobo-phobia

Prejudice is seeing a person, not as an individual, but as a part of a cultural movement you dislike.   It is an instant reaction, not something we control.  As soon as we see someone, we have a response from our most primitive, fastest part of our brain, and our minds have already judged that person.  When we see a young black man, our instant response is fear (even if you are black).  When we see a handicapped person, our instant response is pity.  When we see a wealthy person, our instant response is envy.   That doesn’t mean we have to respond to that instant response, but the response, for most people, is there and instant. 

Studies have shown that the strongest, most pervasive of prejudiced instant responses in American society is toward the homeless.  The far majority of people in the United States, when they see a homeless person, have a response of disgust.  Susan Fiske, in summarizing her analysis of the data, said, “A homeless person is seen as a garbage heap.”  This is an interesting metaphor, because this is how many city governments treat the homeless: piles of trash that should be moved on from place to place because there is no garbage heap to dump them on.

Once we see people as disgusting and horrible, if we give into that emotion, we will have one of two responses: anger or fear.  We might feel anger if we feel that they are lying by their appearance, trying to strike pity, but really being criminals or hidden monsters.  This might cause us to want to push them away, perhaps say something in anger or even desire to do violence to them (although we never would).  Our instant response might cause us to see the homeless as so much an alien, a blight on our land, that we fear them and what they might do to us or our children.  We don’t want to harm them so much as get them away, to transform them into people we can appreciate and care for.

Many of us reading this might say that we have never had these emotions about the homeless.  As far as we know, we have not felt disgust or fear or anger toward someone just because they were homeless.  The other instant reaction that might come up, and is just as limiting, is pity.  We might see a homeless person and instantly feel sorry for them.  This seems to us a positive response, and so we often allow ourselves to give into our impulses of pity.  But these impulses also diminishes an adult, even infantilizes them.  A person filled with pity might want to teach the homeless how to live, to “mentor” them, to assume what they need and give it to them.

How do we know if we have a prejudiced attitude toward the homeless?  Take this simple yes or no quiz:
  • Do we assume we know a persons’ life story by looking at them?
  • Do we assume we know how a person got into trouble?
  • Do we assume they are criminals, lazy or miserable?
  • When we see two homeless people talking together in private, do we assume they are up to no good?
  • When we see a homeless person working on two or more bikes, do we think they have stolen them?
  • When we see a homeless person pushing a shopping cart, do we assume they stole it from a grocery store?
  • Do we think homeless people need just one thing to help them? (e.g. food, a place in a shelter, a kick in the butt, a listening ear?)
  • Do we assume that all homeless want to live like us? Or that they all want to be homeless?
  • Do we assume that all the homeless are addicts?
  • Do we look down on a homeless person doing something that wouldn’t be considered “bad” if they did it in their own personal apartment? (e.g. drinking a beer, having sex with their girlfriend, sleeping)
  • If we saw a homeless person on our property, is our impulse to call the police to get rid of them?
  • Do we want to take care of the homeless, assuming they can’t help themselves?
  • Do we assume all homeless are mean?  Or dangerous?  Do we assume all the homeless people are friendly? Or looking for help?

If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, it means you have prejudiced assumptions about the homeless.  But don’t beat yourself up about it, almost all homeless folks have one or more of the assumptions above, even if they themselves don’t fall in any of the categories.

Homeless folks are people.  Yes, many of them do need help, and yes, some of them are criminals.  Just like housed folks.  Some are mean and some are friendly.  Some have hope and some have given up.   The homeless are young and old, men and women, educated and drop outs, employed and unemployed. 

However, there are a few generalizations we can make about all homeless folks:

1.       They are stressed
Because of the stigma of homelessness, even if they don’t believe it, they know that most people do.  So they don’t know when they might get attacked, abused, yelled at or told to move.  They might get ticketed or even arrested for something they didn’t do.  Generally, they have to work hard to get less, just to survive.  Almost everyone who has been homeless for a year or more have PTSD, and this stress leads to a shorter life.  Stress is usually the cause of addictive behavior on the street, and it requires a strong will not to give in to that crutch. To just leave the stress behind.

2.       They are lacking support
If a homeless person had adequate support, they would be staying in someone’s home.  We don’t know why they lack that support, if it is their own fault, other’s fault or some combination. But most people have friends or family who will let them crash on a couch, if nothing else.  Some people are unable to obtain support from their friends because they have been stigmatized by their homelessness.  The homeless are the 1 percent who have no where to go, no one to help them in the way they really need help.  Even those who help the homeless full time don’t have the resources to provide for them what they need. 

3.       They don’t know who to trust
Because of the widespread prejudice against the homeless, what a person looks like may not be the truth.  Perhaps they are trying to take advantage of you, they are using the poor to prop themselves up.  There are shelters that abuse their guests, and people who look like they want to help who turn on you in a moment.  This is because almost everyone feels superior to homeless people and some don’t have any problem with stealing or taking advantage of the homeless.  It is easier to con the homeless because they are so desperate.  Because the homeless have been hurt so many times, they don’t trust people easily.

4.       They need opportunities
The homeless don’t really need a handout, although they might ask for that because they think it is all they can get.  What they really need is an opportunity for a better life.  Each homeless person understands a good opportunity differently.  For some, it is a job.  For others, a safe place to sleep.  For others, an apartment.  For others, a friend to stay with.  Some need mental health assistance, some need rehab, some need work to do.   But opportunities for the homeless are hard to come by, and the longer they stay on the street the harder they are to find.

If we want to help the homeless, then there are a few things that, knowing these facts, come to mind immediately.  The first is that, just like any racism or sexism, we need to speak out against hobophobia.  If anyone makes a prejudiced statement about the homeless, they should be gently but firmly corrected.  We don’t know any person’s story, and we must not make assumptions or generalizations.

Second, we should make relationships with the homeless.  We must not treat them like a group, as if their issues or cares are all the same.  We should get to know them individually, listening to their story and responding appropriately, knowing that they have a unique experience and a unique life-situation.  This means we know fewer homeless than those who serve hundreds, but we can have a greater chance to actually help them if we get to know them.

Third, we provide opportunities for the homeless we get to understand.  We ask what they want and need and we see if we can help them take the next step to escaping poverty or the stigma of homelessness.  We don’t all have the same resources, so we won’t be able to give our homeless friend what they might need.  We won’t always know if what our homeless friend wants is what will really improve their lives.  But in friendship and partnership, we can improve the life of our homeless friend, just by being their friend.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Jesus' Politics, part 2: Death and Resurrection

The glorious one, the resurrected finishes his discussion of confession and forgiveness with the child who denied his Father.  

Peter: Well, that was uncomfortable.

Jesus: Wasn’t too comfortable on my side, either.

Peter: Yeah, I’m sure.  (A silence hangs in the air for a moment, as a decision to change the subject is made.)  So what is with all the elaborate setup?

Jesus: (Raises his eyebrows) Sorry?

Peter:  I’ve had some time to think and I realized—You set all this up.  The arrest, the conviction, the crucifixion.  Not only did you know it was going to take place, but you created the circumstances through which it would happen.  Okay, so why?  Why do all this?  I mean, resurrection is great and all, but why bother?  There were other ways to accomplish your goals.

Jesus: (Sits back) Really?  So what is the goal?

Peter: Well, to be Messiah, right?  To be king of Jerusalem?

Jesus: Well, kind of.  Remember my first message?  What I repeated again and again to all synagogues?

Peter: (Thinking…) Well, um.  Yeah.  “The kingdom of God is near.”  Sure.  And that’s how you establish God’s kingdom, by being Messiah, right?

Jesus: Well, that’s how I establish MY kingdom. 

Peter: (Speaking quicker, with more assurance) Same thing.  So why didn’t you establish your kingdom through armies?  Killing off your enemies?  Or why didn’t you do politics, infiltrate the Council and take power bit at a time?  Or just ask God to wipe them all out?  Or tell your followers to take over Jerusalem.

Jesus: Yes, those are all good ways to establish my kingdom.  But I never was interested in doing that.  I want to set up God’s kingdom.

Peter: I just don’t understand the difference.

Jesus: When Moses established God’s kingdom, who did the work?

Peter: Moses.  Of course.

Jesus: Um, really?  Moses freed the slaves?  Broke open the Red Sea?  Feed the masses?  Established the ten commandments?

Peter: Well, yeah… I mean, kind of.   (He slowly realizes Jesus’ point.) Well, I guess not really.  God did all the heavy lifting.

Jesus: Right.  This is the difficulty: God’s kingdom must be led by humans, because that is God’s promise to Adam and Abraham and David.  But it cannot be God’s kingdom unless it is established by God’s power and principles.

Peter: That still doesn’t explain why God didn’t just do a major miracle—like wiping out all the Roman armies—and just put you in charge.  That would be God doing the work and you stepping in.

Jesus: Yes, but that’s not how God’s justice works.

Peter: I think it’s quite just.

Jesus: (Rolling his eyes) Yes, you would.  Do you think God just wipes people off the way a child destroys ants? Don’t you yet understand God’s love for people?

Peter: I don’t think he much loves the elders and priests who killed you.  I can’t wait to see their comeuppance.

Jesus: All this time with me, and you still don’t understand the ways of God.  Haven’t you heard that God is merciful and compassionate, slow to anger and forgiving to many generations?  Don’t you think that the elders and the priests and the Pharisees fall under God’s grace as much as you do, denier?

Peter: (Winces at the hard truth) Ouch.

Jesus: (Softening) I’m not trying to rebuke you, Peter, I’m trying to explain.  God isn’t interest in condemning anyone.  His mercy falls on all people.   Remember, I asked for God’s forgiveness on all those who crucified me.

Peter: (Quickly responding) I heard about that.  You said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  Surely that applies to the Roman soldiers who tortured you, but not the elders or high priest.  They knew exactly what they were doing.

Jesus: (Firmly) Stop judging quickly, Peter, and start thinking with compassion!  The Council didn’t understand, either.  They thought they were protecting their temple and nation.  God’s plans were so deep, they didn’t have a clue what was going on.

Peter: (Confused, as usual) So why did you allow yourself to be killed?  Why did God resurrect you?  I understand less than before.

Jesus: (Giving that condescending smile that professors have given since time began) Good, now you are ready to hear.  Who are God’s appointed authorities?

Peter: Well, the priests, of course.

Jesus: Right.  And with them the High Priest, right?

Peter: Of course.

Jesus: What about the Council of elders?

Peter: Well, they are given authority in the Scriptures…

Jesus: Yes.  Who else?   

Peter:  Um… maybe the Emperor?

Jesus:  That’s right.  Who else?

Peter: I’m not sure.

Jesus: Under the Emperor is the Roman army.  And Pilate, who condemned me to death.

Peter:  Pilate was established by God?

Jesus: Absolutely.  I told him so myself.

Peter: (Smiling slyly) I bet he loved that.

Jesus: He avoided almost everything about me.  You know who else is established by God?  The Pharisees, who plotted my death.  And the Sadducees who hated me.  And Herod who condemned me.  But you see?  Since God established all of them, do I have the right to take them down, to destroy them, to take their place.

Peter: Well, if you were appointed by God, as you were, then you had that right…

Jesus: (Slightly exasperated)  Do you really think so?  Look, David was appointed by God while Saul was still ruling God’s kingdom. Did David have the right to take out God’s appointed Messiah and put himself in Saul’s place, even though he had God’s anointing?

Peter:  Actually, no.  It’s strange, but he made a point of stepping back and never even touching Saul, because he was God’s appointed king.

Jesus: That’s right. David didn’t step toward ruling the kingdom until God had dealt with Saul himself. Until Saul had proven that he was unworthy and had been judged by heaven.  David never raised a pinky against Saul, even though he had the promise.

Peter: So he waited for God to act?

Jesus: Yes, because God has to establish His kingdom.  We humans can’t do it ourselves.  Our place is to wait for God to act.

Peter: So why didn’t you hide out in the desert, like David, and wait for God to act against the evil authorities?

Jesus: Well, first, it would take forever.  There’s always a new High Priest, always new Pharisees, always another Herod, another governor appointed by the Emperor.  Also, there needed to be decisive proof that these authorities were evil.  They needed to all be complicit in the worst deed a God-appointed authority can do.

Peter: (Guessing) Sexual immorality?

Jesus: Worse than that.

Peter: Umm… (Thinking for a minute). Taking a bribe?

Jesus: Do you want me to tell you?

Peter: Sure.

Jesus: Killing an innocent citizen.

Peter: (Incredulous) Really?  These guys have done that for years!   Blood drips from their hands!

Jesus: That’s true.  But now they have gone that extra step—they have killed God’s chosen one.  They have killed the Messiah, the Son of God.  Every life is worth a world.  But the stirring of God’s ire against them is rising into a flood of wrath.  They prove themselves to be the anti-David, more than willing to destroy God’s chosen if it is politically convenient.  They have proven, decisively, that they are unworthy to lead God’s people.  That they need to step aside.

Peter: Is that why you are resurrected? 

Jesus: Among other reasons.  It is true.  I was sent to dark Sheol, where those who have been declared guilty go.  But my case was given before the final Judge of heaven and earth, and he decided to overturn the verdict of the Pharisees, of the Council, of Herod and of Pilate.  They declared the very innocent one to be guilty, and so their sentence was reversed.  And I was brought back.

Peter: So now, now is the time? Now God will take them out, and destroy them?

Jesus: No.  Our political campaign isn’t over.

Peter: What do you mean?  We’ve done the work.  You paid the ultimate price.  It’s time to end this and establish your kingdom.

Jesus: You are right.  It is time for God’s reign through me to begin.  And I will go and take this kingdom up very quickly.

Peter: (Standing up in excitement)  Well great!  I’ll call the others over and we’ll gather all the followers back and we will take over Jerusalem…

Jesus: (Laughing out loud)  Peter, you know I love you, right?

Peter: (Eyes like slits)  I hate it when you do that.  You make me look like an idiot.

Jesus: (Slyly) I’ve never had to do that, Peter.  Why do you think I named you “rock”?  No, this dirty, unholy Jerusalem is not where I will receive God’s kingdom.  You think the Father will come down here and hand me this mess?  My kingdom is not of this world.  I must receive it elsewhere.

Peter: (Eyes tearing up, delving into the waters of mourning he had just released. ) You go to the Father?  You will leave us again?  Can’t you take us with you?

Jesus: No, Peter, I can’t.  I will go to heaven and try to repair the world from up there.  But the work you will do is just as difficult.

Peter:  (Tears dripping down his face.) Great.

Jesus:  Peter, it’s okay.  I’ll make sure you are ready.  You’ll have enough time to mourn and to be prepared, I promise. 

Peter: What is this work?

Jesus: You know that I forgave all the authorities that killed me.  I want you and your fellows to go to them all and give them an opportunity to repent and to be a part of my kingdom.

Peter:  How does one become a part of your kingdom, Lord?

Jesus: Same as always, Peter.  Turning away from the nations of this world, even Judea and the priesthood, and taking on the rite of immigration to my kingdom-- being baptized in my name.

Peter: The authorities would never do that. 

Jesus: Probably not.  But some will surprise you.  Even Gentiles, even oppressors of our people, will come into my kingdom. 

Peter: Yeah, sure.  We won’t even get an audience with the Council or Pilate or Herod, let alone the emperor.  No one will listen to us.

Jesus: You’ll see.  Tell them of my resurrection.

Peter: Couldn’t you do this yourself, Lord?  We’ll talk with them, but it would be much more convincing if you show yourself, alive and glorious, ready to rule God’s kingdom.

Jesus: Then they might hesitate to show who they really are.

Peter: What do you mean?  How do they do that?

Jesus: They are killers of the innocent.  And even if I have forgiven them, many of them will refuse to repent and continue to kill the innocent.  Once they have made their final refusal, then God will step in and take them out.

Peter: Wait… you are talking about us, aren’t you?

Jesus: Yes.  I will send to them apostles and prophets and they will kill you.  You will go to kings and judges and priests and emperors and they will show you who they really are.  And God will then judge them according to their actions.

Peter:  So when you said to take up your cross…

Jesus: I meant it literally.  It is the only way to establish my kingdom on earth.  And when I come, you, in full resurrected splendor, will reign with me as well as all your companions who were rejected by this world by enacting the mercy and grace and compassion of God.

Peter: Well, that’s a tall order.

Jesus: Yes, it is.  Few will be able to accept it.  But I have confidence in you.

Peter: But I’m not worthy.  How do you know that I won’t deny you again?  I’m already broken, fallen.

Jesus: Yes.  I know.  But I have confidence in you, Peter.  In all of you.  As broken as you are, that’s just how strong God will make you for this work.

Peter: So when you establish the kingdom in heaven…

Jesus: So you will establish my kingdom on earth.  Bring people to me, Peter.  I’ll  take care of the rest.

Peter: (Breathes deeply the breath of decisiveness.) Okay.  I’ll do it.

Jesus: I knew you would. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Jesus' Politics, part 1

Jesus got up at the beginning of his final week and decided to make a declaration for public office.  He had a couple volunteers gather a colt and he entered Jerusalem.  Every good church-going person knew what was going on—he was fulfilling holy writ, that the next king of Jerusalem would go in triumph on a colt, a humble animal.  So his supporters gathered around him, made a parade into the city of Zion, and celebrated his candidacy.

To the people of Jerusalem, this was not such good news.   Although they were looking for a Messiah,  Jesus and his followers were foreigners, from the hill country, impure from their close proximity with foreigners.  Their accent was strange and their background questionable at best.  These upstarts were barely welcome to worship with them, let alone rule them. 

Jesus, in his first work in Jersusalem, just observes. He strolls through the streets with his throng of supporters, goes up to the temple and just observes the goings on.  He sees the sacrifices, he observes the praying men, and he sees the outer court filled with tables, allowing men to exchange their foreign coin with temple money, and then move over to purchase animals for worship.  He mumbles to himself, and then leaves the city for the day.

The next day, as is his custom, he gets up early to pray.  As his supporters rise and they eat and pray, he leads them back into Jerusalem, heading straight into the temple.  The morning routine was in full motion, with many rising early to exchange their coins and to purchase animals for sacrifices.  Jesus heads straight to the money exchangers, and knocks over their tables.  Outraged, they come at him and he picks up a long piece of rope and uses it as a whip, causing them to step back.

“Muggers!” he cried.  “Bandits!  You are stealing God’s glory!  People from all over the world come to worship my Father, and you take the only place they are allowed to worship and use it for your business.  You steal from God himself!  Get out!  Allow the women and Gentiles back in the temple, giving them a place to pray!” The money men quickly pack up their things and go. 

The local priests and some ruling authorities see this commotion and are outraged.  The high priest gave these local businessmen this space in the temple.  Who is this hick, this foreigner to drive them out?  They heard of him—he is the one who declared his intention to be king of Jerusalem.  Now, it seems, that he is taking over for the high priest!

“What right do you have to do these things?” they demand.  “Who gave you this authority?”
Jesus looks at them slyly, “I will answer your question, if you answer mine.  Was John the Baptist from God?”

John, of course, undermined the authority of the priesthood and the temple, declaring that all were unfit for the coming kingdom of God.  But he was also massively popular and the priests didn’t want to be given a bad reputation so they answered, “We refuse to answer your question.”
Jesus smiled, “Even so, I refuse to answer yours.  You figure it out.”

Jesus then announced to all in front of the councilmen,  “A successful businessman spent years creating and causing his business to thrive. He decided to hand his business over to a set of managers, and allow them to run it.  However, these managers refused to grant the owner any of the profits of justice and mercy that he deserved, that he worked so hard for.  So he sent them messengers and lawyers and  holy men to give him his fair proceeds.  The managers, deciding to rule the business themselves, tore up the letters, beat the lawyers and killed the holy men who demanded justice from them.  Finally, the owner decided to send his son, who had great authority.  The managers saw the son of the businessman and thought that if they killed him off, there would be no one to contest their ownership.  So they beat him up, forced him to sign a release agreement, threw him out of the building and killed him.

“What do you think the owner will do?  He will come back with a group of thugs and beat these managers and kill them, and place his business under the rule of someone who will do as he asks.”

Then Jesus turns to the councilmen and priests, “What kind of authority are you looking for?  Or do you think you can run things any way you want, without justice or mercy?  Remember the holy words, ‘The stone which the builders rejected became the chief cornerstone.’  The very one you reject and kill is the one who will rule over you and kick you out of the kingdom.”