Proverbs 14:15 MSG
THE LAST AND THE LEAST
Matthew 25: 31-46
November 26, 2017 -- Reign of Christ Sunday
Back in the 1980’s there was a TV show called “Charles in Charge” that lasted about 5 years.
It was about a college student, Charles (he was never given a last name), a student at the fictional Copeland College who was in need of a place to live while he attends classes. He finds that place with the Pembroke family where he carves out a deal for himself, serving as a sort of nanny for the three Pembroke children for which he receives free room and board.
The theme song to the show, presumably sung by one of the kids, went like this:
New boy in the neighborhood
Lives downstairs and it's understood.
He's there just to take good care of me,
Like he's one of the family.
Charles in Charge
Of our days and our nights
Charles in Charge
Of our wrongs and our rights
And I sing, I want,
I want Charles in Charge of me.
I thought it was an interesting little jingle because it tapped into what is kind of a universal longing in human beings – the longing for someone to be in charge, to just tell me what is the right thing to do.
Of course that was never how the show went. The key to good entertainment is conflict (Shakespeare taught us that, after all) so, no matter how hard he tried or what he brought to the table the kids rarely agreed with him and, as they say, hijinks ensued.
Anyway, while this need for someone to be in charge may not be the universal longing it is, in fact, a universal experience. Every once in a while, we want someone to be in charge and tell us what the right thing to do is. Only, when they do, we want to argue with them. Or we want to make excuses that they will accept when we don’t follow what they say.
It’s like the title of James Moore’s excellent little book, Yes, Lord, I Have Sinned; but I Have Several Excellent Excuses.
Today, we are going to talk about putting Jesus in charge of our lives – no exceptions no excuses.
REIGN OF CHRIST
The last Sunday of the Christian liturgical year and the Sunday before the beginning of Advent is called Reign of Christ Sunday or, sometimes, Christ the King Sunday.
It is usually the Sunday before Thanksgiving except for years when Thanksgiving falls earlier than normal on the calendar. Then Reign-of-Christ falls on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, as is the case this year.
The emphasis for this particular Sunday is the reign of Christ in the lives of Christians. It is a time set aside to celebrate the fact that Jesus is the Lord of our lives, the King of all Kings, the person upon whom we pin our faith and our hope. And even in a time and culture such as ours, where words like “Lord” and “King” are not only meaningless but almost offensive, it is he whom we strive emulate in our own lives, in the decisions we make and in the way we treat others.
(Well, that’s the way it should be. We do call ourselves Christians, after all.)
So, what that means in real terms is that on this day we kind of step back and get ourselves and our lives – spiritual, physical, mental – realigned with his. We started out thus aligned, we admit that we went through a year where we kinda drifted off course, and now we take some time to get back on track, to remind ourselves that it is Jesus, not Charles, or anyone, or anything else who is in charge.
One of the things that golf teaches us is that if you are lined up even a fraction of a millimeter off line at the tee, by the time the ball travels 200 or 300 yards that fraction of a millimeter will have translated into dozens of yards of error and sending you into the rough or, as is usually the case with me, into the lake. To end up where we want to be we have to be lined up correctly at the beginning.
But what does it look like to be lined up with Jesus? What do I see when I see someone for whom Jesus really is in charge of their lives?
Fortunately, Scripture steps in to help us out on this.
SHEEP AND GOATS
In this very familiar passage which we read from Matthew’s gospel, we start with Jesus pictured as a king, sitting on the judgement seat, judging, dividing people up into categories – right and left, good and bad, sheep and goats.
Both groups, goats (bad) and sheep (good), seem confused, however. Neither the goats nor the sheep understand why the judge rated the sheep superior and the goats as disreputable. “Wait! We did what?” the sheep ask, uncertain about the times and places they had shown acts of mercy. Likewise, the goat crowd seems put out. “Uh, excuse me, Lord, when did we fail to feed you, or welcome you, or clothe you?”
The answer, of course, is the same: just as you did or did not do to the least of these, so you did to me. When it comes to judgment calls, Jesus does not mince words. The ones on his right—the sheep—are rewarded for performing basic acts of kindness to the king, while the goats are castigated to eternal fire for failing to offer even the tiniest shred of mercy.
Both groups are confused. Neither one remembers ever seeing the king hungry, thirsty, or naked. Still, Jesus the judge knows. Christ the judge remembers. While the critters can’t seem to make head or tails of their situation, the judge has the situation under advisement and is about to render an opinion.
And that opinion will be the theological heart of this week’s portion of Matthew’s vision. For Matthew, faithful discipleship is concerned not with big acts and grand gestures, but with the everyday practicalities of living in the kingdom. Those who “seek first the Kingdom of God” have such an all-encompassing view of life that they don’t have time to judge the deserving from the undeserving. Their lives are bent on offering mercy. They do it lavishly and generously and extravagantly and, yes, even wastefully.
Our closeness to Jesus, says Matthew, is not determined by our doctrines or our church attendance or the size of our offering but how close we are to the “least of these” in our midst, the least wealthy, the least attractive, the least intelligent, the least powerful. Our residence in God’s kingdom hinges on how in the brief, every day, moments of our lives, we treat those people whom the world has made small and inconsequential.
But who are the “least of these?” What do they look like? Where do we find them?
WE FIND THEM AT WALMART
Sometimes we find them at Walmart.
Holiday hustle and bustle can cause anxiety and frustration in even the well prepared and calloused shoppers, so it’s no wonder the elderly gentleman in line at the Clarksdale, Mississippi, Walmart became flustered while trying to count out the change in his pockets so he could make his purchase.
After losing count and dropping coins and starting over several times he turned to Spring Bowlin, who was standing behind him in the line and, with voice and hands shaking, tried to apologize, “I’m so sorry.”
It was right about then that the cashier, instead of getting angry or frustrated, took the man’s hands, dumped all the change on the counter and told him, “This is not a problem, honey. We will do this together.”
“I was moved by her actions,” Bowlin told TODAY. “Simple, genuine kindness is a thing of beauty…my heart was warmed at Wal-Mart during my lunch break.”
Now, this simple but sweet story has certainly warmed the hearts of many others, too — the Facebook post has over 73,000 likes and 40,000 shares.
WE FIND THEM IN THE STREETS
Sometimes we find them in the streets.
As deaths from drug overdoses reach new peaks across the United States, the opportunity to show mercy becomes a matter of public health. Government statistics show that more than 64,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2016, or an average of 175 per day. The rates have been increasing for several years, leading some to estimate that within ten years, more than 650,000 Americans will have died from drug overdoses. By comparison, the city of Boston has about 617,000 residents. And it’s more than 10 times the number of Americans that were killed in the Vietnam.
In response, Team Sheep might be the volunteers helping care for addicts, the churches that offer recovery groups, the groups passing out blankets to the homeless living under bridges on cold nights, or pastors reaching out to those in treatment. In contrast, Team Goat seems to prefer enhancing the criminalization of drug use, further isolating the least powerful and least able to find help.
Team Sheep, for example, would likely have been troubled by a proposal from a city council member from Middletown, OH who suggested last summer that the city’s EMS squads might need to begin limiting how many times opioid drug users are resuscitated. Council member Daniel Picard proposed a firm two-visit limit per overdose patient, placing a hard stop against “frequent flyers” who do not enter treatment. Dispatchers will have lists of those who have been treated twice for overdose. If a name comes up on an ambulance call that’s on that list, no ambulance will be sent.
Picard’s logic is driven by the dollars associated with emergency services and cost of the overdose reversing drug Narcan. Who makes the judgment calls in these cases? It’s more than a question of semantics. It’s frequently a question answered as God’s people engage in the sort of deep reflection on what it means to offer mercy, even when we do not know to whom we are helping.
WE FIND THEM STANDING NEXT TO US
Wherever we are, whatever we are doing, the “least of these” always boils down to one thing: They are the people who have less power than we have. The are the people with less experience, the people with less knowledge, the people with lower status, lower pay, and a lower place in the pecking order than ours.
They are the people whose lack of power makes them vulnerable, easy targets, low hanging fruit for the predators of this world.
Most of us have seen this dynamic play out somewhere or at some time in our lives. Maybe on the playground or on the sports team, on the job, or in the community. And lately, we have all seen it in the tsunami of sexual misconduct and harassment cases that have been in the news.
Let us be clear, brothers and sisters, these cases are not about sexual behavior. That is just the means at hand. If violence was as acceptable these stories would be stories of violence. But most of us, the vast majority, would be horrified to see or hear of someone committing physical violence against women.
With sexual misbehavior, however, we tend to just roll our eyes and sigh. Oh, that’s just what’s his name being a jerk, we say. Or, well, he didn’t really hurt you. Or, boys will be boys.
But none of those are true, are they?
Because we know that these are men, not boys. This is not the playground, it is the workplace, the boardroom, the classroom and, sometimes, yes, the church. We know that it goes well beyond “just being a jerk.” We know that the damage done can last a long time and sometimes the scars never go away.
In every example we have seen, save one, these have been cases of powerful men abusing their power in order to degrade, demean, debase and dehumanize another human being simply because they can, because it gives them a thrill and makes them feel bigger and stronger and even more powerful.
I will not speak, here, of specific cases because, with every day new information is coming forward and new accusations are being made. Besides, as gross and disgusting as the individual cases may be, we all know, in our hearts, that it takes a village for this kind of abuse to not just happen but become a pattern of behavior as it has in so many of these cases.
The predator is allowed to prey on his victims because good people, decent people, stepped aside and cleared the path. They kept silent when they could have spoken up. They let the little things go by without comment until the little things became an avalanche. They let the weak be savaged by the strong and shook their heads, shrugged their shoulders, and tsk-tsk’d to each other and did nothing.
Max Fisher and Amanda Taub put it this way in their “Interpreter” newsletter, published in the New York Times:
“These [small, seemingly inconsequential] moments, we are learning, matter. They tell men, in a thousand small ways, that they can cross little lines. They tell women that they are expected to “be cool.” They communicate that it’s solely the victim’s responsibility to speak up, that we expect the powerless to take on the powerful on their own. And then somehow, we are surprised when the little transgressions become big ones, when women feel compelled to stay silent, when men in our midst turn out to be predators who operated openly for years.
“We like to tell ourselves that as long as we aren’t perpetrators ourselves, we’re merely bystanders. But if you read the stories closely, you will see that the offenders get away with it for so long and so many times over with the help, however unwitting, of the bystanders. Of us.
“This realization is troubling and has been met with understandable resistance. We do not want to believe we might be complicit in crimes that we consider abhorrent. But the sort of sexual harassment and assault we see in the news — sustained, repeated behavior — takes a village. Our small choices matter. Unless we change them, the stories will keep coming.”
As abhorrent as these acts are to those of us who do not commit them or condone them, they must be even more so to those of us who call ourselves Christians.
The kind of sexual abuse we have seen in the news this past month is the very antithesis of what and who we are called to be. It violates every syllable of the passage in Matthew 25 that we have read this morning. It calls on us to decide who and whose we are going to be.
Are we the sheep on his right hand, the ones who step up to help, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless, to visit the sick and the imprisoned? Are we the ones who take our stand between the victim and the abuser whatever the consequence?
Or are we the goats who do nothing, who pass up even the simplest, easiest, and cheapest kinds of charity, who refuse to get involved, who walk by on the other side and then are surprised that we are considered part of the problem?
Friends, on this “Reign of Christ Sunday,” let us align ourselves, once again with the one in whose name we live and breathe. Let us stand for the weak and the powerless. Let us resolve that where justice has no voice we will be that voice, where kindness has no advocate, we will plead its cause, and where love has no shape or form, we will be its incarnation. In Jesus’ name…. Amen.
 Thanks to my friend and writing teammate at TIW, Rev. Dr. Christopher Keating, for much of this section.
"You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth." Exodus 20:4
The American Flag is a powerful symbol and here’s the thing about symbols: They have no inherent meaning. They only mean what we decide they mean.
You may have experienced this truth if you have ever driven in a foreign country. Some of those signs are just meaningless. We don’t know what the words or the symbols on traffic signs mean and we have to figure them out from the context and usually pretty quickly.
The very same thing is true when you go into someone’s home.
The little threadbare teddy bear on the mantel is just a worn-out toy to you, but to me it’s a symbol of those contented and comfortable times in my childhood when I cuddled it to my chest. You would probably throw out that old shotgun that doesn’t even shoot any more, but it was my dad’s, the one he used the first time he took me with him to hunt rabbits and quail, and to me it’s a symbol of his love for me. To you, that painting is probably just a picture of a dog standing in a field but what I see is the signature in the lower right-hand corner, my late mother’s signature. She painted it and the painting is, for me, a symbol of her love.
I know that this teddy bear, this gun, and this painting don’t hold the same symbolic meaning for you that they do for me. Symbolism is a very personal thing, after all, and I appreciate it that you respect my feelings about them and don’t mistreat them. But neither do I expect you to revere them as I do. That would be weird.
I’m a Christian, so the cross has some significant symbolic meaning for me. It represents the instrument of torture and death upon which Jesus died. It’s empty so it represents the promise of resurrection that is celebrated on Easter morning. It represents a challenge to me like the one Jesus offered when he said, “Take up your cross and follow me.”
To Stephen King fans, the cross represents victory over vampires. To Jews it may have no meaning at all or they may harken back to their history lessons and recall that it was the symbol worn by crusaders as they marched to the Holy Land slaughtering thousands of Jews on their way. Or others may recall it as the symbol of a safe place to hide when they were running from the Nazis. The symbolism of the cross has been a mixed message for those who behold it.
Recently, we have discovered that the American Flag is a symbol no less complex than the Latin or Christian Cross, and we have discovered that the symbolic actions we take in response to the flag have complex and very personal meanings.
It is beginning to feel like we need a written protocol to understand the symbolism that is attached to the Stars and Stripes and certain reactions that some people have to it.
As I understand it, kneeling on one knee, or “taking a knee” when the national anthem is played, has been taken up as a protest of racism and police violence against African Americans. It can also be a sign of respect for the victims of that violence, just as many players take a knee while they wait for the diagnosis and prognosis for an injured player – teammate or adversary – and, in doing so, pay tribute to the injured player’s spirit and bravery. Placing a hand on the shoulder of a person taking a knee indicates one's solidarity with the knee-taker's protest without necessarily agreeing with the knee-taker's particular objection. Linking arms with others who are standing is a way of saying that you believe in the knee-taker's right to protest and the shoulder-toucher's right to sympathize with the protest, without either protesting or sympathizing with protest yourself.
And all of these are done during the singing or playing of the national anthem because the anthem is symbol that is meant to unite all Americans. By taking these actions, the protesters are saying, “But wait! We aren’t all united. Some of us have been forced to the periphery and not allow to play the game that everyone else is playing. Some of us are being forced to play by a different set of rules than everyone else. Some of us are being beaten, battered, and even shot, not because we have done something wrong but because of the color of our skin!”
And what is really amazing to me is that there are people, white people, who have joined in this protest. Old people, young people, military veterans, clergy, professionals, athletes from other sports, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and atheists are all coming together to add their voices to those of the protestors.
And in doing so they are saying, “You can revere the American flag all you want. You can believe what you want to believe about it. But you cannot make me share your belief or your reverence. As a symbol, that flag has a different meaning for everyone who beholds it. And my meaning is my own. Also, you don’t get to say what my symbolic act in response to that flag means. It’s my act and only I get to define it. Every soldier who ever died on any battlefield defending America died protecting my right to claim that freedom.
Lectionary for August 20, 2017 -- Genesis 45:1-15; Psalm 133; Isaiah 56:1,6-8; Romans 11: 1-2a,29-32; and Matthew 15:21-28
The British produced Welsh police procedural television drama “Hinterland” begins each week with the credits running over a montage of extreme close-ups that are more than a little off-putting and even a little bit, well, gross. After seeing these images a few times, however, the viewer begins to realize that as sinister as they seem up close, they are actually just harmless, everyday junk.
When the camera backs away and we see the objects in their context, we observe that one is a rusty door hinge, another is an old wasp nest, a third is a child’s tooth, another is a seed pod.
They are the same things we have seen before, only now we see and maybe even define them differently because we see them from a perspective that allows us to take them in their proper context.
Our study and examination of scripture often fails due to a malady that I call the micro-focus.
We take a few verses and we dissect them and examine them and try to squeeze as much meaning and application as we can get out of them, but the answers we discover seem simplistic or they run counter to other things we have read in and about the Bible, and we wonder why we have run dry so early in our exploration.
There is another way of looking at scripture, however, and it is what I call that of “macro-focus.” That is, we step back from the text so we can see it in all its surroundings. Passages of scripture which seem to mean one thing when taken by themselves can often mean something completely different when we use a macro-focus that lets us see them in their historic and literary context.
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS
Lectionary readings listed above, if we are to take them at all seriously, must be taken not just in their individual contexts but in their literary context as well. That is, they need to be seen in the light of all the other things that have been written in the Bible.
Each passage, today, is about love, forgiveness, and/or reconciliation.
In Genesis, Joseph, after toying with his brothers for a short while, finally reveals his true identity to them, forgives them for the shabby way they treated him, points out that, thanks to God, everything has worked out for the best and then “he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.” (v. 15)
In Psalm 133 the psalmist reminds us how “very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity,” forming a footnote or commentary upon the story we have just read in Genesis.
Isaiah gives his readers a mini-sermon on inclusion and acceptance as God accepts not just Jews but gentiles as well and declares the temple to be “house of prayer for all peoples.” And then God shares the plan to gather “the outcasts of Israel” and “other…besides those already gathered.”
In Paul's letter to the Romans he reminds the Jewish and gentile Christians of Rome, who are in conflict with each, other that God has come to us in Jesus Christ so that we may be reconciled to God and each other.
And, finally, in Matthew’s gospel we hear about Jesus, who was sent as a savior for the Jews, enlarging his mission at the behest of a gentile woman who is so desperate for her dying daughter that she is willing to go to a Jewish rabbi and ask him for a miracle.
In every passage we see the common threads of forgiveness, acceptance, and reconciliation being woven together into a beautiful tapestry of love.
And it doesn’t stop with these five passages.
The word “love” appears in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible 488 times and the word “forgive” appears 58 times. But if we do more than just a word search and undertake a topical search of scripture and we find that the topics of love, forgiveness, reconciliation, and grace are addressed more than 600 times.
This is not just a trend, my friends. It is a juggernaut.
The very real and undeniable fact is that scripture, as a whole, moves inexorably in the direction of love.
There are those persons, however, persons who call themselves Christians and even pastors, who would not have us believe this.
IN THE NEWS
Back when President Donald Trump was still “presumptive Republican nominee” Trump, he invited about 25 fundamentalist and evangelical Christians to serve as his “evangelical advisory council” and most, if not all, of them still serve in that capacity.
The implication of this seems to be that all Christian evangelicals back Mr. Trump and support his policies. That, of course, is not the case. Many do not, Max Lucado, Jim Wallis, Peter Wehner, and Eric Teetsel, among them. Be that as it may, however, he is still getting advice from some who many consider to be prominent evangelical pastors and leaders, one of which has been lately in the news.
Robert James Jeffress, Jr. is an American Southern Baptist pastor, author, and radio and television host. Jeffress hosts the program, Pathway to Victory, which he claims is broadcast on more than 1,200 television stations in the United States and 28 other countries. He also has a daily radio program, Pathway to Victory, heard on 764 stations. He is the pastor of the 12,000 member First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas.
While a pastor in Wichita Falls in 1998, Jeffress sought to have two children's books about children with gay or lesbian parents removed from the public library by checking out the books and paying for them rather than returning them to be recirculated.
On October 7, 2011, he provoked a national controversy when he introduced Perry at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC, by indicating that one of Perry's rivals, Romney, of Massachusetts, is opposed to Christianity.
Lately, he has been quoted saying that, “When it comes to how we should deal with evildoers, the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear: God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary — including war — to stop evil.” He adds that, “In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un.”
He says that he was prompted to make the statement after Trump said that if North Korea’s threats to the United States continue, Pyongyang will be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
The biblical passage Romans 13 gives the government authority to deal with evildoers, Jeffress said. “That gives the government … the authority to do whatever, whether it’s assassination, capital punishment or evil punishment to quell the actions of evildoers like Kim Jong Un,” he said.
Amy Black, a political-science professor at Wheaton College, an evangelical institution in Illinois, isn’t so sure. She would remind us that theologians and church leaders have debated the interpretation of Romans 13 for millennia. Most mainstream interpretations of the passage, she said, would suggest that God works through governmental leaders, but ultimate authority comes from God.
Paul was writing to the Romans in a place and time where there was only one government and one political leader and that was Caesar. He would not have imagined that his words could be applied to other political leaders as well. What if the political leader was Adolph Hitler? Would Christians be compelled by Romans 13 to obey him? What if the political leader was Chairman Mao, or Idi Amin or, well, Kim Jong Un?
“If anything,” Black says, “Romans 13 creates a conundrum, because it could be interpreted that Kim Jong Un has authority to govern.”
Jeffress’s error is that of micro-focus, sometimes referred to as cherry picking or proof texting. He has found a piece of scripture and interpreted the verses to support his own point of view completely disregarding their historical, and literary context as well as the contemporary context to which he is trying to apply them.
Paul’s words in Romans 13 were written to the Christians in the Roman church which Paul had never visited or met. A few years before this letter (49 C.E.) the emperor, Claudius, had expelled all Jews from the city of Rome because of the civil unrest that was being created between orthodox Jews and Christian Jews over who was more authentically Jewish and who should control the synagogues. When Claudius died in 54 C.E. the edict expelling the Jews lapsed and they began returning to the city. In the intervening five years, however, the Christian churches had become almost totally gentile in their rituals and practices and this caused no small amount of tension between the gentile church leaders and the returning Jewish Christians.
Paul wrote the epistle to the Roman church to introduce himself and his theology, a theology of love, reconciliation and salvation, “to the Jews first and also to the Greek.” (1:16) If the Christians of Rome would take Paul’s words seriously they would avoid the kinds of conflicts that had prompted Claudius’s purge of 49 and live together in peace. That is the historical context.
The literary context of the few verses in Romans 13: 1-7 finds them sandwiched between Romans 12 which calls for Christians to “let love be genuine,” and “Bless those who persecute you,” and “Do not repay evil for evil,” and Romans 13: 8 ff. which calls on Christians to, “Owe no one anything but to love one another.”
Romans 13: 1-7 is a coda in the ongoing symphony of love and charity which makes up the totality of the Biblical narrative. It must not, indeed, it cannot be responsibly interpreted in any way that contradicts that story, that rents the beautiful tapestry of love that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
ANOTHER EVANGELICAL VOICE
I can add nothing more to this commentary so I will let another evangelical, some say, fundamentalist, preacher speak the closing lines.
This is the Reverend Mr. Billy Graham in a 1978 interview in Sojourner’s magazine:
Sojourners: How does your commitment to the lordship of Christ shape your response to the nuclear threat?
Graham: I am not sure I have thought through all the implications of Christ’s lordship for this issue — I have to be honest about that. But for the Christian there is — or at least should be — only one question: What is the will of God? What is his will both for this world and for me in regard to this issue? Let me suggest several things.
First, the lordship of Christ reminds me that we live in a sinful world. The cross teaches me that. Like a drop of ink in a glass of water, sin has permeated everything — the individual, society, creation. That is one reason why the nuclear issue is not just a political issue — it is a moral and spiritual issue as well. And because we live in a sinful world it means we have to take something like nuclear armaments seriously. We know the terrible violence of which the human heart is capable.
Secondly, the lordship of Jesus Christ tells me that God is not interested in destruction, but in redemption. Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost. He came to reverse the effects of the Fall. Now I know there are mysteries to the workings of God. I know God is sovereign and sometimes he permits things to happen which are evil, and he even causes the wrath of man to praise him. But I cannot see any way in which nuclear war could be branded as being God’s will. Such warfare, if it ever happens, will come because of the greed and pride and covetousness of the human heart. But God’s will is to establish his kingdom, in which Christ is lord.
Third, of course, Christ calls us to love, and that is the critical test of discipleship. Love is not a vague feeling or an abstract idea. When I love someone, I seek what is best for them. If I begin to take the love of Christ seriously, then I will work toward what is best for my neighbor. I will seek to bind up the wounds and bring about healing, no matter what the cost may be.
Therefore, I believe that the Christian especially has a responsibility to work for peace in our world.
To that, I can add only, Amen.
There was a small village and the people needed some sort of transportation to take their crafts and vegetables to market on Fridays so they chipped in to buy a horse to pull their wagon.
He was not much of a horse. He was old and slow and a little cranky, and some folks thought it was foolish to buy him, but the village council voted and everyone who needed transportation was required to chip in on the purchase.
The horse was also rather fat and ate more oats than anyone thought he would so he was expensive to maintain. And, of course, he needed to be shod. And he needed to be groomed and boarded and he turned out to be much more expensive than anyone thought.
Some folks thought he was too expensive to maintain and thought he should be sold. A town meeting was held to decide what to do. After much discussion, the people realized they had four choices:
1. They could sell the horse and buy another that was better but that would cost even more money.
2. They could shoot the horse and let everyone find their own way to market on Fridays.
3. They could continue as they were until the horse died of old age or heart attack and then figure out what to do next.
4. They could work together to fix the horse, put him on a diet and get a vet to examine him, give him better feed and vitamins, and exercise him every day and not just on Friday which would make him a better, happier, more productive horse.
They chose number 4 because that was the only sane and responsible choice.
Most people, when determining what is a right and what is not, rely on evidence that is authoritative in nature. The authoritative argument holds that a right is what someone in a position of authority tells you is a right. They point to religious authorities such as God or the authors of the Bible, but this argument impresses only those who believe in God and/or the Bible and does not have anything like universal acceptance among those who don't. Or they might site an historical figure such as Thomas Jefferson, as Jefferson spoke of rights in the Declaration of Independence. They often forget, however, that Jefferson said “we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights and AMONG these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The word “among” indicates his list of three is not meant to be exhaustive, as any philosopher of the Age of Enlightenment would agree. The authoritative form of evidence is a legitimate one but it almost always requires some sort of corroboration to be conclusive for it is, basically, just another form of hearsay evidence.
Now, for my own theory:
There are two kinds of rights: 1.) human rights, and 2.) legal rights. Sometimes they overlap and sometimes they don’t. Human rights are rights that are both natural and available. That is to say, they are in keeping with and necessary for us to be authentically human and they are available to us, within our reach, in the real world. This means, of course, that human beings do not have a right to things that exist only in the world of fantasy or fiction. Neither do they have a right to those things which are not essential to their authentic humanity.
So, by way of example, people in the desert who have no access to water have no right to it even though it is essential to their humanity. If water should become available, however, they would have a right to it. (This was the practice in much of the ancient near east and as we see in the Hebrew scriptures wherein wells or springs in the wilderness were set apart for public use.)
Legal rights are rights that are determined and enforced by a culture and are, often, unique to the culture from which they arise. The right of a woman to be safe from assault by her husband is an example of this. This right has only recently become a right in this country but is scoffed at when we suggest it be adopted in some other countries.
So, I believe that health care is necessary for people to be authentically human and, since we have the ability to provide it for all it is a human right.
This, from my good friend, Rev. Dennis Dinger (Retired)
Maybe Bill O'Reilly has been too busy raising the millions of dollars he needs to pay of his sexual harrassment lawsuits to notice. Perhaps FOX and Friends have been distracted by Russian spies hiding in Donald Trump's entourage. And I suppose Judge Napolitano just put his tin foil hat on backwards and can't see what's in front of him. Whatever the reason, all the gang at Fake News seem to have missed the new War On Easter whose first battle of 2017 is taking place in Great Britain.
Over there the Cadbury Chocolate Company, a venerable British institution, has for years sponsored a nationwide Easter Egg Hunt. In villages and cities all over the U.K. Cadbury hides Easter eggs in parks and fields and invites the kiddies to come and search them out.
Lots of fun. Kids and parents love it. Cadbury gets good publicity and increased candy sales. Everybody wins.
Until this year when it seems that Jesus loses. You see, this year the annual "Cadbury Easter Egg Hunt" is being called the Cadbury Egg Hunt. Concerned Christians are concerned that their Christianity is threatened, their God denied, unless cadbury puts Christ back in eggs, or some such thing.
Teresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of England, Scotland ,Wales and the six lost counties of Erie, is upset enough about the situation to make a speech in Parliament denouncing the chocolate maker's perfidy. Teresa is , in her own words, "a vicar's daughter" and she knows, as only a PK can know, the absolute centrality of Jesus in the Cadbury tradition, the indissoluble bond that exists between the crucifixion and chocolate, the necessary conflation of Christ and confectionary treats.
In her speech Ms May said that she is certain the late, lamented founder of the Cadbury estate would be offended by his company's dropping the word "Easter" from its egg hunts. Which is kind of funny as the original Mr Cadbury was a Quaker and did not celebrate easter--but let that pass. Ms May is after all a vicar's daughter and knows what should have been in the old man's mind even if he didn't and it wasn't.
I wonder how long it will be before Christians of Ms May's and Mr O'Reilly's stripe complain that on Ascension Thursday so many people no longer go out into the streets and look up--hopefully, expectantly, wonderingly- -at the empty sky.
What if the story of the Prodigal Son went like this:
A man had two sons. The younger son demanded his inheritance from his father, left home, squandered it, and returned home, admitting to his father that he had sinned, and begging for forgiveness.
The father responded, “Even though, in my heart, I want to, I cannot just forgive you for what you have done. To simply forgive you would be to trivialize your sin. Paternal justice demands that you pay a penalty for your sins before I can forgive you and the penalty is death.”
The older brother spoke up, telling his father he would pay the penalty for his younger brother. The older brother worked day and night for the father until he died of exhaustion. With the death of the older son, the penalty of the younger son was paid, the father’s wrath was finally placated, and the father and surviving son lived happily ever after.
Even though the story doesn’t go like that, many, if not most Christians act as though it does. They believe in a doctrine called “blood atonement” which holds that human sin is so great that God either can’t or won’t forgive it without someone being given the death penalty. And the person God chooses to have executed is his perfectly innocent and perfectly obedient son, Jesus.
Further, these Christians hold that if you don’t agree with them that this doctrine is unquestionable, undeniable, divinely revealed truth, you aren’t a real Christian, you’re a heretic and you’re going to hell when you die.
Not long ago, two Christian writers suggested that blood atonement theology should be re-examined and, quite possibly, rejected. I think they make some good arguments.
Sharon L. Baker, professor of theology at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, makes her case in her new book, Executing God: Rethinking Everything You’ve Been Taught about Salvation and the Cross. Roger Wolsey is a United Methodist minister who directs the Wesley Foundation at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and he makes his case in a blog he writes for the religion web site, www.patheos.com.
This is a complicated issue, but here are just three of their many reasons for rethinking the whole notion of blood atonement:
First, if God is all loving and all powerful, then surely God is capable of redeeming human kind through love and grace alone. Why, then, does God choose to redeem humankind through violence, as blood atonement theology insists? And if violence is redemptive for God why is it not so for us?
Jesus says that redemption comes not through violence but through love, especially sacrificial love. The God Jesus teaches us about and calls us to emulate is a “compassionate, peace-loving God who abhors violence and wants human beings to live peaceful, loving lives.”
Secondly, the parables make this clear. In the story of the prodigal, the father, who clearly represents God, forgives and accepts his son lovingly, unconditionally, and sacrificially. The sacrifice is made by the father, not the sons.
Thirdly, blood atonement theology places all of its emphasis on belief in this one doctrine. All that is required for salvation is that we give intellectual ascent to this one proposition – that Jesus’ death on the cross and subsequent physical resurrection, three days later, “paid the price for my sins.”
Do whatever mental, intellectual, philosophical and theological gymnastics you have to do to agree with that one sentence about Jesus’ death and resurrection and you are saved for all eternity. Conveniently forgotten are the lessons Jesus taught us, especially in the Sermon on the Mount. Completely dismissed is the example he gave us by his own life, how he related to others, how he loved, taught, healed, fed and forgave generously, lavishly, and even extravagantly.
There’s lots more, of course, but the point is made, I think. When we put believing ahead of loving we have missed the whole point of the Good News.
You can “believe all things,” Paul reminds us in I Corinthians 13, but if you don’t live by love, all the belief in the world, correct or incorrect, doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.
I am a 65 year old Methodist pastor, a Democrat, a liberal, a folk singer and a tree hugger. I voted for Bernie and Hillary and I’ve lived in Wilmington, Ohio for 16 years. It has been my home and I love it and the people who live here, and I strenuously object to the dismissive and condescending tone of this article. Even more disappointing are the cruel, heartless, and insulting comments of so many of my fellow liberals which follow it.
Yes, we have more than our share o...f shallow, narrow minded, conservatives. But many conservatives in this county are kind, gentle, generous souls who are my friends. We have a judge who has gone far beyond his duty to serve those who are in the throes of addiction. We have a vibrant, thriving arts community – actors, directors, authors, composers, musicians, artists, and sculptors. We have schools that produce National Merit Scholars and Rotary and Lions Clubs who support and encourage them.
We have Christian fundamentalist, evangelical, and mainline liberal clergy who brought together a group of citizens of different races with our chief of police and sheriff to address the issue of race and policing and we created a citizens advisory committee which meets quarterly with the police chief. And we did all of this while similar groups in the big cities were still wringing their hands. Fifteen years ago, those same Wilmington clergy brought their churches together in welcoming Spanish speaking immigrants to the community without regard to their immigration status, solving a problem that the federal government is still struggling to fix.
We have a college, a hospital, an award winning retirement community, a homeless shelter, a food pantry, a soup kitchen, and a Community Action Program that is celebrating its 40th year of service to the community. We created the first brick and mortar Benefit Bank in the state of Ohio for the unemployed and those who were in need of help after DHL pulled out and took more than 6,000 jobs with them.
What a pity that the writer of this piece couldn’t be bothered to go to more than two small groups and then spin a fantasy community of dullards and bumpkins from the few things he heard.
I WILL GO HOME
Cute, little, Junior High girl – maybe twelve or thirteen.
Dressed like every other cute, little, Junior High girl
in the mall.
She’s talking on a pay phone,
(I guess all kids don’t have cell phones.)
trying not to cry.
“…and they embarrassed me and they just left me…
I don’t know where they went… I don’t care…
Can’t I just come home?
…okay, I’ll be in the food court.”
A few minutes later, here he comes: big, overweight, and hairy.
Wearing sandals and socks, aloha shirt, and baggy short pants.
And upon seeing him, but before he sees her, something
washes over her face
No, it’s love.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
It had been agreed by the two governments of France and the United States that the French people would pay for building the statue that would become known as the Statue of Liberty and shipping her to the U.S. The Americans would raise the money to have her reassembled and erected, to create an appropriate location, and to build a pedestal for her to stand on.
But, in 1885, just a year before the work on the statue was to be completed, fundraising in the United States was going poorly. Publisher Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World started a drive for donations to complete America’s end of the project. It attracted more than 120,000 contributors, most of whom gave less than a dollar, but it was enough.
As part of that drive, poet Emma Lazarus penned the sonnet above. Once the money was raised, however, the poem was largely forgotten. Then, in 1902, the family of Lazarus, who had died in 1887, sought to memorialize her work and her dedication to the statue and all that it stood for. To that end, the last five lines of the poem were inscribed on a bronze plaque and placed inside the pedestal upon which the statue stands.
For over a hundred years the poem and the statue in which it now hangs has been a symbol of hope and possibility for the world, but now, sadly, the lamp beside the golden door has gone out. The door, itself, closed. The tired, the poor, the huddled masses, the wretched, human refuse, the homeless, the tempest tossed are being turned away.
Well, say those who have dimmed the glow of her torch, it’s only for a few months, and that was a fine sentiment back in 1886, but things have changed. Those people are potentially dangerous. There are people in the world, out there, who want to see the United States destroyed. So we have to shut the door to immigrants, to refugees, and especially, to Muslims.
One cannot help but wonder how Isaiah might have responded to their fear and cowardice.
You invoke the name of God when you pledge allegiance to your flag but you turn away the tired and the poor?
You pride yourselves in the religiosity of your people but you turn your back upon the huddled, fearful, mistreated masses who yearn to breathe free?
You claim to be the most generous nation on earth but you make people wait and jump through hoops for a long as three years before you let them wade ashore? And now you want to extend that another four months?
Dangerous? Of course it’s dangerous. What act of charity has ever been without risk? When has generosity ever been totally free from danger? Where has hospitality ever been safe or empathy ever secure?
Name one person of faith in the Scriptures who didn’t live dangerously, in a constant state of threat, and the possibility of imprisonment or death. Did Abraham take the safe route when he picked up his family to start walking until God told him to stop? Did Moses do the safe thing when he said to Pharaoh, “Let my people, go?” Was David safe when he stood before Goliath or when he challenged Saul? Did not Esther take her life into her hands and agree to go before the king saying “…and if I die, I die.” Did Daniel waver even when faced with a den of lions?
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said, “Our God can save us from your furnace of blazing fire, but even if he doesn’t, oh, Nebuchadnezzar, we will not bow down to your image.” Jesus new full well the dangers when he set his face toward Jerusalem. And Paul, well, I’ll let him speak for himself:
“Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant?
In Damascus, the governor under King Aretas set a guard on the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands.” (2 Corinthians 11: 24-31,33)
Being the People of God is, by definition, a dangerous business. Count, if you can, the number of Christians who have perished at the hands of nature or human persecutors, having committed no greater crime than sharing the good news off a loving God. Number, if you can, those who have been and are, even now, imprisoned for simply breathing Christ's name in places where it is forbidden. Yes, the work of the gospel is no less dangerous now than it was two thousand years ago, and it is to that very dangerous work that we are called. But we are not called to it alone. The promise of God is that an army of saints and martyrs will go with us. We will stand with the legions of righteousness and be named among the throngs of the faithful.
And God, the creator of the universe and master of all that is, will walk beside us and dry every tear from our eyes.
Dean Feldmeyer is the author of 5 novels, 4 non-fiction books, three plays, and over 100 essays, articles, poems, and short stories, some of which can be found on this web site.