Prejudice

It's not What you know, but Who you know

Most of us have experienced about 1% of Exodus 1:8. We go to work and the person who supervises us changes. Suddenly we have a new boss who doesn’t know how loyal, trustworthy, and super we’ve been. They patronize us. They fail us. They give the good tasks to their friends and don’t give us the review that we need to be promoted. A bad boss is a pain. Some of you have lost a good neighbor and had the house next door bought by people who live like animals. A bad neighbor is a hassle. A bad king or pharaoh or president, however, is a humanitarian disaster. Think of the Hindenburg Zeppelin — “Oh, the humanity!”

Read Exodus 1:8, “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.”

This is how a tragedy begins. Someone has your fate in their hands who doesn’t know you. It can be a new boss, a new neighbor, a new king. They remove the kindness you had come to expect from life. If they are your boss, there may be financial consequences. If they are your neighbor, you might lose sleep, step in dog poo as you get your morning paper, and begin to be concerned for your children’s safety. None of this compares to the problems that arise when the person who rules your land has forgotten the principles of Shalom.

Shalom is the peace, healing, and prosperity that God wishes to bring to every person on this planet. Shalom, often simply translated as peace, appears throughout the Bible. It is often paired with Justice, which is God’s commitment that every person be treated fairly. Human laws can be good or bad, but the divine purpose of human authority is to insure that every person is treated fairly, that no people group or race is disparaged, and that no one is denied life or liberty without due process.

Sunday, August 27, 2017
Pentecost 16

A Fair Witness

In the classic Sci-Fi book, Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein imagines a world where people train to become “fair witnesses.”  A fair witness is prohibited from speculating or repeating what they haven't seen for themselves. They only speak about what they know from direct experience. For example, when asked to describe the color of a house seen in the distance, the fair witness responds, “It’s white on this side.” 

 

The blind man who is healed and made to see by Jesus is a “fair witness.” When asked by the Pharisees to explain how he came to see, he says, “Jesus put mud on my eyes. I washed. Now I see.” The Pharisees don’t like this. Mud hasn’t been approved as a treatment for blindness by the FDA. Nor was Jesus a healer they could believed in. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017
Lent 4

Mission First, People Always

Martin Buber said, “The world is not an obstacle on the way to God, it is the way.” I am a person who hates interruptions. Telephone solicitors are the worst. Then a friend of mine was out of work. After a year, the only job he could find was in a call center. I encouraged him to take it. “It’s a stepping stone to something better. You need to get back in the process of working everyday.” Sure the job wasn’t his goal. But, it was the next step on the flow of life for this person. Often obstacles and interruptions get demonized, when really they are part of the journey. Often the people who distract us from our task get abused. How hard would it be for us to be compassionate? To see the world, not as an obstacle, but as the way to God?

 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Lent 3

How we need our religion to work

Jesus comes into Jericho and sees Zacchaeus up in a tree. As soon as Jesus speaks a kind word to this hardened tax collector, the man is changed. Zacchaeus becomes remarkably generous. His heart, like the Grinch’s, grows three sizes. If we (I say this with the collective royal “we”) as a congregation are Jesus in the world today, then this is how the god-forsaken should respond to us. Repentance is not held up by the stubbornness of the pagan’s heart, it is held up by the paucity of winsome examples of real goodness.

 

Sunday, October 30, 2016
Pentecost 24

Please don't tell that story

I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time... but he only stayed with a foreigner

Jesus has a way of telling stories that no one wants to hear. He is like that sister-in-law at the family reunion who gathers the young teens and tells them how their grandfather drank his way into an early grave. In Luke 4:21-30, Jesus is in the pulpit at Capernaum, and he goes reaching for an illustration to help him make his point. He reaches back to the Old Testament and tells about the great prophet, Elijah, once took shelter in the home of Syrian widow. Elijiah was a refugee and the Syrian people, including this defenseless widow with her orphan son, took him in. Now, stand in the pulpit of your church and tell the same story.

Sunday, February 3, 2013
Epiphany 4

Vocations

There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

I like the word, 'vocation.' It is built upon the Latin for calling and reminds us that what we do in life, whether it is a paid career or a volunteer service around the neighborhood, is done because of what God spoke into being when he made us. We are called and we respond. I also can’t help but notice what Paul says about our vocations in 1 Corinthians 12. He says that they are related to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual gifts are given to everyone of our members. Many use them to build up the church. Humor me, let me apply Paul’s words here to the broader realm of the service we give in life, to our jobs, to our community, and to our loved ones. Both the roles that we take on (father, mother, boss, pastor) and the skills that we need to perform in those roles, are from God. They are a sacred trust. He assigns them as He wishes.

Sunday, January 24, 2016
Epiphany 3

Fooled by the Veil

We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away.

I was midway through college before I read Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man.” It was my first introduction to the concept of systemic evil. One people do not put another people down by simply putting them in chains. They instead, drop a veil over the faculty that enables people to see each other clearly. Early in his book, Ellison describes a statue depicting the white founder of this college for people of color, lifting the veil of ignorance off of the face of a slave. Ellison winks. Who knows which way the veil is going on that bronze statue? It may be the intention of the college and its surrounding segregated system to tie the veil down more firmly. Thanks to Ellison, I’ve begun to see deceptive systems everywhere.

As we consider the story of Moses and the veil (Exodus 34:29-35), we might make the mistake of believing that Moses covered his face to keep people from being blinded by his spiritual brilliance. It was a considerate thing to do, since if you hang around with God on Mount Sinai for a while, you might make the people around you feel uncomfortable. Paul winks. He says that it was helpful for Moses to wear a veil to keep people from knowing when his just-been-with-God glory had worn off. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013
Epiphany 5

Pancakes Every Day!

Elijah providing pancakes for the Darfur Duo is undoubtably one of the great under-told stories of the Bible. No, Elijah doesn’t flip the flap jacks, but he does give daily bread to a hungry widow and her son. And no, the story doesn’t take place in Darfur, but in Syria (currently Lebanon). Still, note the coincidence, Darfur and Syria, two misery riddled war zones led by (unrelated) dictators named Bashir. In both places, hunger walks among the innocents stealing children from their mother’s arms.

But, I Kings 17:9-16 has enough handles to be relevant without my fictionalizing it further. Jesus, himself, makes use of the story in his inaugural sermon in the Capernaum Synagogue (Luke 4:24-27) to battle his peoples’ prejudice against foreigners. Jesus has just announced that God is bringing peace, justice, healing, and salvation to all peoples. The crowd responds by saying, “Yes, yes. Now stop sending all of that to far away places and give us some magical pancakes, too.” The good people of our churches and synagogues often act as if the suffering that occurs in other countries is not their concern. They ignore Darfur, Syria, Bangladesh, and East LA. They somehow think that they don’t need to feel pity for those who starve there. It is convenient to think of these people as being somehow different from ourselves.

Sunday, June 9, 2013
Pentecost 4
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