Thursday, March 24, 2016

And They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love?

What follows is inspired by my sermon for the people of Word of Hope on Maundy Thursday 2016.  The inspiration for this comes from John 13:35.

"By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

In my sermon tonight, I posed the people listening to ask themselves a question as they move throughout Good Friday tomorrow.

"If someone who didn't know God saw you, would they know that you were a disciple of Christ?"

And this, of course, got me thinking.

Would anyone who saw someone who professes to be a Christian, know through them the same radical and crazy love of a God who becomes flesh and blood and washes feet and dies?

 And the answer, quite frankly, is probably not.

And I can already hear your righteous indignation.  So I'm going to ask you to put that aside for just a minute and truly think about this.

Would anyone who didn't know God, look at your life and experience through you, the radical love of God?


I can say that most people who look at me probably wouldn't.

And it's not because I have tattoos.  Or because I swear.  Or because I've known to have a beer or two.  Or because I'm gay.

But it's cause I'm materialist.  I'm selfish.  I'm often scared.  I, too often, put people in categories of "us vs. them."

I'm white.  I'm male.  I'm cisgendered.  I'm abled.  I'm in that sweet spot of being neither too old nor too young.

And while all of those things do a good job of getting me ahead in the fallen world, they don't really help people experience the God of the oppressed through me.

And how many Christians do you know that fit into similar categories?  And in their lives, do you see God's presence?

(Tangent - this is why a white Jesus isn't saving anyone.  That's a post for another day though.  Or just read James Cone, he says it better.)

And not just in our bodies, but also in how we act.

Do we talk to people who are homeless when we see them?  Do we go out and feed the hungry?  Do we work to support justice for all people?  Do we give more than we spend?

Do we love others in a "let me wash your feet" kind of way?

Do we love others enough that we would, without using violence, be willing to die for them?

Do we love others enough to let go of the power we as the majority have held for two hundred years so that others can have a seat at the table?

Do we live in a way that says "I love you the way that Christ loves you.  And I do this because I know Christ loves me like that too,"?

My gut.  No.

Some might.  But Christians as a whole?  Not a chance.

So let's stop kidding ourselves.  Let's stop calling ourselves Christians.  Or Jesus freaks.  Or followers of Christ.  Or disciples.

Cause we're not.

I'm not say we can't be. But we aren't right now.

So let's confess our sin in the presence of God and of one another.  Then let's humble ourselves enough to let Christ wash our feet.  And then humble ourselves even more to start washing the feet of others.


Monday, March 21, 2016

What does our Savior Look Like?

Yesterday was Palm Sunday in the Western church.

And what do we do for Palm Sunday?  We read the story of Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem on a colt (or donkey, depending on the year) and follow that up with a one-two punch of the passion story.

Jesus is welcomed as the Messiah by the mob.  And then less than a week later that mob is turning on him shouting for him to be crucified.

It's emotional whiplash, to say the least.

But, is it really surprisingly, given what we know about humanity?

The mob expects Jesus to be the Messiah - to be the military leader and conquerer who will teach them to violently overthrow the Romans.  They probably expected him to come riding in on a mighty stallion.

So what does Jesus do?  He rides on a colt (or donkey, or both) and completely messes with their head.

They roll out the red carpet for him.  They praise him the way they would a returning conquerer.

And what does Jesus do?

He goes to the temple and teaches about justice.  And God's kingdom.  And the different ways that God wants all people to be in right relationships with one another and God.  And most of all - to quote Bob Dylan - that "the times, they are a-changing."

And Jesus' message strikes fear in the hearts of those in power.  Who then, in turn, incite fear into the mob - the very mob who just days earlier was shouting for joy and praising Jesus.

What's the consequence of irrational fear?


Those in power and the mob now shout crucify.  Kill the one who wants to bring justice and change to the world.

Kill Jesus.  Kill our Messiah - the one who let us down and failed us.

Lynch him. it legally.

Let's set him up.

Let's bust him for false drug charges.

Let's beat him up in prison.  Let's call him names.  Let's degrade him and try to take away his humanity.

Let's whip up the jury into a frenzy during his trial.

Let's pressure the judge into giving him the worst possible sentence.

The let's hang Jesus up.

And watch the Messiah die.
Let's watch the Son of God die.

All because the message of salvation that Jesus brings us isn't one of violence.  It's one of peace.  It's not a message of war, but one of a day without death.

All because Jesus isn't about building walls and keeping people out, but building longer tables and letting people in.

And all of this got to me yesterday.

This message.  This story.  And our world.

I thought about how America is going crazy.  How hundreds of thousands of people are pushing for more violence.  For more war.  For more fear.  For bigger walls (quite literally).

And I thought about what the Messiah actually looks like.

She will be the one who simply refuses to get up out of her seat.  The one who climbs the flagpole and removes a symbol of oppression.

She will be the one advocating for longer tables.

She will be the one offering a day of no more death.  No more war.  Justice for all people.

She will be the one who gets beat up.  She will be the one who gets strung up.  She will be the one who gets shot.

And how many of us will miss her?

How many of us will be so afraid that we follow the false Messiah?

How many of us will be open our eyes and look to places where God shows up time after time - the oppressed, the poor, those who are beaten down and enslaved by the system - and look for our Messiah there?

My hope is that we will find her.  And that we will pay attention to her.

And that she will change our lives the same way the empty tomb changed everything.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Baseball and Social Justice

I was having a conversation with a dear friend this morning about baseball.

And I was trying to share with her my love for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  And she was like, "they are so bad, why would I ever want to root for them?"

And my response?  "I love them, precisely because they are so bad.  And because they get no love from anywhere but Pittsburgh folks anywhere else in the country."

(Note: This is a story that is loosely based on one line of a text message, many of the details have been changed to preserve my integrity and to prove my point)

And I started to think about how I was perhaps primed from a young age to be on board with social justice issues.

Growing up, my dad was a big fan of the Minnesota Twins, who are the running joke as being one of the worst teams in MLB.  And then we moved to West Virginia and I myself became a Pittsburgh Pirates fan.  The team, who also has become a running joke among baseball fans.

Neither of these teams has had much luck over the past...oh 20 years or so.  They've had some good runs, but what happens - especially with the Pirates is that their star players get traded off by mid-season, and then things fall apart after the All-Star game.

In all this, though, my love for the Pirates has not changed.  In fact, I think I love them even more because they are consistently the MLB underdog.  They will never be as successful or as popular as the Yankees or the Red Sox (or the White Sox).  It's just not going to happen.

But I love them.  And I want them to do well and to succeed.  And to not be mined out for their best players in such a way that keeps them at the bottom of MLB.

I want them to get respect.

Which is really, what social justice is, at it's heart.  It is loving the groups in our society, not because of what they've accomplished - but because they deserve respect and an actual chance to do well and succeed.

Social justice isn't about bringing the top down to the bottom.

It's about bringing the bottom to the top.

It's about giving everyone a chance to play 9 innings, with their best players.

It's about playing by rules that benefit both teams.

Sadly, we live in a world where the rules benefit only one team.

So let's change the rules.  Let's make the game actually fair.  Let's start treating the other team with dignity and respect.

I mean that's what sportsmanship is all about, isn't it?   Being a good sport means crying out that the rules or calls are hurting the other team.

Same with social justice.  Being an agent of social justice is, at it's heart, means crying out that the rules are hurting the other team.

Of course, in all this, I am also reminded that God's kingdom isn't necessarily like major league baseball.  It's better than that.

It's more like how the kids in The Sandlot play ball.  Especially when they're by themselves.  There isn't a winner, there isn't a loser.

It's just about playing the game.

God tells us to be childlike, because children - before adults get in the way - don't care about winning and losing.  They just want to play the game and have fun.

Let's learn to play together.  Let's learn to let go of needing to win - especially us white men - and let's learn to treat all of the other players on the field with the same dignity and respect we (again, as white men) have gotten for our lives.