Not Too Late for Changes

RCL – Fourth Sunday in Lent – March 18, 2012

Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

I keep hearing about bullying and the need to put an end to it. But I turn on the news and I hear such hateful words coming out of the mouths of politicians. I listen as people around me talk about what is going on in the world and I hear disparaging remarks about people of other countries. And then there are more news stories about abuse, neglect, and blatant disrespect for human life. It is no wonder to me that children victimize those among them who are somehow “different” and that very often adults look the other way. It seems to me that disrespect, if not straight out bullying, has become normative in our society.

Maybe my perception is skewed because this has been a week of frustration and disappointment for me. Like many people these days, I work in a place that is understaffed and filled with stress. What emerges more often than not is not pretty. There is a culture of disrespect toward co-workers and, sometimes, toward the people we are there to serve. In an effort to balance this, I made the topic of my group work this week “The Golden Rule.” Participants had much to say about why this isn’t typical today even though all major world religions and philosophies (from Christianity to Confucianism) have a version of treat others as you wish to be treated. For those who attended the groups, it came down to respect – for self and others. One or the other is lacking was the general consensus.

While “The Golden Rule” is not the scripture for this week, I think that this week’s readings highlight the reasons for treating one another as we wish to be treated. Both the passage from Numbers and the Psalm indicate quite clearly that it is God who saves. The ancient Israelites were lost in their sin and suffering and God redeemed them; they did not redeem themselves. But this is only the beginning.

The writer of Ephesians so nicely reminds us that “by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” So the people like Santorum who condemns people who believe differently while bragging about what he has done in his life, need to take a step back and think again. And the people who say that Obama is not a Christian because he supports women’s rights (among other things) or judge against Romney because he is a Mormon, also ought to re-evaluate. I am so tired of politics getting tangled up in religion for no reason other than fear and ignorance. These people are not treating each other the way they would want to be treated. (And if they are, I can recommend some therapy to address their extreme lack of self-esteem.)

More than this emphasis on being saved from ourselves by the grace of God, is the point of the oft-quoted John 3:16 and the lesser known verse that follows it:  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Everyone who believes. How simple is that? Not just the people who look like me, think like me, believe like me, live like me. Everyone who believes. And then there is the next part. God sent Jesus into the world not to condemn it but save it. THE WORLD. Not just right-wing or left-wing or moderates or liberals or progressives or Americans or Catholics or Protestants. God’s desire is to save everyone. And save everyone not by condemnation but by love.

That means we are back to where I started. If you call yourself a Christian, then bullying anyone is not an option. It should be unacceptable in our politicians, our parents, our teachers, our children, our churches – everywhere. The soldiers who return from service with symptoms of PTSD ought to receive appropriate treatment not be denied and turned away. The person with major mental illness ought to be shown respect not ignored or given substandard treatment. The “rogue soldier” who killed the civilians in Afghanistan should be prayed for right along with the victims. The immigrant who is trying to make a new life in this country ought to be welcomed and invited in rather than judged and resented. Hatred and resentment shouldn’t be focused on all  Syrians and Iranians. Who appreciates being judged negatively just because of the country they live in and some of the foolishness of their politicians?

We are half way through Lent. It isn’t too late to give up something. Maybe if we all gave up harsh words of judgment… If we tried harder to find compassion and empathy for those we experience as “other”… then more people could see that our faith is in a God who loves fully and deeply. God saw human beings as worth the life of Christ; God did not call us worthless, despicable creatures, but gave us Christ to save us from ourselves and show us our immeasurable value. It’s time we do the same.

A Little Bit of Foolishness (and maybe some wisdom, too)

RCL – Third Sunday in Lent – March 11, 2012

Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

In the midst of the chaos this week, I sought out some of God’s foolishness. I’m far too distressed by the increasing tensions between Israel and Iran, the on-going spew of demoralizing, destructive rhetoric from politicians, bombings in Russia, and deaths caused by tornadoes and other storms – I need to look at the positive this week. So here are some news items that I find interesting, provocative, and relevant and maybe indicative of God’s sense of humor.

The first story that I found somehow pleasing was the decoding of the gorilla genome. I don’t really understand the science behind this at all, but I do get the outcome. Human beings share 98% of our DNA with gorillas. Apparently, this is second only to Chimpanzees which is 99% but more than Orangutans at 97%. I realize that scientists are trying to sort out the evolutionary process and figure out the mystery of what makes us human. The entertainment value for me is that we share so much genetic material with creatures who are clearly animals. So what makes us uniquely human is about 1%. Yes, it is significant, but what does that say about how we should be caring for those creatures we consider “lesser”?

The law of God is perfect,  reviving the soul; the decrees of God are sure, making wise the simple…

Another story that is absolutely fascinating is the making of violin strings out of spider silk. I hate spiders and spider webs when I come into contact with them. I have often wondered why God created them (except maybe to eat things like mosquitoes). Now I know. They can make strings for violins that make violins sound even better. Who knew? Well, I guess the really smart, creative man in Japan who figured out how to do. If someone can figure out how to make something useful and beautiful out of spider silk, surely someone can figure out how to bring peace to war zones…

More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.

After the gorilla and the spider come the “God Particle.” I’m not sure how or why I stumbled on the article describing the search for the “Higgs boson” or “God Particle.” This elusive particle will help explain the origins of mass. How is this even possible? I don’t know. I don’t even really understand what it is the physicists are searching for or if I have the terminology correct. But what would a discovery really explain? Creation ex nihilo? I’m a fan of science, knowledge, learning. It’s not wrong to want to know how the world works and where it came from. But spending billions of dollars on this particular issue seems odd at this point in history. Wouldn’t time and money be better spent trying to provide clean drinking water, adequate food, and appropriate health care throughout the world than trying to figure out where the world came from?

God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

This last one doesn’t show God’s wisdom so much as human foolishness. There was a story about young girls putting video clips on You Tube to ask about their attractiveness and value. These teens and preteens were asking strangers to validate them. The gorillas, spiders, and physicists make me smile in awe and wonder. This story has the opposite effect on me. It is distressing. Friends, if our kids are looking to strangers to give them a sense of worth, we have been very foolish indeed. As Christians we have an answer to this question of personal value that kids are not hearing. Why not? I know this is a common question. But, really, are our traditions and ways of being the church in the world more important than the emotional and spiritual health of our children?

When I consider the wonders of creation – the gorillas, the spiders, the particles (that I can’t begin to understand) – I want all children to know that they are beautiful and wonderful and amazing. Why are we so reluctant to treat one another as children of God, sacred beings? No girl should need a You Tube video to tell her she has worth. No human being should doubt their value. It might be time to cleanse our temples…

We can sort out genomes and make instruments from cobwebs, search out and come close to finding the origins of the universe, but we can’t communicate love and value that are God given. We are foolish creatures indeed.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O God, my rock and my redeemer.

An Unexpected Mix

RCL – Second Sunday in Lent – March 4, 2012 Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 Psalm 22:23-31 Romans 4:13-25 Mark 8:31-38 I have an odd mix of events swirling in my head this week. Monday’s school shooting in Chardon, OH and how little this actually made the news (at least here in the Northeast). Santorum wanting to … Read More

Noah and Other Thoughts

RCL – First Sunday in Lent – 2/26/12 Genesis 9:8-17 Psalm 25:1-10 1 Peter 3:18-22 Mark 1:9-15 Freezing followed by flooding in along the Danube River. Journalists killed in Syria. Austerity Laws in Greece and Portugal. Russia warns Israel against attacking Iran. Rising gas price in the US threaten the economy. These were just a … Read More

It’s a Mystery

RCL – Transfiguration – 2/19/12 2 Kings 2:1-12 Psalm 50:1-6 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 Mark 9:2-9 Let me say at the outset, that I find these mystical texts to be both fascinating and disturbing. Elisha’s vision of fiery chariots and Peter’s, James’, and John’s vision of a glowing Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah are so far from … Read More

Consider Healing

RCL for 2/12/12: 2 Kings 5:1-14 Psalm 30 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Mark 1:40-45 But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! … Read More

Have you not heard?

RCL for 2/5/12: Isaiah 40:21-31 Psalm 147:1-11, 20c 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 Mark 1:29-39 Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of … Read More