Social Concerns

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

Seeing God's Hands

Prophets, like Jeremiah, are also known as seers. I looked it up, the word seer comes from the compound see and -er. God asks Jeremiah to go to the potter’s shop and see. As a photography nut, this has become important to me. Most people go to somewhere scenic and snap selfies on their cell phones. The camera in my iPhone is in some ways superior to the expensive camera with aspherical lenses that I use when I am seriously seeing. That’s the point, using a cell phone rarely makes one a seer.  Jeremiah is asked to go down to the potter’s shop and see. When we stop and simply observe — breathe… close your eyes… empty… breathe… now open your eyes —  release for a few days the need to post something to Facebook. 

 

Sunday, September 4, 2016
Pentecost 18

What the Church can Learn from Harriet Tubman

Sometime early in the new millennium, I reversed my thinking about social justice and the church. I used to think that the primary work of each congregation, as well as my denomination (United Methodist), was to win people to Christ and form them into fruitful disciples. My priorities as a clergy-person were; witness first, organize second, and address human need a distant third. I am replacing this guideline, though. I believe now that one cannot be evangelical without being concerned about liberation. Jesus healed and taught with equal enthusiasm.

Seek the Welfare of the City

Here’s a bottom row Jeopardy clue for you; “EXILED FOR 70 YEARS.”  The answer is “What is Babylonian Captivity?”  Most church goers would miss this basic question. Yet this was one of the pivotal events of the Old Testament. In 586 BC, Jerusalem was sacked, the temple of Solomon destroyed, and the people of God carted off to Babylon. It’s what makes Jeremiah weep the book of Lamentations. At this critical time our faith was nearly defeated. Not destroyed by a military loss to Nebuchadnezzar, but drained by a loss of heart. The people went into Babylon and hung up their harps on the willows, saying we can’t worship or sing the songs of God in foreign land (Psalm 137). If God’s people stop worshiping, the faith dies.

 

All transitions are painful. In the great changes of life, it is common for us to say, “I’ve lost my faith.” Yet transitions are essential. In Babylon, much of the Old Testament is transferred from oral tradition into written word. New concepts about the universality of God were developed. The Advent passages of Isaiah, that Handel set to music in his Messiah, were written for later generations to sing. 

 

Sunday, October 13, 2013
Proper 23

A Time to Talk About Values

There is an interesting debate going on these days about whether American public schools can teach values without accidentally or illegally teaching religion. I no longer have a personal stake in that fight, but I do have an opinion about its opposite. I believe that you can’t teach my religion without speaking about values. The story about Naboth’s Vineyard (I Kings 21:1-19) is a good place to climb out on a limb and question the ethical values church goers are cultivating and displaying in today’s world.

 

The story begins with the wicked King Ahab wanting to buy the land that Naboth’s family had passed down from father to son, since the time of Joshua. In biblical times, holding onto inherited land was a sacred trust and a subset of family values. Even though you may be poor, living on and cultivating the same parcel of ground for generations fostered a sense of rootedness and simplicity of life. One thinks of the small family farms that are disappearing from our landscape. What values do we possess in today’s world that are similar? 

 

Sunday, June 16, 2013
Pentecost 5
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