Archives for the month of: February, 2014

Yesterday, I read Jonathan Merritt’s article in the Daily Beast. In it he makes a strong argument against the new Bill in Arizona that has made headlines over the last week. The bill allows business owners the right to refuse service to gay people because of their religious beliefs. Merritt pushes against the logic of the bill. Rarely, he points out, do people assume the baker or the florist has a stake in the wedding they serve. The cake is not an affirmation of the wedding. More, the article argues that if this practice is indeed necessary, then the stance must be uniform across all “unholy” marriages. The logic holds up, and I am glad Jonathan spoke up, but I think the Christian faith goes even further. Let me explain.

Our religious beliefs should not demand we withhold business from others; it should compel us to serve everyone, including people that are different than us. Christian faith does not give us grounding for discrimination. LGBTQ people deserve our welcome not our refusal because they are created in the image of God.

Jesus tells a story about a man who is on a journey. He packs a bag and heads out on foot when all of a sudden he is blindsided by a small group of people. They rough him up, take his belongings, and leave him injured on the side of the road.

Rather quickly, a man of the religious elite happens to be walking in the vicinity and notices the man lying near the road; however, he walks to the other side of the road and fixes his gaze on the horizon leaving the man to suffer in the street. Later, another person happens upon the injured man. This second person is a well-known leader in the town for his generosity and philanthropy, but he too walked by the injured man. Finally a third person, a Samaritan, approached the man lying in the ditch. He notices him, scoops him up in his arms, and hurries him to a place where he can receive care.

Many of us know this parable Jesus told. He tells the story in response to an important question. Who is my neighbor? It seems from his story that everyone, even our very enemy is our neighbor. Somehow this way of life is often not supported by the actions of Christians.

It is interesting to me how different Jesus’ practice was than our Christian agenda. Jesus was regularly questioned about those he hung out with. The text tells us in one place that some described Jesus as a drunkard and glutton because he was spent so much time with those kinds of people. Elsewhere, Jesus is said to eat with tax collectors and sinners, place his hands on lepers, and welcome other outcasts. It seems to me Jesus’ religious faith demanded a radical way of life; it was just a way of life that was the exact opposite that we live by.

Our religious affiliation often has us excluding not including. I do not know where we have misunderstood Jesus’ central teachings. We believe in the God who gave his life for us all, but we are not willing to find our place in his story. Romans says, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” More, God created and continues to pursue us out of the overflow of love. In view of this, we must rethink our posture to the world. We must act out of the overflow of God’s love. We should be known for our radical embrace, not our exclusion.

Even Christian business owners should serve our neighbors because Jesus’ life and death teaches us that holiness looks different than we expect.

We are Holy as God is Holy not when we follow a set of laws or stand against what we assume God hates. We act as a Holy people as we participate in the love and welcome of the Crucified Messiah. Christian faith does not call for discrimination because we disagree with others; it calls for a radical love because this way looks like Jesus.

Notice how Jesus responds when questioned by the Pharisees in Matthew 9:10-13.

10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’

Jesus calls his critics to learn mercy, and I think these words should ring through our lives. Our songs and sermons declare the mercy of God, yet we do not move that forward into our lives. Our religious beliefs call us to a particular way of life; one that learns each day what mercy looks like. We must learn live out mercy for our families, friends, neighbors, and enemies (even our ideological enemies).

The Arizona Bill and similar bills working their way through other state legislatures do not reflect the religion I practice. Christian faith calls for a different way of life. This practice believes that we should not be known by anything but our love.

 

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Many of us know the sweeping narrative of Scripture. Many of our congregations have done a wonderful job telling a Clif’s notes version. It goes something like this:

God created and his creation was good. Humanity sinned, a break in God’s plan. This sin changed everything and the wages of sin is death. Because of God’s great love for us, God sent Jesus into the world as a man. Even though humans were still sinners, Jesus died for us. His death was a substitution for us, so that we might be rescued from our sinfulness. God saves us through Jesus’ blood, if we place our faith in him. Through Christ we are adopted into God’s household and given eternal life with God in Heaven.

This telling is grounded in scripture; however, this short telling of God’s story is a narrow telling. From this angle, the cross is simply about individual salvation. It seems the whole story of God’s engagement with the world is about me. This is not the case. We are individually drawn into God’s saving action, but God’s salvation is not simply about us. God is up to salvation, but its shape is larger than our individual lens allows.

This short flyover view of Scripture slanted towards personal salvation is often a person’s faith beginning. It is the first thing they learn about; it is of first importance. The problem with this is the whole of Christianity then is read through the lens of personal salvation. Our morality, ethics, and justice are pulled in this hermeneutic, so as we talk about Christian morality it is weighted towards our interests. In a sense, morality becomes a process in holding our position or status. Salvation, though we have learned is not our doing, is slanted towards right actions. We learn a long list of rights and wrongs. For my heritage, we learned to speak when the Bible speaks and be silent when the Bible is silent. When our starting point is personal salvation, we often find ourselves in personal piety.

The problem with this practice is it keeps us from the fullness of what God is doing. Scripture read toward my needs and problems has a way of dulling us to the great human quandary. It is difficult for us to understand how the God’s salvation confronts the systematic injustices of the world. We cannot see how the Crucified Messiah is much more than a personal Savior, ushering in something new. This new thing is much more about a right relationship with me. It is about how God is making all things new.

Romans 8 says, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.

All it takes is a quick glance around us to see the places where the world is groaning. 1 in 5 children in our nation go to bed hungry each night. The space between rich and poor in our country continues to widen. We now live in a world where a small group of people has a great majority of the world’s wealth.

Racial and gender injustice rage on while we turn a blind eye because we believe these issues were solved long ago. We hold onto tired excuses and false statistics to continue our agenda. The reality is injustice reigns in many different forms in our nation and throughout the world. A kind of injustice that the Gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to die for, yet the lens of personal salvation holds us captive.

It is easy to lose interest in working for justice and peace if they are viewed as nice things to do once the real work is tended to. Social justice, however, is not a subset of the good news of God, it is the central work of God. A theology that dismsses this as of second importance does not understand the fullness of the Kingdom of God.

We stand in the midst of the greatest story ever told. It is a story of a God who would not let us go.. God so loved the world, not just you and I, that God sent Jesus into the world to bring about salvation. This death and resurrection is the climax of history. It changes everything because it is not just an answer to how I get saved; it is the promise of God’s new creation in every person, place, and thing.

Salvation is the work of God to make things right. The salvation Jesus describes offers a new order of things. The salvation Jesus has in mind is Eternal life, which means the age to come. The time when God would bring heaven and earth together, when Gods kingdom would come and will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.

So we have to find a way to see past our own concern. Christian morality is much more than a practice of a set of “holy values.” It is the practice of the faith of Jesus, a faith that sent him into the very depth human experience to confront the principalities and powers. The evil systems that kill, steal, and destroy. So he teaches us to love our enemies and to treat others as you would like to be treated. But this is more than the tolerance of classic liberalism, it is a call to come and die for others.

I like what Leslie Newbigin says, “It is impossible to give a faithful witness to the gospel while being indifferent to the situation of the hungry, the sick, the victims of human inhumanity.” The Gospel of God is good news for you and it is good news for the world. Christian faith is worth fighting for if it is a faith that looks like Jesus. A faith that takes up the project of putting all things right.

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