Social Issues

Abide

John asks a tough question: “how can the love of God abide in us, if we have in our hands the things someone else needs to survive, and we don’t offer what we have to help them” (I John 3:17). The context of John’s question is a call for Christians to help other Christians. This verse follows his command, “we ought to lay down our lives for one another” (v16). Obviously, he is writing to people adjacent to people experiencing persecution. In the first three centuries of the church, the sharp focus of physical persecution (imprisonments and executions) was always surrounded by a broader circle of people losing their jobs and homes because of social prejudice, and these sufferers are surrounded in turn by people like you and I who are doing okay, but not sacrificing to help. Could such a thing happen today?

 

John’s question goes hand in hand with the way another John, John the Baptist described the kingdom of heaven, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise” (Luke 3:11). Jesus said many similar things and he intentionally broadened this command to say that we must even share our coats with our enemies (Luke 6:29). Jesus calls us to be compassionate on both Christians and strangers, and never permitted the kind of circle drawing that we see in today’s church. Many congregations have a rule that they won’t directly help someone who not a member, or at least, a Christian. How can we abide with God and hold onto such narrow minded behavior?

 

Sunday, April 22, 2018
Easter 4

Justice in a Post-Charlottesville World

I don’t make this stuff up! The Common Lectionary - a decades old scripture chooser used by many pastors to keep them preaching the whole gospel - has four scriptures and a Psalm for August 20th; every one of these speak of God’s commitment to provide justice and mercy for all people. In Genesis 45, we read of a man who was once a slave and a prisoner becoming the hope and savior of people who once did him wrong. In Psalm 67, we read of how God judges all the people of the world with equity; his love is for every nation. In Romans 11, Paul explains that when God extends his grace to outsiders or a foreign people, he doesn’t diminish he love for those who knew him first. This is the same talk that parents give to their first born when they are expecting or planning to adopt another child. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus has to address the Pharisees, whom he says are blind guides. What is the nature of their blindness? Not theology. But a commitment to racism, classism, and the practice of segregation.

If I were to preach in this post-Charlottesville week, I would find my text in Isaiah 56:1-8. I would use the whole text, and point out that like the Eunuchs of old, many who are single, divorced, transgendered, or gay, find themselves shunned today by our “family” oriented church. God says that he will give to such people special honor in his church (verse 5).

Sunday, August 20, 2017
Pentecost 15

Defining Marriage

In Luke 20:27-38 we encounter the rather odd custom of Levirate Marriage. This is where the widow of a man who has died without an heir is given to his brother. Jesus lived during a time of transition. Marriage customs, such as Levirate Marriage and the practice of having young people always marry someone from within the clan, were dying out. Hellenism — that is the more urbane customs of the Greeks and Romans including their acceptance of homosexuality — was reshaping the daily life of first century Palestinians. We too, are going through a time in which marriage customs are being reshaped. In the passage above, Jesus is being asked, not only about eternal life, but also about marriage. The Sadducees no longer practice Levirate Marriage, but they know that some rural villages, perhaps even Jesus’ Nazareth, still do. It was common before the talmudic reforms of the first century for a widow to be given to her husband’s brother so that she might have a home and not be forced to marry outside the village. In a similar way, arranged marriages were once common among immigrants to this country, as they sought to prevent their young from leaving the confines of their ethnic community.

 

Sunday, November 6, 2016
Pentecost 27

You want me to be nice?

Jeremiah hears God telling people to settle down, contribute their own sweat equity towards establishing of a healthy community, and be nice to the Babylonians. His actual words are, “Seek the welfare of the city.” God is speaking to his people. The same people who have just lost their home, seen their house of worship burned to the ground and their beautiful city invaded by the Babylonians. They have been rounded up like cattle and marched across the desert to Babylon. They are weary and resentful. They want to escape. They want to lash out and sabotage the plans of their captors. They have no spirit to be spiritual. They have no heart to be kind. As we saw in last week’s Psalm 137, they have hung up their harps and refuse to sing the songs that their tormentors ask for.  Being nice, doesn’t make any sense.

 

Sunday, October 9, 2016
Pentecost 23

Quiet Leadership

I saw a photo of Rosa Parks in a display for International Woman’s Day and thought of the qualities that made her a great leader. We know now that she developed gradually into her role, attending workshops and reflecting carefully about the problem of segregation and how to effectively demonstrate in opposition to it, long before she refused to give up her bus seat on December 1st, 1955. Though she was always clear that “she was tired of giving in” — not physically tired — her demeanor and method of protest fostered sympathy and a consideration of our shared humanity, even among her opponents.

Who does that Young Woman Belong To?

There ought to be a law: One can’t tell the story of Ruth without dealing with the social implications. The time of the Judges, when Ruth is set, is often viewed with nostalgia. Back before the disastrous anointing of King Saul, the land of Palestine was a place where every man did what was right in his own eyes. This is the land of Ronald Reagan and Mad Comics. Whenever we time travel, we have to intentionally open our eyes and think critically. Things are not as wonderful as they seem.

 

Three points should be made:

Sunday, November 8, 2015
Pentecost 24

Is the UMC Spalling?

A while back we had expensive stone work done on our church building. Water was getting into the decorative block and causing the face of each stone to flake off. The word for that is ‘spalling’ and I’ve applied it to the church ever since. Over the last century, the United Methodist Church institutional structure (conference boards, general agencies, and general conference actions) has aligned itself with other mainline churches, specifically the Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians.

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