It’s Not Complicated: Don’t Be Terrible

love it or leave it

People asked the prophet, “What is the one thing the Lord requires?” He responded: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Is that all? Really?

People asked Jesus, “What is the one thing, the one commandment that is above all other commandments?” He responded: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).

Seriously? That’s it?

Micah and Jesus say: “Yes!”

Could it be that they understood when we make life more complicated than justice, kindness, humility and love, then terrible things tend happen?

When we make it more complicated than kindness, then we might excuse racist chants of “send her back.”

When we make it more complicated than justice, then we may ignore the harm done to the brown children of asylum-seekers who have been separated from their parents.

When we make it more complicated than humility, then we could overlook and perpetuate racial privilege.

When we make it more complicated than love, then we might defend hate, bigotry and discrimination.

When we make it more complicated that the main things that the prophet and Jesus said that it was all about, then we may be apathetic and silent when the President imitates the Ku Klux Klan by saying: “Love it or leave it.”

So, let’s stop making it so complicated.

Let’s be just. Let’s be kind. Let’s be humble. And let’s love all our neighbors.

And then, maybe, we will stop being so terrible.

Time to Get the Hell Out

 

get the hell outIt is time to get going. It is time to move. We need to get the hell out of this country now.

It is difficult to leave behind what we have always known, but we need to do it, and we need to do it now. It is time to go. It is time to get the hell out of here.

We need to get the hell that is racism out of this country now.

We need to get the hell that is sexism out of this country now.

We need to get the hell that is selfishness and greed out of this country now.

We need to get the hell that is xenophobia, Islamophobia, and homophobia out of this country now.

We need to get the hell that is hate out of this country now.

We need to get the hell that is demagoguery out of this country now.

We need to get the hell that is White Christian Nationalism out of this country now.

We need to get the hell that is denial, silence and apathy out of this country now.

We need to protest it out, pray it out, preach it out, run it out, vote it out, or impeach it out. We need to love the hell out of this country. We need to love every anti-Christ part of it out. Now is the time for good people to get going, to start moving, to work together, to get the hell out of this country now.

Go Back to Where You Came From

go back to where you came from

Go back to where you came from.

Go back to that time before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Go back to the time of Jim Crow when discrimination and segregation was the law. Go back to that place where people of color were terrorized with cross-burnings, church-burnings and lynchings.

Go back to where you came from.

Go back to that time before women had the right to healthcare, the right to vote and the right to work outside the home.

Go back to where you came from.

Go back to that time in history when human beings were sold and treated as property. Go back to that place where human beings were chained, shackled and whipped.

Go back to where you came from.

Go back to that time when indigenous Americans were considered to be soul-less creatures who could be hunted, killed and displaced like animals. Go back to that time women like Pocahontas were kidnapped and raped by colonizers without remorse.

Go back to where you came from.

Go back to that time when the state controlled religion in order to control people. Go back to that place where Christianity was used to support slavery, genocide, the castrations of gay people, and the hanging of women suspected to be witches.

Go back to where you came from.

Go back to that time when Christians terrorized anyone who did not fall in line with their understanding of God and the world. Go back to that place where they put free-thinking women like Jan Hus and Joan of Arc on a stake and set them on fire.

Go back to where you came from.

Go back to that time before Jesus said that the greatest commandment was to love our neighbors as ourselves. Go back to that time before the prophet Micah proclaimed that the one thing God requires is to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.

Please, go back to where you came from. Because this is 2019. It is not 1919, 1819, 1619 or any other dark time in human history.

The “gods” Are on Trial

Men in cages

Psalm 82 NRSV

In March 2005, a woman contacted Florida’s Palm Beach Police Department and alleged that her 14-year-old stepdaughter had been taken to Jeffery Epstein’s mansion.

In June 2008, after Epstein pleaded guilty to a single state charge of soliciting prostitution from girls as young as 14,he was sentenced to 18 months in prison. However, instead of being sent to state prison as are the majority of sex offenders convicted in Florida, Epstein was housed in a private wing of the Palm Beach County Jail. He was able to hire his own security detail and was allowed “work release” to his downtown office for up to 12 hours a day, six days a week. He served 13 months before being released for a year of probation. While on probation he was allowed numerous trips on his corporate jet to his residences in Manhattan and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Palm Beach police chief accused the state of giving him preferential treatment, and the Miami Herald said U.S. Attorney Acosta gave Epstein “the deal of a lifetime”

Last week, Epstein was arrested in New Jersey on sex trafficking charges. According to witnesses and sources, about a dozen FBI agents broke down the door to Epstein’s Manhattan townhouse with search warrants. Two days later, prosecutors charged him with sex trafficking and conspiracy to traffic minors. Court documents allege that at least 40 underage girls were brought into Epstein’s mansion.

Jeffrey Epstein has finally been brought to court for his crimes.

And at least 40 women with their families say: “It’s about time!”

Today, we’ve heard the Psalmist account of the gods who have finally been brought to court for their crimes. And the world says: “It’s about time!”

Perhaps it was Job who said it the best when he looked at the state of the world around him and observed:

The earth is given into the hands of the wicked; God covers the eyes of its judges (Job 9:24).

The truth is that Job speaks for many of us when he asks:

Why do the wicked live on, reach an old age, and grow mighty in power…Their houses are safe from fear, and no rod of God is upon them (Job 21:7-9).

We look at the conditions at the border that Vice President Mike Pence calls “unacceptable” and with Job we lament:

             The poor of the earth all hide themselves. The throat of the wounded cries for help; yet God pays no attention to their prayer (Job 24:4-12).

Job painfully observes that things on earth are not good. Injustice is thriving. Evil seems to be winning. Kindness is waning. Love seems to be failing. Whoever is in charge of things down here needs to give an accounting. The gods must be taken to court! The gods must be brought to trial.

Pollution has created an ecological crisis in the Gulf of Mexico. We have dishonest and greedy politicians Washington; Child abuse and inhumane conditions at the border; Drug addiction in Fort Smith; and ICE Raids in ten cities throughout our country on this the Lord’s Day, the Christian Sabbath. We have racism, poverty, homelessness, violence spreading around the world. We have perpetual war; inequality, White Christian Nationalism; Climate Change, bigotry, sexism, and sick religion.

Whoever is responsible for the pain and brokenness of this world needs to be brought to justice now!

And the Psalmist declares: “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment.”

The gods are on trial. They finally have their day in court.

And, with Job and the rest of the world we cry: “Well, it is about time!”

But who are these gods?

Other “gods” are mentioned throughout the Bible, and Psalm 82 is not the only Psalm to mention other gods: “There is none like you among the gods, O Lord” (86:8); “For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods” (96:4); “Our Lord is above all gods” (135:5); “Ascribe to Yahweh, gods, ascribe to Yahweh glory and strength” (29:1); “He is exalted above all gods” (97:7); “For Yahweh is a great god, and a great king above all gods” (95:3).

Idolatry is considered to be the greatest of all sins. The first of the Ten Commandments is: “Thou shall have no other gods before me.”

But again, who are these gods? Who is guilty of injustice toward the weak and the orphan and who shows partiality to the wicked? What god refuses to maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute? What gods fail to rescue the weak and the needy and deliver them from the hand of the wicked?

A couple of weeks ago, we read where Jesus criticized would-be followers for placing people above his call to discipleship.

One man wanted to bury his father. Another wanted to say goodbye to his family. Jesus’ response, albeit harsh sounding, reminds us that we are oftentimes guilty of putting people ahead of our call to be followers of Jesus.

So you could say that any person that we put above God can be considered to be a god.

A week ago, we read where Jesus sent seventy disciples out on a mission trip with the instructions to travel light, to leave some things behind, reminding us that we are also guilty of placing thingsahead of our call to be followers of Jesus.

The truth is that anyone or anything that competes for our allegiance to the God that is revealed in the Scriptures and in the words and works of Jesus is false god.

Prophetic preacher and one of my favorite writers John Pavlovitz is right when he says:

Idolatry is a horrible, dangerous thing. [And] sadly, far too many Christians are so very guilty of it.[i]

There are many things and many people we put above God: Our family; Our race; our nationality; our way of life; our religion. But there may be one god that we put above all other gods. There may be one god thatshows the most partiality to the wicked and refuses justice to the weak and the orphan, that tramples on the rights of the lowly and destitute.

Pavlovitz names Fear as the god of many people today, including some in the church. He writes:

Fear has become their false god, one they worship with complete and undying devotion.You can see it in the way they complain on social media, in the way they comment on the news of the day; in the defeatist, alarmist language that they use as to describe the world.

When Fear is your God, “everything becomes an imminent threat:” asylum-seekers, Muslims, atheists and agnostics, the media, Hollywood, and anyone that doesn’t pray like you, vote like you, speak like you and love like you.”

When Fear is your God, you cling to every little bit of worldly power that you can, whether or not you agree with the morality or ethics of that power.

When Fear is your god, you worship anything that prevents you from worshipping the God who loves all people of all nations, all races and all languages.

Last Sunday, I believe you could see it in the extravagant patriotic worship services in many large evangelical churches throughout our country, but especially in the South. In some worship services last Sunday, it was not certain to whom the worshiper’s allegiance was pledged: To a nation? Or to the God to whom all the nations belong?

When Fear is your god, patriotism turns into nationalism which quickly becomes idolatry.

When Fear is your god, you turn all of your attention to the things in  

When Fear is your god, you develop a “me-and-people-like-me-first” position, and your heart becomes callous to the suffering of anyone who is different.

When Fear is your god, you can’t afford to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty and care for the sick.

When Fear is your god, it is too risky to welcome the stranger and visit the imprisoned.

When Fear is your god, life is about self-preservation, self-protection, and it becomes unashamedly self-serving.

When Fear is your god, dying to self is unimaginable, loving others as yourself sounds ridiculous, and carrying a cross, well, that is just foolishness.

The truth is that if Fear is the god of enough people, the entire creation suffers. We all walk in darkness, and the very foundations of the earth are shaken (Psalm 82:5).

The good news is that the gods are on trial, declares the Psalmist, and here comes the judge! The God of all nations, the Holy One who spoke the world into being and walked on the seas and healed the sick and raised the dead is having a reckoning!

The false gods are being put in their place! And it is way past time!

For when we put the true God, the God of the Holy Scriptures who we know most fully in the words and works of Jesus, above all other gods, much of the problems that our world faces today, some of the very same problems that Job observed in his world, will not only be addressed, but many of them can be solved.

Paraphrasing

I love the closing prayer of the vigil that we had Friday night for those suffering at the border. It was a pledge to the true God:

I will not fear people who don’t look like me, vote like me, worship like me, speak like me, or love like me. We are all God’s children.

I will not fear immigrants, dissenters, or troublemakers.

My country was built by immigrants, dissenters, and troublemakers.

I will not fear the false prophets who spread fear to make me hate. They are weak. They do not speak for me.

Let us stand, let us speak, and let us be heard.

Because our God has put the gods of the world on trial. Judgment has been rendered. Fear has been convicted and cast down and out by Love. And the verdict is in: Love always wins, and it will never be silenced or ever fade away.

May we share it boldly and loudly in such a way that the entire world will cheer: “It’s about time!”

 

[i]https://johnpavlovitz.com/2015/01/15/the-greatest-false-idol-of-modern-christianity/

Seventy Disciples

Mission Possible

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 NRSV

For several years now First Christian Church in Fort Smith has adopted a little slogan that we have used to identify us as a congregation: Mission Possible. You’ve seen it on t-shirts, on our Facebook page, and on our Narrative Budget that shares our mission with others.

The slogan has more meaning for me this week in light of today’s gospel lesson.

Mission Possible has been on my mind, because, as preaching professor Karoline Lewis has pointed out, Jesus’ instructions to the seventy before they venture out on their mission sound more like orders received from central command in the series “Mission Impossible.”

“Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road—Carry no provisions. Not even a decent pair of walking shoes. Danger abounds, and by all means, don’t stop and ask for directions!”[i]

And guess what? Although you are going in peace, announcing the Kingdom of God is here, not everyone is going to accept your peace or be happy with what the Kingdom of God being near entails!

Now, how many of us are ready to sign up for that mission trip? It sounds absolutely dreadful.

Yet… here we are.

On this weekend after the Fourth of July, there’s not many of us, but there’s at least, what would you say, 70?

A good 70, I’ll say; which, interestingly enough, just so happens to be the average worship attendance in mainline churches these days.

Here we are. And curiously, the mission to which we have committed ourselves through this particular church is no less daunting, dangerous, and dreadful today than the mission of these 70 Jesus sends out.

Like Jesus’ 70, we have inherited an Abrahamic faith that began when Abraham extended generous hospitality to complete strangers who just so happened to be messengers from God.

Sadly, in our current culture, sharing this hospitable faith, or even standing up for this faith is very unpopular.

Deuteronomy might say:

 You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Deuteronomy 10:19).

But our culture says, “Some strangers are animals, not people.”

Leviticus might say:

The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God (Leviticus 19:34).

But our culture says: “We should only love and welcome aliens based on their merit which we will determine through a strict vetting process.”

Mosaic Law may warn:

Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow (Leviticus 27:19).

And the Psalmist may warn:

The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin (Psalm 146:9).

But today’s culture says: “If foreigners and strangers are unhappy with the conditions of our detentions centers, just tell them not to come. All problems solved.”

The prophets may declare:

For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then [the true God] will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever (Jeremiah 7:5-7).

But our religious culture says, “The God you talk about is not the true God, but some imaginary God.”

The prophets may command:

Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another (Zechariah 7:9-10).

But today’s culture argues: “But they might be drug dealers, criminals and rapists.”

So many churches today have said, “Thanks, but no thanks, Moses. Sorry Jeremiah. It’s not happening Zechariah.” What you people of God are talking about, especially in these days, is Mission Impossible.

However, the good news is that this church, the First Christian Church in Fort Smith, says, no, what the holy scriptures command us is actually Mission Possible. But how? How do we do what the Bible tells us to do when we live in a world where we are like lambs living in the midst of wolves?

For the mission we have committed ourselves to seems impossible when we consider that not only are we a church with Abrahamic roots that has been called to stand up for the foreigners coming into our land, we are a group of people who claim to be followers of Jesus, who we believe Jesus is the Christ, the way, the truth and the life. Consequently, we are a church on a mission to embrace the way of Jesus, and to call on all people, all nations, including our own nation, to embrace the same way.

On this first Sunday after the day we celebrate our nation’s birth, we implore our leaders:

  • To lose their way of greed and materialism, to follow Jesus’ way of generosity
  • To lose their way of dishonesty and deceit, to follow Jesus’ way of truth
  • To lose their way of militarism and perpetual war, to follow Jesus’ way of peace
  • To lose their way of violence and domination, to follow Jesus’ way of servanthood
  • To lose their way of putting themselves first, to follow Jesus’ way that started with: “For God so loved the world.”
  • To lose their way of bigotry, to follow Jesus’ way of valuing every human as one made in the image of God
  • To lose their way of harming children, to follow Jesus’ way of treating children as the greatest among us
  • To lose their way of suppressing the rights of women, to follow Jesus’ way of empowering women
  • To lose their way of abandoning the needs of the sick, the hungry, the foreigner and the imprisoned, to follow Jesus’ way of loving them as their very selves

And here is perhaps what makes our church’s mission seem even more impossible these days:

Not only are we a church with Abrahamic roots, and not only are we committed to following the compassionate and just way of Jesus, we are a church born out of the Stone-Campbell movement. That means, that like our foundersBarton Stone and Thomas and Alexander Campbell, we have made a commitment to be on a mission to follow the inclusive way Jesus, even if it causes us to lose some friends!

We have made the decision to welcome all people to Lord’s table as God has welcomed us—graciously, generously, lovingly, unconditionally. And we do this in a culture where such welcome is socially unacceptable.

We have committed ourselves to let the first word that anyone hears from our mouths be “Peace.”  And we do this in a culture where the very first words that many hear from churches are words that denote the exact opposite of peace—Words of judgment and condemnation; words judging others as not only sinners, but as “abominations.” In the name of God, they justify their hate with the same type of Christ-less scriptural interpretation that has been used to support sexism, slavery and racial discrimination since our country’s founding.

So, how do we do it? How do we transform a Mission Impossibleinto a Mission Possible? How is that our slogan?

I believe the answer is in the obvious but oftentimes overlooked detail in our gospel lesson this morning. The answer is the number 70.

The good news is that we are not on a mission to be open and affirming in a culture that is closed and condemning alone. Each one of us has at least, at least, 69 fellow disciples, 69 friends in the faith, on whom to depend. Seventy people may look small in this sanctuary that seats 400, but 70 is a lot of bodies, a lot of somebodies, a lot of disciples on which to count when the going gets rough.

Jesus did not expect any of his disciples to be alone on the difficult mission to which he was sending them. And neither does God expect us to be alone to do our seemingly impossible work.

Right now, I want you to take a moment and look around you. For what you see… no… whoyou see, is all you need to do the work Jesus is calling you to do in a world where danger and injustice abound.

You need no purse, no bag, no sandals; and not even the ones you may meet on the road. All that is necessary to carry out our mission, to transform Mission Impossible into Mission Possibleare scattered about in these pews.

And I have a feeling that is why you are here this morning. You are here, because here, in this place, is your group of seventy. You come to be reminded that you are not in this alone. You come here acknowledging that if we are ever going to be the people God is calling us to be, we need one another.

Even before moving here two years ago to serve with you as your pastor, the Mission Possible slogan caught my eye.

For it is a slogan with optimism and assurance, potential and promise, success and victory.

With God, anything is possible! Right?

With God, it will be possible for me to declare that the Kingdom of God is coming near to the River Valley.

With God, it will be possible for me to announce to Fort Smith, Van Buren, Barling, Greenwood, Roland and Spiro: “Peace!”

With God, it will be possible for me to speak up and speak out, and the demons will submit!

Well, not exactly. With God, and about 70 others!

Today, I am grateful that I found a group of 70, well, at least 70, sometimes 120-140, and more than that on Easter and Christmas Eve, whatever the number, I have found a lot of good somebodies with whom to go out and follow Jesus wherever he leads.

And together, although we seem small, and our provisions are limited, with God, we can do some big things to bring the Kingdom of God near!

Let us pray together.

Gracious God, emboldened by being apart of our 70, may our spirits be filled with joy and enthusiasm by following the way of Abraham, Moses, the prophets and Jesus, sharing your redeeming love with all people. AMEN.

[i]http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4683

Losing Our Way

flag

Someone recently accused me of “losing my way.” This was an obvious response to my supportive posts on social media of the LGBTQ+ community and to my leading our church to venture out beyond its building to sing hymns at a local brewery.

Here is my reply to this accusation:

“Thank you! Losing my way has been long and difficult, but I continue to work on it!”

Shouldn’t that be our life-long commitment as followers of Jesus? To lose our way to follow Jesus’ way.

  • We are losing our way of fearing the stranger, to follow Jesus’ way of welcome and inclusion
  • We are losing our way of pushing those who are different to the margins, to follow Jesus’ way of restoring them back into community
  • We are losing our way of focusing inward, to follow Jesus’ way of focusing outward
  • We are losing our way of staying in a place of sanctuary, to follow Jesus’ way of leaving our comfort zones
  • We are losing our way of judgment, to follow Jesus’ way of grace

I have heard many people say that our nation has “lost its way.”

Here is my response to that:

“I only wished it were so.”

But maybe we are working on it.

There have been movements throughout our history that have challenged our country to lose its way “in order to form a more perfect union.” These include the Abolitionist Movement, the Women’s Suffrage Movement, the Labor Movement, the Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-War Movement. The good news is that there many Christian movements afoot today. And like our past movements, they are challenging our country to lose its way to follow the way of Jesus.

  • To lose its way of greed and materialism, to follow Jesus’ way of generosity
  • To lose its way of dishonesty and deceit, to follow Jesus’ way of truth
  • To lose its way of violence and domination, to follow Jesus’ way of servanthood
  • To lose its way of militarism and perpetual war, to follow Jesus’ way of peace
  • To lose its way of putting itself first, to follow Jesus’ way that began with “For God so loved the world”
  • To lose its way of bigotry, to follow Jesus’ way of valuing every human as one made in the image of God
  • To lose its way of harming children, to follow Jesus’ way of treating children as the greatest among us
  • To lose its way of suppressing the rights of women, to follow Jesus’ way of empowering women
  • To lose its way of abandoning the needs of the sick, the hungry, the foreigner and the imprisoned, to follow Jesus’ way of loving them as our very selves
  • To lose its way of inequality, to finally follow Jesus’ way of liberty and justice for all

May the followers of Jesus continue to proclaim the way of Jesus to our nation, so one day, the whole world will make the accusation: “America has lost its way.”

And we can reply:

“Thank you! Losing our way has been long and difficult, but we continue to work on it!”