From the New Evangelical Redacted Version. Matthew 25:31-46.
For a season ends in darkness at the foot of the cross, Lent sure attracts a lot of attention. But it’s divorced from the emphasis on human mortality, Lent is sure to draw all kinds of “tourists.”
Lent is not a time for the latest diet fad or merelyabstaining from soda or candy then posting about it on social media. It’s really no longer Lent at that point. In fact, Jesus has some pointed words about such a practice.
And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Matthew 6:16
When observed in context, beginning with the imposition of ashes (Ash Wednesday) and culminating with the service of darkness (Tenebrae), these 40 days can truly provide an opportunity for penance and transformation. Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness challenged his very being allowing him to emerge with a calling that would bring Good News to all people everywhere. The Lenten journey is not about self-serving piety but about meaningful self-reflection and sacrifice.
What to “give up” for Lent you ask? Start with something risky and pray (in private) for God’s reign on Earth as it is in heaven. Then do something dangerous and act on it. It’s time we sacrifice hearts of stone for those full of compassion. It’s time we give up our indifference in exchange for Christ-like empathy. It’s time we lay our mere tolerance at the altar and engage in full Christian inclusivity and hospitality. It’s time we stop being idle enablers of injustice and embrace, perhaps for the first time, the Way of Jesus Christ. It’s like the prophet said:
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke? Isaiah 58:8
“Yesterday is gone; so is yesterday’s tale. Today, we have a new story to tell.”
Even though the sun sets on 2017, the cares and concerns of the past year will continue. Our worries simply do not disappear at the stroke of midnight. But neither do our hopes. Rumi reminds us that, we can, and must, change the narrative. The sun is always rising somewhere in the world. Change is constant. The story evolves. New life is on the horizon.
We are still in the midst of Christmastide. The story of the Christ-child has just begun. Our job is to tell it. In face of all that is evil, hateful, and unjust, we must tell the story of justice, love, and mercy. Tell it from the mountaintops. Tell to the face in the mirror. Tell it to your friends. Tell it to the children. Tell it in the city. Tell it to the wicked. Tell it to the lost. Tell it to church, especially the church. Just tell the story. Our very future depends on it.
Before you move on from Christmas, give some thought to these words from Bob Dylan.
Three angels up above the street,
Each one playing a horn,
Dressed in green robes with wings that stick out,
They’ve been there since
The wildest cat from Montana passes by in a flash,
Then a lady in a bright orange dress,
One U-Haul trailer, a truck with no wheels,
The Tenth Avenue bus goin’ west.
The dogs and pigeons fly up and they flutter around,
A man with a badge skips by,
Three fellas crawlin’ on their way back to work,
Nobody stops to ask why.
The bakery truck stops outside of that fence
Where the angels stand high on their poles,
The driver peeks out, trying to find one face
In this concrete world full of souls.
The angels play on their horns all day,
The whole earth in progression seems to pass by.
But does anyone hear the music they play,
Does anyone even try?
From the Album, New Morning, 1970.
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’ ”
The world needs waymakers just like John the Baptist. We need courageous voices who will speak not just a good word for Jesus Christ, as my former homiletics professor used to say, but a prophetic word. A pointed word. Direct. Clear. Uncompromising.
One such waymaker in 2017 is the Rev. Dr. William Barber, an ordained pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Dr. Barber has taken up the call to lead the Poor People’s Campaign, originally began by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1967. He has brought to the national conversation a message that is biblical, moral, and Gospel-oriented.
The call by the Poor People’s Campaign for a moral revival is as timely as ever in these United States where economic disparity continues to widen, the dialogue is toxic, civil rights are threatened, healthcare is still out of reach among poorest citizens, and racial tension persists. The rotting of the American soul is further manifested in the dehumanizing treatment (especially by President Trump and some congressional leaders) of women, immigrants, Muslims, and the LGBTQ community. This is not the Way of Jesus. In fact, it’s immoral and rooted in evil.
If the Advent/Christmas season is merely a celebration of some magical event in the distant past then the point has been missed. The voice of the first-century waymaker prepared the people for the one who calls us to a wholly different way of life. Holy. Peaceful. Generous. Compassionate. Just
If the voice of John the Baptist is to be heard today, we need to bridge the span of time so his message can “cut us to the bone” (Joseph Donders). That’s precisely why we need more voices like William Barber.
May we be inspired and compelled by those who serve as 21st-century waymakers to go and do likewise.
False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray. . .be alert. . .I have already told you everything. . .keep awake.
The powers and principalities of the Earth have cast a dark, ominous presence over this world that, if left unchallenged, will siphon all hope from those who need it most.
The shadows are stalked by false messiahs and prophets who prey upon the fears of the masses, convincing them that only they can save this world from destruction. Or worse, they pacify their audiences by affirming their prejudcies and hatred, and in return the people lay their hands on the deceitful ones, offering unholy blessings.
They create phony wars on one of the holiest of days and make empty, meaningless delcarations like, “We’re saying Merry Christmas again.” For they know the problem the Christ Child poses is a political one. This Gift Bringer promises hope, love, peace, and justice. But not the familiar justice of retribution and punishment. No. This is about God’s justice- Restorative. (re)Distributive. Abundant. God will not be mocked.
God’s Light of Hope shines truth upon those who practice the dark arts of oppression, disregard for basic human rights, dehumanization, greed, and war, dispelling their lies. For Jesus has already told us all we need to know.
The Light of Hope grants the faithful the “impatience to wait for [Christ’s] coming to the bottom of our toes, to the edges of our fingertips” (W. Brueggemann). We are awake, alert, prepared. We are not idle. Instead, we are mobilized and actively defy those who would bring harm upon our sisters and brothers no matter their place in life. So, we walk toward the Light of Hope, yearning for the promise of the Christ-child. The Gift Bringer. The Messiah.
“I should be content to look at a mountain for what it is
and not as a comment on my life.” David Ignatow
Whenever I hear someone declare, “We’re so blessed,” or, “I’ve been blessed,” there is often a hint of “humble bragging” involved. This is usually the case when the “blessing” in question refers to one’s privilege or station in life. One example is believing that wealth and prosperity is a sign of being “blessed,” or “favored.” This is not so.
A blessing, as I have understood the term, is rooted in a sacred context. It involves the divine. It’s an act of praise, even worship.
A blessing requires no talent or privilege on the part of the recipient. The early meaning of the verb “bless” strikes not a boastful but a reverent tone: make holy, sacrifice, and bestow good. Such an act can only be met with humble gratitude. It’s not only about us; It’s also about the One who blesses. It’s a reciprocal relationship between God and God’s people.
Whether through nature, the people who add depth and meaning to our lives, or through the table of Christ, God is one who continually blesses. We who are blessed need only respond with our reverential and humble thanksgivings. Today may our prayers at the table not confuse our privilege or the gluttonous feast with the blessing equally offered to all and represented by the “cup of blessing which we bless“: the cup of Christ.
Have a blessed day of thanks.
Even though the First Amendment already protects free speech and also prevents the government from establishing a religion, the Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, stepped into dangerous territory today over both constitutional guarantees. Abbott signed SB24 which “protects” sermons from being subpoenaed. . . and he did so in Grace Community Church in The Woodlands, Texas. How does this move not show disregard for the seperation of church and the secular state?
SB24 stems from 2014 when several Houston area pastors stirred up a bigoted effort that successfully overturned a city ordinance meant to protect various groups of marginalized citizens, including transgender people. Former Houston Mayor, Annise Parker sought to subpoena sermons from those pastors, an effort that she later dropped. While Parker’s attempt was a slipper slope, it begs the question of the content of those sermons.
Supporters of SB24 will argue that it was necessary to protect the free speech of clergy. But, again, we already have the First Amendment. A bill like this will likely be challenged in the courts in due time, but what does this mean for sermons that incite violence, inspire congregants to commit hate crimes, or those that give tacit approval to discriminatory practices in the name of “sincerely held religious beliefs”? One only need to look at the damage evangelical Scott Lively has done, in places like Uganda, to know just how powerful rhetoric, especially the hateful variety, can be when it comes from the pulpit. It’s the “Christian” version of radicalization.
So, what does this new law now mean for anti-gay speech from bully pulpits? What about speech demonizing social justice advocates? Immigrants? Women?
Dan Patrick, the Texas legislature, and Greg Abbott have essentially shielded Christianist pastors from all responsibility for the words they proclaim from the pulpit. I believe in protecting the free speech of even those with whom I disagree. I also believe a vile remark form a pastor will not automatically mean someone listening in the pews will carry out a violent crime. However, there’s a fine line between a preacher speaking his or her mind and using religious speech that could provoke actions that lead to discriminatory or even violent practices.
As as an ordained minister, I believe I am called to deliver a message that is filled with love and compassion for all people. One of the main underpinnings of the Gospel is that it accepts all and loves all. It does not seek to marginalize people. Unfortunately, there are too many congregations where, on any given Sunday, the people will hear a message that denigrates and dehumanizes whole groups in the general population. In fact, Greg Abbott recently called on some these very congregations to assist in promoting one of the mosts xenophobic agendas in the US.
The people of Texas deserve better. And the Christian community deserves better representation than those who would take part in an agenda that offers hate instead of love.