The Journey of Transformation

Image
Nicolas Poussin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I think it’s a funny coincidence that this Sunday is the week when we remember the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan because I got to have a very “baptismal” moment earlier this week when I showed up to work on Thursday and discovered “rivers of living water” coming out of a broken pipe in the kitchen downstairs.  I’m thankful to report that the repair crew told me it looks like I found the problem and acted on it quickly enough that the damage isn’t too bad, but the whole affair made me want to throw my hands up in the air and cry out, in the words of our Jewish ancestors: “Oy vey!”

Speaking of Judaism…

One of my favorite things about Matthew’s gospel is the way that it is so rooted in Jewish tradition.  The author, who was probably a Jewish Christian living in the first century, wants to demonstrate to the readers that Christianity stands in continuity with traditional Judaism.  Matthew goes to great lengths to identify the story of Jesus with the story of Israel and he does it in two ways:

First, by quoting liberally from the Hebrew Bible (Christians sometimes refer to it as the ‘Old Testament’).  In fact, that happens in today’s reading: When Jesus is baptized and is coming up out of the water, the text says the heavens were opened to [Jesus] and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

This is actually a quote from two different verses in the Hebrew Bible.  When the author does this, it’s kind of like someone singing one line from an old, familiar song (e.g. “Here she comes, just a-walkin down the street, singin…”).  The familiarity immediately triggers memory and makes the audience perk up and go, “Oh yeah, I know that one!”

The other way that the author connects the story of Jesus with the story if Israel is by dropping lots of little hints in the text that remind the audience of famous stories from Israel’s history.  For example: At the beginning of the book of Exodus, there is an evil king (Pharaoh) killing baby boys.  In Matthew’s gospel, another evil king (Herod) is doing exactly the same thing.  Later in Exodus, Moses brings God’s message (the Ten Commandments) to the people of Israel from the top of Mount Sinai.  And what’s the name of Jesus’ most famous message in Matthew?  The Sermon on the Mount.  In Exodus, before the people of Israel can enter the Promised Land, they must wander in the wilderness for forty years.  As Jesus begins his ministry, he fasts and prays in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights.  This is not just a series of coincidences.  They are intentional.  Once again: the author of Matthew’s gospel is trying to identify the story of Jesus with the Israel.

Just one more example, and it’s the one I really want to talk about today:

At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he is baptized by John in the Jordan River.  This is another one of Matthew’s hints.  As Jesus begins his ministry, he passes through the waters.  In the same way, the people of Israel “passed through the waters” on the way from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.  Again, this is no coincidence.  Matthew is setting Jesus up as a kind of “New Moses” who leads God’s people from slavery to freedom.  The Christian journey of salvation, according to Matthew, is one where those who follow Jesus through the waters of baptism are liberated from slavery to sin and set free to live the life of the kingdom of heaven on earth.

Speaking in terms of (some of) the Ten Commandments, the Christian journey of salvation is one that takes us from violence to peace, from lust to love, from lies to truth, from greed to giving, and from envy to gratitude.  It’s a journey of personal transformation and baptism is the symbol of our agreement to take that journey with Jesus.  In the sacrament of baptism, we make a promise to ourselves, to each other, and to God that we will follow Jesus into a new way of living, just like the people of Israel followed Moses out of Egypt, through the waters of the Red Sea, and (eventually) to the Promised Land.  And it’s not a journey that we take on our own.  We travel by Christ, with Christ, and in Christ.

Here’s what I mean by that:

First of all, this journey of transformation is initiated by Christ.  Christians see Jesus, not just as an historical figure who taught some important ideas 2,000 years ago, but as a living presence who is involved in our lives today.  We believe that the person of Christ is the revelation of the heart of God to humanity, which is to say that, in Christ, God reaches out to us, meets us, and gets the divine hands dirty with the blood, sweat, and tears of this world.  When we are lost, Christ finds us and brings us home; when we are blind, Christ opens our eyes; when we are ignorant, Christ teaches us; when we are sick or wounded, Christ heals us; when we are dead inside, Christ brings us back to life again.  In the midst of the brokenness of this life and the selfishness of our hearts, while we are still hostages in Egypt, Christ shows up, liberates us from the slaveries of the past, and enables us to make a new beginning.  The journey of transformation is initiated by Christ.

Second, the journey of transformation is sustained with Christ.  We do not travel alone.  Christ guides us through the Word of God in Scripture and feeds us in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  The Spirit of Christ empowers our spirits and gives us strength to keep walking the path.  The love of Christ fills our hearts and picks us up when we stumble and fall on the road.  Christ walks beside us and promised never to leave us alone until the journey is through.

Finally, the journey of transformation is completed in Christ when we begin to love like Jesus loves.  That’s ultimately where all this is going; that’s the main principle underlying each of the Ten Commandments: Love.  Jesus said as much when he said that you could sum up all the commandments of the Bible with, “Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.”  It’s all about love.  St. Irenaeus, one of the early fathers of the church, famously said that, in the incarnation of Christ, “God became what we are so that we might become what God is.”  And what exactly is God?  According to 1 John 4:16, “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”  Love is who God is, therefore love is who we are.  Love is where we’re going in the end, therefore love is all that matters.  Love is the heartbeat of the cosmos and the foundational law of the universe, which is where we find the strength to say to one another, Sunday after Sunday:

I love you, God loves you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Be blessed and be a blessing!

COMMENTARY: Church shouldn’t be this hard (Reblog)

Reblogged from the Washington Post

After 36 years of serving churches as a pastor and consultant, I came to a startling conclusion the other day.

Not startling to you, perhaps. I might be the last person to get the memo. But the conclusion drew me up short.

My conclusion: Religion shouldn’t be this hard.

An assembly that exists to help people shouldn’t be so willing to hurt people — by declaring them worthless, unacceptable, undesirable or strangers at the gate.

Click here to read the full article

Don’t Call Us Marxist Because We Critique Capitalism — Call Us Christian

Don’t Call Us Marxist Because We Critique Capitalism — Call Us Christian

Great defense of Pope Francis’ statements about poverty, plus a bonus introduction to one of my all-time favorite theologians: Walter Rauschenbusch… and it’s written by his great grandson, Paul Brandeis Rauschenbusch

It is commonly agreed that for the first time in human history we can put an end to extreme poverty if we have the economic, political, moral and spiritual will to do it. Let’s do it.

In the meantime, if you are Christian and someone calls you a Marxist just because you are questioning why extreme poverty persists in era of such extravagant wealth, know that you are in good company — because Jesus did it first.

The Cross Was His Throne

Image
By Mauricio García Vega (Mauricio García Vega) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“This is the King of the Jews.”

That’s what the sign at the top of the cross read.  The irony was not lost on those who saw it, nor was it lost to history.  Kings were usually crowned while sitting on thrones, not hanging from crosses.  But this Jesus was a different kind of king.  For him, the cross was his throne.

In the ancient world, it would have been unthinkable for a cross to serve as a throne.  Crucifixion represented everything that was the opposite of kingship.  Kings were blessed but crucified people were cursed.  Kings were honored but crucified people were ridiculed.  Kings were dressed in flowing robes but crucified people were stripped naked.  Kings were beautiful but crucifixion was ugly.  Yet, in spite of this, unbelievably, the cross was his throne.

Crucifixion was not just any old punishment.  A criminal was not crucified for stealing bread or cheating on his taxes.  No, crucifixion was a special punishment reserved for a special kind of criminal.  The criminals crucified with Jesus were what we would now call terrorists.  They were insurrectionists, religious fanatics bent on a violent agenda to overthrow the Roman government.  If one wants to get a clear picture of just how radical it was for Jesus to forgive the sins of the criminal next to him, one should imagine that criminal as Osama bin Laden, because that’s who he most closely resembled.  It was rare for crucified people to be buried in that time because most of them were simply left there to rot: their bones picked clean by birds and eventually scattered across the landscape.  Their families were so ashamed that most would never again so much as speak the name of their crucified loved one.  Most crucified people were utterly lost to history, but not King Jesus.  No, for him, the cross was his throne.

When we look back at Jesus’ life as it is presented to us in the New Testament, it shouldn’t be all that surprising that this King of kings would reign from a cross, rather than a throne.  After all, how did he come into the world?  Did he come riding a white horse with banners unfurled and a terrible swift sword at his side?  Did he appear at Caesar’s palace in Rome saying, “Hey Caesar, I just want to let you know that your days are numbered!”?  Was he born into a wealthy family at the center of the halls of power?  No, he was born in a manger, in a stable, outside an overbooked motel, in a teeny little one-horse town, in a forgotten corner, in a troublesome province, in a distant part of the Roman Empire.  His parents were working-class peasants.  Our Christmas pageants and Nativity scenes have made the story of Jesus’ birth into a sweet, warm fairy tale, but the reality would have been quite different.  He was born in a barn.  Have you ever smelled a barn where animals are kept?  It doesn’t smell very good.  His mother placed him in a manger.  A manger is a place where pig slop went.  It probably wasn’t very sanitary either.  In today’s terms, Jesus’ mother would have given birth in a dumpster behind a Motel 6.  And the shepherds who visited him?  They weren’t very pretty either.  Shepherding was not considered an honorable profession in those days.  They would have been treated with the same indifference and contempt that truckers, janitors, garbage men, and McDonald’s drive-thru workers receive today.  So you see, from the very beginning of Jesus’ life, we can pick up hints that he would not be a king like other kings, so that we wouldn’t be surprised to discover in the end that the cross was his throne.

As he set out into his life’s work, Jesus continued to defy expectations for a respectable monarch.  He held court with tax collectors and sinners.  His royal advisors were fishermen, his treasurer was a thief, and his attendants were prostitutes.  They probably couldn’t have a royal cupbearer because the wine would have run out before the cup ever got to the king.  And they almost certainly didn’t have a court jester because, let’s face it: they were all court jesters in some way.  Based on the company he kept, it’s no surprise that the cross was his throne.

The upstanding citizens of the moral majority and the religious right in his day had nothing good to say about Jesus.  They were the self-proclaimed protectors of traditional family values and Jesus was the biggest threat to their agenda.  He called himself a rabbi, but they knew that no real rabbi would build such a rag-tag, permissive, tolerant, and inclusive community.  Jesus questioned their established theological dogmas.  He reinterpreted the Bible in ways that made them uncomfortable.  He seemed to have little respect for their traditions, so they had little respect for him.  Based on his relationship with the religious leaders of his day, we can see why the cross was his throne.

Finally, we come to the end of his life, the moment his followers had been waiting for, when all that he had been building toward came to its fulfillment.  He rode triumphantly into town on a donkey’s back in a staged fulfillment of a prophecy from the book of Zechariah.  He barged into the temple, flipping over tables, and sent the moneychangers packing.  He said he was about to clean up this town and make his Father’s house into a house of prayer for all nations once again.  His followers were understandably stoked at this new development.  They realized that this was the moment when the King of kings and Lord of lords, the long-awaited Messiah, would ascend his throne and establish the kingdom of heaven on earth.  But what they didn’t realize is that the cross was his throne.

On the day of his crucifixion, his royal robes were stained with his own blood, his crown was made of thorns, and the cross was his throne.

Above his head hung that awful, ironic sign, “This is the king of the Jews.”  From the outside, the whole scene seems like a horrible, macabre parody of kingship.  But here’s the thing: he really was a king.  For Christians, he is the King of kings.  In spite of (or perhaps because of) his unconventional life and ignominious death, Jesus has gone on to touch and inspire more people than any other single person in history.  For those of us who are his followers, who pledge our allegiance to his kingdom of heaven on earth, Jesus is our paradigm: his life provides us with the lens through which we interpret our lives.  As we make our way out into the world, we go as Christ’s ambassadors.  The way in which we represent him to the world should be consistent with the way he himself walked through the world.  And remember: the cross was his throne.

The king who reigns from the cross is fundamentally different from the king who reigns from a throne.  The kings of this world, the powers that be, force their will on others through bullets, bombs, bucks, and ballots.  Let me show you what I mean: when you dive around town, do you try to keep pretty close to the speed limit?  Do you do it because you love America?  Probably not.  Most of us drive the speed limit because we don’t want to get a ticket.  That’s the power of fear.  Private companies get you to buy their products by appealing to your sense of greed, lust, or vanity.  They promise you a better, longer, happier life, but they don’t really care about you.  They just want your money and they will tell you anything you want to hear in order to get it.  That’s advertising.  That’s the power of manipulation.  But Jesus is different.  He doesn’t depend on the power of fear or manipulation as his weapons because the cross is his throne.

Jesus rules the world from within through the power of love.  Love is amazing.  People will do things for the sake of love that they could never be forced into by law or the barrel of a gun.  Love gets new parents out of bed in the middle of the night for 3am feedings.  Love leads partners and spouses to sacrifice time, money, and energy for the sake of the relationship.  Love led Rev. Frank Schafer, a Methodist minister, to put his ordination credentials on the line when he officiated at his son’s wedding to another man, a crime for which he was tried and convicted by the United Methodist Church, just this past week.  Love led Mother Teresa to the streets of Calcutta to care for orphans.  Love led Rosa Parks to defy a racist law on a bus one evening in 1955.  Love led Martin Luther King, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Oscar Romero to speak out against injustice at the cost of their own lives.  Love led King Jesus to the cross, and the cross was his throne.

The people all around Jesus at Calvary kept shouting, “Save yourself!  Save yourself!” but Jesus chose to save others instead.  Jesus could have ordered his followers to rise up and kill, but Jesus chose to die instead.  That’s the power of love.  It was love, not nails, that kept Jesus on the cross.  And that’s why the cross, which once signified shame and death, has become for us the symbol of faith, hope, and undying love.  From the cross, the Lord Jesus Christ reigns in our hearts by the power of love and so it is that the cross is his throne.

God of the Living

Image
By Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I’d like to say a few words this morning on the subject of life after death.

“What happens to us after we die?” is one of those religious questions that people in our culture are accustomed to asking at least once in their lives.  When I taught philosophy at Utica College, I used to give a whole series of lectures on this subject.  I’ve paired down and digested some of those lectures for today’s sermon, so you’re getting a little taste today of what it was like to be one of my students (but don’t worry, there won’t be a pop quiz at the end of church).

There are not a few voices out there today claiming that the whole point of being religious is to secure for oneself a more pleasant afterlife.  But this hasn’t always been the case.

For the ancient Israelites, the problem of life after death was a non-issue.  It’s not that they didn’t believe in it; it’s that they never even thought to ask the question.  For them, the great religious question was not “What will happen to me after I die?” but “What will happen to our people in this life?”  The blessings and curses of the Torah all have to do with Israel’s collective prosperity in this world.

The closest the ancient Israelites got to asking and answering the question of life after death is in their concept of Sh’ol.  Sh’ol is the Hebrew name for the realm of the dead.  They never speculated about what that realm was like.  One’s status in that realm was not dependent upon one’s actions in life.  There was no concept of eternal judgment, reward, or punishment.  For the ancient Israelites, Sh’ol was just “the place where dead people go.”  Modern English versions of the Bible have typically translated Sh’ol as “the grave.”  When people die, they are simply “in the grave.”  Life stops at death.  That’s as far as the ancient Israelites got with the question.

By the time of Jesus, the Jewish people had been influenced by several of the cultures around them.  Many of these cultures had a more elaborate view of the afterlife.  For the first time, that question showed up as a blip on their theological radar.  Jewish thoughts on the matter went on to influence the early Christians in their thinking.  By the time we get to the apostle Paul in the mid to late first century, Christians had come to believe that there would be a day in the future when Jesus would physically return to earth and the dead would be resurrected, raised back to life like Jesus was, physical bodies included.  This was the dominant view of life after death that one finds in the New Testament and in the early church.

As the centuries went by, Christianity became more and more influenced by Greco-Roman culture and less influenced by its Jewish roots.  People started reading some of the great Greek philosophers like Plato, who taught that the mind and the body were separated at the moment of death.  The body dies, but the mind lives on in an ideal realm where it can contemplate goodness, truth, and beauty in their pure forms, unencumbered by the limitations of physical existence.  Christians who read this found it appealing.  Translating Plato’s ideas into Christian terms, they decided that the “ideal realm” was the kingdom of heaven, where God lives.  After our bodies die, they thought, our souls go to heaven where they can see God directly.

This last perspective is the one that has become most prominent in Christianity today, which is interesting for Christians because we say that our faith comes from the Bible, but the belief that people’s souls go to heaven when their bodies die actually comes from Greek philosophy rather than the Bible.  But even within the pages of Bible itself, we can see that there is more than one concept of life after death.

In this morning’s gospel reading, we can see two of these worldviews at war with one another.  On one side, you have the Sadducees, who believed in Sh’ol, the grave: that life stops at death.  On the other side, you have the Pharisees and the Christians, both of whom believed in resurrection.  Luke probably decided to include this story in his gospel as a defense of the early Christian position over and against the Sadducees’ position, but I don’t particularly care about that aspect of the question, right now.

We could sit here all day and speculate about the technicalities of the afterlife (i.e. “What goes where, when, and how?”) but I would rather focus on the questions “Who?” and “Why?” when it comes to life after death.

The “Who?” is God.  In the Bible (Acts 17:28), the apostle Paul quotes the Greek philosopher Epimenides, saying that we “live, and move, and have our being” in God.  Later, in Romans 11:36, Pauls says that all beings are on a journey “from God, through God, and to God.”  So, when we die, in the words of biblical scholar Marcus J. Borg, “we do not die into nothing; we die into God.”  The same God who loved us into existence and loves us and holds us now in life will continue to love and hold us after death.  When we die, we do not wander into the darkness; we are welcomed into the light.  When we die, we are not enveloped by oblivion; we are embraced by eternity.  When it comes to the “Who?” of life after death, the answer is that we put our trust in God, “in whom we live, and move, and have our being,” “from whom, through whom, and to whom are all things,” “the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last,” “as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen.”

When I imagine our return to God at the end of this journey, I like to imagine rain drops falling into the ocean.  When the rain drop hits the surface of the ocean, what does it experience?  In one sense, it ceases to exist; it becomes nothing.  But this isn’t entirely true, because the water molecules that made up that rain drop are still there, they’re just part of the ocean now.  So, in one sense the rain drop becomes nothing, but in another sense it becomes part of everything.  Likewise, when the rain drops of our souls return to the infinite ocean that is God, what will we experience?  Will I still know that I am Jonathan Barrett Lee?  Will you still know that you are you?  I honestly don’t know and I won’t try to speculate or offer you a theory that may or may not later prove to be true.  Any analogy I make right now will most likely fall short of reality, anyway. 

Even my favorite ocean metaphor doesn’t really work because the truth is that we are already living, moving, and existing in and through the ocean of God right now.  We don’t have to wait until we die to experience that.  The infinite ocean of God is already within you and me, and around us in the earth, sky, sea, and stars.

And if the apostle Paul is right in saying that we “live, and move, and have our being” in God and that all things are on a journey “from God, through God, and to God” (and I think he is), then the illusions we create for ourselves of separateness and superiority are nothing more than lies we make up in order to stroke our own insecure little egos.  If we truly realized how loved we are as children of God, we wouldn’t need to make distinctions like “I’m better because I’m white/male/straight/American/Christian and she’s black/female/gay/Korean/Muslim.”  If we really embraced who we are in God, we wouldn’t need to split those hairs (because they’re all growing on the same head).  But because we do live in a world where people don’t know who they really are in God, we do have to spend time rectifying those errors and healing those divisions.  We are called upon by God to participate in what the apostle Paul called “the ministry of reconciliation,” which leads me to my final point: the “Why?” of life after death.

Why do we ask these questions and formulate these theories about life after death?  We do it because we need to know that our efforts on behalf of this “ministry of reconciliation” are not done in vain, but have lasting value.  We need to know that our little stories are part of some Great Story being woven by the ages.  We need to know that life matters and we are not alone.  And as we put our parents, friends, lovers, and children into the ground, we need to hear that there is a love “strong as death” and a passion “fierce as the grave.”  As the lid on that coffin closes, or when we lie in hospital and our breathing becomes more labored as the end draws closer, something within us is screaming.  Something within us feels the urge to sing with that great poet, John Donne:

DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee…

Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,

For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,

Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,

Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,

And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,

Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.

Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,

And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,

And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,

And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then;

One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,

And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

We feel the urge to sing in the face of death and sing we do.  “Even at the grave, we make our song.”  We sing to remind ourselves that there abides with us a Love that wilt not let us go. 

In defiance, we sing:

I fear no foe with thee at hand to bless,
ills have no weight and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting?  Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still if thou abide with me.

In faith, we sing:

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
that in thine ocean depths it’s flow
may richer, fuller be.

O Light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
my heart restores its borrowed ray,
that in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
may brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
and feel the promise is not vain
that morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
and from the ground there blossoms red
life that shall endless be.

Brothers and sisters, I’m here today to tell you what happens after we die.  I’m not here to talk about the “What/Where/When/How?” of life after death.  I’m here to talk about the “Who?” and the “Why?”  The “Who?” is God and the “Why?” is because your life does matter and you are not alone.

So, when your day comes (and it will), whether it comes sooner or later, whether you are old or young, whether it comes suddenly or gradually, whether you are alone or surrounded by loved ones, I give you permission, as you feel yourself fading, to close your eyes for the last time in the peace that comes from the knowledge that “you do not die into nothing; you die into God.”  The God who has loved you in life is the same God who will continue to love you in death.  As you go, you are not enveloped by oblivion, you are embraced by eternity.  You do not wander into the darkness, you are welcomed into the light.

The Real Story (Not Satire)

I’m glad so many folks have read, enjoyed, and shared A Biblical Guide to Debunking the Heterosexual Agenda.

This work is obviously a piece of dark comedy, but like so many good jokes, its humor is based in reality.  We Christians need to be careful about how we use language to express our views to the world.  People are affected by the things we say.  In the case of too many LGBTQ people, our words have led to suffering and death.  How many have closed their eyes for the last time, believing that God would hate and reject them no matter what they did?

Obviously, most liberal Christians reject outright the kind of language and biblical hermeneutics I used in my previous post.  They’ve come to believe that the old interpretations of the Bible are wrong and no longer apply.  These people are the ones advocating for a revision of our churches’ marriage and ordination policies to make room for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

There are also many moderate evangelicals who likewise shun the kind of abusive rhetoric used by hate groups like Westboro Baptist.  These moderate evangelicals tend to maintain what they call a “traditional” view of marriage between one man and one woman, but they are also angered by fundamentalists who major on the minors and shove their views down other people’s throats.  These folks are mainly interested in introducing their neighbors to a thoughtful and compassionate version of the Christian faith that helps them grow in their relationship with God.

My challenge to these moderates is to examine the language they use in expressing their views.  To the ears of outsiders, even a moderate defense of heteronormativity sounds like hate speech.  Even more importantly, I urge them to stop and listen to the real experiences of LGBTQ people.  I believe that personal relationships are the primary means through which God reaches and changes our hearts.  If you care enough to speak about these issues, I urge you to speak from the place of relationship.  Let this “issue” become more than an issue: let it take on a name and a face.

No matter what our respective theological, political, or sexual orientations may be, we must remember that the Christian’s first call is to walk through this world like Jesus did.  As Desmond Tutu is fond of saying:

We are the hands and feet of Christ in the world.  God only has us.  God believes in us.

There is only one legitimate spiritual orientation, and that is Love.

Here’s a book worth reading on the subject, no matter what your “position” is:

Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation

A Biblical Guide to Debunking the Heterosexual Agenda

Image
By Carloxito (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

SATIRE WARNING
Don’t get your knickers in a twist

If you want to get the non-satirical version,
read my follow-up post: The Real Story (Not Satire)

As a baptized, ordained, practicing, Bible-reading, Spirit-filled, Jesus-loving Christian, I just have to say how sick and tired I am of these straight-marriage activists spreading their heterosexual agenda all over my church and country!

Their sinful, detestable practices are unbiblical and unnatural in the eyes of science and God.  It may not be “politically correct” to say so these days, but I refuse to “tolerate” these perverts and their lies anymore…

Don’t take my word for it, here is what the BIBLE says:

Genesis 4

After God made Adam and Eve, they had three sons: Cain, Abel, and Seth.  No daughters.  Yet is specifically says that Cain got married to a woman.  Did you know that Cain, the first murderer, was a STRAIGHT?  Heterosexuality and murder have gone hand-in-hand since the earliest days of the human race.

What’s even worse is that Cain got married to a woman even though the Bible very clearly states that there were no human women (other than his mother) in existence at that time.  The conclusion is inescapable: Cain married an ANIMAL.  Heterosexual marriage sits at the top of a slippery slope that leads directly to bestiality.

Not only that, but the Bible tells us how Lamech, an early descendant of Cain the hetero and murderer, took two wives and was a very violent person.  Elsewhere in the Bible, there are other flagrant, unrepentant heteros like Abraham, David, and Solomon who have multiple wives.  Judah, another heterosexual pervert, impregnates a prostitute who turns out to be his own daughter-in-law!  Here again, we see the Bible clearly showing how sin begets sin and straight-marriage leads directly to POLYGAMY and FORNICATION.

Genesis 19

In the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Bible is VERY clear in its condemnation of the heterosexual lifestyle.  While the men of Sodom were at his door, Abraham’s nephew Lot (another known heterosexual) offers his virgin daughters to be raped.  After Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, Lot’s daughters, burning with heterosexual lust, get their father DRUNK and have SEX with him so that they will get pregnant.  The Bible is crystal clear on this point as well: Heterosexuality leads to drunkenness and INCEST.  That’s what these straight-marriage activists are pushing for.  DON’T LET THEM GET AWAY WITH IT!!!

Leviticus

The Old Testament book of Leviticus spends significantly more time condemning straight sex than it does dealing with sexual activity between people of the same gender.  Therefore, heterosexuality is obviously a far bigger problem in the eyes of God.

The most direct and clear condemnation of heterosexuality can be found in Leviticus 19:19 –

“Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.” (Lev. 19:19, KJV)

God gave us an orderly and organized universe, therefore he is offended by different kinds of things mixing together.  If God went to such lengths to condemn the mixing of different cattle, seeds, and fabrics, why wouldn’t he also condemn the mixing of genders and their bodily fluids?  Do you think God would be so foolish as to overlook something that big?  Obviously not.  The meaning of this verse is clear: God never intended for people of different genders to mix sexually.

Matthew 5:27-29

Jesus never had a bad thing to say about same-sex relationships.  He obviously didn’t consider them to be much of a problem.  But he had quite a bit to say about the sin of heterosexuality!  In his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells us that even those who secretly harbor heterosexual tendencies are in danger of burning in hell:

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:

But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

If the heterosexual orientation is so “normal”, as straight-marriage activists claim it is, then why is there no evidence that Jesus ever married a woman?  If the Son of God thought it was worth avoiding, then Christians should too.

1 Corinthians 7

The apostle Paul stated very clearly in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 7, verse 1: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.”  This is his first condemnation of heterosexuality, but he doesn’t stop there.  In verse 27, he advises young men to “seek not a wife.”  He tells us why in verses 33-34: Paul says that a married person “careth for the things that are of the world” whereas an unmarried person “careth for the things that belong to the Lord.”  Once again, the Bible is clear in stating that heterosexual marriage puts people into a spiritually compromised position.

Conclusion

Don’t get me wrong in all this: I don’t hate straight people.  I love them as Jesus commanded me to.  I live in a part of town that has a rather large heterosexual population.  There’s even a straight couple that lives down the block from me.  In fact, one of my very best friends is straight, so I can’t be heterophobic.  I’m no bigot; I’m just a Bible-believing Christian who follows what the Word of God says, and the Bible is quite clear in its message that heterosexuality is less than God’s best for human beings.

My heart breaks when I see the youth of our nation getting sucked into a heterosexual lifestyle without knowing the clear and present danger that lurks there!  The mainstream media refuses to talk about this, but I have come to believe, through prayer and the study of Genesis 3, that God has sent the plague of pregnancy among the human race as punishment for the sin of heterosexuality.  Pregnancy and childbirth was one of the leading causes of death for women throughout history.  Recent medical advances have lessened that probability, but they can’t erase the fact that heterosexuality is still a SIN.

Statistics and medical data clearly show that people are more likely to get pregnant from straight sex than they are from sexual activity shared with a partner of the same gender.  Why would the numbers be so dramatically higher for straight folks unless GOD was trying to send us a message?

The message is clear: REPENT of your heterosexual perversion and turn back to God’s plan for your life!

Go find a good church that preaches what the Bible REALLY says about heterosexuality.  You can tell them by the rainbow flags hanging outside.  You can also find them by looking for words like:

  1. Integrity (Episcopal)
  2. Dignity (Catholic)
  3. More Light (Presbyterian)
  4. Reconciling (Methodist)
  5. Open & Affirming (United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, or Baptist)

This is a free country, so I don’t mind sharing it with straight people, so long as they don’t flaunt it in public.  Whatever sins they commit behind closed doors is between them and God.  But I have a big problem with the way these straight-marriage advocates push their unbiblical heterosexual agenda in the media and the government.  Did you know that some of them are even trying to get LAWS passed that FORCE you to marry people of the opposite gender?!  Some of these sick hetero perverts have even set up RE-EDUCATION CAMPS that brainwash kids and adults into accepting their agenda!  Before long, these fanatics will even be doing away with the separation of church & state in order to FORCE pastors and churches to marry ONLY straight people.

This is my country too and I WANT IT BACK!

Remember to get out and VOTE!

Only you can stop this heterosexual menace from conquering America!

Making Friends With Witches

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Photo by Shahmai Network. http://www.shahmai.org/

 

I just read an article about a fascinating guy, but I’m not going to link to it, seeing how it comes from one of the extremist publications of the religious right.  However, the subject of the article (who is blasted therein) seems like a pretty stand up dude.  His name is Phil Wyman and he’s a pastor in Salem, Mass who was expelled from a Pentecostal denomination for building a ministry with the expressed goal to “make friends with witches and atheists.”

Here’s what Pastor Phil has to say for himself:

“We did something few other Christians in the world were doing… We loved the witches and they loved us back.”

He doesn’t try to convert Wiccans to Christianity because:

“Theology doesn’t work like that. I don’t think I have the capability of converting anyone… I don’t look at the Christian salvation thing as a sales pitch. That’s God’s job. I talk about practical things. Why can’t I just have a regular relationship and talk about the Red Sox?”

Also, he sets up confessional booths on Halloween, but with a twist:

“We didn’t have them confess to us, but rather, we confessed the sins of the Church and apologized for hideous things that had happened, not only down through history but in recent times… That was evidence that we cared.”

Like Pastor Phil, I am one who has repeatedly found himself in committed professional and personal relationships with atheists and pagans.  I have worked hard to win their respect as a Christian who will listen to reason with compassion.  The resulting friendships have been some of the longest and richest of my life.  I have tried to be more Christ-like than Christian and often discovered Christ in them, even though our ideological boundaries don’t line up like one would expect.

In the Bible, Jesus often called his friends and followers to travel beyond the pale of established religion and morality.  He ate with tax collectors and sinners, he touched the untouchable, he traveled through enemy Samaritan territory and gratefully received their hospitality, and he found more faith in one (pagan) Roman centurion than he had seen in all of Israel. 

Jesus was never one to circle his theological wagons.  He never deemed orthodoxy worthy of defense.  He taught that love is the greatest commandment and the quality of one’s religion equals the quality of one’s relationships.

Let’s (Not) Make a Deal

Do you ever feel like everyone wants a piece of you and maybe there’s not enough to go around?

You and I live in a transactional society where everything is quid pro quo: there’s no such thing as a free lunch, you get what you pay for, and you pay for what you get.  This, obviously, is how we do business: a product or service is offered at a fair price that both parties agree on, the exchange takes place, and both parties go their separate ways.  Ostensibly, this is also how we do government: public officials are elected to their positions for a term of service wherein they are authorized to exercise a certain amount of political power over the populace in exchange for their promise to protect the well-being of those they serve.

So, in sectors public and private, our society runs on the idea of transactions.  Life, it seems, is one big game of Let’s Make a Deal.  There are some people who find that thought appealing.  Ayn Rand, for example, is a Russian philosopher whose work is often read and quoted admiringly by members of the so-called Tea Party movement.  She believed that people are selfish by nature and self-interest is the only correct way to make decisions in life.  Charity, compassion, goodness, love, and God are all ridiculous ideas, according to Ayn Rand.  For her, self-interest is the only good and life is one big business transaction.

Personally, I would have a hard time living my life that way.  Business transactions are necessary, useful, and good for those times in which they are appropriate, but they become toxic when the principle of self-interested exchange is applied to the whole of life.  There are times in life when we are called upon to make sacrifices for which we will reap no material reward.  Likewise, we would not be who we are, what we are, and where we are today if it hadn’t been for others who sacrificed for us and gave freely without any thought of seeing a return on their investment.

At the end of the day, when my energy is spent from all my wheeling and dealing, I need to know that I can lean on something deeper and more meaningful than a contract drawn-up in the name of mutual self-interest; I need to lean on some everlasting arms; I need to know that the amazing grace that has brought me safe thus far, through many dangers, toils, and snares, will also lead me home; I need to feel that the house of my soul is built, not on the shifting sands of self-interest, but on the solid rock of Love that is without condition, proviso, or exception.

In our gospel reading this morning, Zacchaeus found that kind of Love, or more accurately: Love found him.  Zacchaeus, we know, was a tax collector.  We talked about them last week.  Tax collectors were some of the most hated people in ancient Israel.  First of all, they were traitors: Jews working for the occupying Roman government.  Second of all, they were liars: they overcharged people on their taxes and kept the extra for themselves.  So, it would have been quite a shocking moment to Rabbi Jesus’ devoutly Jewish audience when he singled out the local tax collector in his search for a place to stay.

This gesture from Jesus was a bold, symbolic statement.  Sharing someone’s home in that culture meant that both parties welcomed and accepted each other as family, without question.  Zacchaeus had done nothing in the way of belief or behavior to deserve such public affirmation from Jesus.  Those respectable folks in the crowd probably wondered whether Jesus realized the kind of message he was sending.  How were sinners like Zacchaeus ever supposed to learn their lesson if they didn’t experience the full sting of rejection from God-fearing society?

That’s the way their minds worked: they had a transactional relationship with their religion.  They gave obedience to the laws of the Torah in exchange for inclusion in the life of society.  They were shocked and offended at the thought that Jesus, as a rabbi and potentially the Messiah, might offer such a radical gesture of acceptance without first requiring that Zacchaeus repent of his old, scandalous ways.

But Jesus doesn’t ask that of Zacchaeus.  He commits an act of civil disobedience and direct action against the morals and values of his culture: Jesus offers acceptance first.  He asks nothing of Zacchaeus.  There is no transaction happening here, no business deal. 

This flies in the face of most traditional religious wisdom (Jewish and Christian), which says that repentance comes first, then forgiveness.  Most folks think that God needs people to do, say, or think certain things before they can reap the rewards of heaven, eternal life, or acceptance in the church community.  However, Jesus seems to take the opposite approach in this passage.  He doesn’t ask Zacchaeus about how many times he’s been to synagogue in the last year, he doesn’t ask about which commandments he had broken or whether he was sorry, Jesus doesn’t even ask whether Zaccheaus believed in him as the Son of God and Messiah.  Jesus simply accepts him as he is.

The amazing thing is that this makes all the difference.  In the light of such unconditional love, which he had probably never experienced before in his entire life, Zacchaeus becomes a changed man.  Something about that kind of grace made him want to pay it forward and pass it on.  Jesus accomplished in one gesture of grace what so many others couldn’t do through years of judgment.

Can you imagine what it would be like if we ran our churches this way?

When I talk to people who don’t come to church about why they’re not interested in Christianity, they often (but not always) express some kind of faith in God and respect for Jesus, but most of them say that they are turned off by hypocritical Christians who are judgmental toward those who don’t believe or behave like them.  In our culture so full of business transactions at every level, people are longing to experience a God and a church who will love them unconditionally and accept them as they are.

This, more than anything else, is the greatest gift we have to offer the world as Christians.  We can follow in the footsteps of Rabbi Jesus, who wasn’t afraid to rise above the culture wars of his day and even go beyond the letter of the Bible in the name of love.  Christ’s is a love that will not wait for you to get your act together and will not let you go once it gets hold of you.  In contrast to conventional, transactional religious wisdom, the deep, deep love of Jesus offers grace and acceptance first, only then does it call forth transformation from within.

When that change comes, it will not look like simple observance of a set of commandments.  Like Zacchaeus, your life will begin to overflow with the kind of radical grace and generosity that was once shown to you and you will make your way out into the world, proclaiming the good news to everyone you encounter: “I love you, God loves you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Be blessed and be a blessing.