Reflections on how Christians help each other to grow and mature in loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbor as themselves.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Why the Church Must NOT Be United With the State

The New York Times posted on its web site a disturbing article and accompanying video about how Vladimir Putin has given his official endorsement to the Russian Orthodox Church. The natural consequence of this is that the church and Russian state have become closely tied to one another. This has resulted in subsequent persecution, prosecution and eviction of Protestant and Roman Catholic Christians and churches. The greatest concern of both the Russian Church and State is that their people be good, loyal Russians. Being faithful Christians is secondary.

This is a perfect illustration of the importance of separation of church and safe. When the two get together, the mission of the church is perverted to suit the goals of the state. I'm certain such unions are made in hell.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Way, The Truth, and The Life

John 14:1-14

[This sermon was preached on Sunday, April 20, 2008]

Jesus tells us in John 14:2 the destination of discipleship is life in God’s household. He tells his disciples to believe in God and in him. To believe means surrendering your trust and loyalty to Jesus and his mission of preparing this planet for the coming reign of God. When we believe in Jesus we trust him with our life and follow him to our home in God.

If you know me at all you know that I love baseball. Well, I believe that baseball helps us get at the meaning of today’s gospel lesson. I say this because baseball is a deeply spiritual game. It is the game that teaches at least four essential lessons about life.

First, baseball teaches us that the goal of life is to get home. In fact, you are to work together, as a team, to help as many of our sisters and brothers as possible to get home with us. Life is not about what I can get for myself, but how I can help my brothers and sisters get home. This brings us to a second important lesson from baseball: We seldom are able to make the journey home on our own.
We need the assistance of others to advance us from base to base. This means that all of us must sacrifice ourselves in order to get a teammate in position to get home. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Any who want to become my followers must deny themselves …” We cannot make the journey home by ourselves, by our own strength or skill. We all need the help and sacrifice of others if we are to make our way home.

Thirdly, we will experience failure much of the time. Life and discipleship are much more about failure than success. In baseball the very best hitters in the game fail to hit the ball and get on base 70% of the time. This means the best players with a .300 batting average fails to hit safely 7 out of every ten at bats.
The same is true in life. All Christ asks of us is to be faithful and to following him.

Finally, there is no clock in baseball. A game takes as long as it takes to play nine innings or until someone wins. Likewise, Jesus is not limited by time or a clock when it comes to getting people to home in his Father’s house.

“Thomas said to [Jesus], ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

Baseball, of course, has rules that govern the game. The rules provide the boundaries within which the game is played and enjoyed. The rules, in other words, are the way the game is played. Within the way of the rules anything can happen, and often does. The rules protect the game and the players. They exist to make the game fair and inclusive; even when boneheaded officials tinker with them and introduce things like the designated hitter.

As the rules of baseball give the world the way to play the game, Jesus is the way to life with God the Father. What does this mean? To understand Jesus’ meaning we need to look at the meaning of “the way.” The way is how we get to our destination. The way is the road, highway, or path you follow. The way is also how you accomplish a goal; like making cookies or assembling a bicycle or teaching someone how to read or how to pray or how to live as a disciple. Jesus is the way to the Father and the Father’s house. If we want to live in the place Jesus prepares for us we must follow him and his way.

The curious thing here is that Jesus doesn’t give his disciples a set of directions for the way they are to follow. He tells them that he is the way.
He tells them, and you and me, that we must live his life. His life must live in us.
When we live Jesus we will be on the way to home in the Father’s house.

What is the Jesus way? Jesus’ way is contained in the summary of the message he preached: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15).

Jesus summarizes the way in Luke 4:18-19 when he reads from the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Jesus describes the way in Matthew 5:3-12

“Blessed are the poor in spirit …
“Blessed are those who mourn …
“Blessed are the meek …
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness …
“Blessed are the merciful …
“Blessed are the pure in heart …
“Blessed are the peacemakers …
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake …
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kids of
evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad for your reward is
great in heaven …

Jesus describes the way again in Mark 12:30 & 31

“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. … You shall love your
neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus describes the way again in Luke 9:23

“’If any want to become my followers,
let them deny themselves
and take up their cross daily
and follow me.”

Finally, Jesus describes the way one more time in John 13:34-35

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.
Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.”

Jesus doesn’t give a set of directions or instructions on how to live the way to the Father. Jesus gives himself. When he says that he is “the way” he tells us that we are to surrender our way to his way. This means our life together and as individuals are to be a reflection of his. His way is how we get home.
His way is summed up in one word: Love.

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” In Jesus we see that love is truth and love is life. When we surrender ourselves to Jesus’ way our eyes will be opened to see truth. We find and live truth when we begin to see the world through Jesus’ eyes and hear the world through Jesus’ ears. The truth that is Jesus is beautifully described in a song found in The Faith We Sing at #2219.
The words are from Bishop Desmond Tutu:

Goodness is stronger than evil;
Love is stronger than hate;
Light is stronger than darkness;
Life is stronger than death.
Victory is ours, victory is ours
Through him who loved us.
Victory is ours, victory is ours
Through him who loved us.

When we live Jesus we begin to see the world as it really is. The blinders of sin and death, domination and oppression, wealth and privilege, self-centeredness and consumerism, individualism and narcissism, ideology and nationalism are removed. When we give ourselves wholeheartedly to his way we begin to see the world as he sees it, as it really is because he is the truth. He reveals the world of God’s reign in which righteousness, justice, and love are the ruling powers. When we join Jesus in his way and in the truth we become witnesses to the truth for the world.

Finally, Jesus the way and the truth is the life of the world; life as God the Father intended; life that gives life rather than consumes life; life that embodies goodness and justice and peace.

Too often John 14:6 is used as a club to tell who is in and who is out of God’s household. That is not what Jesus is doing here. John 14:6 is not about exclusion, it is about particularity. Jesus is telling us that he is the way, the truth and the life through which human beings may enter life in the Father’s house. In other words he is telling his disciples that anyone whose life is a witness to and channel of love, truth, and life will be welcome in the Father’s house. True belief in Jesus is revealed in fruits rather than doctrines, creeds, and rituals. This means that Christians do not have a monopoly on God, Christ, salvation or grace. The way to the Father’s house is for all who give themselves to Jesus the way who is love, goodness, justice, and peace. For when your life, no matter who you are, or where you live, or which religion you practice, is a witness to love, goodness, justice, and peace you are living the way to the Father’s house.

Jesus has prepared a place in God’s house for each of us. Jesus prepares a place in God’s house for all people who surrender to the way, the truth and the life of God. Jesus comes and shows us the way home. Our task is to follow him, live him, and witness so that as many others as possible will come home with us.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Woman at the Well

To be known is to be loved.
To be loved is to be known.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

40 Years After

On Friday, April 4, many in the USA remembered the tragic murder of one of the most important prophetic leaders of the 20th century. I don’t need to tell you that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a great leader, prophet, and pastor. But if all you knew about him came from the dominant media, you’d never know he ever did anything but give a great speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. Whenever Dr. King is remembered by the media, they bring out brief clips of his “I Have a Dream” speech. They may also, as they did on Friday, show a clip from his final speech in which he told his audience he was not afraid of any man, he was not afraid of dying because God had taken him to the mountaintop.

The media reduce Dr. King to these two speeches. We never hear of his pastoral ministry or hear his sermons. We certainly do not see or hear any of the speeches he gave in the last year of his life when he was speaking out against the war in Viet Nam and working to organize poor people of all races. In fact, I believe it is no accident that one of Dr. King’s most controversial and important speeches was delivered on April 4, 1967, exactly one year before he was murdered in Memphis.

Martin Luther King was not murdered for his dream of racial reconciliation and equality. He was assassinated because he had become a vocal opponent of the Viet Nam war and of its connection to poverty in the USA. He had the audacity to take his “I Have a Dream” speech to its logical, prophetic conclusion of justice for the poor and oppressed peoples of the world. He makes this very clear in his April 4, 1967 speech from the pulpit of Riverside Church in New York City, “Beyond Vietnam.” King tells the audience that people of faith have a responsibility to speak up for the poor of the world. He said that people of faith must share God’s concern for the poor and oppressed peoples of the world. They must not limit their concerns and loyalty to the nation’s concerns or interests:

“Finally, as I try to explain for you and for myself the road that leads from Montgomery to this place, I would have offered all that was most valid if I simply said that I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be a son of the living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood. Because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned especially for His suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come tonight to speak for them. This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls "enemy," for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.”

King understood that as long as the US government was engaged in war in Vietnam, it would not commit the resources and energies needed to address the problems of poverty and injustice at home, or anywhere else in the world. He also knew that the vast majority of the young men where fighting and dying in the jungles of Vietnam were the sons of the poor.

Dr. King was murdered because he had added his voice to the growing chorus of opposition to the Vietnam War; and because he was working to organize poor people for economic justice in the United States. But the media and politicians who invoke his name never cite this period of Dr. King’s ministry.

All this is to say that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a much more complicated and compelling character than the one portrayed in the media and the politicians that try to exploit his name. Dr. King was a prophet in the lineage of Hosea, Amos, Micah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jesus. We need to remember and honor the man for who he really was.

Listen to Dr. King explain his opposition to the Vietnam War here: