Category: bible

Not Bible-Believing, but Jesus-Believing

 


Every so often, someone will visit the church and they will say they are looking for a “Bible-believing” church.  I’m always curious just what it means to be a Bible-believing church.  If someone came up to me and asked if First Christian is a Bible-believing church, I already know what my answer would be.

The answer would be no.

Keep reading…

Sermon: The Whole Truth

Micah 5:2-4 and 6:1-8
Twenty Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 9, 2014
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

 Listen to the Sermon.

Our long national nightmare is over.

2014-midterm-electionsI’m talking about the conclusion of the 2014 midterm elections.  For several months we have seen endless commercials on television, our mailboxes stuffed with campaign mailings, our email inboxes filled with several emails a day and so on.  Our own mailbox here at church was filled with mailers from a close fought Minnesota House race.  Now, we don’t have to deal with that anymore…until 2016.

As much as I detest all the spam that seems to come into my life, I like to watch the returns come in on election night.  I remember watching the election returns in 1980 as Ronald Reagan defeated sitting president Jimmy Carter.  I remember my first election in 1988 and watching Vice President George Bush become president and I saw the votes come in 1992 as Bill Clinton became president.

I tend to watch the returns of midterms as well.  In the fall of 1990, I was in a ballroom in Lansing, Michigan waiting for the returns to decide who would be the next governor of my home state of Michigan.  I was covering the event for a number of radio stations in the state.  And no one can forget watching in either joy or terror in 1998 as Jesse Ventura became Governor of Minnesota.

Politics can be an exciting thing to take part in.  But I’m learning that it also has a darkside.  Harvard Professor Cass Sunstein wrote in his blog in late September about how ideology is splitting America apart.  Sunstein noted the findings of a test which asked people how people would feel if you child or friend married someone of the opposite political party.  In 1960, 5 percent of Republicans and 4 percent of Democrats would be uneasy.  Fifty years later, in 2010, the number is now 49 percent of Republicans and 33 percent of Democrats who would have a problem.  Political prejudice is now greater than racial prejudice.

Sunstein writes that modern political campaigns are partly to blame for the increase in party distrust and that distrust is starting to spill into other aspects of life- such as marrying someone of a different political persuasion.

And this “partyism” is seeping into the church.  In many cases, we have “red churches” mostly evangelical congregations and “blue churches” mostly mainline congregations.  Some churches have gone in such an ideological direction that people of the other persuasion now feel unwelcome at church.

Continue reading “Sermon: The Whole Truth”

For the Spirit Tells Me So

When I was coming to terms with being gay, one of the obstacles that I had to deal with is the role of Scripture in my life and how it squared or didn’t square with my sexuality.  I remember reading the book Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? and being shown the story in Acts 10 about Peter meeting the Gentile Corneilus.  Peter had a hard time coming to terms that a Gentile should receive the same message he had received as a Jew.  Peter had some understanding of Jewish law and he knew that Gentiles weren’t welcome.

None of this made sense to Peter, so he went up to the roof to sort things out.  It was there he fell into a trance and saw a sheet being brought down from heaven.  He was told by a voice to eat the animals found on the sheet.  Peter, a good Jew, knew some of those animals weren’t kosher.  He refused, but the voice comes back and says what God has made no one should call unclean.

Peter goes to meet Corneilus and tells him the good news of Jesus.  It was then that the Spirit was poured out among the Gentiles gathered and Peter asks, “These people have received the Holy Spirit just as we have. Surely no one can stop them from being baptized with water, can they?”

Scripture is not something we should ignore as Christians.  It is definitely a way we learn about who God is and our place in God’s world.  But what about experience?  Can God speak through our own lives as well.  Can God be doing a new thing in the lives of others?

Catholic scholar Luke Timothy Johnson writes about how Scripture is not the only way that one can look to authority when it comes to dealing with issues like homosexuality.  He notes how Americans changed their minds radically about slavery in hearing stories about slaves in the American south:

Our situation vis-à-vis the authority of Scripture is not unlike that of abolitionists in nineteenth-century America. During the 1850s, arguments raged over the morality of slave-holding, and the exegesis of Scripture played a key role in those debates. The exegetical battles were one-sided: all abolitionists could point to was Galatians 3:28 and the Letter of Philemon, while slave owners had the rest of the Old and New Testaments, which gave every indication that slaveholding was a legitimate, indeed God-ordained social arrangement, one to which neither Moses nor Jesus nor Paul raised a fundamental objection. So how is it that now, in the early twenty-first century, the authority of the scriptural texts on slavery and the arguments made on their basis appear to all of us, without exception, as completely beside the point and deeply wrong?
The answer is that over time the human experience of slavery and its horror came home to the popular conscience—through personal testimony and direct personal contact, through fiction like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and, of course, through a great Civil War in which ghastly numbers of people gave their lives so that slaves could be seen not as property but as persons. As persons, they could be treated by the same law of love that governed relations among all Christians, and could therefore eventually also realize full civil rights within society. And once that experience of their full humanity and the evil of their bondage reached a stage of critical consciousness, this nation could neither turn back to the practice of slavery nor ever read the Bible in the same way again.

 Johnson then goes to the book of Acts to see how the early church dealt with accepting Gentiles:

I refer to the account of the Acts of the Apostles (chapters 10–15) concerning the church’s decision to include Gentiles in the church without requiring them to be circumcised or to observe the Mosaic law. Luke’s narrative shows how God moved ahead of the human characters in accepting Gentiles as righteous, and how difficult it was for the church’s leaders to learn what God was up to. It shows, however, that Peter and Paul and James were open to the truth God wanted them to learn. They paid attention to human narratives—testimonies—that spoke of God at work among Gentiles in ways that not even Jewish believers in a crucified messiah could appreciate. The apostles had to be shown how the same Holy Spirit who had come upon them also came to those very unlike them, people whom they regarded as unclean by nature and evil in their practices. When shown the evidence of transformed lives, they saw and accepted what God was doing.

Accepting Gentiles as beloved of God was, to be sure, but one step, however dramatic and difficult. Harder still was finding a way for Jews and Gentiles to live together, sharing table fellowship in a world that took the body symbolism of eating at least as seriously as that of sex. Compromises on both sides were required for the church to remain united despite such important differences (Acts 15:20–21). Acts provides an example for us of the church discerning God’s activity in human lives, being obedient in faith to God’s self-disclosure in such stories, and then reinterpreting Scripture in light of the experience of God.
I suggest, therefore, that the New Testament provides impressive support for our reliance on the experience of God in human lives—not in its commands, but in its narratives and in the very process by which it came into existence. In what way are we to take seriously the authority of Scripture? What I find most important of all is not the authority found in specific commands, which are fallible, conflicting, and often culturally conditioned, but rather the way Scripture creates the mind of Christ in its readers, authorizing them to reinterpret written texts in light of God’s Holy Spirit active in human lives. When read within the perspective of a Scripture that speaks everywhere of a God disclosing Godself through human experience, our stories become the medium of God’s very revelation.

 Some of my favorite bloggers especially when it comes to politics tend to also be social conservatives.  Rod Dreher and Ross Douthat have made worthwhile defenses in what they believe is the traditional church understanding on same sex marriage.  (Worthwhile in the sense that they were thoughtful responses even if I don’t agree with them.)  Both writers tend to make an appeal Scripture and tradition on this matter, two areas where there seems to be a strike against same sex marriage if homosexuality in general.  

But experience matters as well.  Not in the sense in legitimizing whatever we do in our lives, but in seeing how God might be speaking in the lived lives of people, like Corneilus and seeing where God shows up.  

Experience can be faulty, but so can Scripture and Tradition.  We live in an imperfect world with imperfect ways of understanding God.  But God is not simply found in the pages of the Bible or in the traditions of the church.  God is living and breathing in the world and we have to have the eyes to see and the hearts to believe.

 

We Can’t Be Friends

It was about 20 years ago, that I attended a large Baptist church in Washington, DC.   The church was an odd mix, or at least it would be odd today.  Evangelicals and liberals were somehow able to worship together, along side a healthy dose of members from Latin America and Asia.

The church decided at some point to hire a pastor to the join the good-sized multi-pastor staff.  The person chosen was a woman with great pastoral care skills.  At the time, there was a bit of controversy because she was pro-gay and some of the evangelicals in the church weren’t crazy about that.

I was at a meeting where a member of the congregation stood up.  She was one of the evangelical members of the congregation and she had what could be considered a “traditional” understanding on homosexuality, but she spoke in favor of calling the pastor.  You see, the pastor had been involved with congregation for a few years and the two had gotten to know each other.  “We don’t agree,” I recall this woman saying when talking about the issue they didn’t see eye-to-eye on.  But this woman was a good friend and she saw her as the right person for the job.

What’s so interesting about this story is that I don’t think it could happen today.  Churches like the one in DC really don’t exist anymore.  Evangelicals and liberals have sorted themselves into different churches and don’t really know each other.  Which only makes it easier to highlight differences and demonize each other.

When it comes to the issue of gay rights the two camps talk past each other, having very different objectives that the other side just doesn’t get.

For liberals, this is about equality.  Framed by the story of the civil rights movement, they see any attempt to block same-sex marriage or gay clergy as akin to denying African Americans the right to vote.

For evangelicals, this is about conscience.  They feel they must be faithful to what they believe the Bible is telling them when it comes to sexual morality.  They see any approval of gay sex as going against God’s commands.

These differences were there 20 years ago, but I think there might have also been more opportunity to come together and meet the other.  Our self-selected society allows us to basically pick our friends instead of trying to build bridges with those who might be different.

Why am I telling this story?  I don’t really know, except that maybe I would like us to find ways were we can learn to disagree without being so disagreeable.

Civility is all the talk in our political culture, mostly because it seems like we have less and less of it.  We have made it a civic value, but I want to lift up the fact that it should also be a moral and biblical value.  We have to learn ways to respect and honor one another; not papering over our differences, but finding ways to still care for each other even when we disagree.  Evangelical church planter Tim Keller said it best a year ago:

AMANPOUR: You talk about polarization between left and right. It does seem to be extreme, at the moment, in the United States politically, socially. Is there any hope that that can change, do you think?

KELLER: It will start if we stop demonizing each other. I — my — my — my elderly mother once said that up until about 15 years ago, if you voted for a different person for president and the person you voted against became president, you still considered him your president. He said — she said 15 years ago, that changed, that if you voted against that guy and he became president, you actually act as if he’s illegitimate. And I’m not sure that is a big social and cultural difference. We — and it really means the other side isn’t really just wrong, they’re kind of evil. And that’s pretty bad.

MANPOUR: I have to say that many would say the church plays into this highly acrimonious debate — public debate, not all church, but certainly some parts of the church. What should the church be doing different?
KELLER: At the very least, we should be creating individuals who know how to talk civilly. The gospel should create people who say, I’m loved by God but I’m — I’m a sinner. So there — there should be a certain humility and graciousness about the way in which you talk to everybody. As an institution, most of the churches have lost a lot of credibility. So I think my job is to create individuals who can participate in civil discourse.

AMANPOUR: You’re saying institutionally, the church has lost credibility?

KELLER: The mainline church identified with liberal politics, the Evangelicals have identified, at least they’re identified in people’s minds, with conservative politics. The Catholic Church has had the sex scandals. And so institutionally, each church has lost credibility. So I think it’s our job as individual congregations to care for the poor, to produce civil — people who speak civilly, to just serve our neighborhoods and serve people and be careful about speaking ex-cathedra, you know, about these great political positions on issues.

 I would disagree with Keller in that I do think the church has a right to speak out on issues and there are some issues where we have to be clear where we stand.  But that doesn’t mean we don’t try to look at our sister and brothers as if they are evil.  We can find ways to be civil in maybe in some way speak to people about what church is all about.

What a witness that would be.

Leviticus Revisited

Methodist Blogger Morgan Guyton gives the best understanding of what Leviticus 18:22 meant and what it might mean for us today.  Here’s a snippet:

In 1956, United Methodists decided that Paul’s admonition in 1 Timothy 2:12 not to “permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man” had an appropriate application in the early church that is no longer binding today. We decided to ordain women to the ministry, thus officially proclaiming patriarchy to be obsolete. I do not think that God’s mercy and love have been compromised by having female clergy. I have been blessed tremendously by the particular form of nurture and exhortation that female pastors can provide. Likewise, following the best Biblical interpretation I can muster, I feel that the concerns that once made homosexuality a legitimate threat to the fabric of ancient patriarchal society are no longer applicable today. I am open to being persuaded otherwise, but please give me more than a list of verses plucked out of context or an abstract argument about the nature of gender.

 Read the whole thing.  He makes one of the best Biblical cases in a long time, one that goes beyond the “let’s-be-inclusive” trope that too many of us too easily use.

Personal Jesus

One thing that I’ve noticed over the years is that mainline Protestants don’t seem to take God very personally.  Growing up as I did in the evangelical world, God and Jesus was up close and personal.  A lot of the songs we sung in college intentionally changed the words of some songs from something like, “God is so good to us,” to something like “God is so good to me.”

In many ways, Mainline Protestants tend to think of God in more communal or corporate terms.  We tend to use words like “us” and not focus on a personal Jesus.  Our belief in social justice makes us wary of something that might be considered private and not beneficial.  So, we might make fun of those who talk about a personal Jesus thinking this is  rather silly and behind the times.

But do we lose something when we see Jesus in a more personal way?

First off, I think Mainline Protestants, (myself included) tend to confuse “personal” with “private.”  Personal is something that is intimate; like a relationship- private, is something that is for you and only you.  The God that we serve is a public God that judges the nations , but God is also one that is in relationship not just with the whole of humanity, but each and every one of us.

The thing is, the Bible is full of examples where God and a specific person spoke to each other face-to-face- sort of.  One example is from Exodus 33 where Moses and God talk about life- their relationship and what really bugs them at times:

7 Moses took the tent and pitched it outside the camp, far away from the camp. He called it the meeting tent. Everyone who wanted advice from the LORD would go out to the meeting tent outside the camp. 8 Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise and stand at the entrance to their tents and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. 9 When Moses entered the tent, the column of cloud would come down and stand at the tent’s entrance while the LORD talked with Moses. 10 When all the people saw the column of cloud standing at the tent’s entrance, they would all rise and then bow down at the entrances to their tents. 11 In this way the LORD used to speak to Moses face-to-face, like two people talking to each other. Then Moses would come back to the camp. But his young assistant Joshua, Nun’s son, wouldn’t leave the tent.

12 Moses said to the LORD , “ Look, you’ve been telling me, ‘Lead these people forward.’ But you haven’t told me whom you will send with me. Yet you’ve assured me, ‘I know you by name and think highly of you.’ 13 Now if you do think highly of me, show me your ways so that I may know you and so that you may really approve of me. Remember too that this nation is your people. ”

14 The LORD replied, “ I’ll go myself, and I’ll help you. ”

15 Moses replied, “ If you won’t go yourself, don’t make us leave here. 16 Because how will anyone know that we have your special approval, both I and your people, unless you go with us? Only that distinguishes us, me and your people, from every other people on the earth. ”

17 The LORD said to Moses, “ I’ll do exactly what you’ve asked because you have my special approval, and I know you by name. ”

18 Moses said, “ Please show me your glorious presence. ”

19 The LORD said, “ I’ll make all my goodness pass in front of you, and I’ll proclaim before you the name, ‘The LORD .’ I will be kind to whomever I wish to be kind, and I will have compassion to whomever I wish to be compassionate. 20 But, ” the LORD said, “ you can’t see my face because no one can see me and live. ” 21 The LORD said, “ Here is a place near me where you will stand beside the rock. 22 As my glorious presence passes by, I’ll set you in a gap in the rock, and I’ll cover you with my hand until I’ve passed by. 23 Then I’ll take away my hand, and you will see my back, but my face won’t be visible. ”

-Common English Bible

Note how Moses wasn’t relating to God as something far off and distant, but as a personal being that is right here, right now and in relationship with him. This wasn’t a private God, but it certainly was a personal God.

In the Gospels, we see that Jesus also had this kind of relationship with God. Here’s and example from Mark 14:

32 Jesus and his disciples came to a place called Gethsemane. Jesus said to them, “ Sit here while I pray. ” 33 He took Peter, James, and John along with him. He began to feel despair and was anxious. 34 He said to them, “ I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying. Stay here and keep alert. ” 35 Then he went a short distance farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if possible, he might be spared the time of suffering. 36 He said, “ Abba, Father, for you all things are possible. Take this cup of suffering away from me. However—not what I want but what you want. ”
-Common English Bible

Jesus is facing the cross and his death. He pleads to God, using the Abba, a very intimate term for God (akin to calling your father daddy).

The God we serve is not some mysterious force that is far away or distant, but very near. So why do we liberal Christians try to keep God at arms length? We don’t have to talk about God and Jesus in the way evangelicals do, but it does seem like we should be able to talk about how this God of the universe cares for us and knows us.

Conservative evangelical Timothy Dalrymple wrote last fall about his experience while at Princeton Seminary. He shares what was going on his life as he prepared for a upcoming surgery and how that strengthened his relationship with God:

Let me tell a little story — for this series on The Future of Seminary Education – that illuminates some of the critique I’ve already shared, but also some of why I nonetheless enjoyed my seminary years.

I’ve mentioned that there came a time, one month before a spinal fusion surgery, and about halfway through my M.Div., when I was confronted with the fear of death.  Recently married, I was lying in bed beside my wife after she had fallen asleep.  I thought of how much pleasure it brought me, simply to lay beside her.  I envisioned lying beside her as the seasons, the years and the decades passed by, as our bodies changed and we grew older together.  Then, I thought, we would pass away, and eventually we’d be buried beside each other as well.

That’s when I sat bolt upright with waves of scalding heat rolling across my skin and a heart that felt like it would pound its way through my chest.  It literally felt as though the sky was falling down toward my head.  I was suffering a panic attack.  I had thought of a wall of earth separating me in my coffin from my wife in her coffin — and the thought of the separation death would impose filled me with terror.  I had not been afraid of death for years.  Yet now I was married.  Now I had something to lose, something from which — or someone from whom — I did not want to be separated.

By then, my spiritual life had already been in decline.  I had strayed from God in my first couple seminary years.  I had largely abandoned my vision of intimacy and faithfulness with God.  But when life was easy, the cost of my infidelity to God had not been apparent.  Yet now I needed God, and it felt as though he were miles away, not because he was unfaithful but because had been unfaithful.  I had neglected the fundamentals of my faith, the spiritual disciplines, the basic everyday faithfulness, the impassioned pursuit of God and not merely the study about him.  I never had sex or did drugs in those years, but when it came to drinking I was very much a part of an unhealthy, un-Christian culture.  Even as I ministered in my internships, as a youth pastor and a prison chaplain, I partook in the drinking culture at seminary, and in foul language and unclean talk.  Those internships were the most spiritually edifying parts of my seminary experience, but they were not enough.

Suddenly that decline became a steep and dizzying downward spiral.  The month before my surgery was filled with doubt and fear and more panic attacks.  Was God trying to tell me that I was going to die?  That I needed to prepare my heart?  Then came the surgery, and a horrific recovery experience that was badly mismanaged by my medical team.  I spent the first two days after the surgery with no pain medication, and then got so much medicine that it proved toxic and plunged me into severe dysphoria.  It was the most profound experience of hopelessness and godlessness that I had ever known.  It felt as though my faith was broken into a million pieces and I had to put it back together again — or else leave it behind.

I sought encouragement from the professors.  They were kindly available, and offered answers that were nuanced and theologically respectable — but missed the mark.  I sorely missed the extraordinary James Loder, one of the professors I had grown close to, but who had died by then from a brain aneurysm.

But the benefit of my PTS years was not only in the faculty I came to know, but also in the students.  At about this time, one of my best friends, J., had gone to a month-long Ignatian retreat.  When he returned, we got together.  As he described his retreat, I kept hearing a particular word — a word that surprised me, a word that I had not heard or spoken so openly and frequently for years.

Do you want to know what the word was?  Jesus.

I had stopped saying the word “Jesus.”  95% of the time, I only spoke of “God.”  Or if I had to speak of him, I referred to God the Son, the second Person of the Trinity, the Logos…names that sounded intellectual and sophisticated.  If I had to speak of the Son incarnate, then I spoke of Christ, or the God-man.  Never Jesus Christ, and certainly never just Jesus.  Loving Jesus, following Jesus, seeking Jesus — these were the province of fundamentalists, Bible thumpers, Jesus Freaks, crude Christians who wore WWJD bracelets and listened to Michael W. Smith and read Max Lucado instead of Jurgen Moltmann.  We had even begun to subtly mock Jesus by talking of “Jeebus” or mocking the way certain preachers shouted “Jesus!” in their sermons, or by laughing at Jesus action figures and the other strange cultural artifacts emanating from Jesusland.

But now, here was this friend of mine, whom I admired, and he couldn’t stop talking about walking with Jesus and talking with Jesus.  He spoke of Jesus telling him something, or showing him something, or holding him.  It was striking only because I had not heard language like that since I had come to seminary.

As I sat there and heard my friend talking about Jesus-this and Jesus-that, I realized that Jesus was speaking to me through him.  Wasn’t there a time when I, too, walked and talked with Jesus?  Wasn’t there a time when I lived in fellowship with Jesus?  And wasn’t that, after all, the very point of Jesus?  That he is “God with us,” God made present and available and redemptive among us?  Because of Jesus, God is a Person-for-us, God is personally available, and we can indeed have a personal relationship with him?  Isn’t that the point of the incarnation?  Isn’t that, in some sense, the point of our faith — that God came to us in Jesus, and bids us come and die with Jesus, and calls us to be Jesus in the world and to love Jesus in the least of these?

For two years I had scoffed at things like this.  It seemed simplistic and sentimental.  But really, it’s the simple, heart-changing truth, a truth that confounds the wise and lifts up those the world calls fools.  I had left behind the language of Jesus, the spirituality of Jesus, and I had certainly left behind the imitation of Jesus.

That was the beginning of my long climb out of the pit.  I began once again to talk with Jesus throughout the day, to find him sitting in the chair beside me, or walking with me down the side of the street, or speaking to me in the words of a stranger or in the music played at a youth group meeting or in the sunlight that filtered through the trees or just in the stillness of my heart.  I had to trust my imagination, put aside my corrosive skepticism, and just experience Jesus (and God in Jesus) again.  And I would never have known J., never would have heard his story, if it were not for PTS and the extraordinary group of men and women it brings together.

Tim’s experience at Princeton is not necessarily a normative experience in mainline seminaries, but I do think it sheds light to something I’ve noticed in the circles I run in: a tendency to keep God at a distance. God and Jesus are something to be studied and maybe to follow as a nice leader, but they are not considered to be as close as a friend or lover.

But that seems to go against what we see in the Bible and have learned through the Trinity and the Incarnation.

There has to be a way that we can have the corporate God that loves all of creation and the God that cares for each us personally, not privately. Because a God that is kept at arms length is a God that we can’t reach for when we are at our darkest hour.

All Bankers Go To Heaven (Not)

A few days ago, I got an email from some person who didn’t like the fact that I was gay and that the church I serve is okay with gay folk.  The writer said something to the effect that I was basically hellbound and that I needed to ask God for forgiveness for being gay.

I promptly deleted the email.

It’s interesting that this coming Sunday is Christ the King Sunday and the gospel text of Matthew 25:31-46 is one of the interesting stories where we see the not-so-nice side of God.  For most liberal Christians, the idea of seeing a God send people to enternal damnation is a tad disturbing…to a point.  We don’t like to think of a God that send folks to hell unless they happen to be people we don’t happen to like.  In his study of the texts this week, Bob Cornwall notes that maybe the world’s bankers and those who work on Wall Street will end of up as goats:

The image that emerges from these texts that marks this final week of the liturgical calendar lift up the idea of judgment, something that many Christians don’t find all the attractive.   Especially those of us left of center prefer a loving and merciful God – though even liberals seem attracted to the idea that there are those who will be judged, and perhaps judged harshly.  They may not embrace the idea of people roasting for eternity in the fires of hell, but from what I can see from the rhetoric surrounding the Occupy Wall Street movement, there seem to be few tears for the world’s bankers.  Perhaps the denizens of Wall Street deserve judgment.  Possibly they are the goats who are to be sent off to the place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

It’s hard for me to tell if Bob is being serious or simply posing a question, but sentiment seems to be that there are some folks even liberals think deserve God’s judgement.  For some reason, that bothers me, mostly because it’s been folks like Cornwall that seem to talk about a God of love and judgement- but seem to drop that Happy God talk when it comes to people they don’t like.

The crank who sent me that email and those who would like to see bankers burn in hell have something in common- they want to decide who gets punished.  My crank emailer wants to see me burn because I’m doing something he disapproves us.  Those in the Occupy Movement want to see bankers burn because, well, they’re bankers.

The more I think about this gospel text though, the more I think that it’s not about me or who gets sent to hell.  In the text, both those who tend to the “least of these” and those who ignore them, don’t know they are encountering Christ.  None of them know their ultimate fate.

I do believe God is a just God, but the fact is, we don’t know who will end up where.  We aren’t supposed to know.  What we are supposed to do is take care of our neighbor as if that person were Jesus himself.

I think far too often, we want to sit in the judgement seat.  But that’s God’s job, not mine.  God will one day judge all of us…gay people and bankers and everyone in between.  At that time, all I can do is rely on God’s grace.  Until then, I will try to care for my sisters and brothers and not wonder or wish who is going to have eternal heartburn.

Judgement day is coming…but thankfully that’s not on my to-do list.

What Should Pastors Say on 9-11?

Good words from Methodist Pastor Alan Bevere:

1) First, I want to remind folks that
there is indeed radical evil in the world, and because of that people
commit heinous acts against other people. Moreover, when we reflect upon
a day when such evil was committed, we need to do a “gut check”
ourselves as to where and when we have been complicit in committing evil
ourselves. The Bible portrays sin as a very seductive thing in which
human beings become willing to participate even in the name of a moral
cause. No one is immune from “Satan’s snare,”–including Christians in
America.

.
2)
The Old Testament prophets used the occasion of Israel’s national
tragedies to remind God’s people of their calling and raise the question
of whether they were being faithful to the divine mandate. The tenth
anniversary of 9/11 provides an opportunity for preachers to raise the
question as to whether or not the people of God, the Church, is
fulfilling its mandate to make disciples of Jesus Christ. We do this not
because we think the church is somehow responsible for 9/11, but
because such evil and tragedy remind us that God calls us to be present
in the midst of such times and that we must never forget the mission to
which we have been called.
.
3)
That leads me to my next concern. This Sunday Christians need to
remember that the church has been called to be a suffering presence in
this world. The suffering of others is not to be kept at bay. Christians
are to enter into that suffering, just as Christ entered into our
suffering on the cross. We are to enter the suffering of those who still
mourn the death of loved ones these ten years later, and we are to
enter into the suffering of all who who have suffered in some form
because of that terrible day.
.
4)
This Sunday is a day to honor the courageous– firefighters, police
officers, rescue workers and others who put their lives at risk (many
losing their own lives) for the sake of others. C.S. Lewis said that
courage was not one of the virtues, but the quality necessary to inhabit
the virtues in our lives. Such examples of courage remind us that
Christian faithfulness too requires courage– the courage to live
rightly, to act justly, and to reflect the image of Jesus Christ in this
world, and to give our lives if necessary for the cause of the gospel.
.
5)
Finally, this Sunday is an appropriate time to remind God’s people that
in Jesus Christ God plans to put this world to rights, and that evil
will, in God’s own time, be defeated– the evil that impinges upon us
and the evil we perpetrate. Despite what happens in life, in the end,
God will get God’s way.

If you’re preaching tomorrow, how will you reflect on the event and connect it to being a follower of Jesus?