Monday, March 30, 2015

Jesus Christ, Barrier Buster

Every time Jesus discovered a barrier, he removed it.

The money tables in the Temple were barriers making it more difficult for people to worship God. Jesus overturned them.

The law prevented the blind and the lame from being in the Temple at all. Jesus not only invited them in, he healed them.

A social stigma devalued children in the ancient near eastern culture. It is the children who, with palm branches in hand, proclaim him the “Son of David.”

In fact, breaking down barriers was a central part of Jesus’s entire ministry, and a core value of the Gospel message itself. It is expressed in many ways, perhaps none more eloquent than Paul’s affirmation: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

Easter removes the ultimate barrier - death itself.  The power of the resurrection tears the curtain of the Temple in two, removes once and for all the barrier of death, and reveals the promise of life abundant and everlasting.

Death has a power that is based in fear, uncertainty, anxiety. Death confronts us with our limitations, our finitude, our sin. These are barriers to living life as fully as God desires us to. In his resurrection, Jesus removes that final barrier, and thereby empowers us to live fully, so that all creation might flourish as God intends.

Are there barriers that need removing in the world today? What “tables” are keeping people from worship? What “law” is keeping people away from the church? What “social stigmas” are preventing outcast groups from proclaiming Christ? Where is today’s “temple curtain?”

The power of the resurrection is a force to be reckoned with. Wielding it, Christ continues to break down the barriers that confront the world. May we as the church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, continue Christ’s resurrection mission in all we say, in all we do, and in everything that we are.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"Thou Shalt Fire the Lesbian"

Okay, so Question 1 is a freedom of religion thing. Let’s follow that trail for a while.

If this is a freedom of religion thing, you’re going to have to claim that your religion includes in it a doctrine that says bosses should fire and landlords should evict LGBT people. Only then would the City Council’s additions to our anti-discrimination ordinance infringe upon your religious freedom.

To be clear, since we are talking about an “anti-discrimination” ordinance, the opposite of that would be “discrimination.” So in order for this to be an actual freedom of religion issue, active discrimination toward other people has to be a part of your faith.

Now, the source of doctrine for Christian people is the Bible. So what we’re looking for in the Bible is something that promotes discrimination. Maybe there’s a verse that says, “Thou shalt fire the lesbians among you,” or something like that. Maybe it says, “Thou shalt not rent an apartment to a gay man.” Or you know, some such applicable teaching.

The thing is … it just isn’t in there.

And so if it isn’t in the Bible, the primary source of religious doctrine for Christians, it had to come from some other source of authority. Maybe the doctrine came from a preacher, or a teacher, a denominational position, or some other secondary source. But it wasn’t the Bible. Maybe the preacher, teacher, or denomination is basing the doctrine on Scripture, but it is at best an interpretation.

So if Question 1 is a freedom of religion thing for you, that means you have heard from a teacher/preacher/denominational position that a part of what you are NOT to do in the practice of your religion is employ or rent to LGBT people. This is central enough to your faith that you are willing to propose a ballot initiative, sign a petition, take up valuable city resources on an election, buy a yard sign, etc. It is THAT important to you.

The thing is, all of that is still fine. You can base your religious teachings on anybody’s interpretation of any sacred text. Freedom of religion means ANY religion, and ANY version of ANY religion. Just ask a Pastafarian.

But freedom of religion has limits, and society sets those limits. Freedom of religion does not give you freedom to do harm against another person. And things like taking away someone’s job or evicting them from their home most definitely do harm. So, you can’t do it.

It’s really just that simple. It doesn’t matter if your religion gives you permission to do harm against another person. You can’t. You just can’t.

Even if commandment 73.5 of your sacred text actually is, “Thou shalt fire the lesbian.”

You just can’t.

Society places limits on freedom of religion, and one of those limits is that you can’t do harm to another person. At least that's what I believe, and that's one reason I'll be voting NO on question one.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Three Questions for Christians: The Springfield SOGI Conversation

A Christian has to answer three questions.

1) Who do you say Jesus is? He asks us this question himself (Matthew 16:15).
2) How do you want Jesus to be known in the world? His followers will be his witnesses (Acts 1:8).
3) How will your actions, words, and attitudes make Jesus known? Following Jesus means that “it is no longer [you] who live, but Christ who lives in [you]” (Galatians 2:20).

There is a group of Christians in Springfield, Missouri who, by the witness of their actions, words, and attitudes, seems to have answered these three questions this way:

1) They say Jesus is an anti-gay rights advocate.
2) They want Jesus to be known as one who denies people a job and a place to live.
3) They will make Jesus known in many ways, including by voting yes on Question 1, and hoping others do so, as well.

All due respect, but I answer these questions a bit differently.

1) I say Jesus is Lord and Savior, Teacher and Friend, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.
2) I want Jesus to be known as one who saves, one who loves, one who forgives, one who reconciles.
3) I will make Jesus known in many ways, including voting no on Question 1, and hoping others do so, as well.

Of course, another possibility is that this group 1) knows Jesus as a Savior, and 2) wants Jesus to be known as one who confronts sin, so 3) they also confront sin as they see it in their community, including by voting yes on Question 1.

Actually, I can go there too. I know Jesus as a Savior and I want Jesus to be known as one who confronts sin. However, I believe that Jesus confronts sin with compassion, not condemnation. Jesus confronts sin with grace, not exclusion. Jesus confronts sin with love, not with discrimination. And I do not understand how firing or evicting someone will do anything towards convicting them of their sin, anyway. So I would still be voting no on Question 1, even if this were my primary motivation.

If you are a Christian, I hope that you will give prayerful consideration to these three questions. Who do you say that Jesus is? How do you want Jesus to be known in the world? How will your actions, words, and attitude make Jesus known?

And then decide of your own free will how you will vote on Question 1 on Tuesday, April 7. As for me, as a follower of Jesus, I will be voting no.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Knowing Jesus

When Jesus asked Peter, “Who do say that I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Messiah.”

Peter “got it!” He knew Jesus well, and knew who he was. Peter identified Jesus as the Messiah before anyone else did, and what’s more he said it out loud. He claimed it boldly, and Jesus responded to him with words of blessing.

Immediately after this incident, Jesus told his disciples the plan. He would go to Jerusalem, undergo great suffering, and be killed. And Peter replied, “God forbid! Surely there’s another way we could do this, Lord?”

Peter “didn’t get it.” He knew Jesus, but he didn’t see the full picture, much less concur with the plan. Peter couldn’t abide the thought of Jesus suffering and being killed. He voiced his opposition, and Jesus responded again.

But these were not words of blessing; this was a curse. “Get behind me! You are Satan! You are a stumbling block to me!”

Whoa - harsh.

What happened there? How did Peter get is so right one moment and so very wrong the next? How could Peter have understood so much about Jesus and yet at the very same time understood so very little about him?

The truth is, there are times you and I get it right, too. There are times that God seems very close to us and following Jesus is energizing and joyful. And there are times we fail. We can’t find God anywhere and it feels as if we’ve forgotten all we’ve ever known about Jesus and what it means to follow him.

We are Peter. Knowing Jesus doesn’t mean we are perfect, it just means we know Jesus. And that’s a pretty good deal, because knowing Jesus means we don’t HAVE to be perfect to be forgiven, to be blessed. Knowing Jesus means we do not have to be perfect to be loved.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

"Should" vs. "Want To" (And Blatant Pastoral Narcissism)

Focus less on convincing people that they should …
           … and more on equipping the people that already want to.

I’ve been contemplating this idea all week long. It seems like everything I do is geared toward convincing, cajoling, urging people to practice the pattern of discipleship – you know: weekly worship, small group study, proportional giving, selfless service, and radical hospitality – and it gets tedious. Worse, it feels empty.

It feels empty because I obsess over the people who don’t seem to get it, rather than celebrate the people who do. And I need to stop that. It puts me in a dark and scary place where I begin to doubt a whole lot of stuff about my vocation, and I’d rather not be there.

And the truth is, there are an abundance of people who “get it” when it comes to being a follower of Jesus, people who need no convincing. I feel so much more energized, focused, and happy when I get to hang out with people like that, hear them talk about God and church and discipleship and what following Jesus means to them. It is joyful and filled with grace and the power of the Holy Spirit.

And yet …

I have read several articles and books lately that describe how the church is being confronted with issues like:
- sporadic rather than weekly worship,
- small groups as cliques or clubs rather than true growth in grace and knowledge of God,
- giving when it’s convenient rather than proportionally to one’s income,
- being “nice” to others rather than engaging in selfless service, and
- staying home when you have house guests rather than actually inviting a stranger to church.

Now it sounds like I’m just griping. And I don’t want to be “that pastor.” But I need to be honest. It just takes so much energy to move people from being a good-person-who-goes-to-church-every-so-often to actually becoming an authentic disciple of Jesus Christ.

So I was thinking maybe I need to take a break from trying to convince people that they should, and focus more on equipping the people that already want to. Encouraging, cheering, thanking.

Like for example, last night there were eight people in Bible Study, and there are usually more than twice that number. My initial reaction was one of disappointment at the low attendance. But you know what? The discussion at that Bible Study was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had all week. Why? Because of the "want to."

And what does it say about my own theology when I think it is up to me to convince people that they should follow Jesus? How narcissistic is that? What would happen if I actually allowed the Holy Spirit to convince, cajole, and convict?

And what if I then saw my role simply as the one who would meet them in the midst of their life and help them follow that conviction?

I suppose what I’m getting at is that I’m tired of trying to generate the conviction in people and being met with a resounding “meh.” And there are so, so many people who have already felt that conviction and are actively following it – and so yeah, that’s the people I want to be with.

In the Gospels, three different groups are described. In short, these groups are the “Scribes and Pharisees,” the “crowd,” and the “disciples.” The “S & P” group is openly antagonistic toward Jesus. The “disciples” have transformed their lives to follow Jesus.

But the “crowd” is that large and mostly anonymous group that’s hanging out and listening to what he has to say, watching what he’s doing, enjoying some bread and fish with 5,000 of their closest friends, but haven’t made the commitment that the disciples have to actually follow him wherever he goes.

It has been my pattern to focus mostly on people in the “crowd” and move them into the “disciples” group. But just lately I’m feeling God nudge me to spend less energy there and more time and energy with the disciples. And in particular, with disciples who have found the church to be … well … let’s just say “lacking” when it comes to discipleship opportunities.

I believe that I am called in particular to serve people who have felt the Holy Spirit’s conviction to follow Jesus but cannot find a way to pursue that conviction in the life of the church.

In other words, focus less on convincing people that they should and more on equipping the people that already want to.

Monday, March 09, 2015

St. Patrick's Priority One

Other than wearing the color green on March 17, having a parade, and eating corned beef and cabbage, what does “St. Patrick’s Day” mean to you?  How much do you actually know about Patrick himself?

Well, much of his life and ministry is legendary at this point. He served in the 5th century, so a lot of what he actually did has been either forgotten or embellished over time.

He was likely born in Scotland, and captured by an Irish raiding party as a teenager. He apparently spent several years as a slave in Ireland before escaping and returning to his native land. However, it seems God called him to return to the land in which he had been a slave, for the purpose of spreading the gospel of Christ there. And so he became a priest, and eventually a bishop, at which time he was sent across the Irish Sea once more.

March 17th, the date we celebrate as St. Patrick’s Day, is the date that it is believe he died, sometime around the year 460.

This Sunday at Campbell UMC, we’ll consider a prayer that is traditionally attributed to St. Patrick. It is known as “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” or “St. Patrick’s Lorica.” There are several translations, as a quick internet search will show you, and the variations arise from the passage of time. Here's an excerpt from one version:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

The theme of the prayer is constant across the variants: the priority of Christ. Over and above all else, this prayer is a commitment to keep Christ at the very center of one’s life. Life will throw challenges at us, constantly. And yet Christ is the point of salvation, the source of hope, and the promise of life.

So as I’m enjoying my “Shamrock Shake” this year, listening to the Chieftans, and kissing everyone who’s Irish, I’ll also be asking myself if Christ is the priority of my life. Have I allowed Christ to be the very center of all that I am? Is God my “Priority One?”

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Red Herring: Even More SOGI Stuff

Those who would repeal part of Springfield’s anti-discrimination policy have made a move to which I have the following response - “Brilliant.”

I am sincere. I think the latest part of this effort is actually brilliant.

The “Yes on Question 1” group has included “bathroom privacy” in the title of their kickoff rally, according to this article in the localpaper. This is a genius move.

My first thought was, Surely they don’t actually believe Springfield’s anti-discrimination policies have anything to do with bathroom privacy. (I’m almost positive they don’t.)

My second thought was, There’s no way this idea will convince people to vote for repeal. (A few may be swayed by this tactic, but not many.)

Then came my third thought, and the light bulb clicked – This idea seems to be completely disconnected from reality, and as such it will be dismissed. And if this idea is dismissed, the yes campaign will be dismissed altogether. And if the campaign is dismissed, people won't come out to vote, and the repeal will pass. And so, brilliant!

I’m afraid that including “bathroom privacy” in the campaign is so irrational that it will convince rational people that there’s nothing to worry about, so they won’t come out and vote. The thinking will be that the effort to repeal the SOGI protections is so disconnected from reality that there is no chance in the world that this proposed repeal will actually pass. I think this move is strategically designed to keep people home from the polls on April 7, and I’m afraid that it might work.

Anyone who has actually read the city policies at question here knows that there is absolutely zero implication for bathroom privacy. That’s not the point. I’m not going to engage that argument. It is the reddest of red herrings.

And so if that’s not the point, what is? The point must be to keep people from voting. The point must be to increase voter apathy.

For so many people in Springfield, the need for equal opportunity in employment and housing is assumed. Many cannot even believe that this would be an issue any more. “Of course our city should have anti-discrimination policies,” we think. And so for many, this question is seen as really no big deal.

And now added into the mix is an idea that is as far-fetched as they come, intentionally included to make the rational voter stay home on April 7, thinking all is well and there’s nothing to worry about.

Well, I’m not going to stay home on April 7. I’ve written before  about the reasons why I’ve decided to vote this way, and those motivations are a lot stronger than any red herrings the pro-repeal group might toss out there. I’m going to vote NO on the proposed repeal. I’m going to vote NO on Question 1.