Tag Archives: Shema

Seven Ways to Break the Great Commandment

 

Jesus summed up all we need to do in what is called The Great Commandment.    It is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.”    While this seems simple, it is not, but  if we were to follow this advice personally it would transform our lives, and if our society followed  it,  the results would be revolutionary.   We aren’t  doing very well in keeping this great commandment, either personally or as a society, and I would like to list Seven Ways that we continue to not live according to the Great Commandment, both personally and as a society.  Let’s do it David Letterman style, starting with #7 and working up to #1  way we do so.

#7 –  GLUTTONY.    Gluttony means more than sneaking off too often to visit those 11 secret herbs and spices at KFC, or sitting down to an all-you-can eat buffet.   Gluttony is doing anything to excess!   It is an approach to life that knows no boundaries and honors no limits.   Gluttony turns our appetites into our rulers—no matter what our appetite might be.   It may be food—it may be power—it may be sex—-it may be money—it can even be golf.    Most of us go there from time to time, but our society as a whole is increasingly there all the time.   We want more and more and more—-more clothes, more  adult “toys”, more cars, bigger houses, etc. etc.     And we want more because of #6.

#6 – GREED.

Closely related to gluttony is GREED.    It is not so much the love of possessions as it is the love of possessing.     We live in a money-driven culture where the bottom line is what  is most important and profits are more important than people—-Greed is at the bottom of much that is wrong in our society.   We live in a culture that values money more than meaning.   Money is valued over people.   Money over right and wrong.   We are always wanting more and more and more because we place value in our culture on what we own and not who we are.   Money is power.   Ask any successful politician whether money and power go together—they are as the saying goes “tighter than ticks”.   We see this not only in politics but  in the  business world where cheating and lying to get ahead are often utilized.   If moraliy stands in the way of monetary gain, morality is trampled.   This is not following the great commandment:   money is our God, and who cares about our neighbor?

#5 – ENVY.

Envy  is what happens when we constantly compare ourselves to others.    It is the basis of backbiting (trying to tear down the one we envy), gossiping, bigotry and vanity.   When envy rules our lives then we always feel insecure, and our insecurity is compensated for by making those we envy seem less and less, so that we feel more superior than them.    We love our neighbor less than ourselves and are willing to destroy them to make ourselves more secure.    Building ourselves up at the expense of our neighbor is a long ways from the intent of the Great Commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.

#4 – IDLENESS.

Idleness is the sluggishness of spirit that “believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, lives for nothing and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die,” as Dorothy Sayers writes.   The idle person expects everyone else to take care of him or her, and will not move a muscle to take care of themselves or to take care of anyone else.   The idle person has no sense of responsibility for what happens to them or anyone else—-They love neither God nor themselves very much if it takes an effort, and certainly don’t care about their neighbors.

#3 – LUST.

Lust is the perversion of what is good into something evil, based on our selfishness.   At the base of Lust is selfishness and the ego.   Someone has said that an acronym for EGO is “Edging God Out”.  As we put our desires before the good of others and before God, we make what we want our God—-whether it be sex, power, money or anything else.   We think only of ourselves when we lust.   It is extreme selfishness in action and it shuts God and other people out of our lives.

#2 – ANGER

W.C. Fields once said, “I am free of all prejudice, I hate everyone equally.”   Anger is the harboring of grievances that demand revenge and develop into hatred.   It is a seething rage that circulates throughout and is prominent in our post-modern culture in ever increasing amounts.   It comes out in murder, rape, attacks on minority groups and the vulnerable, the immigrant, the poor, the homeless, the weak.   When anger rules a society the society will be violent like ours in the U.S. today.   Read the newspapers and decide just how much anger there is in our world.   Pent-up anger comes out in deadly ways all the time—every day.   As the Bible says, we cannot be angry with our neighbor and love God. (I. John 4:7)  

And the #1 problem is—-PRIDE.

Pride is defined as “people getting drugged on the fumes of their own ego”   An example is when someone you are talking to says:   “enough about me.   Let’s talk about you.  What do you think of me?   Pride is when our  ego is in control of all that we say and do.   It’s all about me!  Remember the acronym that I gave you for ego earlier:   “E=Edging; G= God;  O = Out.”   There are many ways that Pride comes out.   It may be a “need-to-control pride”.   It may be a “self-centeredness” that comes through low self-esteem that says “I’m not much, but I’m all I ever think about”  kind of pride.   Religious pride is the worst kind of pride.   In the words of a theologian “Have you ever seen a prodigal come home to a Pharisee?    Religious pride turns away the very people God is trying to reach—the vulnerable, the poor, the weak, the homeless.

You may have discovered by now that I am applying the 7 Deadly Sins to  individuals and our society today.    Although the seven deadly sins are a product of the past, I think they are very present with us today in our society—-and they are just as deadly as they were in the Middle Ages, both to us and to our society!!    What do I mean by “sin”.   Sin, biblically is anything that turns us away from God and our neighbor—it’s not just “doing bad things.”    It is when we let ourselves become rulers of our lives instead of God.

All of the above are sins because they separate us from God and from each other.   That is the deadliness of them.  All of them break what Jesus said was the Great Commandment—to love God and our neighbor as we love ourselves..   There is no love for anyone but “self” in any of these “sins”.   No love for God.  No love for neighbor.   Only self-love.  What a difference it would make in our society and in our personal lives if we could get rid our lives and our society of all seven of them!

An Attitude of Apathy?

In the early history of the Christian Church, heresies were a major concern.   When a person or group strayed from what the church determined to be the orthodox Way, they were branded heretics.   Being so branded could be dangerous—it could cost you your life!

In today’s society heresies are no big deal, and certainly not life-threatening.   At most people may be branded as “wrong-headed, wrong-thinking”—–misinformed but tolerated.   At worst persons may be expelled from some churches.

Some call this change “tolerance”.    On the one hand, tolerance is a good thing, in that we no longer “burn at the stake” those who differ from us religiously.   On the other hand, much of what we call “tolerance”, I am afraid,  is better named “apathy” or “indifference”.

In my opinion, apathy is one of the greatest problems the Church has today.   Not only are non-Christians apathetic toward the Church, but the Church itself is apathetic about issues that bring great harm to God’s children.

I need to define terms here:    According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of apathy is:   Apathy (noun) the feeling of not having much emotion or interest; lack of feeling or emotion, impassiveness;  lack of interest or concern, indifference.     The word comes from the Greek apatheia—-literally meaning “no feeling”.   

I hear all too often these phrases from Christian persons about problems today in our  large, diverse and complex  society.   They are warning signs of apathy that is infecting our churches and us as Jesus’ disciples:

  • “Nothing can be done about it”
  • “You can’t fight city hall.”
  • “One person can’t change the world”
  • “There’s no hope.”
  • “GET REAL!!”
  • “GIVE UP!”
  • “What’s the use?””
  • “What can anybody do about it?   Nothing!”

These phrases  reflect a warning about religion that is found in the 18th Century I  writings of the British statesman and writer, Edmund Burke:   “Nothing is so fatal to religion as indifference, which is, at least, half infidelity.”    He links the  indifference of the church to society’s problems as  lack of faith in God!

And in the 20th century, psychoanalyst Rollo May reflects Burke’s thinking in writing that “the most tragic thing of all in the long run is the ultimate attitude ‘It doesn’t matter’ “.

All churches, from mainline to evangelical to Pentecostal, are all in danger of this attitude as they confront, or fail to confront the evils of modern day society.   Jesus was pretty clear in his message as to what the church was to be about—-it was to “love God with all your mind, heart, soul and strength, AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”    That Great Commandment of Jesus indicates that social justice for all, economic justice for all, and political equality for all is important.   Over and over in the ministry of Jesus he brought up the issues of social injustice and threw them in the face of the rulers and high priests, just as the prophets had done before him.  Long before Jesus, the prophet Micah had spoken for God in similar words:   “He has told you, O mortal, what is good;  and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God!”   Jesus’ confrontation of injustice in the social, economic and religious life of his day is what caused  Jesus’  crucifiction!    It wasn’t Jesus’   preaching  about love, which he did, but it was his confrontation of  the social and economic issues of the domination system of his day and his actions  against them that led to his death!

The church of Jesus Christ is called to do the same today if we are to lay claim to being disciples of Jesus.    We are faced with a similar domination system of the rich and powerful today that, as in Jesus’  day, uses their wealth and power to become even more wealthy and powerful since they control the political  and governmental system.

There are thousands of examples at the current time I could point to, but I will list just a few to make my point:

  • A Congress in Washington and a legislature in Kansas that passes laws the benefit the wealthy and the huge corporations who contributed to them retaining power , resulting in the shrinkage of the Middle Class and the  the reduction of the standard of living for millions of people in the U.S.
  • Refusal to pass a national minimum wage that would enable two working parents to support a family.  In current times this refusal results in poverty for many people.
  • Witholding of the extention of Medicaid in Kansas, even though the medical profession and hospitals plead for it and point out that many lives will be lost due to inadequate medical care.
  • The increase of poverty and homelessness that is worsened by reduction of food stamps and increasing use of part time employment in order to reduce need to provide benefits and thus  add  to profits for the stockholders or owners of businesses.
  • Efforts to balance the budget rather than care for the needy at both state and federal levels.
  • The use of wealth to elect those who are favorable to big business and its ruthlessness pursuit of a “free market system” that benefits the rich at the expense of the poor.
  • The lies of politicians and the malicious attacks on the  character of those who oppose them that we see as the midterm elections draw near, funded by the wealthy and powerful to maintain  their wealth and power.

How is the church responding to these and other concerns?   THE SILENCE IS DEADLY!   At most, the church is trying to do something about the “symptoms” of these problems, but nothing about eradicating the problems.    Have you heard the churches speaking out about the lies that politicians make in their TV ads?   What would happen if the churches told the politicians—-you lie to us and we won’t vote for you because we believe in honesty and truthfulness?    If the churches took such a stand, it could bring about great change in our political discourse.   It isn’t happening!

What would happen if even half of the people who claim to be Christian and go to church in Wichita would write their legislators and governor and say, “if you want our vote in the next election—extend Medicaid?   We don’t want Kansans dying for want of good medical care that is available.   We don’t want Kansas children growing up without adequate medical and dental care.  People are more important than politics!” Agreed, one Christian writing the governor would end up with the letter in the wastebasket.   Thousands of letters threatening to elect someone else would get the attention of the governor and lawmakers!

This is not happening and that is why I say that the Church of Jesus Christ is not following the great commandment.   It has succumbed to “apathy”, and is in danger of not being the church.

While we as the church may SAY we are trying to help, we are DOING very little.   We are treating the symptoms, like feeding the homeless, but not advocating a solution to the problems that cause homelessness like the low minimum wage.   We contribute money to clinics that try to treat the poor and homeless, but do not go to the root of the problem that is found in the refusal for political reasons by the governor of Kansas to extend Medicaid.

Perhaps this poem (written to be sung to the tune of “Onward Christian Soldiers” is true of the Church today :

Like a mighty tortoise moves the Church of God;

Brothers we are treading where we’ve always trod;

We are all divided, many bodies we,

Very strong on doctrine, weak on charity.

—–Quoted by David C.K. Watson, One in the Spirit

Churches banded together as the “Body of Christ” can make a difference in the world today.   An historical example can be seen in the black churches during the 1960″s as they joined together with the result being the Civil Rights Movement.   They shed their apathy.   They took great risks.   They achieved great results.

The black churches put their faith in God who is on the side of the poor, the unhealthy, the outcasts of society   They put their faith in a God who desires that all of God’s children be blessed with social justice, economic opportunity, and be free from oppression by the rich and powerful.    Is the church today willing to do the same today?

 

 

 

 

Your Love is a Gift Only You Can Give!

 

Love is a gift we give to others.   As with all gifts given out of love, the gift often blesses the giver as much or more than the receiver of the gift.    Our God is a God of love and gives to us each day because of the great love God has for each of us.    Jesus taught that since God’s love is at the core of all God’s actions, then it should also be at the core of our actions.  He taught that the Great Commandment is to “love the Lord Your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and your neighbor as yourself.”

The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthian church taught that love must be at the core of everything that we do as Christians.  In I Corinthians 13 he says that you can speak in tongues but if you aren’t doing so with love then you are just a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.   You can be a prophet and understand all things and have all knowledge and have faith that can remove mountains, but if you are not loving, it all means nothing.   He goes on to say that you can give away all your possessions and sacrifice your body, but if you are not doing so out of love,  it means nothing.    He sums up by saying:  “Love never ends.  But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease, as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 

We know that if we receive something given grudgingly and not lovingly that we feel disappointment and not joy.   We know that if we give our children gifts and they don’t feel the love we have for them behind the gifts, and often the sacrifice  behind those gifts, the gifts mean little to them.   The same is true for other family members and especially our spouses and significant others in our lives.    Gifts are only seen as gifts if they come from a loving heart.

True—we can be hurt by loving others.   Sometimes they take advantage of us.  Sometimes they reject our love.   Sometimes they do not reciprocate.   Loving makes us vulnerable—but not loving makes us miserable.

Recently I came across this poem written by Harold Sandall in 1912. It expresses what I’ve tried to say above much better than my prose is able to do.  I’d like to share it with you:

Love that is hoarded, molds at last

Until we know some day

The only thing we ever have

Is what we give away

 

And kindness that is never used

But hidden all alone

Will slowly harden till it is

As hard as any stone.

 

It is what we always hold

That we will lose someday;

The only things we ever keep

Are what we give away.

 

Have you shared your love today for those you hold dear?  We don’t know how many tomorrows we have—-let’s show our love today!   Your love is a gift that only you can give!

 

Post-Resurrection Christians in a Pre-Christian World

 

Text:     Luke 3: 1-6

 

Charles Dickens began his novel about the French Revolution:  A Tale of Two Cities, with the words:    “These were the best of times, these were the worst of times….”

Luke, the gospel that is every historians favorite, might have began his gospel with similar words.     If we could go back and see how life was lived in those times we might agree that they were “the worst of times”, while the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, signaled the coming of the  “best of times” with the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God on earth that he proclaimed.

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

  In God’s Kingdom, Jesus said:

  • Blessed are the poor”—-not the rich.
  • Blessed are the meek”—-not the powerful. The meek will inherit the earth instead of the conventional expectation that the powerful and rich will do so and then pass it on to their heirs.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers—-they, not the army generals as in Jesus time, will be called children of God
  • You have heard ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ but I say to you Do not resist an evildoer. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.”THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS WHAT THE WORLD WOULD BE LIKE IF GOD RULED IN EVERYONE’S LIFE.

These are descriptions Jesus gives and many more of the way life in the Kingdom of God will be different.

The gospel writer, Luke, carefully dated the coming of the Christ by referring to who ruled at the time.   Let’s start our examination of “bad times in Palestine” by looking at those who ruled:

  • Emperor Tiberius:   The stepson of the great Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus. He was never accepted by other Roman leaders because he was not considered a natural heir. He was neither well-loved nor respected.
  • Pontius Pilate:   had risen from a “middle-management” position to become procurator of Judea in 26 A.D.   He had a gift for antagonizing his Jewish subjects. He knew his hold on Judea was tenuous, so Pilate made up for that weakness by periodically unleashing his soldiers on the citizenry, crucifying hundreds at a time of those who challenged him.   He was feared and despised.
  • Herod Antipas:   A dangerous ruler, designated “King of the Jews” but ruling only with the power of Rome behind him.   He spent a lot money on building cities and pagan temples to impress the Romans—levying high taxes on the Jewish peasants to pay for them. . A paranoid ruler—-feeling everyone was out to get him—he murdered many of those around him he suspected of treachery or even those who spoke out against his evil ways such as John the Baptist whom he beheaded at this wife’s request and gave the head to her on a platter.
  • Caiphas and Annas:   Caiphas was Annas’ son-in-law and together their loyalties lay more with maintaining their shared place of power and wealth they had won from the Romans who appointed them rather than loyalty to God and God’s people.

These rulers in these “worst of times” for the Jews ruled over a culture that:

  • 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
  • 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 who lived by different rules and standards than the common people.   Among those rich and powerful were the temple priests and the Pharisees and Sadducees.
  • A culture where about 1 to 2% the population of the Empire were rich and powerful; those who worked for and supported them about 5%  and the other 93% were peasants living a subsistence life or below—just enough to barely live on and survive.   [When Jesus taught his disciples to pray saying—–“Give us this day our daily bread” and “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” he was speaking of the two most constant worries of the peasant class—-food and freedom from debt. If you had no food, you starved.   If you couldn’t pay your debts, including your high taxes, you were thrown in prison and if you had land it was seized by your creditor to satisfy the debt.
  • A Culture where the religious structure and leaders worked in concert with the political/governmental power of Rome to maintain their wealth and power and carry out their temple agenda that kept them wealthy.
  • A culture where many people were lost and perished every day—a violent culture.

 

DOES IT SOUND FAMILIAR?   The similarities to our country today are apparent:

  • We also are a country where the rich and powerful live by different rules and standards than the common people and where those with money and power have become popular status figures.
  • A country where 10% of the people have 60% of the total income with the other 40% of the money divided among the other 90% of the population.
  • A country that worships many pagan gods—-we just call them by different names—-money, power, pleasure, comfort, sports, etc.
  • 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. We live in a country where violence is commonplace.
  • A country where the wealth of a Beverly Hills exists in stark contrast to the filth and poverty of a Watts in the same city of Los Angeles.
  • A country where the lonely and the aged, the poor and the mentally challenged, the children with no access to health care and not enough to eat, the homeless, and the misfits of society remain largely unseen and uncared about.   Programs to help them, such as affordable health care and extension of Medicaid benefits are the first ones cut from government budgets or discarded for political reasons.   We reduce food stamps and aid for struggling families in order to reduce the federal deficit—–while huge corporations that contribute to re-election of our legislators continue to receive tax breaks and other benefits they do not need.
  • We live in Kansas—-also a place where 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 those who have made the lives of these vulnerable people worse and fail to speak out about the lack of fairness and the injustice of the wage system that gives business CEO’s 250% higher wages than those who work for them.
  • A place where religious leaders are too often in close collusion with political and governmental powers in order to get their limited negative agendas taken care of legally.
  • This is a country ruled more and more by men and women whose only aim is to do whatever is necessary to stay in power, whether right or wrong does not matter, —-like modern day Herod’s and Pilates

THE SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP GROUP OF MY CHURCH RECENTLY DISCUSSED OUR NEED FOR A VISION FOR THE CHURCH.   SURELY PART OF THAT VISION MUST BE A VOICE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS LIKE THAT OF JOHN THE BAPTIST 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 THAT JESUS PROCLAIMED.” 

  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 need to show them that better way through the lives we lead as Christians. .

There are many people wondering in the wilderness of drug abuse, of broken relationships, of too little income, of homelessness.   There are those who have given up hope and struggle from day to day to fight down the urge to end their lives.   There are those filled with anger who want to strike out at the world that abuses them and uses them.   These wanderers in the wilderness are young and old, rich and poor, male and female, all skin colors; but they all feel vulnerable in a world that seems to have gone crazy. They are trying to raise families in this world where even the schools are unsafe for their children. They are not aware of the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed.   They are waiting for someone to show them, not tell them, a different way—-a way that will give them and their children hope and happiness and a new beginning. They are waiting for us to show them by our lives how to follow the Great Commandment of Jesus:   “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength and your neighbor as yourself.   That is a vision for the church—-To live the Great Commandment in the community that surrounds us.

For people are wandering around in this wilderness today, having lost their moral, emotional and economic way—–yearning for something better and not quite knowing what that something better is.   They are yearning for Jesus to show them the way—-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.   He lived that way.   THE CHURCH IS JESUS’ BODY AND NEEDS TO SHOW THAT WAY TODAY.    AND WE CAN’T JUST “TALK ABOUT IT” WE NEED TO “WALK THE WAY!”

Listen to what one of the Millenial Generation wrote to you and me….Post-Resurrection Christians……

Do you know, Do you Understand

That you represent Jesus to me?

 

Do you know, do you understand

That when you treat me with gentleness,

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

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

 

Do you know, do you understand

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

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

 

Do you know, do you understand

That when I hear you talk about arguments and conflict and scars from your past

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

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

 

If you care, I think maybe God cares—

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

And for a while, I’m afraid to breathe

Because it might go out.

 

Do you know, do you understand

That your words are His words?

Your face, His face to someone like me?

 

Please be who you say you are.

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

Please, let this be real.

Please….

 

Do you know, do you understand

That you represent Jesus to me?

 

Loving our Neighbors

Jesus told his followers to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; and your neighbor as yourself.”    What did he mean?   How do you go about loving your neighbor?    Who is your neighbor anyway?

How many of us, as parents,  have watched our child get hurt on the playground?     We see it happen, and we feel in our own bodies the hurt that our child is experiencing, don’t we?   If one we love is hurting, we feel their hurt in our body and we rush to help them.  I think that is what Jesus was talking about when he said:   “Love your neighbor as yourself.”    I’d like to share with you several keys that enable us to truly love our neighbors as we love ourselves:

  • The first, and most important key is to experience God’s love ourselves.    If we have not experienced God’s love for us and come to  trust in God’s love and care for us it is difficult for us to love anyone else—including ourselves and your neighbor.  We are like children who have never experienced love who find it difficult or impossible to love anyone else, including themselves.
  • The second key is to be able to see God in the face of our neighbor.  All of us are God’s children and are created in God’s image.   Our neighbor is a child of God.    That neighbor may look much different than  us.   They may be mean and nasty.   They may  be immoral.   They may be dirty and unkempt.   They may  be frightening in their looks.   But they are a child of God nonetheless.    Jesus told a parable about neighbors in answer to someone’s question—“Who is my neighbor?”    It is the parable of the Good Samaritan.   In the story,  the one who turns out to be the good neighbor is a Samaritan who was despised by the Jews.   Likewise Samaritans were  known to despise Jews.   Yet the Samaritan is the one who saw a dying man on the side of the road and stopped to help him when the members of the Jewish religious community passed by on the other side.   The Samaritan  did not see a despised Jewish man on the side of the road, but saw a child of God.   He saw the face of God in that Jewish man who was near death and came to his aid.
  • The third key is action.   It is not enough to see your neighbor’s face and to see them as a child of God—you must act, if you are to show love to your neighbor.     Love is not just a feeling—-it is much more.  Love is expressed in action.    Love is binding up the wounds of the bleeding man.  For us,  love of neighbor  is putting your arms around the homeless man who is dirty and despairing and giving them a hug.   Love is feeding the hungry.  Love is clothing those who are needy.   Love is getting medical care for the one who is sick.  Love is treating fellow children of God as we would like to be treated if we were in their situation. Love is an action word!

Are we following this Great Commandment of Jesus and loving our neighbor as ourselves?    Are we?

Walking the Walk

 

I’m a “people-watcher”.    I like to spend time while sitting in a car or in the Mall waiting for my wife to finish shopping  just watching people!     One thing that I watch is how they walk.   Have you ever done that?   Think about the way YOU walk and the way OTHER PEOPLE walk.   Can you tell who someone is from a distance by seeing how they walk?    Most people can.   Some stride.  Others Swagger.  Or Swing, or strut, or shuffle, or waddle, or ramble or amble, or scuff the soles of their shoes.   YOUR WAY OF WALKING IS ONE OF THE UNIQUE THINGS ABOUT YOU AND TELLS THE OBSERVER A LOT ABOUT YOU.

The Department of Homeland Security has noticed this also.   There are now two federally-funded, gait-recognition technology projects under development at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.   “Gait recognition” aims to detect, select, classify, and identify any individual based on the way she or he walks.   This is seen as a possible way to detect known terrorists at up to 500 yards away.   It is still a “work in progress”, but is showing a lot of promise.

But this isn’t a new thing.    Both Jesus and the Apostle Paul pointed out that people look at whether we “walk the walk” more than how we “talk the talk.”   In other words, THEY BOTH STRESS THAT WHAT WE DO IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WHAT WE SAY!

In the 21st chapter of Matthew, Jesus told the chief priests and elders in the temple a parable when they asked “by what authority do you do these things?”

Jesus told about a man who had two sons.   He went to the first son and told him to go to work in the vineyard.   The son answered  “I will not go!”    But later, the first son thought about it and changed his mind and went to work in the vineyard for his father.  The father also told the second son, “Go to work in my vineyard today”   The second son said:   “Yes, father, I will go.”    But he never did go to work in the vineyard that day.

Jesus asked those questioning him, “Which of the two sons did the will of his father?”  They answered:   “The first son.”   Jesus told them—-truly tax collectors and prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.   IN OTHER WORDS—-THE SONS ARE JUDGED BY WHAT THEY ACTUALLY DID AND NOT WHAT THEY SAID!   And you will be judged in the same way, he told the priests and elders!!

In II Thessalonians 1:1-4; 11-112, Paul says something very similar.   He says that he and Silas and Timothy give thanks to God for these brothers and sisters because:   “your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing.   Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions you are enduring.!

Why is Paul proud of his brothers and sisters in Thessalonica?   Because of their ACTIONS.   The love they show and demonstrate for each other that is seen by all.   The steadfastness they have exhibited as they endure persecutions and afflictions.   PAUL IS PROUD OF THEM NOT FOR WHAT THEY ARE SAYING, BUT FOR WHAT THEY ARE DOING!!

DO PEOPLE RECOGNIZE US BY HOW WE “WALK THE WALK” OF FAITH?

They’ll know we are Christians by our love” goes the song.   People who watch us determine what faith in Jesus Christ is all about, NOT by what we say to them but by WHAT WE DO TO EACH OTHER!   They will know we are Christians by the way we live, by the way we talk, by the way we “walk the talk.”   If our faith is real, observers will sense it—-they’ll see it!   If its real, they might even ask how they, also, might “walk the walk” of faith.

An ancient term used to describe Christianity was “THE WAY”.    We can’t “talk the WAY”—-we must “walk” the WAY.    It is the way of Jesus as we carry out his great commandment to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF!”

Those who study communications tell us that if there is a problem in communication between verbal and non-verbal—-the non-verbal communication wins almost all the time.   90% of communication is non-verbal—-and therein lies the problem that we as followers of Jesus Christ need to examine today.   WE MAY SAY WE ARE CHRISTIANS, BUT ARE WE ACTING LIKE CHRISTIANS?     Are we walking the Christian life, or just talking about it?    Observers will believe what they see over what we might say.   Can those who observe us see any difference in the way we live that identifies us as folllowers of Jesus on the WAY?

This question is especially being asked by two of the present generations who are watching the church very critically—-the Busters and the Millenials.

The Buster generation grew to young adulthood in the shadow of their “Boomer” parents—-Boomers refers to the huge wave of children born after WWII.    The Busters, the children of the Boomers,  are the first generation to face the possibility that they may not achieve as much as did their parents.    The defining moment of their generation is often chosen by them as the tragic explosion of the space shuttle “Challenger.”    That was the moment when they watched the fragile illusion of “In Science we Trust” and “in Technology we trust” blow up in their faces.

The Millenials are those who became adults around the turn of the century—-who are 18-30 years old today—-the children of the Busters.   They therefore share many of the characteristics of their parents, as the “leaves don’t usually fall too far from the tree”.

  • They are very open to “honest” or “real” spirituality.   According to polls—86% of Millenials believe in God.   They don’t want to listen to talk about God—–they want to experience God in their lives. They believe that God is in the world and not just in church buildings—that God can be experienced in a variety of settings!
  • They distrust institutions, including the church, and will not get involved in an institution unless the institution is  actively involved in trying to meet the crucial needs of today’s society. They say they are “spiritual” but not “religious.”
  • They think “talk” is cheap—-the airways have been full of it ever since they were born. They want their talk translated into action.   They have excellent “Fake Detectors”.   They value honesty and can deal with contradictory ideas.
  • They are techno-savvy and are heavily into electronic technology as a key part of their daily lives.
  • They are inclusive and non-judgmental of all people—this applies to homosexuality, abortion, global poverty, environmental issues, immigration, other faiths, etc.
  • They exhibit an authentic spiritual longing for a better sort of Christianity that practices the teachings of Jesus.  They feel that Christianity is supposed to be a religion of love, forgiveness and practicing what Jesus preached and modeled.
  • Relational community, intentional practice, and experiential belief are important to them.
  • Even though they are connected electronically they yearn for connectedness in a community.
  • They have opted out of the “rat race” but not out of the “human race”.
  • They deal with paradox and with contradictory ideas well—they recognize there is no absolute truth and that things are not black or white but shades of grey.

JESUS MAY HAVE BEEN THE FIRST BUSTER/MILLENIAL.   Consider some of the evidence:

  •  He never did join the rat race of his day.
  • He wasn’t into the religious institutions of his day.   Rather he resisted much of what passed for “religion” in his day.
  • He was itinerant—-much of his preaching and teaching was done in the countryside and villages of Galilee.    He didn’t try to build large churches.   He didn’t care about “members” or numbers of members—-he chose only 12 disciples to be his close friends and shared his life with them.
  • He assumed his public ministry late in life He was probably about thirty years old, but in a culture whose life span was about 40 years of age.   .
  • He was inclusive and reached out in compassion to those who were on the margins of society—the social outcasts, lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, the poor, the widow, the orphans—-and defended them against the “uppity” and “in crowd” of the rich and powerful.
  • He was critical of the domination system that rewarded the few at the expense of the many. So his biggest problem was with the Roman authorities and the religious institutions and authorities of his day.
  • As someone has put it—-Jesus majored in forgiveness and minored in dogma.

IT IS THIS JESUS THAT CONFRONTED THE MEALY-MOUTHED QUESTIONS OF THE PRIEST AND ELDERS AND CHARGED THEM WITH AS “ALL-TALK, NO-WALK” TYPE OF SPIRITUALITY.

There are many people hurting in the world today.   Hurting because of drug abuse, broken relationships, too little income, homelessness!     There are those who have given up hope and struggle from day to day to fight down the urge to end their lives.   There are those filled with anger who want to strike out at the world that abuses them and uses them.   These wanderers in today’s wilderness are young and old,  rich and poor, male and female, all skin colors; but they all feel vulnerable in a world that seems to have gone crazy.   How is the church of Jesus Christ speaking to their needs?   Are they even on our radar?We need to ask ourselves: ARE WE SO BUSY TRYING TO SOUND GOOD, LOOK GOOD, FEEL GOOD AND MAKE GOOD THAT WE DON’T ACTUALLY EVER DO GOOD?,

 

SO—-HOW IS OUR FAITH WALK WITH OUR LORD?

The current younger generation is calling the church to become what it says it is.   They may have problems with organized religion, but they recognize Jesus as one of them.   Are we offering this Jesus to them through our churches and our lives?  If we do, and we show them Jesus in our actions, they will join with us in our work for the Kingdom of God. This generation is open to spiritual growth.   The key to reaching them is the key to reaching every generation—-IT IS TO LIFT UP JESUS IN THE FULLNESS OF HIS LOVE FOR HUMANITY AND TO DEMONSTRATE JESUS IN THE FULLNESS OF OUR LOVE FOR HUMANITY.

And we look today at too many people who call themselves Christians, that are focused only on themselves, who are caught in traffic on the fast track, who are cut off from community because they are too busy or too indifferent to get involved.   THE BUSTERS & MILLENIALS LOOK AT THOSE CHRISTIANS AND SAY—“WE DON’T SEE YOU DOING MUCH!   We’re hearing a lot of talk, but where is the action?   What you are saying about loving Jesus and following him and the Great Commandment to “love God with all your heart, soul and strength and mind, and your neighbor as yourself?—-we don’t see that in your ACTIONS from day to day.”   Guess which these observers will believe—they will believe our actions not our words.

LOOK AT WHAT PEOPLE DO, NOT AT WHAT THEY SAY, Jesus taught.

Jesus offered a Way to experience God as a Father who loves and cares for his children—-directly with no priests and sacrifices or rabbi’s involved.

He saw the religious authorities as “talking the talk” but not “walking the walk.”   Jesus skewered the traditional religious authorities as being “all-show” but “no-go”. He uses the culturally unclean and  reprehensible “tax collectors and prostitutes” as examples of obedience to God in this week’s text, because they listened to him and changed and transformed their lives, while he saw the religious authorities, the traditional symbols of piety and obedience as morally wrong and spiritually empty.   Those religious authorities therefore sought to kill him and eventually did so.

Are people observing us “walk the walk” and not just “talking the talk”—-or are we causing confusion by the gap between what we SAY and what we DO?

Is our faith walk recognizable?   Both up close and at a distance, or even when our backs are turned away?   Can it be seen and known over time?   Is it consistent?

Can people catch sight of our faith walk and begin to understand it over time—-how we behave, how we act, what we do, speak volumes about who we are and whose we are to those around us.   It identifies the quality, reality and the depth of our faith in God.

ARE WE KIND, MERCIFUL, GENEROUS, PATIENT, CHARITABLE, COMPASSIONATE, UPLIFTING, SHOWING LOVE CONSTANTLY EVEN TO THE UNLOVABLE? .

God’s hope for the church is like Paul’s hope for the church in Thessalonica.   Paul observed their faith, love, patience, endurance and resolutions that were visible for all to see.   Their walk with Christ was clearly identifiable.   So must the church today clearly walk with Christ in the eyes of those who see us day by day.

If our faith is truly about love, then we are called to live that faith, and to walk the walk of love every day to the best of our ability.   People in the community around us will see our compassion, our charity, our strides in feeding the hungry and reaching out to the outcast.   They will see our endurance.   They will see us reaching out to the unloving and the unlovely in Jesus name.   They will witness our love for one another as we seek to support each other in troubled times, or when we visit an elderly shut-in, or someone in the hospital or take the time to help someone in need.

You see the words of this poem are really true.   It is one that the present generations demands and echoes and responds to:

“I’d rather SEE a sermon than hear one any day,

I’d rather one would walk with me, than merely tell the way.

For the eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear;

Fine counsel is confusing, but examples always clear….

And the best of all the preachers are the one who live their creeds,

For to see faith put in action is what everybody needs….Amen!

 

 

 

 

Where’s the Tether???!

Sometimes I think the morality of  our western culture, especially in the United States, resembles zero-gravity—everything not tied down is coming loose.   Some have called this a “zero-morality” culture, with no tethers to hold us back from the abyss of despair and meaninglessness.   We are adrift in this world like an astronaut without a tether in space.  A large share of our culture has lost the tether of the church  and God’s word  that in previous times has  guided us and we  now rely on ourselves to make decisions.     Those decisions, made on the basis of our self-interest,  leave us  in a stormy world without a mooring—a tether.   We seem to be spinning out of control with nothing to guide us.   

As we are left to our own devices, the Seven Deadly Sins appear to guide our decisions and actions.   Remember them?   Gluttony, Greed, Envy, Idleness, Lust, Anger and Pride These seem to be hallmarks of our culture in the U.S.

  1. GLUTTONY.  Gluttony means a lot more than just sneaking off too often to sample the 11 secret herbs and spices at KFC.   Gluttony, at base, is doing anything to excess.    It is an approach to life that knows no boundaries and honors no limits.   Gluttony turns our appetites into our rulers—that appetiite might be food—it might be power—it might be sex—it might be money—it even might be golf.    We see this in a culture of wanting more and more and more—-more clothes, more “totys”, more cars, larger houses, etc. etc.   More than we will ever need!
  2. GREED.    Closely related to gluttony, greed is what we used to call “avarice.”   It is not so much the love of possessions as it is the love of possessing.   As we exist in a money-driven culture where the bottom line is what is most important  and profits are more important than people—-Greed is at the bottom of much that is wrong with our culture.   We live in a culture that values money over people.   Money over right and wrong.   Always wanting more and more because we place value in our culture on what we own, not who we are.   Money is power-–money and power are “tighter than ticks together.”   In business, we see money as causing immorality, cheating, and lying to get ahead in business and in our lives.
  3. ENVY.  Envy is what happens when we constantly compare ourselves with others.    It is the basis of backbiting (tearing down someone else to build ourselves up), gossiping, bigotry, and vanity.   When envy rules our lives we are always feeling insecure and our insecurity is compensated for by making those we envy seem less and less so that we feel superior to them.
  4. IDLENESS.  Idleness is sluggishness of spirit that “believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing and remains alive because there is nothing for which to die” as Dorothy Sayers once wrote.   The idle person expects everyone else to take care of  him or her and will not move a muscle to take care of themselves.   The old version is SLOTH.
  5. LUST.  Lust is the perversion of what is good into something that is evil, based on our selfishness.   At the base of Lust and driving it is selfishness and the ego.   Someone has said that an acronymn for EGO is “Edging God Out”.   Lust is extreme selfishness in action.
  6. ANGER.   W.C. Fields once said, “I am free of all prejudice, I hate everyone equally.”   Anger is the harboring of grievances that demand revenge and develop into hatred.   It is a seething rage that circulates through our bodies into our post-modern culture in ever increasing amounts.   It comes out in murder and rape but is also present in attacks on minority groups, the poor, the homeless.   Our culture is filled with anger and that is behind all the violence that occurs in it.   Read the newspapers and decide just how much anger there is in our world.   Pent-up anger comes out in deadly ways all the time—every day.
  7. PRIDE.    The last, but definitely not the least!   Someone has defined pride as “people getting drugged on the fumes of their own ego.”  I recently read an example of this in a person saying to another person “but enough about me!  let’s talk about you.  what do you think of me?”   Pride is when our own ego is in control of all that we say and do—-IT’S ALL ABOUT ME.”     There are all kinds of ways that pride emerges:   it may be a “need to-control” pride.   It may be a “self-centeredness that comes through low self-esteem.  Religious pride is the worst kind of pride.  I read somewhere the saying “Have you ever seen a prodigal come home to a Pharisee?”   Religious pride turns away the very people that God calls to.

WHAT IS THE ANSWER?    WHERE CAN WE TURN?   WHERE IS A TETHER THAT WE CAN GRAB ONTO AND HELP OUR CULTURE AND OUR OWN LIVES AVOID SPINNING OUT OF CONTROL?   I suggest the TETHER is  found in these words of Jesus:   “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.   This is the tether that we need to firmly grasp and that  needs to be thrown to a culture that is spinning out of control.   Love of God and of neighbor  is what we need to base our decisions on.   Try it!   Proclaim it!