1. Find the Pharisees in your life. Know who they are, don’t be afraid to confront them, stand before them, and face them head on.
2. Identify their weaknesses. Jesus rightly points out the things they do to be publicly noticed by others. Jesus then links the manner in which they tie their prayer tassels to the way they bind or tie the law to those around them. Again, for others to see. People can see what they do is for public consumption and oppressive. It’s clear. People may be afraid to say this publicly or make the connection “out loud”. Jesus is not. He wants people to see reality as it is and for what it is.
3. Encourage people to be better than and/or different than the religious role models they’ve received (and been taught to believe are the ‘norm’). We shouldn’t live like that. We should publicly, noticeably, try to live in a way that doesn’t call attention to ourselves. In verse eight, Jesus stresses a sense of equality utterly foreign to the Pharisees and other religious practices of his day, “all of you are brothers and sisters. “Don’t call anybody on earth your father, because you have one Father who is heavenly.” Jesus is trying to make the point that leadership is about service not about titles and duties we afford ourselves. Those who don’t tie others up with religious red tape and like the place of honor at banquets, those are the ones who he says will be lifted up.
It’s Thursday Night and I’ll be back on the air with my weekly radio show “The Week That Is” on http://www.wovv.org 90.1 fm in Ocracoke, NC. Listen online from anywhere in the known universe or on the fm dial locally.
One thing the Protestant Reformers and Roman Catholic churches could agree was their mutual hatred for Copernicus and his heliocentric theories. After five hundred years, do the organized denominations still gang up on those who challenge the the orthodoxy of the day? Yes. Copernicus’ life and the response of men like Martin Luther and John Calvin have much to teach churches in the post-modern era.
The fear of death is premised largely on one idea; what comes next. What happens after we die? We are afraid to die because we are afraid of the unknown reality or unreality beyond death. For many people this takes the form of black and white, either/or debate. Will I go to heaven or will I go to hell? At this time of year, the emphasis seems to be on hell (though in reality it never does stray far “the bad place”). Demons and ghouls emerge from the shadows to frighten our moral souls. Those opposed to the activities of persons who practiced witchcraft in the 1500’s and prevent their children from dressing in a witches outfit for couple of hours one night a year also fear the creeping and eternal influence of evil beyond death. Are such actions damnable? Could we be held eternally liable? Am I going to Hell?
If you’re afraid to die and go to Hell, it would seem that the people who held the information to keep you out of Hell and safe in Jesus’ loving arms would hold immense power. Those people with the access and understanding to talk about such things would have a vested interest in wanting to keep the idea of death, fear, and Hell burning forever. If people weren’t motivated by a fear of death, or even going to Hell, what would they do?
I think you would hear constant conversations about love. The words wrath and condemnation would never enter into the picture. The old clichés would fall by the wayside and people would be constantly looking up to God instead of lugging the guilt and fear they carry now; the guilt and fear we need them to carry because fear is part and parcel keeping people terrified of their need for God. We don’t want people terrified. We want people longing for a living, normal, healthy relationship with Jesus Christ.
A faith without a fear of death or Hell would be grounded in benevolence for everyone. We would possess such an unbounded love for people our most important message would be that God’s love is not limited by our own mortality.
Christianity without a fear of death and Hell would have total trust in God to handle the geography, furniture, and thermostat in eternity. We don’t have that kind of trust right now. We don’t trust God enough but we do trust our own fear to know more about life after death and God’s business than God does. We are comfortable with our fears. We love our fears. We know them. It doesn’t have to be this way.
I no longer want to practice Titanic deck chair Christianity. I want to be ready to lead services in the lifeboats.
The fear system is far from broken,
the costume markets are always open,
you’re going to die says the man on TV,
take these drugs, don’t wait and see,
a virus from Africa stalks our streets,
men in space suits scare ghosts in sheets,
arterial plaque and hemorrhagic fever,
between clips of a drunken Justin Bieber,
this is the Halloween you asked for,
standing at our front doors,
courtesy of the good people,
the ones you’d never suspect,
the military, industrial, pharmaceutical,
and costume complex.
If there is one thing we are afraid of it is death. You can’t help but notice it. We want to live forever. That’s what medical advertisements and the pharmaceutical industry say to us each day. You can and should want to live forever with the quality of life you have come to know and expect as “normative” at this moment. You should never have to live with any degree of diminished capacity in an assisted living facility or hospital. Those places are places of death. That is this message we received. The fear of death is further compounded, glorified, and commercialized through the celebration of this thing we call “Halloween”. Scare me to the point of death, dress yourself in something scary (yet provocative), unleash your deepest fears and anxieties about death for one night. We then justify all of this psychological and pent-up emotional weirdness in the name of “the children” having fun and getting candy. Because when it’s about the kids having fun, who can really mock the adults for only remembering what’s like to be frightened? After all, how will our children learn to be frightened of death and carry on these bizarre rituals unless we teach them that death stalks in these colder months with shorter days? Yes, we’re afraid of death and we’ve made it into a celebration. We’ve allowed “Big Death” to become an industry that rivals its subsidiaries Big Oil and Big Pharma.
My point is this: we don’t have to be afraid of death. We choose to be. We don’t have to buy into the fear laced, Ebola laden, Halloween infused, these side-effects might kill you propaganda trying to convince us that death is the only undeniable reality of the human condition. When people accept such propaganda as truth, hope is eroded faster than the sands of the beaches that surround this island. Hopelessness is the living legacy of people who’ve bought into fear as a way of life. There is another reality; one that transcends death itself. There is a reality which is rooted in hope. It goes something like this: death need not be feared because death is not final. It’s a promise, made to us by those saints who have gone before us. It’s what scripture says.
Do I understand the physics and mathematics of that promise? Do I want to? Do I need to? No. For one, I believe the promise. With each sunrise and sunset I see on this island the reality of God’s presence beyond this finite realm becomes clearer each day. Secondly, my work is here, not there. I’m not working for a ticket out of here. I’m working so when I’m asked, “did you feed me, clothe me, and visit me in prison?” I can say yes. Let Jesus worry about getting us “up there”. Our work is here. Our preoccupation is not to be with what will get is to the afterlife. When we get so preoccupied with talking about the afterlife, the rapture, and whose left behind it’s like we’re second guessing the work Jesus has done. Christ doesn’t call us to hunker down in apocalypse bunkers feeding on each other’s negativity and hopelessness. We are called to be outside, on the front-lines, modeling our hope for everyone to see.
Everyone has an idea,
They’ve it figured out,
What to do,
And they tell me,
Times a day,
How the world
Must be saved,
From the evil,
We’ve gone astray
Let me say,
To the mob,
Get out of my way,
And let me do,
My sacred job.
1. I don’t believe there is a one size fits all version of Christianity.
2. I don’t believe all Christians should agree on 100% of everything.
3. There is strength in Christians holding a diversity of opinions.
4. Our faith journey is a work in progress.
5. Conversion is never a one-time event; God is always in the process of converting and reconverting our lives.
6. Love is more powerful than guilt. We learn this from Jesus.
7. Prayer is about listening and not about talking.
8. Scripture means more to us today by understanding the context in which it was written.
9. We have one story tell; the story of a world upended by the itinerant Rabbi from Nazareth.
10. Jesus teaches us to value people and relationships over processes and institutions.
1. Effectiveness can’t always be measured in an Excel spreadsheet or by other quantitative means. The effect you have on the lives of others may never be fully known. You are planting seeds that may grow into maturity long after today or this quarter has ended. How effective your work, words, and knowledge have been may not be realized by an arbitrary date on the calendar. While you may have to work within such a paradigm, this is not the true measure of effectiveness.
2. It’s important for us to measure our efforts by living up to the fullest potential of the gifts we have received. We’ve been gifted in certain areas. If we’re living up to our abilities in the areas where we most gifted we will be most effective in the day ahead.
3. Effectiveness is about creating a legacy, not a report. If you’re effective at what you do, your work continues beyond your physical presence. Ideas, motivation, inspiration keep going long after we move on.