Social Action

Unity, All the way to Jail

We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness...

It’s helpful to imagine Paul in a prison cell as he writes the book of Ephesians, particularly chapter 4. To be imprisoned is to be divided off from humanity. So, Paul speaks about unity and provides a vision of what brings us together. He says that God considers us all to be one and that when we accept the Christian faith we all have the same baptism, even though some are sprinkled as infants and others dunked under the cold, muddy, waters of the Penobscot River. We are one, in spite of whatever wind of doctrine fills our sails. We are one, no matter what work fills our days, or what economic fortunes have befallen us.

Sunday, August 5, 2018
Pentecost 13

About that Cross Ahead

Jesus once called Peter, Satan — as in, “Get behind me, Satan.” I’ve come to think of Peter as a mother hen. He wants to protect Jesus. Keep him from any harm. I tell the people I love to be careful when they go out into icy weather. I have not yet resorted to hiding my wife’s keys when she plans to drive in the snow. That would be silly. Jesus is telling Peter that he is more than being silly. Peter’s urge to protect Jesus borders on being traitorous. He is, in this moment, Satan. For Jesus’ mission involves going to the cross. He plans on being harmed. Jesus plans on dying. That is why he reacts to Peter’s concern so dramatically.

Jesus goes on to say that each of us will go to the cross, in our own way. We must plan it into our lives. We must not let our urge to protect ourselves cause us to back away from our mission. We must not let the concerns of our loved ones keep us from doing what we are called to do. If a mother hen stands between us and doing God’s will, we call him or her Satan.

I think of Martin Luther King. As the fight for civil rights intensified, he knew it would cost him his life. He said, “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will” (“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” Montgomery, April 3, 1963).  I imagine his wife had a hard time listening to that speach. Jesus says that each of us will go on to the cross in our own way.

What does Jesus mean when he says, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it”?

Sunday, February 25, 2018
Lent 2

Dumb Fish

I think a fish could avoid getting caught if he learned to bite the fisherman instead of the bait. With this week’s shooting we have once again become polarized into two camps; some want to ban machine guns, and some of my friends are going out today to buy a gun because they fear that the second amendment is about to be taken out of the constitution. Both camps are thrashing around in someones boat. Our whole society seems caught in a net of polarized madness. Gun control one of two or three issues that are filleting America. This particular hook is baited by a diabolical organization, the NRA. They have taught their members to only vote for candidates that they have approved. They have collected vast sums of money to buy our democracy away from us.

Is Trump a Pharisee?

In Jesus’ day, Pharisees were well respected social leaders, involved in the political process. They had a specific agenda for making Israel great again. The fact that Jesus opposed them at every turn has caused the Pharisee movement to be vilified in western history. Jesus’ theology wasn’t that different from theirs — his opposition wasn’t a matter of their personal beliefs — it was their political agenda and lack of compassion towards the poor that made him lash out with some of his most pointed language.

Choose Life!

Wednesday, I drove my wife to the emergency room with what had been, only an hour before, a minor condition. Within a short time after arriving, a doctor said to me, “It is a good thing that you brought her in when you did.” Why did I bring her in when I did? Because we had health insurance. If we were uninsured, as we had been back in the 1980s, I would have held off. It’s just a bug, it will pass. My dithering may have been fatal.

 

Keep Awake

There are times in our lives when someone needs to shake us. We sing, “Don’t worry, be happy.” Something’s burning. We open a window and spray air freshener. The snooze button of our alarm clock has been taped down. Advent is meant to take a double edged sword to our post-turkey somnolence.  First, it reminds us of the generations who longed to see the wrath of God come and break the mountains of oppression that bound them. Then it tells us that the Jesus whom we want to receive on Christmas morning with Walmart gifts and egg nog, belongs to those who are awake, looking for him in the cold night.

 

One way to understand the first half of Mark 13, and particularly verse 13:30 (these things will happen to this generation), is to see Jesus warning his hearers and their children, not to get caught up in the Zealot rebellion against Rome. When they see the legions building siege ramps against the Holy City (in 70 AD.), they should wake up, and flee to the mountains. I hold to the theory of periodic apocalypse. Every so often, the Book of Revelations becomes real and personal to a generation. God shakes a people and says, “Wake up.”

 

Sunday, November 30, 2014
Advent 1

The Thneed for Loraxes

Dr Seuss wrote a book about a voice. An evil industrialist is chopping down all the truffula trees and making them into thneeds. The Lorax comes saying, “I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees.” This line gets repeated, but no one is listening. Soon, the trees are all gone, except for one seed. The book is not simply an environmental parable. It is also an account of the occasional, Lorax-like individual, who speaks for those who cannot speak for themselves.

 

A Letter to the Editor

The recent misbehavior of Pa. Rep Daryl Metcalfe (Butler-Republican) has prompted me to devote today’s blog to the following to the letter I recently sent to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. I think you will notice how theological reflection should influence political opinion. When the church stays out of politics, both are harmed:

Dear Editor

ReThinking Holiness

  You know how you pass those signs saying “Leaving City Limits of…”? Today I realized that I had left the holiness movement. My denomination (United Methodist) has a rich tradition of seeking personal holiness above all else. The Holiness Movement, which began in Wesley’s time among anabaptist groups, rose in prominence in the American religious scene throughout the 1800s, then lost favor to the prosperity gospel of the 1960s. Until the new millennium, I considered myself a holiness preacher. More than my colleagues, I emphasized the need for Christians to lead lives that grew more holy each passing day. Today, I saw the last hint of that attitude fade in my rear view mirror.

Taking the Leap

I watched a parade of squirrels passing through the the 30foot trees at the edge of my property today. Each squirrel scampered to the thin end of a branch, then launched themselves like Rocky across the eight feet of emptiness to the dainty branches of the next tree. I saw five of them do this in a row, gracefully, without hesitation, even though both their launching tree and their target branch were swaying in the wind. Then a squirrel came who hesitated. I found myself identifying with that fellow as he turned and backed down a yard or so of the tree. Was this leap really necessary?

 

The Roof Might Fall

Jesus is blunt when talking about the temple, “not one stone will be left upon another” (Luke 21:6). One day last week, a church near me received word that its roof might fall in. An engineer was invited up to look at the rafters because the roofer the church had hired was concerned about the funny line of the roof. The engineer said, “Look, there’s only an inch of wood holding that truss in place. I don’t know why the whole thing hasn’t fallen in yet.” That was Wednesday, and within an hour the borough had condemned the building and kicked the community dinner scheduled for that evening to the curb. Like the apocalypse that Jesus warned his disciples about, this occurs as winter is coming and while the pastor was on vacation.

 

Jesus’ words are also timely, when one considers the devastation that has occurred in the Philippines this week. Should we be mindful, when we build our buildings, that a 200 mile per hour wind might come and the roof might fall? 

 

Sunday, November 17, 2013
Week before Thanksgiving

Spiritual Harvest

Joel chapter 2 means something different for rural folk. People who live out in the sticks are mindful of the weather. They bend their plans around the possibility that the creek might rise or snow might close a road or that the Fall Apple Butter Festival might happen this weekend. In Joel, God takes ownership for a series of disasters, drought, locust, caterpillar, and grub, that ruined crops and brought famine. God says, “I ruined your harvest in the past, now I’m going to make up for it” (Joel 2:23-25). The passage reminds us of our physical dependency upon God, in order to prepare us to be spiritually dependent upon God. For rural folk, this is the central theme of the fall season.

 

Urban folk need a different interpretation. For them, failing social services and crumbling infrastructure are the drought, locust, and grub, that God has to answer for. Today, Joel might hear God say, “In the past I gave you corrupt politicians, inadequate housing, and racial segregation, but now, I’m going to make up for it.” Like their country cousins, they need to know that their struggles against oppression and inequity, were part of God’s greater plan to bring them shalom and the witness of his Holy Spirit.

 

A World-wide Church

The Pope has been saying some un-Catholic sounding things lately. Relating to gay priests, he has voiced a reluctance to continue any policy that ostracizes a whole class of people. He’s promoting practical and individualized, case by case, judgements about policy issues. Similarly, he’s opening the door to women in a ‘deacon order’ that may have priest-like functions. I’m translating that to the American church where the shortage of priests is leaving rural and small membership parishes critically underserved. The day will soon come when these folk rejoice, “Hey, we got our own priest again. She’s saying mass this week.”

Abraham Teaches Prayer

The story of Abraham praying for Sodom and Gomorrah to be spared deserves to be preached, if for no other reason that it demonstrates how to argue with God. When I counsel couples before marrying them, I tell them that our second session will be devoted to the subject of how to have a good argument. “But, we don’t argue,” they say. “Then you can’t be married.” In a similar vein, arguing with God is an important skill to be developed for a long term relationship.

 

The story of Abraham praying for Sodom and Gomorrah begins with God saying, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? If Abraham’s people are to bless all of humanity on God’s behalf, then God will need to be transparent with him. One is reminded of how Jesus during the last supper told his disciples that he wasn’t going to treat them as servants who didn’t know what God was up to, instead he would call them ‘friends’ (John 15:15). This is why I think of the conversation between Abraham and God over the fate of the two cities as prayer taken to the next level. It allows us to say that prayer is not about getting God to do things for us. Instead, it is about relationship. We seek to become the kind of friends with God who can speak honestly and listen deeply.

 

Sunday, July 28, 2013
Summer

Call Me Radical, but...

For the last two weeks I have been writing on the impact that the repeal of DOMA will have on denominations that fail to recognize gay marriage, such as the United Methodist (see What Voice Will I Listen To? and DOMA and the UMC).

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