Tag Archives: Hunger

Our Cycle of Fear is Killing Us

 

Present day Americans are full of fear.  We fear other people who are not “like” us.  We fear other religions.   We fear poverty and street people (homeless).  We fear terrorists attacks.   We fear our government.   We fear Republicans or Democrats (whichever we’re not).  We fear unemployment.  We who are older fear retirement and running out of money before we die.  If we are black, we fear policemen  .   If we are  policemen, we fear blacks.   We fear flying due to terrorist attacks.  We fear mass shootings in shopping malls and we fear for our children with mass shootings at schools.  So what do we do?—-we buy guns to protect ourselves from other people who are not like us.  We install expensive security systems in our homes our schools and our municipal building and our airports.   In my home state of Kansas, you can openly carry guns on the streets and in most public buildings, and you can conceal carry also without a permit.   With all these guns, has the homicide rate gone down, have mass shootings subsided any?    Are we safer with all our guns and security systems? Or do we now need to fear guns even more because everyone has one and few know how and when to safely use them?   So the circle of fear goes on and on, around and around, in an unending cycle of violence and fear and violence and fear and people continue to die because of our fears.  OUR FEARS ARE KILLING US!!

Isn’t there another way to live our lives?   A better way?   Jesus pointed to it a couple thousand years ago?   Paul explained it in I Corinthians 13:1-13.   But it seems that we Christians have missed the point  that  both were making—-The way of love is the key to end fear, not more weapons.     Jesus said it when he explained that the greatest commandment is to love God and love your neighbor as yourself.    Paul summed it up in his “love chapter” in I Corinthians 13: 1-13 as “the better way he will show them:  “Faith, hope and love remain, but the greatest of these is love.”   

After years of fear,  and of killing other individuals out of fear in our own country and   killing others around the world because of our fear of them, isn’t it time to try another way—a better way—-the way of love instead of instead of the way of hatred and fear and the resulting violence?

Take the Iraq War, for example:   We have spent, as a nation, according to a study by Brown University in 2013,  $1.7 trillion.   Add to this the benefits paid to veterans over their lifetime and the cost goes to over $6 trillion dollars.  This war started out of fear—a fear that turned out to be unfounded—-that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was preparing to use them on the U.S.   The weapons were never found, but the U.S. made a preemptive first strike and then it was too late.    So, fear ran its course and thousands upon thousands of human lives were extinguished on both sides because of that fear. And 2 + trillion dollars were spent because of that fear.  We chose to act out of fear and have reaped what benefits?    More fear and more hatred from those whose families we have killed.  More suffering and fear by our soldiers who were maimed and whose lives were ended or changed forever by their time in Iraq.  And now we see the rise of ISIS that operating by generating fear and hatred of all but their own brand of  Islamic extremists—- and the fear of ISIS is  threatening to start the cycle all over again.  And the circle of fear goes on and on, and on, and on, and on…..

Love is the only way to break  the circle of violence we are caught in..   Consider this thought:   if we had taken the 2 trillion dollars spent on the Iraq war and spent it for humanitarian purposes in the Middle East and in poverty stricken nations, including our own nation’s poor and homeless.   If we had used the money  to lift people up, helping them to find ways for them to produce food to feed themselves, providing hospitals and adequate medical care,  helping them improve technologically so that they might be able to earn a decent living. If  we had spent money for humanitarian things like decent water wells, the Heifer Project, the Peace Corps, If we had used the money to house our homeless, to provide jobs for the unemployed in our country-— In other words if we had used that 2 trillion dollars to show  love and care for human beings created in God’s image—-  instead of shooting them down in fear and hatred in other countries,  and  hiding the poor behind barriers in our own  country,   have we any idea what difference that might  have made?   Will we ever know?   Not until we have tried it.  

The gun creates fear and hatred.   Love creates trust and compassion.   That is true on the individual level and it is true on the national and international level.    Perhaps it is time to end the politics of fear and try the politics of love at all levels—but the best place to begin is in our own lives, in our own cities and towns in our country.   Who knows, it might spread to our states, our country and the world from those simple beginnings?!   The change begins with you!!

Asking the Right Questions Today?

 

A recent article in the Alban Weekly caught my attention by its title.   “New Questions for a New Day?”    Although it was an article on new questions churches need  to ask rather than the ones they are asking, it caused me to think about questions that desperately need to be asked in our political jungle today.    We are allowing the media and political pundits to ask the wrong questions of our politicians!   Let me give you a few examples:

The question:   “How will you vote on issues concerning abortion?” should be replaced by the question:  “How will you vote on issues concerning quality of life for all human beings in our society?”   Will your votes  seek to protect only fetuses or will your vote be for protecting the one in five children in Kansas who are hungry and without access to enough adequate foods and considered food insecure.   Will you protect these children  from disease by your votes that extend badly needed medical care, or are you only interested in unborn fetuses?

The question:   “How will you vote on issues concerning gay marriage“? might be replaced with the question:  “what will you advocate through your votes that will protect the rights of all citizens of the U.S. regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation so that all citizens can enjoy the full range of freedom guaranteed by our Constitution.?”

The question:  “Are you a liberal Democrat or a conservative Republican?” might be replaced by the question:   “In what way will you vote for the common good of all citizens, regardless of party preference?”    I recently saw a poster on FB that showed a bird flying and said “politicians should be like birds–both the left wing and the right wing support the middle!”

The question:   “How can we better hold educators accountable?” should be replaced by the question, “ How are you going to be held accountable for the education of our children in Kansas? ”   How are you going to better support teachers in their difficult job?  Are you going to respect the job that teachers do, often for poor pay and little appreciation?   What are you going to suggest and vote for that will make sure that children we send to teachers are ready to learn by supporting early childhood education?   What are you going to do that insures that half of the children coming to the Wichita Public Schools are not coming to school hungry and therefore unable to learn?  or homeless and therefore insecure and having difficulties learning?    As I read recently—“When Congress passes “No Child Left Unfed, No child without Health Care, and No Child left homeless, then we can talk seriously about No Child Left Behind?  After that happens we can talk about accountability!

It’s time we get the message to the media and the political pundits that we wish to have politicians speak on these questions rather than the old tired ones that are now asked..   As Ghandi once said:   “Be the change!”  We can “be the change” by defining the real problems in our society and then demanding answers and solutions to those problems by asking the right questions.  We then need to use the power of the ballot to demand accountability from those who govern us.   The change can begin with your intelligent and knowledgable casting of a ballot that holds our elected officials  accountable.   “BE THE CHANGE”.

 

Are All the Children at the Table?

 

 

Recently on TED Talks the Rev. Dr. James Forbes, retired pastor of the Riverside Church in NYC spoke about compassion.   He spoke of how he learned a living definition of compassion from his mother at home around the dining room table.    Forbes was one of eight children who gathered with their mother and father around the table in the evening.   As the children grew older, inevitably one or more of the children would be missing when they sat down to eat.   His mother showed her love and care and compassion by requiring that before anyone ate and fixed their own plate, a plate would be fixed for those who were not there at the table. 

Dr. Forbes says that his Mama reminded him of how God looks around the world table and asks those of us children who are enjoying the blessings set before us—-“Are all the children around the table?”   When you bellied up to the table to get your needs met, the question Mama Forbes asked,  and God also asks, is:  “Where is your brother? ”   “Where is your sister?”     Forbes says:   “Just as Mama Forbes asked her children seated at the table about those missing, so God asks us to look after one another, to serve one another and to include one another.   It is not enough to live and provide for myself, that I put food in my own mouth, or that I even pass it to my left.  I must remember the ones still making their way to the table.  

God requires  us to remember those still trying to get to the table.   We are not to shun them, we are not to shame them.   We are to remember them and honor them by serving them first.    This is a theme that runs through both the New Testament and the Old Testament.   Those who are blessed by food and shelter are to help provide for the vulnerable, the elderly, the jobless, the homeless, the poor, the widow, the orphan.

The question for us as Christians is:   “Are we asking who is missing from our table of blessings and making sure they will be able to make it to the table?.”   In the state of Kansas with one child out of five living below the poverty level-–a level set in the 1950’s based  on food prices at that time—-I’m afraid our answer is:  NO.

Why people can’t hear what the church is saying….

 

“Your actions speak so loudly I can’t hear a word you are saying!!!     Perhaps this should be inscribed in the chancel area of every church in the nation.    This is probably the main problem that mainline churches have and it is the reason they are decreasing in number and size—their  actions and their words are, too often, not matching.

I recently ran across a poem called “The Mood of Christmas” by Howard Thurman.   It reads:

“When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flock,

 The work of Christmas begins:

               To find the lost.  

               To heal the broken.

               To feed the hungry.

               To release the prisoner.

               To rebuild the nation.

               To bring peace among people.

               To make music in the heart.”

We Christians love the Advent Season and the Christmas Season.    They are times of Joy and Love, and Peace and Hope for most of us—-and rightly so—-the coming of the Christ Child (God with us—Immanuel)  was a time of “Joy to the World” as the hymn we sing says it.     But it is not Jesus’ coming that is so important, it was what Jesus did after he got here and the message of the Kingdom of God—-a different and better way to live—-that is important.   

I’m afraid that message of what life can be like if God is at the center of it. as om the Kingdom of God,  and the messenger’s life of sacrifice and service to God that models life in the Kingdom,   have been lost among the Christmas wrappings.   The work that Jesus set his followers to do was what Thurman wrote about.  It is the ministry Jesus described in his sermon at his home synagogue:  “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.”  (Luke 4:18-19)

I am going to use only one of the items on Thurman’s list  to illustrate my point, because it is a problem that is near to my heart, and I feel it is near to God’s heart….Feed the Hungry.  

Recently the Kansas Food Bank that serves more than 215,000 Kansans annually, combined with the Hunger in America national organization to issue a report on Hunger in America.   They used rigorous academic research standards for their report which was reviewed by a technical advisory team that included researchers from American University, University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, and the Urban Institute.    The study was funded by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation the data was gathered by over 6000 trained data collectors.   This is not “a bunch of crying, do-good liberals” reporting.   This is hard data gathered and put together by trained researchers.   The results are frightening!  I will share a few of them with you.   The full report may be seen by going to Google and entering  Hunger Statistics, Kansas Food Bank Warehouse.

1 in 7 people in Kansas—an estimated 215,300 people, turned to the Kansas Food Bank meal service programs for help in feeding themselves in 2014.   Of these 215, 300 persons  68, 900 were children and 19,900 were senior citizens 11% were adult students..   Among all clients, 14% were black, 37% were Latino, and 42 % white.

The above reported that 82% were buying inexpensive , unhealthy food because they couldn’t afford the healthier.  They also reported the tough choices and trade-offs they had to make to try and keep food on the table this past year:

71% reported choosing between paying for food and utilities.   35% had to do this on a monthly basis.

73 percent report making choices between paying for food and paying for transportation to work.   35 percent made that choice every month.

66 percent had to choose between paying for food and paying for medicine and medical care.  30 percent of thse households had to choose every month.

60 % reported choosing between paying for food and paying for housing.  28% reported having to do that every month.

Ways they tried to cope with food shortages included,  52% who ate food past the expiration date.  37% pawned or sold personal property in order to buy food.  33% reported watering down food or drinks.

Why does this happen in a wealthy country?   The report gave the following reasons:   Low Wages; underemployment; and unemployment.  Of the 60% who were employed last year, they were only able to work part time and at minimum wages.   For families with both husband and wife working part-time at minimum wage of 7.25 per hr. it has been shown that even if both parents work, they cannot make enough to live on and pay rent, utilities and food expenses.   Therefore the choices that they have to make that are  listed above.

So far the churches have been mostly silent in dealing with the causes of poverty.   They are involved,  at least some of them, in treating the symptoms and helping those caught in this vicious cycle survive—-but not in dealing with the causes of the problem itself.

Can you imagine the impact if churches as a group were to demand that their legislators at state and national levels take action to raise the minimum wage to one that a family could live on?    What if churches boycotted those business who paid their employees just the present minimum wages of $7.25 an hour?   What if we said—-we’re not going to buy your hamburgers, McDonalds, until you pay your employees a living wage and provide benefits for them.   We don’t care if you raise the price of a Big Mac in order to do so!

Behind unemployment is often the lack of an education.   It has been proven since the days of John F. Kennedy’s Head Start Program that Early Childhood Education to get poorer children ready for public schooling improves their chances of success in school and acquiring the education they need in today’s labor market place.    Yet in Kansas,  our Governor and Legislature is currently taking the Tobacco Funds earmarked for Early Childhood Education and putting them in the General Funds  as well as taking funds from Education,Kindergarten through College, in order to continue allowing  over 100,000 small businesses in Kansas to not pay income taxes at all.

What would happen if churches were to demand that this not happen?  What if we demanded that everyone pay their fair share of taxes—including businesses?    Most of the legislators and the governor are presenting themselves  as Christians.   Governor  Brownback and your legislative toadies—your actions speak so loudly we can’t hear a word of what you are saying about being Christians!!

There are many other ways of attacking the problem of poverty.   The problem is not lacking ways but lacking will to do so.

In my opinion, if churches are not actively involved in doing something to change  at least one of the above 7 things—actively involved—-then their action, or lack of action, is speaking so loudly to the world that the world can’t hear a word of what they say to each other on Sunday a.m. at the worship service.   If they are not working to correct the above problems at their root, then they have no right to proclaim the Kingdom of God that Jesus commissioned his disciples to proclaim.   Jesus gave few commandments, but one that he did give was the Great Commandment  to “love the Lord your God with all your heart soul mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself!

Why Do Churches Exist?

 

Why do church congregations exist?   What is their purpose?  What mission do they have?   Why do we need churches, anyway?  What vision do they need to share with the world around them?   These are questions that many Chrisitian congregations should be answering.   And they need to find those answers quickly, because, at present, most mainline congregations are only religious social clubs.   Congregations must be more than social clubs if they are to be relevant in today’s world.

I recently led a leadership group in  a local congregation in an evaluation of where they were as a church on the life cycle of institutions.    They decided, correctly I believe, that they were in what George Bullard called the maturity phase, as he defined  in his book,  Pursuing the Full Kingdom Potential of Your Congregation:    “Maturity is that period when Relationships, Programs and Management are dominant.   Vision is no longer dominant.   Management is controlling the direction of the congregation.   A congregation that is past it’s prime characterizes Maturity.   It is more passive than active.   It is still successful in many areas.   For the most part it has a positive spirit…..It is no longer focused.   It is no longer clear about its vision.  The success culture of the congregation keeps it moving forward .  It is blind to the fact that it no longer has an empowering vision that is fueling it forward. “

That lack of vision and mission became evident when I asked the leadership what the purpose or vision of their church was.   No one had an answer.   They are still struggling with why they exist as a church congregation!    While I suggested how to go about creating a vision for their church they have not  followed through with my suggestion and the congregation they lead  still has no clear vision of God’s purpose and mission God desires  for their congregation.  .   I gave them several examples to think about to get them started:   “To Be a Nurturing Church in a Hungry World”;  “To Live the Great Commandment in the Community Around Us”;   and the vision of the Saddleback Church as stated in Rick Warren’s “The Purposeful Church.” (With a Great Commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, God will Grow Our Church).A vision shared by the entire church should define the mission of the church.  The raison d’etre for their existence.   Without a vision of their mission a  congregation is just another social club.     I suggested that the leadership group  needed to form a small task force to do develop this vision of mission  with much prayer,  Bible Study, and discernment so as to arrive at a  vision and mission that all in their church congregation  could “buy into”.  As of yet, almost a year later,  none of this has happened and things go along the same way they have for some time—-downhill.

In my opinion, this is the reason for many of the mainline churches being on a downward spiral and increasingly  shrinking both in numbers and in their influence on their society.  That society is becoming  increasingly immoral or amoral, violent, greedy, not  compassionate with the needs  of the most vulnerable in our society,  polarized in politics, distrustful of government and each other.    These church congregations have forgotten that the one they are named after—Jesus the Christ—-gave them a mission which is to continue the mission Jesus began of sharing the good news of God’s adoption of humandkind as God’s children—as a part of what Jesus called “The Kingdom of God” .  That is the rule of God in people’s lives that  reflects the love and passion of God for all the world—-all the world.   Jesus saw good news in God sending him into the world to show what life lived in the Kingdom could be.  He didn’t just tell us about it, he lived it.  And life in the Kingdom of god is-pretty much the opposite of what the life of most people is now in the U.S.    We have a mission as a church to bring about the new way of living  that Jesus referred to as the Kingdom of God that was breaking into the world in Jesus’ time and is still here with us.   The Kingdom of God exists now—not later—-not after we die—Now—in this world!

It is not our mission as the church to sit on the sidelines, bemoaning the thin moral air in our society and the lack of morality, the violence,  the greed, the distrust, the polarity in politics, the lack of compassion for the vulnerable.  It is the mission of the church to step up to the plate and deliver a faith that gives stability,; to work with love and compassion to overcome the victimization of the most vulnerable;  to offer a way of peace to replace the violence that infects our society and world like a terminal disease;  to offer caring for others needs to replace the greed upon which our economy is now based;  to insist on compromise over polarization in our political arena.   The mission of the church is not to get along with the world as it is.   Not to be part of the present establishment governmentally,  politically or religiously; , but to point toward a better way—-the Way of Jesus that he demonstrated for us in the Gospels.  

We should never settle for the status quo—-the mission of the church is to transform lives, to change lives,  and in transforming  lives transform the society in which  we live our lives as church iby showing how that can be done using our lives as an example.

Let me illustrate with this story:

Edwina Gately is a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania.   In their newsletter  she wrote about the following incident:

“I once worked in a downtown overnight shelter.   It was a big, basement shelter, and every night when the homeless came in, I would stand at the door handing out blankets.   Once this guy came up to me and said, “Edwina, could I have one without lice?”   “What?” I said.   “Could I have one that doesn’t have any lice on it?”   And I said, “Oh, er…okay,” and starting holding up the blankets to see if I could find one without lice.   “Here.  I’ve got one here.   This one’s got no lice.   There’s nothing moving on this one.”

And suddenly I thought to myself, “What am I doing?  Here I am picking out blankets without lice and urine for certain folks.   This is all wrong.”

So I went to the supervisor and said to him, “This is not right.   We should launder these blankets every day instead of every week.   We can’t do this to these folks.   They deserve better than this.”   The supervisor looked at me and smiled.   He shook his head and said,  “Edwina, let me tell you something.   When you have been here as long as I have, you get used to it.”

NOOO!  ..something in me screamed.  WE MUST NEVER GET USED TO IT.  WE MUST NEVER ACCEPT THE WAY THINGS ARE BECAUSE WE ARE TOLD, “Well, it’s always been like this.”    The world was not meant to be like this!!   We were not meant to live in poverty.   We were not meant to be hungry.   We were not meant to be homeless.   We were not meant to have to sleep in lice-infested blankets.   When we accept the system with “This is the Way it is” we become a part of that system.   We are part of the oppression, the injustice, the diminishment.”

The Church is meant to take action for change in many areas of our society that need to be improved.    Blessed are the Christians who never get used to it and continue to work for change!

 

 

Talking Out of Both Sides of our Mouth….

 

Do you know how many school children are homeless in Wichita this year?  Do you know whether the number is increasing or decreasing?   Do you care?  Really—do you care??  Do Christians care?   Do churches care?    Really???  If you say you care I think you are doing what a lot of people are doing these days—talking out of both sides of your mouth at the same time.

A recent editorial in the Wichita Eagle newspaper, referring to a recent state report,  gives some disturbing statistics about the number of children in Wichita and in Kansas that are homeless.    The report says that 10,378 public school students in Kansas were homeless sometime during the 2013-1014 school year.    That is 1,048, or 11 percent more than the previous year.   Much of the increase came from the Wichita School District, which saw its number of homeless students jump by 755, or 46 percent, last year—-from 1,637 to 2,392 students.  Wichita also keeps track of younger siblings of families who are homeless and with those younger children added the total number of children who were homeless last year was about 2700.

You would think that the Governor and the State Legislature would be shocked and working to help school districts financially to meet this crisis by coming up with extra funding..   Not so in Kansas, where Governor Brownback and the GOP legislative leaders are working to come up with a way  to circumvent a court order to increase state funding for K-12 schools by $500 million in the future budget.   As the editorial says:   “While they are trying to avoid their constitutional responsibility to suitably finance education, Kansas schoolchildren are wondering where they will sleep tonight.

The effect of homelessness on these children is drastic and probably permanent.  They are affected emotionally.   Can you imagine the effect of this on their self-esteem?   They are often hungry.   They often lack such things as winter coats or eyeglasses that are needed.    Their teachers often pay for these things out of their own pockets.  Yes!   Those same teachers that Brownback and the state legislature took away  tenure rights from last year!

And what are my fellow Christians and the churches doing about all of this?   Are they shocked?    Are they demanding that the state come up with the money by rolling back the economically unadvised reduction and erasing of state income taxes for small businesses and independent owners such as doctors and lawyers, etc.?    Are the churches advocating for these children?    Are they writing and calling their state legislators and the governor and saying, this is not acceptable?   Change it!

No—my fellow Christians have been silent—-and in their silence we find there acceptance to the above crisis.    You see we talk out of both sides of our mouth.  With one side of our mouth we say we want all children to be taken care of and well educated—-while with the other side of our mouth we say we don’t want to have to pay for it!   We want children to learn, but we silently assent to the legislature and governor taking Tobacco Funds earmarked for Early Childhood Education in order to balance the budget because of the income tax cuts.   With one side of our mouth we say:   Parents should be able to take care of their children and with the other side we give silent assent to not raising the minimum wage because that might make our MacDonald burgers more expensive.   Kansas is one of only 13 states whose minimum wage is still  $7.25 an hour.  All others are higher—some as high as $10.00 an hour.

If Christians and the churches really cared about children as they profess to do they would no longer remain silent.   Kansas is often referred to as the “belly button of the Bible Belt”.    I suggest that Christians and their churches they attend pick up those Bibles and read the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.    They will find that the Jesus they claim to name themselves after held children as of ultimate importance.   You can read what he said and did concerning children in Matthew 19: 13-15:

Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray.   The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said:  “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”   And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.”   (See also:  Luke:18:16; Mark 9:36-37; Mark 10:15; Luke 9:47-48; Luke 18:17) 

  Do you care about homeless children?   Really???  If you do—its time you let it   be known to the rest of the world,  starting with our governor and GOP state legislature—-AND START DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT!

 

Living the Gospel in a Changed World

 

Text:     Luke 3: 1-14

            Two Sundays ago (Sun. Dec. 28) when I was with you in worship,  an elderly gentleman sat down with me after church.    He was plainly upset that so few worshipped together that Sunday.   He said “Pastor I want to ask you a question.      Is  it going to take another major disaster to fill these pews again?” As a pastor I have heard these words often and I answered  that I’m not sure even a disaster will fill the pews the next time.   I feel that is true because of a church that has not changed but is living in the midst of a world that has changed all around them. 

            I really believe that the church as we know it must radically change or it will become increasingly irrelevant and be brushed aside even more than it is already, thus increasingly dwindling in numbers.   A great and radical change must take place  in the structure and practices of proclaiming the gospel that Jesus proclaimed if we are to take a running jump into the 21st century, address its problems and the things that impact people’s lives so we can meet the needs of individuals, communities and nations in this 21st century world.  My opinion is that only as we live the gospel each day can we proclaim it to the 21st century.  Today’s generations are not interested in words, they are interested in action.

            Because, just as Charles Dickens began his novel about the French Revolution with:  A Tale of Two Cities, with the words:    “These were the best of times, these were the worst of 1times….”, so must we see these as the best of times for the church and yet the worst of times also!

The “Best of Times” for the church because there is so much need for the proclamation of the Kingdom to be lived out to change a world that is spiraling into hopelessness, despair and violence. 

The “Worst of Times” because the church feels it has been abandoned—that its message has been stifled—almost a feeling of grief for the “good times of the mid-20th century when the churches were full and Christianity was thriving as never before—-when churches were full and building new ones on the theory if you build they will come and fill the church.   That all began to change in the 1960’s and 1970’s.    But in these “worst of times” comes the challenge to live the gospel as never before.   We cannot depend on the state, or the culture to promote the Christian Way.   They no longer do so—-now is the chance for Christians to show by the life they live what life in the Kingdom of God here on earth should be like.   And what a need there is to do so!!

Into the  “worst of times” in Jesus’ day came John the Baptizer—-preaching a “message of repentance” to prepare for the coming of the Messiah.  We might ask how  a “message of repentance” prepared the way for Jesus?    Was it because people were so bad and sinful?    No—–it is because we misunderstand the word “repentance” these days.   We have come to understand it as “feeling sorry for having disobeyed God” or “regretting the bad things we have done.   That was not the meaning of repentance in John’s day.   In the Greek the word is metanoia— and it’s meaning is “turning around”.    John was urging people to be willing to turn around and go in a different direction—the direction Jesus proclaimed— to turn toward the Kingdom of God.    The Kingdom of God was breaking in on earth—-this Kingdom of God is not “heaven” or “pie in the sky bye and bye”—-the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed was a new way of living—-a very different way of living.  And it must be  a new way of living in the world—right now.   The church has really not succeeded well in living the Gospel.  Study the Gospels and see what the Kingdom of God is as Jesus proclaimed it throughout  those gospels— in the Sermon on the Mount and the Parables of the Kingdom and   his healing and compassionate ministry.    Jesus proclamation of the Kingdom of God set  the business of living in this world in the conventional way on its head in many ways:   In God’s Kingdom, Jesus said: 

Blessed are the poor”—-not the rich.

Blessed are the meek”—-not the powerful.  The meek will inherit the earth instead of the conventional expectation that the powerful and rich will do so and then pass it on to their heirs.

Blessed are the peacemakers—-they,  not the army generals as in Jesus time, will be called children of God

You have heard ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ but I say to you Do not resist an evildoer.  If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.”

These descriptions Jesus gives of the way life in the Kingdom of God are very different from the usual way of life.   .  

The Kingdom of god is what the world would be like if God rule in human hearts   —-If God’s love and passion for justice for all ruled our lives

It is because early Christians were living the Way of the Kingdom of God that we read in Acts of the Apostles,  “these Christians are turning the world upside down!”  The Gospel , the Good News, of the Kingdom of God can do that!  

            The Kingdom of God was in direct opposition to the way things were in Palestine in the first century C.E.   The rulers were taking care of themselves and nobody else.   They were greedy and power-hungry rulers and also ruthless: that included everyone from the the Emperor Tiberius, through Herod Antipas, Pontius Pilate, and Annas and Caiphas the high priests.   All were greedy for power and wealth and took it from the peasants who were 93 percent of the population, living a subsistence existence—-just barely enough to live on and survive.      When Jesus taught his disciples to pray saying—–“Give us this day our daily bread”  and “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” he was speaking of the two most constant worries of the peasant class—-food and freedom from debt. If you had no food, you starved.   If you couldn’t pay your debts, including your high taxes,  you were thrown in prison and if  yous  had land it was seized by your creditor to satisfy the debt.   Most peasants lost their land this way.   It took only one bad crop.

            The entire culture was designed to support the rich and powerful, who lived by different rules and standards than the peasant population at the expense of the peasants.  

            The culture was a military and violent culture.   If you were perceived to be an enemy of Rome you were crucified.   The roads leading out of Jerusalem at times were full of crosses where people were slowly dying as an example to the population that you do not challenge the Roman Empire.  Thousands were crucified by Pontius Pilate, the Roman Procurator in Judea where he ruled. 

            Religion was no help as the Jewish high priests were only interested in keeping the power they received by appointment by the Roman Emperor and making themselves wealthy by the business of the temple taxes and sacrifices.   

Does it sound familiar??   The similarities to  our country today are frighteningly apparent:

We also are a country where the rich and powerful live by different rules and standards than the common people and where those with money and power pass laws to become even more rich and powerful at the hands of a middle class that is turning into a peasant class.

A country where 10% of the people have 60% of the wealth with the other 40% of the wealth divided among the other 90% of the population.

A violent country where people with no conscience kill and rob on a daily basis.   Where life is cheap.   A country whose children kill and maim their teachers and fellow classmates. A country where multiple murders are committed in movie theaters and at marathons.  We live in a country where violence is commonplace.

A country where the greed and gluttony of huge financial institutions in order to enrich  their CEO’s and their stockholders,periodically eats up the savings of those most vulnerable who trusted them.

A country where the wealth of a Beverly Hills exists in stark contrast to the filth and poverty of a Watts in the same city of Los Angeles.

A country where the lonely and the aged, the poor and the mentally challenged,  the children with no access to health care and not enough to eat,  the homeless, and the misfits of society remain largely unseen and uncared about.   Programs to help them, such as affordable health care and extension of Medicaid benefits are the first ones cut from government budgets or discarded for political reasons.   We reduce food stamps and aid for struggling families in order to shrink the federal deficit—–while huge corporations that contribute to re-election of our legislators continue to receive tax breaks and other benefits they do not need.

We live in Kansas—-also a place where thousands of children go to bed hungry, without health care, and are homeless even though both parents work—-but for indecently low wages that can’t support their families—and we continue to support those who have made the lives of these vulnerable people worse and fail to speak out as a church about the lack of fairness and the injustice of the a system that gives businesses tax breaks on the backs of the poor and Corporate CEO’s 250% higher wages than those who work for them.

A place where religious leaders are too often in close collusion with political and governmental powers in order to get their limited negative agendas on abortion and gay rights taken care of legally.

This is a country ruled more and more by men and women whose only aim is to do whatever is necessary to stay in power, whether right or wrong does not matter, —-like modern day Herod’s and Pilates.

There is a need today for John the Baptist’s  voice crying in the wilderness, saying:  “Turn around, for there is a  better way than this way of greed and suffering that you are walking  It is the way of the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed!!

For people are wandering around in this wilderness today, having lost their moral, emotional and economic way—–yearning for something better and not quite knowing what that something better is.    They are yearning for someone to show them the way of Jesus—-a different way of living that leads to a society where all of God’s people are treated equally, fairly, and lovingly.  There are many others wondering in the wilderness of  drug abuse, of broken relationships, of too little income,  of homelessness.    There are those who have given up hope and struggle from day to day to fight down the urge  to end their lives.   There are those filled with anger who want to strike out at the world that abuses them and uses them.   These wanderers in the wilderness are young and old, rich and poor, male and female, all skin colors;  but they all feel vulnerable in a world that seems to have gone crazy. They are trying to raise families in this world where even the schools are unsafe for their children.   They are not aware of the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed.   They are waiting for someone to show them, not tell them  a different way—-a way that will give them and their children hope and happiness and a new beginning.  They are waiting for us to show them by our lives how to follow the Great Commandment of Jesus:   “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength and your neighbor as yourself.    That is the mission of the church—including this church—-To live the Great Commandment in the community that surrounds us.  If we do so we will find that filling the pews may not be the important thing, but  what is of ultimate importance is transforming people to be servants of God in his Kingdom on earth.  

            There is a whole generation of people called the Millennial Generation consisting of over  80 million individuals who need to hear this proclamation of the gospel.   They are between the ages of 18-33.    Polls tell us that 86% of them believe in God.   The majority of them are searching earnestly for meaning in their lives.   Few of them  are in our churches.         These are young people that  our churches can enlist in our journey towards experiencing more fully the Kingdom of God on this earth.   They love challenges.  They are searching for a different way of life that has meaning for them and their children.  A way of life that makes a difference in this world right now.    They crave authenticity. They can spot a fake a mile away!   They are some of those “wondering in the wilderness” searching for the Messiah—searching for a better way of living. They distrust institutions, including the church, so we need to show them that better way through the lives we lead as Christians.   Jesus proclaimed that Way.    He lived that way.   Early Christians were known as “People of the Way” And Jesus did not say to his generation—-come to church and find out about this way of life—-he went out into the villages and the countryside where people were and proclaimed it not only through his teaching but through his very life.  Early followers of the Way did the same thing as they spread the good news of the Kingdom of God throughout the world.  They did not do this by just preaching—-they did it by the way they lived.  Even pagans in their writing said:   “See how these Christians love one another.”

The Church is Jesus’ body and needs to show that way today, not just with words  but by the way they live.

              The Mission of the Church,  this post-resurrection community living in this pre-Christian world today, must be to proclaim the Kingdom of God through what we do and who who we are as God’s people..  

Listen to what one of the Millenial generation wrote  to you and me—-post-resurrection Christians…….

Do you know,

Do you understand

That you represent

Jesus to me?

 

Do you know, do you understand

That when you treat me with gentleness,

It raises the question in mind that maybe Jesus is gentle, too?

Maybe he isn’t someone who laughs when I’m hurt?

 

Do you know, do you understand

That when you listen to my questions and you don’t laugh,

I think, “What if Jesus is interested in my questions, also?”

 

Do you know, do you understand,

That when I hear you talk about arguments and conflict

And scars from your past

That I think, “Maybe I am just a regular person

Instead of a bad, no-good person who deserves abuse?

 

If you care, I think maybe God cares—

And then there’s this flame of hope that burns inside of me,

And for a while, I am afraid to breathe

Because it might go out.

 

 

Do you know, do you understand,

That your words are His words?

Your face, His face to someone like me?

 

Please be who you say you are.

Please, God, don’t let this be another trick.

Please let this be real.

Please.

Do you know, do you understand?

That you represent Jesus to me?