Tag Archives: medicaid program

Advancing to the Rear!!

Make America Great  Again!!  Let’s go back to the Good old Days!!! These are currently  the “marching orders”  that Trump is trying to give to the Republican Party as the slogans for this Presidential election.  The acceptance of these slogans by the working class in great numbers is a portrait of the extreme ignorance of the history of their country that these people have . O.K. folks.  LET’S SEE WHAT  YOU WISH TO RETURN TO!   Let’s go back to 1870s to early 1920s.  That’s period is  known as the  “Gilded Age”  and indeed it was ‘gilded”‘ if you had the gold and were a member of the Upper Class. I  don’t see many of those people at Trump’s rallies. I  see a lot of working people struggling to make a  living, in debt up to the hilt,  not trusting the well educated and too  ill-educated themselves to separate Trump’s lies from the truth.  The  perfect audience for a demagogue.

There are things we need to remember about the “Good Old Days.” I’ll close with some pictures of life during the years between 1870s and 1920s:

  • Are you prepared to give up Social Security and Medicare? Going back will mean that most of you will  either have to be taken care of by your families or you will end your days in a “county poor farm.”
  • Don’t get sick as antibiotics have not yet been discovered.
  • The scourge of a crippling or fatal polio epidemic is always present, especially in the summers. There will not be a polio vaccine until the 1960s. Flu shots are unknown also.  Only measles can be inoculated against.
  • Most of you will work from dawn to dark around dangerous machinery as the Industrial Age really kicks in.  There is no 40 hour work week; it will be 70-80 hours. No days off; no paid vacation.
  • If you are injured on the job, you will be fired.  There is no workers’ compensation. You will be given what you are owed in wages up to the point of injury and sent home. Disability, a part of Social Security, is not law yet.
  • There is no OSHA so working conditions are bad—See Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle for an example of the working conditions in the meat packing industry during this time.
  • When you go to town, the best roads will only be gravel. After heavy rains most country roads will be quagmires and you will have to go on horseback. You’ll have to use them as most of you will still live in rural areas—only 10% in cities and the rest of the population on farms.
  • Many of you, if you are lucky, will get an 8th grade education, a smaller number will go to high school and a very small number of the elite will go to college.
  • You will be chopping wood for your heating stoves in the winter. There are no air conditioners, so it will be miserable to try to sleep on hot summer nights after those 12-14 plus hour days you will be working.
  • Take a vacation? Are you kidding? Have to be home as farmers (which most of you are) must be there to feed the livestock, milk the 15-20 cows, and turn the separator to separate the cream from milk—all by hand—remember, no electricity. No days off for farmers.
  • Need to go to the bathroom at night—use a “slop jar” in your room to be emptied in the morning. During the day, it is a trip to the “outhouse.”  When it’s hot, you will have to fend off the flies and wasps, as well as the smell. When it is cold, you will have to contend with a frozen “behind.”  Neither is pleasant.
  • For much of your time during these years, draft horses will be the chief source of power for your farm implements such as mowers, grain binders, cultivators, plows & drills. Horses usually work in twos—teams were often composed of a mare and a gelding—so your first task in the morning is to put on their harnesses (as well as feed and otherwise keep them ready to do their work).
  • If you were of age to go to school in the Fall to Spring, and your parents could spare you on the farm, you went to a Grade 1-8 country school. There were no school buses—you walked. Very seldom did you get a ride. Quite often your teacher would be a young woman just out of high school who had taken “Normal Training” in high school so she could teach. When she got married she would not be able to teach in most school districts. Those who allowed teachers to be married would cancel the contract with the first sign of pregnancy. The teachers who are married have no access to birth control except the “rhythm method’ or abstinence.

Are you still wanting to “Advance to the Rear” and go back to the “good old days”?

Sorry, Jesus, we still “just don’t get it”!!

Many people in our country, and especially in our government say that they are disciples of Jesus—but they just don’t get it!    We don’t get what Jesus was about, what and to whom his mission was,  and what his priorities were.   We don’t get it!     Our behavior reveals our ignorance of what following Jesus means, and it speaks much louder than the worshipful words we might use.

I’ve been teaching a Home Fellowship Bible Study on the Gospel of Mark, and one of the characteristics of his gospel is the multiple times that Jesus is exasperated and frustrated because his disciples just don’t get what his mission is all about.   They just don’t get that his mission was to the poor, the outcast, the blind, the leper, the rejected by society, the tax collector, the sinner.  This last session we read these words in Mark 9:  3-11  and discussed them:

“Then he began to teach them that the Son of man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and after three days rise again.  He said all of this quite openly.  Then Peter took him aside  and began to rebuke him.   But turning and looking at the disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan!  For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Peter just didn’t get it!   And neither did the rest of the disciples.   So Jesus further taught them in these words:   “He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers , let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and the sake of the gospel, will save it.   For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?  (Mark 8:34-37)

The disciples did not get that to follow Jesus meant to share his care and love for the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the bereaved, the rejected, the leper, the aged, the children.    To follow Jesus was to take care of what we would call the “dregs” of society.   WE STILL DON’T GET IT TODAY!   To follow Jesus is to serve these who are created in God’s image, not to be served by them.   To love the poor, not to shame them.   And yet by our actions today many times we do just that—we shame the poor.   This is especially true of our government at the state level.  E.g.:

A recent article in the Wichita Eagle stated that one of the surprises that states  have is the large number of people who enrolled in Medicaid, once it was extended in their states.   Politicians quoted stated concern  about the future costs of Medicaid,  rather than being concerned how many citizens were without health insurance.   They were concerned about money.   We just don’t get it.

Scott Walker, Republican Governor of Wisconsin  and a Baptist preacher’s son, insists his marching orders are from God.   He wants to make it a requirement that  anyone who applies for employment, food stamps, or other assistance programs would have to prove their sobriety.  He says:   “This is not a punitive measure.   This is about getting people ready for work.    I’m not making it harder to get government assistance.   I’m making it easier to get a job.”   Who is he kidding??   The aged and the disabled poor get a job???   He is a so-called Christian, who just doesn’t get what following Jesus is all about!

Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas, who styles himself as a born-again Christian, recently signed a bill that prevents welfare recipients from spending their assistance on “expenditures in a liquor store, casino, jewelry, tattoos, nail salons, lingerie shops, vapor cigarettes, movie theaters, swimming pools, cruise ships, theme partks, dog or horse racing, etc. etc.  The act sets a $25 limit on withdrawals from ATM machines.    The author of this bill that the governor signed is State Sen. Miachael O’Donnell, the son of a pastor who likes to mention Jesus when he explains his opposition to helping the poor.   He recently told the Topeka State Journal “We’re trying to make sure those benefits are used in the way intended.  This is about prosperity.   This is about having a good life.”   (But he’s not talking about  a good life for the poor I might add!)

The late William Sloane Coffin sums it up well:   “It is ironic  to pray for the poor on Sunday, and spend the rest of the week complaining that the government is doing something about it.”

Pope Francis sees clearly that American Christians just don’t get it!  He says “We have created new idols.  The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new  and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.”

Far too many Americans who call themselves Christians are worshipping at the idols of money, self-gratification, and political power.   We Christians keep re-electing the governors and legislators who take punitive actions against the poor, the aged, the sick, the children.   So we must also say…..

SORRY, JESUS—-MOST OF US JUST DON’T GET IT AFTER ALL THESE YEARS!

 

 

 

Get Out of the Boat

Text:  Matthew 14:22-33

Theme:   The church needs the passion of Peter to risk leaving our safe boats to walk on the water with Jesus. 

            “Crazy Simon Peter is doing it again!”   I wonder if that is what the disciples in that boat thought about the events that were unfolding before their eyes.    Peter was known for being impetuous.   He was known for speaking before he thought about what he was saying and doing things on the spur of the moment, without thought.   He was known for his passionate nature.   He was the disciple, re remember that drew his sword the night the soldiers came to arrest Jesus and cut off the year of the servant of the high priest.   Jesus told him to put away his sword that time and healed the ear of the servant.   Peter was the disciple who at one moment was saying that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God (what we refer to as the Good Confession) and the next moment he is being told by Jesus to “get behind me, Satan” for what he said.           

            Peter was passionate.   He was the kind of person who took risks.   And the story we read in the text today is another chapter in the saga of this passionate and impetuous man.   Let’s take another look at it…..

 Jesus had left the disciples to go pray alone and sent them on ahead of him in the boat he had used to speak to the crowds.      The Sea of Galilee is known for its sudden, fierce storms; and the disciples had been caught in one of those storms and it was blowing them out to sea.   They had been rowing all night trying to keep the boat from capsizing by rowing into the wind towards the shore.   They were  exhausted.   They were frightened by the ferocity of the storm.    Then they saw something that frightened them even more—-they saw a man walking on the sea towards them!   Who was it?  Was it a ghost?  Were they hallucinating?   And then the man spoke to them and said:   “Take heart, it is I?”   Was it Jesus?   Was it really him?

            That’s when impetuous Peter said—-“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water!”   Good old crazy Simon Peter!!! He’s done it againf!    And Jesus said one word to him:   “Come”.   

            So Peter stepped out of the boat and began to walk on the waves that were tossing the boat to and fro.   He’s not just walking on calm water—he’s on a stormy sea!    Suddenly, he had second thoughts—what in the world is he doing here??

What made me do this crazy thing? 

            And he took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink!   He cried out:  “Lord, save me!!”  And immediately Jesus reached out to him and pulled him back up, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

 You have probably heard many sermons given on this story.   While Mark and Luke also have the story of the calming of the sea, the story of Peter trig to walk on the water to Jesus is found only in Matthew’s gospel.    Some sermons may have emphasized that we must keep our eyes on Jesus and when we fail to do so we sink.   And they are right!    Other sermons you may have heard have been on the faith that is necessary to be a disciple of Jesus   And they are right!

            I would like for us to consider this story, however in terms of an allegory about the church.    

We must remember the Gospel of Matthew was written late in the first century—probably around 90 A.D.,  and it was written to a church that was suffering persecution at the hands of the Roman Empire.   Think about the disciples on the boat as being like the church.   They are on stormy seas.  The wind is against them.  But note several things:

            First, when Jesus comes walking toward them they don’t recognize him!  The church doesn’t recognize Jesus???  Whoa!!

            Note secondly, that they do not give  up—they keep on rowing.   But with Jesus not being with them in the boat, they seem to not be getting anywhere, but are just surviving.

Sound familiar?    Do you ever feel that way?   Do you feel like you labor and strain in working for the progress of the church and nothing much happens?     Might it be because we don’t have Jesus in the boat with us?

            Note thirdly, that only Peter is willing to get out of the boat.   The rest of the disciples keep rowing and stay in the boat.   

            Next note   that it is when Peter, in faith, stepped out of the boat that he reaches out to Jesus who saves him!!              

Finally, note a that it is only when Jesus is back in the boat that the storm abates and the seas become still!!

 How very much like the church today are those disciples  in the boat!   Most churches are like a bunch of Jesus’ disciples that are battling to stay alive in an increasingly hostile environment.   Small groups of Christians are rowing like crazy into this life’s  storm that is beating on their church,  and are getting worn out; and it seems like all they are doing is holding their own against a stormy world or worse, they are losing ground.

And it is a stormy world.   It is a world that threatens to enguls us.   To swallow us up.

A world that is in direct competition with the church for the lives and time of Christians.    That schedules events on Sunday mornings to entice Christians away from worship of God.

A world that schedules sports events for children on Sunday and tells us that is more important than children being in church and Bible Study. 

A world that pushes an immoral way of life as being “fun” and the “in thing” to do in movies, TV, music and rap.

A world that is full of violence and hatred.  One in which terrorists kill innocent human beings in behalf of their political and religious agenda.   A world where rulers kill peaceably assembled protestors of their regimes.

A world that threatens large numbers of adults and children with starvation and violence at the hands of their own governments.

 A world where disease threatens and takes lives on a daily basis—-disease that is curable if the cure was available to those who are dying of the diseases.

 A world where drugs are pushed on our children; where our children are not safe from the attacks of child molesters and child pornographers.

 A world where families are split apart by governments”getting tough on immigration, by divorce,  and by poverty and whre families are dysfunctional , with children drifting and lost.

A world where poverty leaves children and parents hungry and without adequate medical and dental care because Kansas will not expand Medicaid

 Richard Hamm, former General Minister of DOC and now retired described the world of today in these words in his book From Mainline to Frontline.  Written 10 years ago, sadly it is still very true.   If things have changed, it is only that they are probably worse!   He writes….

 “See that mean-spiritedness is everywhere, impatient automobile drivers, who seem more bent on making a point than getting somewhere; parents in the supermarket who slap their children around; politicians who deliberately belittle and lie about those who oppose them;  radio talk show hosts who do not simply differ from the ideas and positions offered by others, but who seek to assassinate the character of those with whom they differ;  people who want to win and will crush their opponents in any and every way possible to do so.

            The world is a greedy place….The world is a place where racism is part of everyday life;  where sexual orientation becomes more important than one’s humanity in defining a person’s value.

Hamm continues

            The world is a place where certain people are expendable.   A world fueled by consumerism.  To be attractive or to have value, you must buy this product or that product.  You must have this car.  You must use this toothpaste.  You must wear this designer label.

{End of Quote}.

The world is also a place where our governments try to balance  their budgets with cuts that adversely affect children, the elderly, the poor, and the sick…while giving huge subsidies to oil companies that net billions of dollars each year in profits that they pay little tax on.  This is a frightening world.  It is a world that desperately needs the church to take a stand on the above issues and to be there to heal and help those who are being tossed about or being thrown away.

 The church in this world needs to listen carefully to the words spoken by the prophet Micah long ago:       

“With what shall I come before trhe Lord, and bow myself before God on high?  Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?   Will the lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?   Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?  He has showed 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?”

 And where is the church in this stormy world?

I fear the church is too often fearful and  cowering in the boat, being buffeted by the storms of this world, and trying to row by themselves instead of getting out of the boat and taking risks with Jesus by their side.   

I fear Jesus is not in the boat with us and we are afraid to get out of the boat and go and meet him on the stormy seas of this life.   We feel safe in the boat, rowing hard, but getting nowhere.  Nowhere is something that we are familiar with.   Better not to take a risk by getting out of the boat and going toward Jesus.

 But Jesus comes to us on life’s stormy seas and says“Come”.  Are we willing to answer that call?   Are we willing to look Jesus in the face and climb out of our safe boat and take risks in walking in the storm that surrounds us with him?

The church needs the passion of Peter to leave  to leave our safe boat and walk on the stormy seas of this world with Jesus!!

Passionthat is what we are missing.   We like to play it safe.   Jesus words “Do not be afraid” mean more than “rest easy”.   They mean something like “take heart”; “have courage”;  “be open and willing to receive what is coming”;  get ready for a new thing that God is about to do in your life.”   It is an invitation to welcome rather than retreat from walking with Jesus and the new future that goes with that for us and our world.

It is not always easy.

It is easier to complain than to try a new way of living that heals and forgives and reflects God’s mercy and love to others as Jesus did. 

It is easier to live with disappointments than to venture changes leading to unknow possibilities.

Easier to keep fighting the battles that we know than to undertake an entirely different approach to living by walking with Jesus the Christ in His Way.

 So what does the church need to do to survive the storms they are battling?   I would suggest three things:

FirstWe need to be passionate about what we are doing. We are too comfortable.   We must be willing to take risks.   We need to get our of our safe boats and walk toward Jesus, believing and trusting that he will keep our heads above the stormy waters if we do so. 

 Secondly, we need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.  We need to invite Him into our church and into our hearts in a transformative way.   We need to sit at his feet in the Gospels and learn of His Way.   

 Finally, we need to trust that God will help us if we risk much.   That God, through Jesus will be there for us if we falter  

 

There is a story about musicians at a nightclub who complained about an old piano.   The keys would often stick and the sounds was truly hideous it was so out of tune.   After months of listening to the grumbling, the nightclub owner finally decided to do something about it­—he sent the piano out to be painted.

 Painted???  Painted????  What good would that do???

 I think that is something that we Christians in our churches often settle for—-a paint job when we need a full tune up and overhaul.      It is so easy to play church without actually being one.   But what people too often see and hear from the church is like the old piano that just had a paint job—we need a tuneup and an overhaul, not just a paint job.  And so many turn away from the church like the musicians did from the old piano. We are out of tune with the world around us that has changed dynamically in the last 50 years.  We don’t need a paint job as a church—we need a full tuneup and overhaul of the way we go about being church. It is so easy to  seek comfort instead of challenge; to want rest, not responsibility.

            We too readily accept complacency and the status quo and surrender our passion for God.  If we look for a paint brush rather than a tool box to fix our churches we will find that we will not solve our problems.

 Remember one thing:  Jesus is here with us as we face the storms of life that beat upon us as Christians and upon our church.   He will walk with us and reach down and pick us up if we stumble—-if we reach out to him as Peter did and say:  “Lord save me!”  

But first we have to get out of the boat and take the risk of walking with Jesus on the stormy sea!!

 

What’s in our Tear Bottle?

Text:   Mark 9:38-50

Those of us who are parents have always wanted to meet some characters called:   They, Them, and their cousin Everybody!    You know how it goes—“They” said it was o.k., Dad—-or it’s o.k. with “them”——or “But Mom, Everybody is wearing this or doing that!”

They” are everywhere, and we even find “Them” in the church.   “They” and “Them” make all the decisions.  And usually cousin “Everybody” doesn’t much care for the decisions “They” made!  They, Them, and Cousin Everybody!!   We have a fundamental tendency, it seems, as human beings to divide the world into “Them” and “Us” .

That’s what the disciples are doing in the text above.   We can almost hear the panic (and the pride also) in the disciples voices when they say:   “Jesus!  Jesus!  We saw Them.   They’re out there.  And They are doing miracles and curing people of demons, and maybe even preaching in Your Name!    And Jesus, we’re sure—we’re absolutely sure—they’re Them.   We know they’re Them, because they are not Us.   And so we stopped them!!!”

If the disciples were expecting a pat on the back from Jesus for this they were very disappointed.   Jesus was not happy about what they had done.   On the contrary, he probably was driven to tears of anger at their shortsightedness and pride, because he gave them one of the sharpest rebukes ever given to his disciples.   “Don’t stop them! He says.  “There is not Them.  There’s only Us!   And no one who does any good work in the power of my name should be thwarted from doing so.   Whoever is not against us is for us!”

Jesus continued by stating that those who willfully erect “stumbling blocks”,   whose actions hinder the progress of the “little ones” (read believers),  are better off at the bottom of the sea with a millstone around their necks!

There is a verse in the Psalms—Psalm 56:8—-that says:  God, you have kept count of my tossings;  put my tears in your bottle.   Are they not in your record?   (NRSV)

This Psalm is referring to the ancient practice, according to scholar James Fleming, of collecting one’s tears and preserving them in a “tear bottle” made of glass, many of which had a bulbous bottom and a long neck flared at the top to facilitate collecting the tears.

Some say that the woman of the streets (read prostitute) who bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears at the house of Simon the Pharisee may have actually been pouring out her own bottle of tears on his feet.

I see Jesus as a man who felt deeply!!   As we just celebrated Father’s Day,  I would suggest that he is a model for  fathers today showing what a  man should be and do as a father. .  Jesus is a man who cried tears of compassionof grief, of love, of anger.   Jesus loved deeply, just as God loves deeply.    And those who love deeply express deep emotions.      

Jesus wept over many things

After his Triumphal Entry, he wept tears of compassion over Jerusalem, as they rejected him and the way of peace that he brought and chose instead a way of a military messiah that would result in the utter destruction of Israel by the Romans.   “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to it.   How often I have desired to gather you as a hen gathers her brood under her wings—and you were not willing…”

Jesus wept tears of grief as he saw the grief of the family of his friend Lazarus at his death.

He wept tears of anger, I’m sure, at the sight of those who took advantage of the “little ones”—-the poor, the weak, the young, the elderly, the sick, the lepers, the outcasts of society. As always, Jesus’ anger is for any one who took advantage of or failed to help the “others”, the “little ones”—-the poor, the weak, the young, the old, the sick, the outcast.

He wept tears of frustration, I’m sure, at the failure of his disciples to grasp what His mission was about as the “suffering servant” Messiah. and their failure to grasp the significance of the Kingdom of God that he proclaimed.

He wept tears of anguish in the Garden of Gethesemane, as he prayed that “this cup might pass”, but nevertheless promised to do God’s will.

We have pointed at some of the tears that may have been in Jesus’ tear bottle.    But today the question is:   What is in my tear bottle?  what is in yours?

When I was a child it was widely taught to young boys that “Men do not cry!”   I was lucky to have a father who didn’t teach me that.   He didn’t cry often, but one of the times I do remember seeing him cry was over the way the church was treating the present minister.   He was an Elder in the Christian Church in Abilene, and came home from a board meeting and cried as he told my mother about it.    So, I learned a different lesson as a boy—that there is nothing wrong about crying in compassion with other human beings.

But the question is:  “ What makes us cry??”  What turns on our eye faucets and tear pumps?   What makes our eyes tear up and our cheeks get damp?    Is it crying tears over injustice to others?   Crying tears of compassion for others?  Crying genuine heart-and –soul tears over the plight of the world and our fellow human beings?   Is that it?    In other words is our crying based on the kinds of attitudes and activities that brought tears to Jesus’ eyes?

What makes you sad?   What makes me sad?  What makes me glad?   What makes you glad?    What makes you angry?   What makes me angry?   Those are the questions we should be asking ourselves.

What tears are in your tear bottle, Christian?   What tears are in my tear bottle, pastor?

As I thought about these questions I decided that I would “go first” in answering them.   But I invite you to think about what is in your tear bottles as I share what might be in mine as I look at my life and ministry…..

I have often cried tears of grief, as I conducted funerals and saw the deep grief of those who have lost a loved one.  I share that grief and their tears.

I have cried tears of frustration when I left the room of an elderly person in a nursing home whose family seldom visits and whose life is being “warehoused” by the system.

I have cried tears of anger  when I read about how the elderly and the poor are forced to choose between paying for medicine and a doctor or pay for food.   Or when I read that those who have worked hard all their lives and saved are rendered bankrupt by their inability to pay medical bills because they can’t get health insurance.   A life-threatening and very expensive illness strikes and they must choose between life and bankruptcy!   Something is terribly wrong with a faith community that keeps quiet about that!!   Those who decry health care availability for all makes me  cry for the church  and those who call themselves Christians who do not seem to feel their pain and strive to alleviate it.

I cried tears of grief, I remember, when I first saw the Vietnam Wall—grief for the loss of all those young men and women whose names are recorded there and for what their lives might have meant to their families and to our society.   And I cry tears of grief today as I read about those who die in Iraq and Afghanistan and Palestine.  So much human life squandered and human potential not allowed to develop!

I cry tears of compassion with the one who is facing end of life and being placed in hospice and who feels frightened about what is happening to him or her.

I cry tears of compassion, but also of anger,   when I see pictures of children in Africa who have bloated bellies and sticks for limbs due to hunger while the adults of their country spend the money meant for food to buy arms to kill each other!  And the same for children in America who have no health care, not enough to eat, and when they come into the Lord’s Diner for a meal cannot respond normally but look at me with dull eyes and no expression.

I cry tears of frustration as I watch a mind being wasted by Alzheimers Disease, or a body wasted by cancer and then read of cuts in funding for research for cures for those problems while millions go the oil companies.   I cry tears of anger  when I hear of the terrible prices exacted for cancer drugs by the drug companies that force those suffering with cancer to choose between life and bankruptcy.

I cry tears of —what—Frustration?  Compassion?   Grief?   When I look out on this sanctuary on Sunday morning and see all the empty pews that could be full of people praising God and going forth to serve him this week—if we would but get on fire for Jesus Christ and invite and bring them here.   Most people come to church the first time, research shows, when someone in the congregation invites them.   When have you done that?   Why not?

I cry tears of compassion  when I see children growing up outside the church, without its teachings and without a knowledge of Jesus Christ, because their parents just don’t care!

I cry tears of joy  as I dedicate a baby and its parents to bring it up in the church and teachings of Jesus.

I cry tears of joy when I baptize someone.

I cry tears of joy as I pronounce a couple husband and wife at their wedding.

Those are some of the tears in my tear bottle?   So what do you cry for Christian?   Now it is your turn!!

What makes us cry, church?   Is our crying based on the kinds of things that brought tears to the eyes of Jesus?   What makes us cry, Church?   Fellow Christians, what makes you cry!

I have come to believe that there is a linkage between suffering and love.   They inhabit the same deep place in our souls.  If we did not love there would be no suffering and grief, there would be no crying.

We suffer and hurt and weep for our children late into the night because we love them.

Our children get homesick when they go away to school or camp, because they love their homes and their parents.

We shed tears over someone’s death, because we loved them and loved being with them.

To not cry is to never deeply and fully love  !!

 

Jesus wept because Jesus loved..   Does the church of Jesus Christ weep because they love?    What makes you cry, Church?

Frederick Beuchner, in “Whistling in the Dark” says:   “Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention to them.   They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not, God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where you should go next.”

Some of you will remember the trio of Peter, Paul and Mary that was popular during the 1960’s.   Paul wrote a song entitled “For the Love of it All”.   I’d like to quote some of his lyrics in closing:

Long ago on a hilltop where now the curious crawl

A man on a cross paid the ultimate cost

For the Love of it all.

For the Love of it all, we are gathered by grace.

It is still not too late to come and celebrate.

The Love of it all.

Eli, eli, lamina sabakthani!   The Love of it all!!

WHAT’S IN YOUR TEAR BOTTLE, CHURCH?????!!!

Crown Him or Crucify Him?

 

Text:   Luke 19:  28-40

            Today is Palm Sunday in our Christian year.   It is the day that we recount again the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.  It is relatively uncommon to find details from the life of Jesus in all four gospels, but the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is one of those stories found in all four gospels.   All share the central details of the crowd’s greetings of Jesus with “Hosanna’s”   and of Jesus riding into the city on the back of a donkey.

            Many sermons have been delivered about that donkey and about Jesus’ humility, etc. etc.   However this is not an act of humility but an act of anointing that goes back to the Old Testament and ties in Jesus to the line of King David, from which the Messiah was to come.     It is a scene much like that described in I Kings 1, where the prophet Nathan, following King David’s instructions, is to “take Solomon to the Gihon spring below the city near the Mount of Olives, place him on David’s own donkey, anoint him together with Zadok the priest, blow the trumpet and say “Long Live King Solomon”.   Then they were to follow Solomon up to the city and seat him on David’s throne. 

 Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem looks very much like the coronation ceremony for Solomon—-the son of David and successor to the throne of Israel.        

            That symbolism was not lost  on those who greeted Jesus, or on the religious leaders, or on the Romans!!!.    His entry was a  statement of Jesus’ divine right to rule forever—-of his messiahship—foretold by the prophet Isaiah. 

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was a revolutionary act!!  

            We seldom think of Jesus as a “revolutionary” but that was what he was.   His mission that he announced at his home synagogue in Nazareth was revolutionary.  It foresaw that he would challenge the social, economic and religious domination systems of the day that punished the poor and enriched the rich and powerful.   Jesus cast his lot with the ones who were the outcasts of his society and he didn’t just say “let’s help them survive” but his life was dedicated to changing the domination system (economic, political, and social, ) that held them down.    In his home synagogue he read the passage from Isaiah that says:   “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.”    And he told his hearers “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your midst.” 

            Revolutionary!   Jesus was challenging the political, economic and religious domination system of his day.    It’s the poor that are important not the rich and powerful.   It is the oppressed that I am sent to, not the comfortable.    It was to the outcasts of society that God sent His Son.   Revolutionary!!

Today I’d like for us to look at  those who  participated in Jesus’ entry into JerusalemThey werethe crowds, the disciples, the Jewish religious authorities, the Romans—-all participated in some way in this scene of triumphal entry—-just as all would participate, either actively or passively, in the crucifixion of Jesus at the end of that week.   Let’s look at each one of the groups:

 The Crowds:   They shouted “Hosanna!  Hosanna!   The Greek form of the Hebrew “Hoshianna” found in Psalm 118:25 WHERE IT IS TRANSLATED “Save us we beseech you!”      How many of this same crowd later shouted at the palace of the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate—-“Crucify him!   Crucify him!   His blood be upon our heads!!   We don’t know!

            This was not a mob but were good people and genuinely eager for the messiah to come and save them.  They were people who attended the synagogue, God-fearing people, who tried hard to keep the Jewish Law.   They were looking for a messiah to deliver them from the conquering Romans—-and when Jesus didn’t do that they would turn against him.

The Religious Authorities:  Luke tells us that they had been plotting for some time to get rid of Jesus   The Gospel of John tells us what brought them to the point of wanting to kill Jesus    So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do?   This man is performing many signs.   If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him and the Romans will come and destroy both  our holy place and our nation.”

They saw Jesus as a radical revolutionary and they were afraid.   They were afraid they would lose their power, their wealth, and even their lives because they were puppets of Rome and if they allowed Jesus to prevail with the people then they would be held responsible by the Roman authorities.   JESUS WAS A RADICAL REVOLUTIONARY WHO HAD TO BE ELIMINATED.  

            These were not evil people.   They were the respected, well-educated leaders who led highly moral lives and/or served in the temple as priests.   The Pharisees were good and decent law-abiding and their dedication to God was widely respected and admired.   But they were seized with fear that this revolutionary named Jesus of Nazareth would bring the fury of Rome down on their heads and they would lose not only their power, wealth, and prestige, but their lives.     

The Disciples:      The same disciples that arranged for the triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem are the ones who deserted Jesus at his arrest, even those closest to Jesus—the Twelve.   Their fear for their own lives led them to desert Jesus and go into hiding.     After Jesus’ betrayal, the self-appointed leader of the Twelve, Simon Peter, three times denied that he even knew Jesus out of fear for his own life. Only the women disciples and John stood by him to the end!   They were at the foot of the cross as he was crucified.  We can criticize them, but who among us might not have done the same?  

              While they had their weaknesses, the Twelve had traveled with Jesus, listened to his teachings, given up their jobs and livelihoods to follow him, seen him at the moment of Transfiguration, staunchly followed  him to Jerusalem although they certainly feared for their own lives and Jesus’ life there.   They were good and decent Galileans—they adored Jesus, loved him, and had left jobs and family behind to follow him.

The Romans:  Rome had brought the Pax Romanus —the Roman Peace” —-to the known world of the time.   It was a RULE OF LAW that is still copied to a great extent by the government of our own nation.   While they might be harsh, they sought to be fair—as we will see by the examination of Jesus by Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator.   The Roman Peace was enforced by the sword.   If a revolutionary threatened the peace the Romans saw it as treason—-punishable by crucifixion.

Although Roman government did not interfere much with religious matters, their ears were very much attuned to any kind of treason or government overthrow being planned.   There had been many rebellions in Palestine by Jews called Zealots and they were dealt with swiftly and harshly—many crucifixions took place in order to keep the government stable in Palestine.   The Romans were the ones who placed the sign—“The King of the Jews” over Jesus’ head on the cross—showing what they would do to anyone who would proclaim himself king!!!

You know—the sad thing about all of this is that if you were to talk to any of these people described above you would find them to be outwardly decent people who were doing what they thought was the best thing to do!  In sum—it was not the rabble and the evil people that crowned Jesus one moment and crucified him later in the week.  It was the rank and file people—it was good, decent, synagogue-attending people who demanded his death!  It was Roman soldiers carrying out order about a threat to their empire.   It was good, law-abiding people.    That is the tragedy!

The Question for us is—-What do we do with Jesus today?   Do we crown him or crucify him.?    That is the question we must ask ourselves this Palm Sunday as we enter Holy Week!!

            If Jesus came to America today with his revolutionary ideas about government, religion, and the economic and the social dominations systems that we have now that are very similar to the ones described above in first century Palestine—-that give the power to the rich and use that power to keep the poor down and further enrich themselves–would we in the church welcome him or would we be among the ones in the crowd crying “Crucify him”??    Because Jesus would be on the side of the poor and the outcasts of our society.   He would advocate for those who are homeless.   He would criticize those who pass laws that keep the poor down and advocate for laws and practices that lift up those in poverty.    He would heal those who can’t afford health care and severely chastise those who keep health care from the needy.    He would advocate some form of healthcare for all.   He would be considered a “bolt” thrown into the machinery of progress   I feel that Jesus would not be recognized,  and if he was, would not be allowed in our churches.

Let’s look at the same groups today:

   The Government:    Is our government crowning Jesus or crucifying him?    We have a government made up of good, God-fearing people—-ask any of them and they will  generally tell you that.   Especially at election time!    Do they promote Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God and what that stands for?   Or do they crucify him by legislating against all that he stood for?    We say on our coins “In God we trust”–-do we??   Or do we trust in our military and police power to enforce what we feel is right, which has very little to do with what Jesus taught?  When our government seeks to enrich the wealthy at the expense of the poor and needy, the mentally ill, the homeless, the hungry—-are we following the teachings of Jesus?   When we deny a large group of people medical care in the state of Kansas are we following the teachings of the Great Healer?      Are we crucifying Jesus on a cross of our own greed and our desire for power to increase our wealth at the expense of others?

The Religious Authorities:     This is a complex area, for we have many “religious authorities” in today’s America.   Who really speaks for Jesus Christ and his teachings.   And that is perhaps the problem:  No one seems willing to forcefully speak for Jesus and what he stands for today.   The religious authorities are either too timid, or they are too closely allied to the government and economic system that keeps them comfortable.    Like the priests and scribes and Pharisees of old, they are afraid to rock the boat.   Most religious leaders and the churches they lead have in the most part been mute about the issues of the day such as compassion for the poor and economic justice and fairness for all.    Where was the voice of the church in the health care debate and the extension of Medicaid to those working poor  in Kansas who are desperately in need of health-care?    We heard from medical doctors and from hospital officials that advocated for that extension of health care.   The church has remained silent about withholding health care from thousands of Kansans.    Why? 

            Religious leaders  are either so fearful of offending someone that they proclaim a watered-down Christianity that Jesus would not recognize as related to his life and teachings; or, they promote one issue to the exclusion of of all others and dwell on that (e.g. abortion)—-leaving out the love and compassion that Jesus showed on a broad range of issues..  

            Too many churches and their leaders are following present-day “priests and scribes” who have crowned their own comfort, their success, as their Lord and have through their passivity, fear and selfishness crucified Jesus.  

The Disciples:   That would be us!   The Church.   Are we crowning Jesus as Lord of our lives or are we crucifying him out of fear of speaking out or sleeping on the job like the disciples in Gethesemane?   What kind of stands have we as a church taken on issues that Jesus came to address in his ministry as he stated them  at the synagogue at Nazareth in the words of Isaiah?

            Is the church doing these things?   Are we taking up the cause of those who are oppressed.   Are we preaching good news to the poor?    Are we working in behalf of those who are ill to bring them comfort?  Are we boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God is at hand and that Jesus is Lord?    Are we challenging the political and economic and, yes, the religious dominations systems whose purpose is to make the poor poorer and the rich richer?    If we are not— we are  passively aiding in Jesus’ crucifixion today and trying to preserve ourselves like the original twelve disciples.

The Crowds:    Ah yes!!   The Crowds!    The “rank and file”.   The people who inhabit our states and towns and cities of this so-called Christian country!   The ordinary people who fill our streets—-good and decent people.!  

            Are they crowning Jesus as Lord of their lives or are they crucifying him?   I am of the opinion that Jesus, while being welcomed  by the people of this country  in the hope that he will be there to save them if they need it, are crucifying him on a cross of indifference!  

            Take a drive down the streets of any town or city on Sunday morning, visit any church, and the message becomes clear what decision they have made.    True, they do not actively shout crucify him as the crowd did in Jesus time—but by their indifference to Jesus and his teachings they are doing the same thing—-they are ridding the country of this dangerous radical that might interfere in their lives and make them uncomfortable.   By their indifference they are shutting him up permanently so his words and call to action don’t bother them anymore.  

THE DECISION IS OURS—IT IS NOT POSSIBLE NOT TO DECIDE.  By our actions we will either crown Jesus Lord of our Lives or we will crucify him.   Which will it be?  Do we really want to be members of the Kingdom of God on earth that he proclaimed or is it too risky—to dangerous—too costly?  

DO WE CROWN JESUS WITH OUR LOVE AND DISCIPLESHIP OR DO WE CROWN HIM WITH A CROWN OF THORNS AND CRUCIFY HIM?    Amen

The Human Face of Poverty

 

I have stated often in my posts that to understand poverty, we must see the human face of it.  Here it is:   “Maria is a 53 year old woman who works two part-time jobs and is a key caregiver for her extended family.   She has diabetes, hypertension and recurrent bleeding from her uterus.   Most months she cannot afford her medicines.   She is beginning to have eye problems and nerve problems because of her diabetes.   She is at increasing risk of suffering a stroke because of her high blood pressure   She often needs to go to the emergency room with severe bleeding from her uterus; she is stabilized and discharged  and told she needs to have a hysterectomy.   She can’t afford this with no medical or health insurance.”

This is a composite picture written by Dr. Gerard S. Brungardt, a physician who I met when he was medical director of the hospice for which I was a chaplain.   I know the doctor as a caring and compassionate person who has worked as a volunteer physician at the Guadelupe Clinic, a local free medical clinic, for over 25 years and put together what he has experienced in this composite face of poverty and health care in an article in the Wichita Eagle .

Dr. Brungardt notes that “with access to KanCare, Maria would be able to have a regular doctor she could call with questions and concerns, one who would care for her diabetes and hypertension.   She would be able to get her medicines on a regular basis and get the surgery she needs.”    But what he says next in his article in the Wichita Eagle is what is important:   “Most important” he says, “she would feel like a member of the community—-someone who counts, someone her community recognizes as important enough to provide with the basis need of health insurance. ”   

Maria’s example highlights the key reasons why we should expand Medicaid in Kansas that has been blocked by the governor and the legislature, thus denying  basic healthcare to thousands of Kansans just like Maria.   Dr. Brungardt emphasizes that the most important reason to extend that care goes beyond just health care.   It confirms for people their dignity.    Brungard refers to Pope Francis, “who  has untiringly reminded us of the dignity we all carry within ourselves in communion with those around us.   WHEN WE ISOLATE SOMEONE FROM OUR COMMUNITY THAT PERSON EXPERIENCES A POVERTY MORE PROFOUND THAN MATERIAL POSSESSIONS.   They experience the poverty of being denied their innate human dignity, of not being recognized as someone who counts, of not being treated precisely as a someone.”

We have relegated almost a quarter of the population of Kansas t0 a position of inferior status as human beings.   How can those who did this, our governor and our legislators, look at themselves in the mirror every morning, knowing what their actions are causing?   How can we, as Christians and churches, look at ourselves in the mirror every morning that we do not demand that this change?

The Kingdom of God….on Earth

Most of us think of the Kingdom of God as something happening  in the future.   That was not how Jesus proclaimed it.   He said it was near.   That it was happening now—breaking into the world during his ministry.   The proclamation of the Kingdom of God  was Jesus’ message to the world.  The Kingdom of God as Jesus proclaimed it was not “when we all get to heaven” or “pie in the sky bye-and-bye.   Jesus saw it as “breaking in on earth—-it was now!  He taught his disciples to pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.    The Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed was a new way of living—a very different way of living.    Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God set the business of living in this world in the conventional way on its head.   For example:

  • Blessed are the poor“-—not the rich as conventional wisdom holds.
  • 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 pass it endlessly on to their heirs.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers—they, and not the army generals, 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 and many more are descriptions Jesus gives  of the way life in the Kingdom of God would be different.     The Kingdom of God is what the world would be like if God ruled in everyone’s heart!

We have had many centuries of Christianity and we still seemed not to grasp Jesus’ proclamation.    Our “Christian” societies have not brought us close to the Kingdom of God—far from it.   Society hasn’t changed much since Jesus’ time.    Let’s compare the two eras—-Palestine during the time Jesus walked the hills of Nazareth and the U.S. today.   

Life in Palestine during Jesus earthly life….

  • was organized into political entities that included city officials, territorial governors, and heads of state—-all of whom drew their support from the high taxes levied on the peasants that made up 90% of the population.
  • was organized around the worship of many pagan  gods.
  • was designed to support the political and economic power of those who were rich and powerful and who lived by different rules and standards than the common people.   The rich and powerful included the high priests and the temple organization.
  • was a culture where about 10 percent or less held the wealth and the land  and the 90% were peasants getting by on a subsistance living or below—just enough to barely live on and survive so they could pay the bulk of their income and produce in taxes.   The two constant worries of the peasants were food and freedom from debt.   Without food they starved and if they were in debt they lost their land and livelihood to their creditors.  Note that Jesus recognized this in the prayer he taught his disciples—-“give us this day our daily bread and  forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
  • A culture whose religious structure and leaders worked in concert with the political/governmental power of Rome to maintain their power and influence over the people.
  • It was a land where people were lost and perished every day.

Does it sound familiar.     Let’s look at our country today….

  • We 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 have become status figures.   No one knows who Charles Middle Class Smith is, but they all know who Charles Koch is.
  • a country that has many pagan gods—we call them by different names such as—-   Money….Power…Pleasure…Comfort, etc.
  • A country where 10 % of the people have 60% of the total income, while  the other 40% of the income is divided among the remaining 90% of the population.
  • A 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.   Everywhere we turn there is violence, in our streets, on our TV’s, causing us to live in fear of each other and carry guns to defend ourselves.
  • A country where the greed and gluttony of huge financial institutions eat up the savings of those most vulnerable who trusted them; and do so in order to enrich their wealthy stockholders who demand a profit at all costs.
  • 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 are neglected.   A country where children have no access to health care and not enough to eat.    A country where 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 to be cut from government budgets or discarded for political reasons.    We reduce food stamps and aid for struggling families in order to reduce the federal deficit—-while huge corporations that contribute to the re-election of our legislators continue to receive tax breaks and other benefits as they feed at the public tax trough.
  • We are living in a place where 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 still support the politicians that have made the lives of the most vulnerable people even worse.
  • This is a country ruled more and more by men and women whose only aim is to do whatever is necessary (whether right or wrong does not matter) to stay in power.

We need a voice crying in the wilderness like that of John the Baptizer 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 Jesus and the Kingdom of God he proclaimed.

We need this voice because people are still wandering in this wilderness of today, having lost their  moral, emotional and economic way—-yearning for something better and not quite knowing what that something better is.   They are yearinng for a different way of living that leads to a society where all of God’s people are treated equally, fairly and lovingly.    Jesus proclaimed that Way long ago.   He lived the Way.   The Church as Jesus’ body needs to Show the Way today.   

It is the mission of our post-resurrection Christian Community to proclaim the Kingdom of God through what we do and who we are as God’s people.   We’ve messed up for centuries—-let’s strive to get it right!