Tag Archives: Obamacare

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?????!!!

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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

Governor Sam, the Values Man

The ads on TV are continuous now as election time nears.   Governor Sam Brownback’s favorite, it appears,  is one where a group of people are gathered around him on lawn chairs in the back yard..   The men  are all wearing their best blue jeans and brand new cowboy straw hats and the women don’t look like they’ve ever set foot on a farm.  Sam is telling them that he grew up on a farm in eastern Kansas and that his parents still operate it and from time to time he visits—but his dad still won’t let him operate a combine or plant (much laughter here).    But—he continues—the important things he learned from his parents in growing up on that family farm are his values and his character…..

I think perhaps, Sam, you need to go home more often and ask for a refresher course in these two areas of values and character..   Obviously you either weren’t listening, are a slow learner, or are forgetful.   You just don’t seem to be operating on any values except “winning at all costs” and “maintaining your power at all costs.    I hope when you take that refresher course that you will ask Mom and Pop Brownback to emphasize some of the Biblical values especially.   For example:

The value of not bearing false witness against your neighbor—also known as truthfulness and honesty.    Look at the half-truths and the outright lies in your political ads about the state of the Kansas economy as well as your political mudslinging toward your opponent.

The value of compassion for the vulnerable, the poor, the sick and children..  This compassion was what Jesus, whom you profess to follow, demonstrated time after time during his ministry.   I see it in very few of your actions as governor the last four years.   You have refused to extend Medicaid coverage for a large number of Kansans who can’t afford health insurance but don’t now qualify for Medicaid, including lots of children.  Should they not  have health coverage?   No, you said in spite of overwhelming recommendations by Kansas doctors and hospitals that you do so.   Why?  Because that might cause problems with your political supporters who hate Obamacare for some reason and will stop backing you if you do so?     I don’t find any compassion at all here.   Even Republican governors in other states have expanded Medicaid out of concern for the poor in their state who did not have medical coverage.   You made  cuts in social programs and education in Kansas  so that the rich can get even richer through the abolition of the state income tax on “small business.” The resulting downturn of income for the state has caused and will cause further cuts in the programs for the poor and the sick and the mentally challenged, and for schools.    Where is your compassion?  —-how unlike the compassion that Jesus portrayed this all is!!

Are winning at all costs, even by shading the truth, and the character assassination of your political adversaries  the values that you learned at your parents’ knee?   I hope not.

How does misrepresenting the true facts of what is happening in Kansas  and saying “The sun is shining on Kansas and don’t let anyone tell you different” represent your values that you learned at your parents knee? Independent analysts, economic experts, all warn that Kansas is in trouble financially even if we do not spend more because of the tax cuts and resultant decreasing income for the state.  Two very reputable credit agencies downgraded Kansas’ credit rating this year because their economists warned of the financial trouble.   Does this sound like sunshine?   Are you being honest with Kansas about the sunshine or are you only saying it to get re-elected. Do you value honesty or a power?   When the two are in conflict, power seems to win.

How does making the rich more rich through your policies and the  laws you have signed, then blaming the poor for being poor because they won’t work fit into your value system?  How are the poor to find jobs if they are living on the street?   The jobs that are available are mostly ones that do not pay a living wage—-often below the minimum wage.   How are they to lift themselves out of poverty.   What did Jesus ever do that advocated blaming the poor for being poor? 

How about attacking the character of your opponent in the election and lying about his motives?    Where did you learn that particular value?    Even the ancient Greeks had a name for this— Argumentum ad Hominem”—and it described a spurious argument that attacks the person when you are not able to attack the person’s ideas.

Winning at any costs, the end justifies the means, is not a value that Jesus taught or practiced.    In fact Jesus said “the last shall be first and the first shall be last“.   He also said:   “he who is the master shall be the servant of all.”  Greed and power never were a part of the values that Jesus taught.  These two values ((greed and power) seem to dominate your value system and the actions that spring from it.  

Character is the result of our values.   And our values need to be weighed against the moral standard of the Great Commandment:   “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength—-and love your neighbor as you love yourself.   How do your values measure up to this Great Commandment, Sam?    I’m sure you love God and that you love yourself, it’s the love of neighbor that gives me a problem.    I think your neighbor is not considered to be the robbed and beaten and dying man on the side of the road who the Good Samaritan gave aid to.  That’s how Jesus defined who our neighbors were   I think your neighbors are  limited to your political allies and those who contribute vast sums of money to your political campaigns.  Your actions speak so loudly that I can’t believe most of your words!

Come on, Sam—-you really need that refresher course!!

 

 

 

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!

How are the Children?

Kasserian ingera? ….How are the Children?    These words are the traditional greeting in some parts of central and southern Africa.   When you meet someone, you don’t say “HI!”  or “Hello, how are you?”   but you say..”How are the children?”   and the expected reply is “the children are well!”  

Behind this greeting is a great truth.   If the children are doing well then the community is doing well.   That is so true, because we know that the ones who suffer the most in times of war between nations, civil war, and even wars within families and between parents are the children!   This is as true in the U.S. as it is in Africa or Syria or Iraq, or you name the country.    We can measure the health of a country—-a state—–a city—-a family—-by the well-being of their children.  

If we were to adopt this greeting—-kasserian ingera?   (How are the children) today in the United States could we answer ‘The children are well?”    I think not.    How we are treating children in our country is a disgrace.   The child poverty rate in 2012 was 23 percent.   Almost one-fourth of our children, 16.4 million of them, were living at the poverty level in one of the richest countries in the world.    We should be ashamed.   

There is much research to show the consequences to children living in poverty.    Research shows that child poverty results in low academic achievement, school drop outs, health and behavior and emotional problems.   So what are we doing at the national level to alleviate the problem of child poverty!

  • We are cutting back on food stamps so that more and more children will be going to bed hungry or without adequate nutrition.    We are “balancing the budget” at the expense of our children, as they are the prime recipients of food stamps.
  • In Kansas, the Republican legislature is  fighting Obamacare that might give these children a chance for medicaid and adequate health treatment.   The Kansas legislators have refused, in spite of pleas from hospitals and doctors,  to extend Medicaid as the new health care law allows so  that it would cover 150,000 more people in Kansas, many of them children.   They have chosen politics over children’s welfare in Kansas.
  • Our Republican legislature has cut the funds for education drastically and are dragging their feet on adequate funding as required by the court decision recently.    They have, though, recently attached an amendment to a bill requiring teachers to teach children how to “shake hands.”
  • Funding for special programs such as a Boys Ranch in Wichita that has been very successful in turning around delinquent youth and helping them to beome  a contributing part of society has been cut.
  • Republican resistance to a rise in the minimum wage that would help parents make more to support their children is helping to insure that despite the best efforts of many parents to work two jobs, they will not be able to meet expenses for raising their children.

All of this has been done under the guise of “helping the poor to not be dependent on aid.”

But what can parents do when they both work one or two low-income jobs with no benefits and still cannot pay the rent and utilities and have enough left over for food?

How are the children?    Are the children well?    I think not.   The children are not doing well—-25% of them—-and our country and state and cities are in jeopardy.    

I recently saw a cartoon that showed a man sitting on a dock hold a life saving ring on a rope.   He was telling a drowning man in the water—-“But if I throw you this life saver you might become dependent on it!”     That is the Republican argument about helping the poor, and it stinks!

When is our society going to wake up and elect legislators who will tackle the problems that cause poverty?    When will we quit blaming people for being poor or jobless and focus on the way our system is structured that causes this to happen?    When will we quit sending jobs overseas to cheap labor and give our own labor force a chance to work?   When will we make sure that every child is covered by insurance, as Obamacare seeks to do?    When will we adequately fund our school programs so that they may help students succeed by giving remedial help to  those who are failing?     When will we attack the problem of homelessness and work towards identifying the causes and the remedy for it?

Only after we attack the underlying causes of poverty in our system will we be able to say both in Kansas and in our nation—-“The Children Are Well!”   Until that time,  our society is in jeopardy!

Follow the Herd…

People are like sheep.    Over a century ago this idea was expressed by German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche—Adolph Hitler was an admirer of his philosophy.    Unfortunately Nietzsche was on to something that I fear was a very insightful view of human beings.  He wrote about the “Herden (the herd) which would always follow a “ubermensch” (superman) wherever they were led.    Nietzsche’s philosophy was that “might makes right” and “whoever has the power and leadership  determines what is right and wrong, good and bad.

I think that this low view of the human condition is still true today.     Let me give a few examples to illustrate why I think so.

  • The Affordable Care Act—an act, that while not perfect, extends health insurance to hundreds of thousands of people not able to afford medical care because they are too sick to be eligible, too poor to pay for it, not mentally capable to work and get it from employers, is rejected still by the majority of the American people based on the lies they are told by their leaders in the Republican Party.    It seems if you tell a lie often enough, loud enough, and broadcast it widely enough the “Herd” will believe it is true.  I have no other explanation for our behavior.  Christians have fallen into this trap along with the rest of the herd too often.   Otherwise, why has the compassion that Jesus showed and taught not caused them to speak up against these lies?     The Herd.    Baa!  Baaa!
  • Kansas Politics.   We live in an agricultural state.   Farming is the basic industry of the state.   Why do we consistently vote for those legislators who are not supportive of our industry?    Those of us who read what our politicians are saying and watch what they are doing, stand in awe of the reality that the very people that are getting the shaft are the ones that are electing these politicians.   For example—-the cuts to education, the refusal to extend federally paid medicare to a large number of our citizens ,  are all caused by the abolition of the income tax for small business.  This abolition of income taxes for small businesses  was based on the Laffer theory—a theory that has been discarded by almost all economists as flawed. The theory says this will create jobs.   Will it?   It has not proven to do so and you can read the statistics.      No—-this tax cut for business  will create wealth for the few and lower the standard of living even more for the majority.   Yet if Kansans are told often enough, loud enough, and widely enough in the media that  abolishing income taxes for business means jobs and a better life for all we will, and have voted, for those who tell us that again and again.    Why?   We are following the herd.   Baa!   Baaa!
  • The Belief in the Conventional Wisdom.   The “Conventional Wisdom” isn’t usually very “wise.”     Just because a lot of people think something is true does not make it true.   Just because our leaders tell us its true doesn’t make it true.   Just because we hear it on CBS or Fox News or read it in the papers doesn’t make it true.   Just because I say it is true doesn’t make it true.   Truth is something that people must seek out for themselves based on their experiences and values.   Truth  comes  after discernment which is hard work and too many of us are just too lazy to take the time and so we let others lead us by the nose and tell us what to think and what is true.    Baa!  Baaa!
  • Let’s look at ourselves as Christians in this present day.  What is the role that we play as Christians in relationship to these problems?  We have joined the herd.   We like to pride ourselves and say we are not “sheepish” or members of a herd.  I’m not so sure.   How many of us think that our purpose in life involves producing and consuming and competing?    That is what our society demands of us—-to be productive, to consume, and always want more and better, and to compete for everything.     Are we following the teachings and example of Jesus of Nazareth  in rejecting this?  We too are following the “Herd”.    “Baa!   Baaa!

But Christians should be different.    We are followers and disciples of Jesus of Nazareth who was killed by “the Herd”  at the instigation of the leaders of his day in politics, economics and especially religion who turned the “Herd” against him.    He was killed because he was a threat to the domination system of his day in the areas of religion, economics and politics.   Jesus  was a radical and his radical approach to life went against the leadership in the religious, economic and political areas and so the leadership killed him.   If Jesus appeared among us today and advocated the same radical way of life and religion that he taught—-Christians today would no doubt be in the midst of the “herd” that would shout “Crucify him!   Crucify him!

Watchdog or Lapdog?

Is the church a watchdog or a lapdog in relation to our culture?   There is a vast difference between the two.   A watchdog is “the conscience of the culture” that challenges  us when we stray from the core values of our culture.    A lapdog  merely goes along with the decisions the culture makes and as long as it is taken care of, petted and remains  comfortable in the lap of the culture  will do nothing to change anything.

Everytime I read the newspaper or watch TV News I am reminded of our culture’s problems.   To name a few major problems:  healthcare for the poor, lack of jobs and livable wages for the working poor, lack of ethics and basic honesty in politics and business, devaluing of human life.  Let me state a few examples:

  • In Kansas, our stade leaders have apparently opted not to extend the Medicaid program that is part of Obamacare and would be paid for by the federal government to over 150,000 persons in this state.   This is a program that will not cost the state and is backed by hospitals and medical associations statewide  as providing healthcare to a large number of people who presently can’t afford it and of creating a large number of jobs to boost the economy of Kansas.   The main reason given is a political one—-it’s part of Obamacare that Republicans are pledge to defeat one way or another.    The same is true of the problem of not creating insurance centers to help the poor get insurance.      Our infant morality rate in Kansas is one of the highest in the country due to lack of care for expectant mothers who are poor.   Human beings—men, women, children, are dying in our state through lack of medical and psychiatric care. Hundreds of children go to bed hungry every night.   I’ve seen this with my own eyes and heard it on the streets of Hutchinson, Ks. from homeless and needy people.

Where is the church of Jesus Christ speaking to this problem and reminding our leaders that the way we are going is not the way of Jesus who commanded us to “love our neighbors as ourselves.”?  I hear only silence from the church!   Watchdog or lapdog for the culture?

  • The working poor are those who can only find jobs that pay minimum wage or less and are part-time so employers don’t have to pay for health insurance.   These workiing poor include many families where both mother and father work but are still unable to pay the rent and provide adequate food and medical care for their families and themselves.

Who speaks up for the working poor to those in power who want to abolish the Affordable Health Care Act, not extend Medicaid in Kansas,  and block any rise to the minimum wage that might give them a decent living they work so long and hard to provide for their families?   Who?  The church?   Again, I hear only silence!!   Is the church a watchdog or a lapdog?  

  • When those running for office attack each other viciously and tell lies about their opponent and spend millions spreading those lies in the media in order to win elective office and then do nothing to improve the common good while in office—who holds them accountable?

  Who exposes these lies and viciousness and holds those responsible for  them accountable for what they say?    Who speaks up and condemns theses lies and indecencies and holds ttheir perpetrators  accountable?  The church?   Silence again!!    Watchdog or lapdog? 

Our culture is an increasingly unhealthy one to live in for a growing number of poor people and increasing for what used to be the middle class.   From the personal level to the national level we have lost our moral compass—our conscience, our sense of right and wrong, good and evil.   We have forgotten our neighbors are children of God and that life is of value.

It is time for Christians to step forward and be the conscience of our nation!   We have remained silent too long and by our silence have allowed these things to happen and in some cases have even promoted them.   When we fail to challenge decisions from the personal to the national level with a word from God as revealed by Jesus the Christ we become a part of the problem—-lapdogs!   As long as we are comfortable ourselves we won’t get involved.    The problem with this is that it violates completely the Great Commandment that Jesus gives in  Matthew that summarizes the law and the prophets and the mission for his followers:   “You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself!  

Richard Rohr says it well in his introduction to the Enneagram:   “When religion is the conscience of society instead of its lapdog, culture is also healthy.”   (p. xvii Enneagram)