Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The phrase “Christian White Supremacists” is an oxymoron of the highest order. In fact, let’s be abundantly clear that there is no room in the Christian vocabulary for any kind of “supremacists.” Jesus shows love for all people; Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles, Pharisees, Romans, outcasts, men, women, and children. Moreover, Jesus taught that all the greatest among us are the ones who serve, and he chastises his disciples when they start scheming about which of them might share power in the Kingdom of God.
The idea of one group’s racial or ethnic superiority to others is why people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the members of the Confessing Movement fought the Nazis during the Second World War. Bonhoeffer and others spoke up against Hitler and his thugs and it is their courage and eloquence that should be our beacons. Racism and bigoted hatred are abhorrent and no follower of Jesus should sit in silence when neo-Nazi, white supremacists spew their venom.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Mercy at The Roadside

This is the transcription of my sermon from 10 July, based on the parable of The Good Samaritan, and Jesus' answer to the question "Who is my neighbor?"

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.

This week has been filled with all kinds of trauma around this whole conversation about neighbors. It’s been a week filled with rage and bewilderment and helplessness. A week filled with complexity. A week filled with stories that are much longer and larger than any of the stories that have come into the news. Stories that are bigger and more complex. Stories that have more nuance, more history, more richness than any of the stories that we’ve been able to hear, especially in the sound bites that are the news. It’s been a week of long held biases and mis-characterizations. And it’s been a week in which we’ve come to see clearly the divisions among us and realize clearly people’s pain.

When we look at the story of the Good Samaritan we see it in the context of what we’ve watched in the news this week in Atlanta, in St. Paul, in Dallas, in Baton Rouge. We know that there have been all kinds of reminders that we are to listen and think about one another as neighbor. This lawyer who goes to test Jesus. He’s something else in mind. He wants to see if he can trip up Jesus. He wants to know who should be his neighbor. If he’s going to love his neighbor as himself, who should that be? And so he asks Jesus the question, hoping that he’ll get an answer he can work with. And maybe that he can give Jesus a hard time about.

So Jesus tells him this story. The story of this one who is beaten and left on the roadside. Beaten and left on the roadside, he is in fact the victim in this story. This person who was just going on his merry way, living his life, doing his thing, on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho, doing nothing to anyone. Literally minding his own business. And there he is set upon by robbers; jumped by people who beat him and take everything he has and leave him for dead. Oftentimes it feels to me like we jump past that place in the story. That we jump past realizing that this man has been victimized. That he has been taken down and beaten and left half dead for doing nothing. Nothing more than being on his way. So there he is, lying there and I think sometimes we’re so quick to want to get to the other pieces of the story, to get to talk about the Samaritan and who did stop and who didn’t stop that we don’t stop for a minute and think about this man who has been victimized. We don’t know anything about him. We don’t know what ethnicity he was, we don’t know how old, how big, how small. We don’t know any of those things. We just know that he has been victimized for simply being at the wrong place at the wrong time. And these thieves beat him.

And I wonder how often we find ourselves in that place in the story. This man is left almost for dead, and if it weren’t for the kindness of a stranger perhaps he would have died. There he is at the roadside. Now these two men come along, the priest and the Levite, and they see him there and he is frightening.
If you’ve ever seen someone who has been  beaten up, they don’t look good. They don’t look attractive, they don’t look exciting. It’s not a scene that makes a lot of people want to move toward it, right?

Now the Levite and the priest have kind of ceremonial, social, religious reasons for staying on the other side of the road. And so they can ignore him. He is frightening to them.

And out of fear, they leave him alone.

Out of fear, out of being afraid to risk what might happen if they engaged him.

Now they both could say that they could become ritualistically unclean and there is that and that’s a real thing for them. But they also have the ability to become cleansed once again. They can’t hang their hat on that forever.
But there’s so much risk involved. There’s so much fear. What if those robbers are still around? What if they are just waiting for someone to come and try to help this guy? What if they’re waiting until everyone runs away from the place of violence and then there’s more violence? And so there’s fear. Fear grips them and so, even though they are proper people, upright citizen, they go on their way without engaging him. Their fear was strong enough that they could not even cross the street to lend a helping hand. They couldn’t even go that far. They were paralyzed by their fear.

This past week we’ve had a lot of reasons to be afraid. We’ve seen a lot of victims. Victims who have been lying on roadsides, lying in streets, lying dead. We’ve seen ones who’ve come to their aid and we’ve seen ones who’ve been repulsed by them.
As the Samaritan comes upon this man, he is moved with pity and compassion to make a difference in this one’s life. Now he faces all the same risks that the first two did, right? But he moves beyond the risk and takes a chance with this injured man. He is a Samaritan, so if you assume that the person who has been victimized is Jewish, on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho, then this Samaritan knows that there is some risk involved in even taking him on, because he could be accused of being the one who did the beating. Especially if things don’t go well, what if this guy dies in his care? And then they say, well you’re a Samaritan, you were the last one with him when he died, you must have had something to do with this. Wouldn’t that worry him?
And as a Samaritan, he was 3 times more likely to be pulled over by the police. And maybe, just maybe that worried him. And yet he risks going to help that victim. There are lots of reasons that he might not have, but he does. He goes and he helps and he brings him to the inn, and you know the rest of the story.

He overcomes the risk to help. Jesus asks the lawyer, "so which person proved neighbor to this man?" And you see that is the crux of the whole story, is the question of neighborliness.

Now this lawyer, who is Jewish, he’s so irritated that the Samaritan gets to be the hero in the story, that he can’t even name him. He can’t even get the word ‘Samaritan” out. Jesus asks, who proved neighbor to the man and he says “the S…”, “the S..”, “the one who showed him mercy”. He can’t even say the word ‘Samaritan’ because that would mean that the one who shouldn’t be the hero of the story gets to be the hero. Who is the neighbor?

This week we can name some new neighbors in our lives. Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarippa, Michael Krol, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Smith: the officers in Dallas who were killed.

Philando Castile, Alton Sterling: the men whose death sparked all the violence. These men are our neighbors.

And now Montrell Jackson, Matthew Gerald and Brad Garafola, the officers killed in Baton Rouge.  They are our neighbors.

And even more, Micah Xavier Johnson and Geronimo Janaz: these men are our neighbors.

See, when we talk about neighbors, it’s not just an abstraction. And it’s not just that we get to name the neighbors that we really like, the guy across the back fence who looks like me and sounds like me and acts like me and does the things I want the neighbor to do. When we consider how Jesus speaks about who is our neighbor, we have to name some folks who perhaps make us uncomfortable. All of these people whose actions and whose deaths are on our minds, these people are our neighbors. Our neighbors.

Now it’s easy for us to be afraid. It’s easy for us to be afraid to say something or to get involved or to do something in any way. Let’s face it, there are reasons for fear. Sometimes our reasons for fear are pretty petty. We’re worried about what somebody else might say if they don’t happen to agree with us. How could you name all of those people, Pastor? How can you say they’re all our neighbors? Well, I think that’s what Jesus would have said, so that’s what I’m going to say.

Sometimes our reasons for fear can be a little larger, can be genuine and can be legitimate. But I think often times our fear is simply based in ignorance. That’s not a terrible thing it’s just a truth for us. When we don’t know something often times we tend to be afraid of it, right? When we don’t know what’s there, we’re afraid.

Most of us grew up being afraid of the dark. When we couldn’t see, when we didn’t know, when we couldn’t define what was there it was a place to be afraid. And that fear stays with us, doesn’t it, as we get older? If we don’t know something, or we don’t know someone or we don’t someone’s history or someone’s people, then we make up our own narrative. We make up a story, we have to have a story, right? So we make one up. And we usually make up a story that supports whatever framing we already have for the world.
If we see the world from a certain viewpoint then we make up a story that fits the viewpoint that makes us the most comfortable. Isn’t that true? So when we grew up, most of us, in a very white middle class world, we make up stories that fit that narrative. We might take a piece of truth from here and a piece of someone else’s story from there and we form ours. And so we define who our neighbors are by that narrative. But if we are going to learn to live without fear, if we’re going to learn to live in a way that’s different then the way the world lives, If we’re going to learn to live in the way that Samaritan was able to live, as he crossed the road to deal with a person that he didn’t know might be upset with him might try to hurt him, or might die in his care. If we’re going to live like that, then we have to reframe. We can’t keep the same viewpoint we’ve always had. We have to look at things in a new way. And oh my goodness is that hard!

Everyone one of us approaches the stories of the past week with our own frame work and our own presuppositions. And some of us instantly find ourselves in a certain place in the stories. That’s inevitable. That will happen. That’s how human beings act.  We automatically say ok, I see myself there in that story. It’s not wrong, it’s not bad it’s not a horrible thing. It’s just not complete. And it gives us then that framework that doesn’t help us see from someone else’s perspective.

If we’re going to learn to live without fear, it means we’re going to have to learn, in order to live. We have to learn to live. If we’re going to learn to live without fear. To understand someone else’s context to begin to understand someone else’s experiences and to acknowledge that that experience is not my experience. I don’t know what it’s like to be afraid if I’m pulled over by a police officer. I don’t know what that looks like. I’ve certainly been pulled over by police officers. But I don’t know what it’s like to be afraid of that.

I’ve spent a number of years as a police chaplain, riding along with officers and being out in the middle of the night with them. When I was in ND, it was kind of unofficial thing, I rode with the county deputy guys just because I knew them and they were good guys and we were all about the same age, and we were all young men trying to be on the right side of things. I understand what goes through their minds and I relate to that. And so that frames how I see situations.

But part of what I don’t know is what it’s like to be in that car and be 3 times more likely to be pulled over because of the color of my skin. I don’t know what that’s like. The first place we go if we’re going to learn to live with each other, is to at least say I don’t know what that’s like and maybe I need to find out. To reframe how it is that we approach our world. That doesn’t mean we give up our values or we throw everything out or we take something that sounds just crazy wrong to us and say that must be right. I’m not suggesting that. That might happen, but that’s not where we start. We start by simply being able to say I don’t get it. I don’t understand what that person is going through. And in order to live my life in a different way, I need to understand a little more. I need to read, I need to listen, and I need to have a conversation with someone who sees the world differently than I do. I need to learn, to learn in order to live. It feels to me like that’s a place our nation needs to go.

I’m convinced when we zoom out a little farther, there’s only one way that we really approach one another with that mindset of learning. And that is when we approach one another with an understanding of love. When we live by loving one another, then we can want to learn from them. When we live assuming that that person is our enemy it becomes really tough to reframe. And again I not trying to say that the world isn’t filled with evil and frightening things. I’m not saying that. But I think you know what I am saying. It’s that in the context of how we live our lives, when we approach one another with love, our whole countenance changes, our whole approach changes, and our whole way of being changes. And when we approach that one who is different with love, we open up a possibility that life can be very different for both of us. How do you become a neighbor? By showing mercy. Who is your neighbor? The one at the side of the road.

Now I suppose there’s another question in this whole story. Is Jesus telling this story simply so that we have an example of how to live? Is that what he’s talking about? Just live this way, just do this and you’ll be fine. I think he is doing that, but is that all? I think there’s more to it.
The next question for me is to ask, where is Jesus in this story? I think we find him in two places. I think we find Jesus in the person of the Samaritan. The one who has compassion for those who are hurting. The one who brings healing to us, to any of us in our lives when we are in need of that word of grace and healing and extravagance. The Samaritan says "Just take care of him and do whatever he needs, I’ll give you everything you need when I get back. Just take care of him. Give him everything he needs and when I return I’ll repay you whatever more you’ve spent."  Does that sound like Jesus? I think it does. 
Jesus who gives and gives and gives that we might be healed and that our lives might be full. I think we have to see Jesus there.

But there is one more place, I think we also see Jesus in the one who lies along the side of the road. The one who has been made victim. The one who suffers. The one who is on the margin, on the roadside. And when you and I live out that example, where we talked about to begin with. If we live this way we’ll do well. Realize that Jesus says to us in Matthew, 25th chapter, “As you have done this to the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you have done so to me.

Jesus is the one who lies at the side of the road.  Jesus is the one who suffers for our sake. We find him in the suffering people of our world. But we also find him in the one who is filled with love and mercy and compassion. Who brings healing and hope into a situation that feels as hopeless as some of us have felt this week.

Jesus is the one who pours out extravagance on us and then sets us on our own journey along the road. That we would bring his love and his mercy to the roadside.

Monday, February 8, 2016

LIfe With Benefits

Our Sunday morning adult class had an interesting discussion on February 7, and I'd like to thank Dan Wendland for sharing a bit of it with me.
They discussed the "benefits" of the Christian life, and although they acknowledged that we don't follow Jesus simply to receive benefits, there are nevertheless good things that come from being his disciple.

It seems to me that this is true on a couple of different levels.  I think it's true good things come from living as God's child. I also think that while we don't love God simply to "get the goods," it would be very difficult to share Good News with people if we believed that God brought drudgery or boredom into our lives, or that our lives became worse because we confess to being followers of Jesus.  The truth is that God wants us to know and share the benefits of a relationship with Jesus in order that others too might see and feel the love of God.  In fact, I think one of the most debilitating myths about the Christian faith is that many non-believers imagine it to be dull and uninteresting, like tepid tea and stale bread.

Here are three of benefits of the Christian life, in the opinions of one group of Jesus-followers.

3.  Living a Christian life helps to provide an organizational framework for all of life (I might call this a world-view): it gives motivation for acts of charity, helps one focus on the "other," not on one's self, provides resolve in trying times, and allows for endless gratitude.

The key to this world-view is the focus away from one's self and toward the neighbor.  Jesus and Martin Luther both used the word neighbor to describe the object of one's love and efforts.  The neighbor-focus means that we do not live life as self-absorbed navel-gazers, but as loving disciples, reaching out to neighbors near and far with acts of kindness and mercy.  Imagine if everyone you know, including yourself, could do just one more act of service to one's neighbor every day.  What a loving place this world could become!

2. Knowing that what comes after death is so much more exciting than this present experience.

The promise of eternal life brings incredible comfort to many followers of Jesus, and the hope of one day being directly in the presence of God makes facing the finality of life on earth less frightening and even less mysterious.  We look forward to an end to human suffering of all kinds, that of nations and of individuals, and we dream of the day when all human sorrow will be no more.  While no one has yet reported back from heaven, we know from the promise of Scripture than God's plan for our eternal future is filled with wonderful, unimaginable joy.  We look ahead with the holy and certain hope of Christ's resurrection, that we too will take our place in God's kingdom. 
and #1 on their list...

1. Knowing for certain that we are deeply loved and cared for by God

I cannot imagine a more important "benefit" for living in this world!  We live in a time and place where we are saturated with messages about how unimportant and unimpressive we are, and that the only hope we have is to buy Product X and hope the extra-strength version is powerful enough to rescues us from our own insignificance.  We know that none of us are immune from relational disintegration, from career implosion or health crisis.  For me, to face the challenges of this world with nothing more than my own meager bootstraps seems like sheer madness and sure failure.  If the world would call me weak for such a confession, so be it, for my own strength is nothing more than a canoe in the ocean.  But knowing that I am loved by God changes everything!  When I know that I will not be abandoned, not set adrift on some stormy sea, but can trust in the love of God in my life, then I can say with the Apostle Paul, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philip. 4.13).

You might have your own "top benefits" you'd like to add to this list.  Please comment below!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Old Song, New Verse: The Sound of Xenophobia

People who know me well know that I firmly in the middle of the road when it comes to American politics.  I cannot be defined by any single issue, don't vote a party line, and can most often see the other side of an argument, even if I'm pretty convinced of my opinion.

Sometimes, however, things happen in our country that cannot go unchallenged, and for me, celebrity candidate Trump's xenophobic comments about barring all Muslims from entering the US makes me wonder if he will soon appear the flag of the Third Reich as a campaign backdrop.  His words ring hollow against those of the First Amendment, which protects all of us from religious tyranny, not only those who think like "us."  This prohibition on religious profiling protects every American from the censorship of our faith by the government, and though some will argue that we Christians have seen our freedoms diminish in recent years, that only proves the point that this freedom belongs to all of us, and, as such, must be protected.

Trump sounds far too much like Hitler to see his fear-mongering as simply political stagecraft. He wants us to be scared; so scared that we build a wall from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean, so scared that we would abandon the principles of our constitution, so scared that we would restrict the movements of an entire group of Americans, or hold them captive against their will.  American citizens! He wants us to be afraid of Americans.  This appeal to fear calls us to abandon intelligent problem-solving and react like cornered animals, lashing out at whatever is closest, regardless of where the actual danger might be.  He wants us to be afraid, because he believes that if we are afraid, it will bring him more power.  So, he reframes our concern about radical, extremist zealots into irrational fear of all Muslims.

He plans to do these things because he believes their religion makes them dangerous.  And, he believes that our law enforcement, intelligence, diplomatic, and military communities are incapable of doing their jobs in the fight against terrorism.

There are surely people in this world who wish to do us harm, even to destroy us, because we are Americans.   We need strong military and intelligence against ISIS, here and abroad, and those who would bring evil against us must expect dire consequences.  We cannot be a paper tiger; our teeth must be quick and sharp.  We must protect the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all Americans.

People of all political stripes, religions, and races must call this what it is; xenophobic, racist hate speech that undermines key American values, feeds fear, and will do nothing to reduce the threat of terrorism in our country.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Well Said, Gov. Jindal!

Stephen Colbert and Pope Francis

More from my favorite Catholic theologian :

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Museum Staff?

"The future is our native time zone. Granted, humans are the only species that thinks about the future. It's the time zone that, when we occupy it, we are being most human. But we are being most Christian as well. Jesus comes to us from beyond and pulls us from the future more than pushes us from the past. The Holy Spirit encourages time travel, most often to the future. Close your eyes and travel in time: where do you go? The default timezone of the Christian is what is ahead, not what is behind." Len Sweet, So Beautiful, p. 48.
I don't think most Christians actually think this way. I think we are usually looking backward--more like volunteers at the historical center than lookouts in a ship's crow's nest.

In Dufftown, the lovely town in Scotland where we spent five days, there is a small museum, right across from the clock tower in the middle of the village. on the day we visited the museum, it was staffed by a sweet "older" lady who didn't seem to know much history of the town.  As we looked at the displays and the photos on the walls, she seemed as inquisitive as we were, but no more knowledgeable.  While she welcomed us warmly, she really couldn't tell us much about anything in the town.

Are church folk like that? Volunteers in a museum they don't know much about?

Sweet points out that it is uniquely human to consider the future, and that when we are oriented to the future we are most oriented toward Christ.  What if Christians behaved the way Sweet describes us?  What would the Church look like if Jesus followers were really focused on God's future more than its own past?  Or if we used our understanding of the past to help us look forward with hope and passion?