Let Justice Roll

My sermon the Sunday after the election ….
Watch it here.

TEXT:  Amos 5:18-24
TITLE: “Let Justice Roll”
THESIS: Do justice for the day of the Lord to come.

Introduction

  • In the 1970s, I got caught up in end-times prophecy – promises of a rapture. – Studied all the biblical texts and  books. …. In those circles today, people are waiting for “the day of the Lord,” which they consider to be the rapture of believers followed by worldwide judgment and disaster.

·       The prophet Amos warns those who long for the day of the Lord! He says it will not be what they expect – darkness, not light.

·       And he tells the people what God desires – and what God wants to see come on the whole earth – justice rolling on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.

Scripture

·       The people were confident that God was on their side against what they saw as the “injustices” of the world. They saw the world as getting worse all the time, and they longed for God to come and rescue them (rapture them) and bring judgment against their enemies. That’s the day of the Lord they longed for and waited for.

·       Amos, though, questioned whether God really was on their side. The judgments they longed for against their enemies? Amos said God would judge them. … A day of darkness, pitch-dark without a ray of brightness. … As though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house (where he would be safe) only to have a poisonous snake bite him.

·       Then Amos “got personal.” He “went to meddling.” – I despise your religious festivals. Your gatherings are a stench. Your offerings are not acceptable. Your music and songs are just noise!  – Why? … Because their hearts were not right with God. They were just “going through the motions” of religion, pretending everything was good and that God would protect and save them. They were not committed to living as God wanted, to doing justice and righteousness.

·       This is what God really wanted – and the implication is they were not doing it: “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Conclusion

·       These 2,800-year-old words still speak to us today. Why? Because they too often still describe God’s people. … People have not been leaving the churches because they don’t care about God or living right. They’re often leaving because they do care and see too much judgment and condemnation in the churches. They have been leaving because they’re not convinced that people in the churches really care about what God desires – about justice and righteousness.

·       Here are two questions for us to answer – the people who are in the churches of America:

o   Do our gatherings, songs, and offerings lead to living out what is true, morally right, and just – not only in our eyes, but in the eyes of the world and of God?

o   Do our actions lead to justice and equity for the poor, for people of color, for diverse groups of people, and for people who do not live up to our cultural expectations?

·       Some races have not yet been decided in this election, and the people who have been elected may not be the ones we voted for. … What happens now? What will we do? What would we do if people we voted for won the election? … The answer should be the same.

·       Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! Do what is right and work for justice. Come to church and let God change us and empower us to go out every day and do what is righteous and just for everyone. – For the poor and oppressed, for people of diverse colors and cultures, for people who are different from us and who do not follow our traditional, cultural expectations.

·       God is on our side when we are on God’s side. – When we go beyond cultural religion and traditions and live into God’s desires for the world – when we pursue justice for all people as God does – then the day of the Lord becomes a reality today.  … Jesus said he came to to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor – that is, that the day of the Lord has come!

·       “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

People of the Kingdom

Watch the sermon here.

TEXT: Matthew 5:1-12
TITLE: “People of the Kingdom”
THESIS: This is the way of life for people of the kingdom.

Introduction

  • Joy and I read each day from a Catholic devotional which includes stories of Catholic Saints. The oldest ones can be strange and “fantastic,” but most are inspiring in their faith and faithfulness toward God and people.
  • Yet All Saints’ Day is not just about that kind of “saint.” It is about all of us – what the Church calls “the communion of saints.” In the NT, especially in Paul’s letters, all of God’s people are “saints” – holy ones, those who are set apart by God’s calling and grace to make the kingdom of God a reality in this world.
  • All of God’s people – the people of the kingdom – are called and graced for the same kind of life, the same way of living … called to the way of following Jesus and becoming like him in all we do.
  • That’s what this scripture is about – the Beatitudes – the way of life that is called “Blessed” by Jesus. Robert Schuller (The Crystal Cathedral / Hour of Power) wrote a book called “The Be-Happy Attitudes.” Cute and clever, but not accurate. This is not just about being happy, but about being truly blessed and empowered by God in our way of life, whatever comes.
  • Let’s look at what this way of life – this blessed life – includes:

Scripture

  • Poor in spirit – Without God, we have nothing. All that we are and have is a gift from God. We trust in God for everything.
  • Those who mourn – Perhaps not for ourselves, but for the world – for people who suffer, who are poor, who have lost hope  … In our “mourning with” people in need, we too shall find comfort.
  • The meek  – Also gentle – Gentleness, kindness, humility of heart – The opposite of who most people think will inherit the earth, but the way of life Jesus taught and God wants.
  • Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – Also justice … what is “right” and good for people – not what is “moral” and “up to code”/the law – When we desire and work for justice and compassion more than anything, we will be filled – have a sense “divine satisfaction” in life.
  • The merciful – Also “compassion” – “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger abounding in love and faithfulness” – The people of the kingdom/of God are to be like God.
  • The pure in heart – A single-mindedness in life – “pure”=”without alloy”/without mixture – with a desire and will in life to do what God desires and to follow Jesus in all we do. – Then we shall “see” God, for we will be like God.
  • The peacemakers – Seek peace and pursue it. – As much as it is in your power, be at peace with all. – Not the absence of conflict, but a desire to transform it. – Living in the midst of chaos without anxiety and fear, at peace with God and ourselves. – They shall be children of God.
  • Those who are persecuted for justice … when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. – Not because of our beliefs or a commitment to cultural and social issues (pro life or family values) – but because of Jesus, because we are living in the ways Jesus has just spoken of. – This is the way of the kingdom. Then we are the people of the kingdom.

Conclusion

  • On this All Saints’ Day, may we commit ourselves again to living as God’s holy people – the holy ones, the saints of God – the people of the kingdom:
    • Trust God for everything.
    • Mourn with the world.
    • Be gentle and humble of heart.
    • Desire justice for all people.
    • Be compassionate.
    • Pursue peace with everyone.
    • Live as Jesus taught in the face of all opposition.
  • We are the saints of God and people of the kingdom. – Let us live like it every day.

Making Sense of the Bible

Watch the sermon here.

TEXT: Matthew 22:34-46
TITLE: “Making Sense of the Bible
THESIS: Love makes sense of everything else, for God is love.

Introduction

  • It will not surprise anyone to hear that people have different ideas about what the Bible says – about any number of things. “Proof texts” are easy to find on any topic.
  • Is it possible to read the Bible – to make sense of the Bible – so that we have confidence we can know what is true and right?
  • If Jesus is the Messiah (Christ) – if Jesus is the Son of God – if we know God the Father when we know Jesus – then Jesus is the key to understanding and making sense of it all.

Scripture

  • Which is the greatest commandment in the Law? – Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (Dt. 6) – Jewish tradition says there are 613 commandments in the Law of Moses, and this is #1 according to Jesus. …
  • And #2? … And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. (Lev 19) …. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.  … If we do these 2 things well, we don’t need to even know the rest.  …. Leviticus is full of commandments and rituals and legal requirements. Jesus pulled this one out from the rest and said: “This is it. Do this and you will fulfill the law.”
  • Paul agrees in Romans 13: 8whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,”[a] and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Conclusion

  • The Bible does include stories of violence, revenge, harsh judgments, destruction of enemies – all stories that do not agree with love. And even in the NT, apocalyptic descriptions about the end of the world (as in Revelation), seem opposed to love, at least on the surface.
  • So how do we make sense of it? – Not with a “flat” and literal reading of scripture. Everything in the Bible does not carry the same weight of truth, revealing who God is. … So how do we know what is true in the midst of it all?
  • Jesus said, “I am truth.” – He said, “If you have seen me and know me, you see and know the Father.” – Christians believe that Jesus came to show us who God is (the incarnation – God in the flesh). – The more we know Jesus – his stories and words and actions – the more we know who God is.
  • The gospels show Jesus to be a person of compassion and justice. Someone who treated people – especially the poor and neglected – with love and respect. He said and did this – treat other people the way you want them to treat you. And he taught and lived that our lives are about serving and giving ourselves to others.
  • An article I read last week posed these questions: “How do we see God? What is God like?” – Is God a loving and forgiving God – or a judgmental and punitive God? – And is justice retributive or restorative – punishing or healing – and is God one who seeks to punish or to heal?
  • The realities of our world are not either/or, though – not just one or the other. God is certainly more complex than just one or the other. Jesus also got angry. He had harsh words for hypocrites and false teachers. He talked about people experiencing harsh consequences for their unbelief and sin.
  • Yet Jesus never lost sight of love. Love for God and for people motivated him in everything. He said “love your enemies” and then forgave those who crucified him.
  • Put all the stories and words of scripture to a “love test” to make sense of them. – What would Jesus do? What did he do? What did he teach and practice and call us to do? – Any story or word of scripture that does not pass the “love test” should be taken for what it was – expressing ideas of God that people had at the time. The way they understood God may not have been God as revealed in Jesus.
  • When we see God through the “Jesus lens” – when we know God because we know Jesus – his words and actions, his life – then we know God as the one for whom love is always #1. The most important thing. The one thing by which we “test” the truth and make sense of everything else. – For God is love.

Finding Rest Today

Thanks to Richard Rohr who wrote this on September 19, 2020:

I awoke on Saturday, September 19, with three sources in my mind for guidance: Etty Hillesum (1914 – 1943), the young Jewish woman who suffered much more injustice in the concentration camp than we are suffering now; Psalm 62, which must have been written in a time of a major oppression of the Jewish people; and the Irish Poet, W.B.Yeats (1965 – 1939), who wrote his “Second Coming” during the horrors of the World War I and the Spanish Flu pandemic. 

These three sources form the core of my invitation. Read each one slowly as your first practice. Let us begin with Etty:

There is a really deep well inside me. And in it dwells God. Sometimes I am there, too … And that is all we can manage these days and also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves.

—Etty Hillesum, Westerbork transit camp

Note her second-person usage, talking to “You, God” quite directly and personally. There is a Presence with her, even as she is surrounded by so much suffering.

Then, the perennial classic wisdom of the Psalms:

In God alone is my soul at rest.
God is the source of my hope.
In God I find shelter, my rock, and my safety.
Men are but a puff of wind,
Men who think themselves important are a delusion.
Put them on a scale,
They are gone in a puff of wind.

—Psalm 62:5–9

What could it mean to find rest like this in a world such as ours? Every day more and more people are facing the catastrophe of extreme weather. The neurotic news cycle is increasingly driven by a single narcissistic leader whose words and deeds incite hatred, sow discord, and amplify the daily chaos. The pandemic that seems to be returning in waves continues to wreak suffering and disorder with no end in sight, and there is no guarantee of the future in an economy designed to protect the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and those subsisting at the margins of society. 

It’s no wonder the mental and emotional health among a large portion of the American population is in tangible decline! We have wholesale abandoned any sense of truth, objectivity, science or religion in civil conversation; we now recognize we are living with the catastrophic results of several centuries of what philosophers call nihilism or post-modernism (nothing means anything, there are no universal patterns).

We are without doubt in an apocalyptic time (the Latin word apocalypsis refers to an urgent unveiling of an ultimate state of affairs). Yeats’ oft-quoted poem “The Second Coming” then feels like a direct prophecy. See if you do not agree:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Somehow our occupation and vocation as believers in this sad time must be to first restore the Divine Center by holding it and fully occupying it ourselves. If contemplation means anything, it means that we can “safeguard that little piece of You, God,” as Etty Hillesum describes it. What other power do we have now? All else is tearing us apart, inside and out, no matter who wins the election or who is on the Supreme Court. We cannot abide in such a place for any length of time or it will become our prison.

God cannot abide with us in a place of fear.
God cannot abide with us in a place of ill will or hatred.
God cannot abide with us inside a nonstop volley of claim and counterclaim.
God cannot abide with us in an endless flow of online punditry and analysis.
God cannot speak inside of so much angry noise and conscious deceit.
God cannot be found when all sides are so far from “the Falconer.”
God cannot be born except in a womb of Love.
So offer God that womb.

Stand as a sentry at the door of your senses for these coming months, so “the blood-dimmed tide” cannot make its way into your soul.

If you allow it for too long, it will become who you are, and you will no longer have natural access to the “really deep well” that Etty Hillesum returned to so often and that held so much vitality and freedom for her.

If you will allow, I recommend for your spiritual practice for the next four months that you impose a moratorium on exactly how much news you are subject to—hopefully not more than an hour a day of television, social media, internet news, magazine and newspaper commentary, and/or political discussions. It will only tear you apart and pull you into the dualistic world of opinion and counter-opinion, not Divine Truth, which is always found in a bigger place.

Instead, I suggest that you use this time for some form of public service, volunteerism, mystical reading from the masters, prayer—or, preferably, all of the above.

 You have much to gain now and nothing to lose. Nothing at all. 
 And the world—with you as a stable center—has nothing to lose.
 And everything to gain. 

Living God’s Will

View the sermon here.

TEXT: Romans 12:9-21
TITLE:  Living God’s Will
THESIS:  God’s will is about how we treat people.

Introduction

  • This may have been the first scripture I read at UCP – the night I interviewed with the Church Council. They invited me to help with the conflict going on at the time – and this is one scripture I often read in that context. Conflict is always about relationships between people, and that’s what this is about.
  • This chapter begins with a call to Jesus’ followers. … Refuse to conform to the patterns of the world around us, and be transformed by the renewing of our minds. And when we do that, our lives will show to other people what God’s will is. Our lives will now conform to what God wants.

Scripture

  • LoveLove must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 
  • Passion11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
  • Generosity13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.[a] Do not be conceited.
  • Nonviolence17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[b] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[
c]

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Conclusion

  • The way I described this life in the children’s time was this:
    • Care about people.
    • Be excited about God.
    • Share everything with others.
    • Do good to others. (“Do no harm.”)
  • Whatever words or phrases we use to summarize this way of life, it is about how we treat people. It is about relationships, whether with people we’ve just met or people we’ve known all our lives.
  • God is love. What God’s life – and God’s will – is for all of us can be captured in that one word … if we understand it. We don’t fully understand, but we can live into it as a mystery and come to understand it more and more.
  • Some people say this scripture is addressed only to the Church – to Christians – and that it doesn’t apply to all our relationships in the world. They say that it is only about personal relationships and not about culture or society or a nation. That it has nothing to do with how we as a people, as a nation, live.
  • But I remind you of John 3:16 … God loved the world. – Or 2 Cor 5:19 (God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself) – Or 1 Tim. 2:2 – that God wants everyone to be saved. — Everyone is included in God’s love; none are excluded. If we are going to pass God’s love to everyone, it means choosing to live in that love – with passion and generosity and nonviolence toward everyone.
  • The patterns of the world too often are the ways of fear, anger, hatred, racism, violence, and exclusion – dividing up into groups who see each other as ‘the enemy’ to be destroyed. – Do not conform. Reject it all! – And be transformed in your whole being to live in the ways of love, passion, generosity, and nonviolence. And in this way, you will show what God’s will to the world.

Change the World!

Watch the sermon.

TEXT: Romans 12:1-8
TITLE: “Changing Our World”
THESIS: Live a transformed life and change the world.

Introduction

  • All I want to do is change the world before I die. – That’s been my desire for 50 years, and the time is getting shorter for me. … Not everyone wants to do that. Some never did. Many people have given up. I understand that feeling as I read the news – the tragedy and desperation and grief – the poverty, violence, abuse, death.
  • We can never give up the desire! God’s desire – and God’s continuing work in this world – is a new creation, with the old gone and everything made new. … That’s what the kingdom of God is all about – and that’s what we are called to do as followers of Jesus – to make the kingdom of God a reality here and now by the way we live and the work we do.

Scripture

  • V.2 of our text says: Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. – That’s the kingdom of God. That is to be the life of those who follow Jesus. … And it leads to change in the world around us.
  • An older translation by JB Phillips says:  Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold… and Eugene Peterson, in The Message says it this way: Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out… And unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you.
  • This is a continuing work of change within us. And as we live this way, year after year, we give ourselves to a life of serving God with all the gifts God gives us. That’s the rest of the text. … Begin with internal transformation and serve God in external mission – beyond ourselves – to change the world.
  • We have different gifts, he says – faith, speaking for God, serving others, teaching, encouraging, leading, generous giving, and showing kindness. God’s gifts are far more numerous than that, but we get the point. Whatever gifts – or resources – we receive from God, use all of that to live this transformed life so it changes the world – so we make a difference in our world every day.

Conclusion

  • In 2020 our nation faces four major crises at once: (1) a pandemic worse than anything we’ve experienced in 100 years – (2) an economy worse for most people than anything since the Depression – (3) deep divisions, with heightened anger and fear, caused by the deep-seated racism in our country – and (4) raging fires, destructive hurricanes, and rising sea levels and flooding all caused by rapidly-escalating climate change which we refuse to stop by changing the way we live.
  • It’s almost too much for any of us. Most of us want to shut it all out and enjoy what we can of life. – And many people do. – Yet as Christians, as those who follow Jesus, we cannot. We are called to change the world by the way that we live.
  • This is our calling – refuse to be conformed to the world around us, and be transformed within ourselves. The prophet Ezekiel spoke for God: A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you.
  • God does not give us a new heart – a new life – new wisdom, strength, and power – for ourselves alone. God gives it to us so we can make a difference, so we can change the word, so we can help bring about a new creation.
  • Our mission statement says that in all we do, we seek transformation in our world. – An inclusive community of hope and love – serving, caring, and learning together – bringing transformation. … May we live into our mission every day. – Refuse to be conformed to the patterns of this world, the culture around us – Be transformed in our mind and heart so that God can bring the best out of us. And use every gift and resource from God to make a difference and change the world!

Looking Back

View the sermon here.

TEXT:  Genesis 45:1-15
TITLE:  “Looking Back”
THESIS:   … can we choose forgiveness, love, and a generous spirit?

Introduction

  • I will be 72 in a couple weeks, coming into that time of life where we spend more time “looking back” – reviewing our accomplishments, relishing some memories and trying to forget others, wondering “what if” as we remember so many life decisions we’ve made.
  • In today’s story, Joseph “looked back” at a specific time in life – a seemingly tragic, certainly abusive time, in his life – and saw something different than his brothers did. – What he saw was not their complicity but God at work to bring something good out of something so wrong.

Scripture

  • Joseph’s basic story (from Genesis) is familiar to most people – one of 12 sons, most-favored by his father – jealous brothers who wanted to kill him, but who chose instead to sell him into slavery. They thought they would never see him again.
  • Long story – God gave Joseph a gift to interpret dreams, and he moved from being a slave to being a prisoner to becoming Pharoah’s second-in-command. His job? To prepare for and supervise everything during a 7-year famine. The second year into the famine, Joseph’s brothers come to buy grain (all except the youngest, Benjamin – Joseph’s only full brother). They don’t recognize him, of course, and he doesn’t reveal himself on the first visit.
  • When they returned the following year – so much more in the story – they bring Benjamin as requested. When Joseph then tries to keep Benjamin with him, he finally reveals himself to his brothers. (That’s what we read.) … The brothers who had wanted to kill him and all who sold him into slavery are now afraid he will take vengeance on them.
  • Joseph has already looked back on his life and realizes that God had been at work in the midst of all the suffering and sadness everyone had endured. And he says these 3 things to his brother:
    • Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.
    • God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives.
    • It was not you who sent me here, but God. 

Conclusion

  • The invitation and challenge of this story for us is to look back on our own lives. – Who did what to whom? What decisions or actions or other people made life more difficult for us? What decisions of our own led to difficult situations?
  • It was not you, but God – do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves or others. …. Looking back, Joseph could see how God had been at work in his life and theirs and in their world, to prepare for a hard time of famine. [Rom. 8:28 – not that God caused it to happen, but that God works in all things for our good.]
  • If God had done this – or brought good things out of bad – how could Joseph hold anger in his heart toward his brothers, regardless of their intention?
  • A phrase I’ve come across recently is “not intention, but impact.” When someone says or does something that has a negative impact on someone else, it is not that person’s intention that matters, but the impact it had on the other person. It doesn’t really matter what the intention was; it matters the impact – the result – of the words or the action.
  • That’s a good model to learn and follow in our relationships. – Except, sometimes we need to look past both the intention and the impact to see what else was or is happening as a result. … The brothers’ intention and the impact for years was terribly wrong. Yet looking back years later, Joseph could see that in the midst of it all, God had been at work and brought something good out of it. So Joseph chose forgiveness and love and a generous spirit.
  • That’s the invitation of this story – and the challenge. … Looking back on bad times, troubled and difficult situations, can we see how God was and is working to bring something good out of it? And can we now choose forgiveness, love, and a generous spirit?

The Antiracist Jesus #2

[This is one in a continuing series of posts on Jesus being antiracist.]

The concept of race (people being “white” or “black” as a critical part of their identity) was unknown in Jesus’ day, but what he taught and how he lived supports this statement: Jesus was antiracist. Anyone who actively works to create a culture of equality and justice for all people is antiracist, and Jesus came to do exactly that. He called it the kingdom of God – where what God desires governs the way we live together.

Every religion includes a similar statement to Jesus’ words: “Do to others what you want them to do to you.” [See Luke 6:31 and Matthew 7:12.]  These deceptively simple words destroy the foundation of racism. No one wants to be treated badly for no reason other than skin color, or because of our physical appearance to…

  • Be someone’s property, to be owned by someone else
  • Be considered lazy, worthless, evil
  • Be thought of as “less than” other people
  • Be denied the right to own property or get a job or go to school
  • Be assaulted, brutalized, murdered by a mob or a police officer

No one can consciously choose to be racist who has decided to live as Jesus taught. We can do none of the above to any other person and think we are doing God’s will. Would we want anyone else to treat us this way? Of course not. Then we must choose to treat all people, whatever the color of their skin – whatever their “race” – in the way we would want them to treat us. It really is that simple.

Being antiracist includes challenging the structures and systems of our culture. That’s what Jesus’ words – “the golden rule” – do. Americans, especially, think individually. Freedom and responsibility have become an individual reality – what I do or you do – and not a communal reality – what we do together. Jesus was always communal. What we call The Lord’s Prayer is about what we do together. And this “golden rule” must be lived out in community. Jesus was not talking to individuals, but to his disciples, perhaps to the crowds of people who were there that day. He talked to them about how to live together, how to be a community. Perhaps the kingdom of God is best thought of as a community of love – where we all treat each other the way we want to be treated. Racism can never – ever – be part of that community.

The Antiracist Jesus #1

[Today I begin a series of posts on Jesus being antiracist.]

The idea of race is only 500 years old, created by white people to keep people of color under control in a white society. Yet Jesus encountered similar structures and irrational bias toward people who were considered not only “different” but “untouchable.” He told a story (see Luke 10:25-37) which we know as “The Good Samaritan.” If the story was told 100 years ago in a white church in a Southern state, with the Samaritan being a Black man and the man attacked by robbers and in need of help being a White man, perhaps a wealthy white man, the congregation would have been offended and angry. The same was surely true when Jesus told the story.

Jewish people in Jesus’ day had nothing to do with people from Samaria. The region of Samaria lay between Judea in the South and Galilee in the North, and Jews would go across the river and travel to the East to avoid it. If they thought about the at all, they despised them, perhaps hated them. For Jesus to tell a story making a Samaritan man “the hero” of the story must have offended and angered many of the people listening that day.

Jesus told the story in response to a conversation about the Law which governed their whole life and which they believed came from God. An “expert in the Law” agreed with Jesus that to have eternal life, what God wanted most was for people to love God and to love their neighbor. So the man asked the question, “Who is my neighbor?” … Who am I supposed to love? To love as I love myself?

Jesus answered with this story making a hated Samaritan their example to follow. Be like this Samaritan, Jesus is saying, and you will live. Among White people who despised and hated Black people, the story rightly understood says to be like the Black man who helped someone like you when he was in need. In another place, Jesus said to love those who despise you, those whom you consider to be your enemy.

Jesus was antiracist. He challenged the biased structures and society of his day. He turned everything upside down – “the first will be last and the last first” – love your enemies and do good to those who hate you – be like this “Black man” (he said to the “White” people of his day).