Saturday, September 24, 2016

Creating The Other And A Call To Repentence

In the past week I have actively engaged in a number of discussions, both in person and online, about the killing of unarmed black men in America.  I am deeply concerned about this issue.  I have spoken a little less, but continue to be concerned, about the situation at Standing Rock and the ongoing issue of water there and in Flint and Washington D.C.  Our nation's attitude toward refugees and recent immigrants (Muslims, Hispanics, other people of color) makes up the third side of my personal "Triad of Concern."  They may not seem connected to some, but I think that if we step back a bit, we can see both a connection and the challenge it presents to our Christian faith.  So below, I'm going to attempt to offer a reflection on what I is, at least part, of the problem.  I will post it here and on Facebook with an invitation for people who wish to to continue to engage with me at a deeper level.

I want to begin with three Biblical texts.  The first is in Deuteronomy 24 and is a series of instructions about how to treat the "widow, the orphan, and the stranger in your midst" in regard to food and debt.  The second is form Luke 13 when folks came to Jesus to ask His response to Pilate having murdered a group of Galileeans in the Temple, "mixing their blood with their offering."  The third is the "Parable of the Rich Fool" found in Luke 12:13-21.

You may ask how these three passages could possibly link together.  Let me try to weave them together in a way that is not just "proof texting" but is following the themes of God's call to God's people through the scriptures.

One of the primary marks of God's people beginning with Torah at Sinai was their treatment of the "widow, the orphan, and the stranger among you."  God called, and continues to call, God's people to drawing a circle around these who are clearly definable as "other"...a circle that drew them in as part of the community.  A part of the community in need of assistance, yes; but a part of the community, a part of the family none the less.  In God's Kingdom, God's Economy, the Other is included, their concerns addressed, and our response to them (in both the OT and NT) is seen as our response to God, as our response to Jesus the Christ.  In these commandments, both old and new, we see that the vilifying and demonizing of the Other is a sin, a rejection of what and who we are called to be.

Unfortunately, our nation has not learned this lesson well.  In our fear, over the life of our nation, we have created the Other in demonized form.  The Irish, the Italians, the Native Americans, Blacks, Hispanics, Japanese.....all of these have been "Other-ized".....defined as subhuman in a way that allowed their mistreatment.  In doing so, we have wounded our own national soul almost to the point of terminal woundedness.

In addition to Other-izing we have militarized.  In the passage from Luke 13, Jesus is asked about an incident of terror that occurred in the Temple.  Galileeans were notoriously opposed to Roman rule.  They were often part of the groups known as Zealots and Sicarii ("dagger-men") who favored the violent overthrow of Rome.  When asked what He thought of this incident, Jesus said, "do you think their sin was any greater than others?  If you do not repent, you shall all likewise perish."  He was talking about the coming destruction of Jerusalem if everyone continued to rely on a militarized solutions.  Their version of miltarization was not as extreme as ours...they had no nukes, no armoured vehicles....but the mindset was the same.  And we have bought it to it as well.  Do we think that we will escape the results of this approach?

One of the results of this is the militarization of our police.  We have trained a generation of police officers-good people for the most part, of all races and sexes, who want to do good-to see their job as being at war rather than the policing of community.  Their is a major difference in mindset in those communities that take these two different approaches and we have seen it acted out in the various approaches of different communities in recent months.

Can you see how Other-ization begins to creep in and occur.  How acts of terror can become instances of ratcheting up hatred and consequent calls for violent response on all sides?

In Luke 12 the Rich Fool looked at his wealth and talked to himself about what to do with it.  To Jesus' listeners this man was both a sad, isolated individual, and....clearly, a fool.  In Jesus' culture, no one made decisions like this alone, but with family and community.  And they remembered their responsibility to the rest of the community.  They remembered their responsibility to extended family in need, to the widow, to the orphan, to the stranger among them.  They remembered Torah.  This man did none of these.  His discussion with himself sounded like the seagulls in "Finding Nemo" screaming, "mine! mine! mine!"

I say in sadness that we continue to commit all of these sins.  We have forgotten who we are.  And, like Simba in "The Lion King" heard from his father, "when you forget who you are, you forget me."  In forgetting who we are, we have forgotten the God who called us to be different.  We have, in our fear, created Others that we can hate.  We have trusted in violence and weapons.  We have hugged our wealth closely to us.  If we are not careful, we will hear God say to us as a nation: "You fools! Tonight your soul is required of you.  And who, after you have drowned in your own fear and hatred, after you have torn yourself apart with attack dogs and riot gear, after you have self destructed......who will divide your wealth then?"

We have an opportunity to not go down this road.  It is to repent...to turn.  To engage in conversation about these issues.  To turn and be who God intends us to be.....In Christ's name, and for His sake, let us turn and follow the Christ who loves us all and to whom NONE OF US is Other.  AMEN

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Praying In The Plural

"Our"
You had to go and start
Your prayer like this.
It's like being twins
and it's always "our birthday."
Doesn't matter
whether I like my twin that day
or they like me;
we're joined
by something neither can control.
"Father,"
"Our...Father"
least You could've done
was attach
some requirements
to that.

Make those "others" earn their "our"-ness
preferably by being like me.
But no....
It just hangs out there
til we realize
that the requirement is:
The is no intimate relationship,
there is no asking for daily bread,
no protection from temptation,
no forgiveness of sins,
til we can speak in the plural.
Til we can acknowledge that the only One
who can live singly
is You
and Your Kingdom was never meant to be,
will never come,
for just me.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Destracted Driving

I want to follow Jesus
If I can fit it in between
the kid's soccer practice and
my Friday dinner plans.
His plan to reconcile the world to Himself; feeding the hungry, clothing the naked
Moved me so much that I wrote a check,
I need to mail it one day soon.
I have put my hand to the plow
But I keep looking down at my smart phone
and running off the road.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Jairus On His Daughter's Illness

her mother says I spoil her
but she's the apple of my eye.
There's my son, of course
he'll carry on the family name,
but he's gone now
a wife and little one on the way.
We lost three between
one in childbirth
one in the cradle
and the third to some nasty
coughing illness.
All girls.
This one survived.
sparkling, lively.  Questions?
O the questions.
You'd think she was a Rabbi.
Then
the fever came.
Of course I went to Jesus
threw myself at his feet
there is no such thing as dignity
when your child is dying
Look at her
the spitting image of her mother
she got my mind, I think
o the questions
you'd think she was a Rabbi

Saturday, September 3, 2016

This Jesus-He'll Go ANYWHERE

I have always loved the story of the Gerasene Demoniac.  I'm particularly fond of the version of this story found in Mark 5:1-20.  In it, Jesus has just crossed the lake, calming a violent storm in the process and astounding the disciples in the process.  Immediately as He gets out of the boat he is met by this man who has been living among the tombs cutting himself and screaming in the night.  Jesus heals him by sending the demons that torment him into a heard of pigs that then rushes off a cliff into the water and drowns.  A crowd gathers to find the man, clothed and in his right mind, sitting at Jesus' feet.  The crowd asks Jesus to leave.  Jesus goes, but sends the former demoniac out to tell everyone about God's mercy to him.   That's the short version.

This story, to me, runs just behind the parable of the Prodigal Sons in expressing the nature of the Gospel.  In fact, one could say that this story is the story of what happens when the Father of the story journeys to the far country, strides into the pig sty where his son is feeding the swine, and brings him home.

First of all, Jesus deals with the specific pain and horror of this particular man.  This very real event reminds us that God in Christ cares for each of us in our particularity.

Next, this story tells us that God in Christ reaches into my own darkness, my own graveyard, my own "possession" to heal and restore me.  And it tells us that God will take the initiative with all of humanity...in both the individual particularity and the whole of humanity....to heal and restore God's beloved creation.

Third, this incident gives us a snapshot of God's redemptive work in Jesus.  Including the fact that there are those who, out of fear and a desire to protect their own power and economic position, will reject what Jesus offers.  They are like the old prodigal brother; refusing to come into the party.

Finally, I would offer that this story, without denying any of the above (in fact claiming them as a foundation), can be viewed as a metaphor for the life and work of Jesus the Messiah.  Let me play with that for you a bit:

Jesus gets in the boat with His disciples and says, "let's go to the other side."  The other side is clearly Gentile territory.  It is considered "unclean" from the start of this story.  The Chaos, the Darkness, the Demonic rises up in a powerful storm to try to stop Jesus from crossing into territory that they think belongs to them.  It doesn't work.  With a few words, Jesus ends this attempt to interfere with His crossing.

When Jesus lands, He lands in a place that is totally "unclean."  It is Gentile territory.  It's in a graveyard, or very close to it.  There are pigs grazing close by.  And He's met by a crazy man possessed by demons.  You don't get much more unclean than that.  A parallel might be getting out of a cab in the middle of a crack house neighborhood and walking into a drug den known to be frequented by folks recently released from the prison for the criminally insane due to financial cutbacks.  My point is that Jesus will go anywhere.  He doesn't swagger in.  He doesn't imitate the cowboy pushing his way into the bar for a gunfight.  This is His world.  He has laid claim to it.  He walks in with confidence, and in control.

When Jesus lands, He's met by the demoniac.  Did this man approach because a part of him desired healing, despite the screams of the demons?  You can make a case that the Image of God in this man was reaching out to the One who was that Image incarnate.  Or, did the demons think to scare away this intruder by sending this man, who must have looked like something out of Night Of The Living Dead, screaming down on Him?  In either case (or perhaps it was a combination of both) it didn't work.  Jesus casts out the demons and restores the man to his right mind.

One of the great failures of the Church has been the thought that it has to "protect Jesus" somehow.  Another is that going to the "wrong" places with "ruin our witness" (this was a warning I heard a lot in my high school and college days).  Our witness was, apparently, to be limited to those places where good people suffered from mild problems....or, were halfway to conversion already and just needed a little nudge to help them over the line.

Jesus doesn't work that way.  Jesus will go anywhere.  On His on initiative, on His own hook.  Jesus isn't afraid of any place, any situation, where people suffer. And here's the catch....Jesus calls us to follow Him there. 

I have to take a deep breath here.  Because this is scary stuff.  That Jesus calls us out from behind the safety of protected "clean" places to trust Him and enter the "unclean" places of our world is terrifying.

This is where I'll leave it today.  There is enough for us (and I count myself here) to chew on in this story for a very long time.  And the attempt to follow what it teaches us will change us forever.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Demoniacs Anonymous

I have spent
long nights
Howling
Thinking I was partying
and howling at the moon.
And woken
in the cold of 4 a.m. shivering
alone among the tombs.
Naked
except for bits of chain and shackles
I once had thought were
party clothes
And howled again
at cuts and bruises that at least
drew my attention
away from my
Loneliness.
I have gnawed the bones
of other
lonely howling naked ones
whose teeth mark scares I still carry.
Now
when I wake
at 4 a.m. it sometimes takes a minute
to feel bed beneath
blankets round
woman beside me
and dog curled at my feet.
And in the non-howling dark
warm and in my right mind
I whisper Thank You
to the One
who cured me clothed me
and sent me home.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Link To Kudzu Sermon

I'm grateful that a couple of folks have been interested in the sermon that came out of my last two blog posts.  While we're working on our website (it's summer, what can I say) links to sermons are often posted on the Facebook page for First Baptist Hyattsville.

In any case, here is a link to last Sunday's sermon on A Kingdom Like Kudzu:

https://soundcloud.com/fbc-hyattsville/a-kingdom-like-kudzu

Hope you enjoy it and that it speaks to you of hope in the middle of all the chaos of our world.