Food for Thought-On Certainty (Luke 13:1-9)

Certainty vs_ Uncertainty

We crave certainty.  If you don’t believe me, watch a presidential debate and see what lines from which candidates draw the most applause.  When someone speaks with certainty, they will be rewarded.  It is the definitive certainty of statements which matters to voters. At this point in our history, the need for certainty is driving our political process.  Certainty is also at the heart of our religious beliefs.  To put it simply, we want to know our beliefs are right and that at the end of the day, what we believe will keep us out of Hell.

There is little certainty in Jesus’ words and parables.  Despite our fixation with certainty and our reliance on Biblical passages that appear to promote certainty, Jesus speaks in ambiguous terms.  Jesus is intentionally vague, open-ended, and uncertain.  When we hear what Jesus says, it’s possible to walk away feeling uncertain about his meaning. It could be this or another thing or does he mean something only people living in the first century would understand?  To religiously minded people craving certainty, Jesus isn’t making it any easier to be a 21st century American Christian.

Jesus inherited one singular idea from his religious ancestors.  Faith is a mysterious and uncertain affair.  Moses and Abraham were the first two people in Jesus’ spiritual family tree to come to terms with this idea.  If we are in a relationship with God, it means we are in a perpetual deficit of knowledge.  Isaiah echoes this idea when he says, “My plans aren’t your plans, nor are you ways my ways, says the Lord.”  It’s not that our plans aren’t aligned with God’s; we don’t know God’s plans in order to make an initial alignment.  So often we repeat this verse with the underlying assumption that God’s ways are knowable, definable, and manageable.  We forget we’re talking about God.  Uncertainty is the defining principle of our relationship with God.  We take faith out of the equation.  We demand concrete, knowable evidence of God’s will.  When we don’t get or see the proof we demand, someone must be wrong.  Did we sin or is God unfaithful? It can’t be that God is unknowable.  This is what we’ve been conditioned to believe.

At the beginning of the 13th chapter of Luke, Jesus is approached by a group of people who have had their certainty and their faith challenged.  Their spiritual and physical world is in chaos.  Pontius Pilate has massacred a group of Jewish worshippers.  Far from the tepid Roman bureaucrat who simply wanted to do the right thing, history shows Pilate to be a genocidal villain and violent enforcer of Roman laws.   Innocent religious people were murdered by the soldiers of a dictatorial colonial power.  Politically, the Romans used violence to retain control.

Those incensed by the massacre wondered “why?”  Where was God when they were doing their required temple duties?  Why didn’t God save them?  They were certain of their relationship with God?  Had they sinned at some point for this punishment to be brought upon them?  These were the questions they brought to Jesus.

The implication of last question caught Jesus’ attention.  Were they really saying the Galileans were dead because of some sin they committed?  There is, perhaps, no more a disgusting thought in the history of Jude-Christian theology than that people deserve to die because of some sin they committed or their family committed some generations ago.  Is this what these people believed?  Did Jesus hear them right? Using that logic, Pilate was an instrument of God’s will.  Clearly, that idea was abhorrent to Jesus.  Jesus says, “No, that’s not the case.”  However, “unless you change your outlook on faith, your ability to believe in God will be destroyed.  You’ll destroy yourself.” You cannot continue to look at faith this way.  If this is what you believe, it will kill you and destroy your ability to encounter the uncertain mystery at the heart of any relationship with God.  This is what Jesus means when he says, “Unless you change your hearts you will die as they did.”  He’s not saying Pilate is going to kill them.  Jesus tells them, you will be buying into the skillfully crafted arrogance that says everything must be explained as coming from God or sometimes not.  That kind of arrogance is deadly.  It is wrong.

Jesus takes his answer one step further.  In order to make the larger point, he reminds his listeners about another tragedy, well-known throughout ancient Israel.  A giant tower fell, collapsed, and killed eighteen people.  Everyone knew about the great tower of Siloam.  Think of it like the Kennedy Assassination or September 11th, the people there knew exactly where they were when they heard the news.

Jesus poses the same question.  “Do you think they were guiltier of wrongdoing than everyone else who lives in Jerusalem?”  Everyone, Jesus asked.  Were they greater or lesser sinners than everyone who lives in Jerusalem?  Was it somehow part of God’s master plan for 18 innocent people to die and all of the others (both good and many notoriously bad) to survive unscathed?  Surely God would have preferred to wipe out the corrupt temple rulers or the evil Romans before killing 18 innocent people?  These are the questions Jesus wanted his listeners to ask themselves; questions allowing them to define the inherent uncertainties of their relationship to God.

As with Jesus’ earliest followers, our quest for certainty leads us to focus on issues far removed from God.  We look for blame, we must know who has sinned and who is at fault.  If we can identify the sin in another person, we feel better.  We’re off the religious hook.  Our certainty with God is assured.  These activities keep churches and preachers occupied while the victims of Pilate’s atrocities and those lying under the rubble of the Siloam tower scream out for “Help”!  We see the bloody images, circle the corpses, walk around the rubble, and like Jesus’ questioners, say to ourselves, “They must have sinned and done something really wrong to deserve this kind of treatment. God wouldn’t have let this happen unless it was for some really important reason.  It must be part of the plan.”  Jesus says it’s not part of the plan for innocent people to suffer and die.  Please get age old lie out of your heads this morning.

Look at this parable, he tells this bewildered group of certain blame gamers.  There is a farmer and a gardener, or as some translations say, a “landowner” and a “gardener”.  The landowner has a fruit tree which has been on the low yield side over the past few years.  The gardener, the person in daily care of the fruit tree tells the landowner not to take drastic action.  He says, “Don’t cut it down!”  The landowner is concerned he’s wasting fertilizer, space, and money on something that’s not producing.  I’m sure by this point in the crowd heads were nodding.  They were all saying, “I’d cut that tree down too!”  “You can’t be expected to maintain a fruitless tree forever! A man can’t throw good money after bad!  I’m going put me a tree in that spot  that’s going to make me some money!”

To many listeners, the tree did something wrong. Whether the tree was born unable to grow or was nurtured into sinful unproductivity, I can’t say.  The reality is this:  the tree was flawed, sinful, and needed to die.  The landowner had lost logic, patience, and all uncertainty.  The gardener, who sounds a great deal like Jesus says, “No, it needs at least one more year.” Despite the overwhelming negative evidence,  wasn’t as certain about the future.  He was hopeful.

It’s not a part of the plan for innocent people to die.  How willing are we to become like Pontius Pilate in our quest for divine certainty?  How willing are we to second guess God?  How willing are you able to embrace another year of uncertainty with God for no reason other than Jesus says, “Give me more time!”

But Jesus, we say, “What will you do in that additional year?”  What if the landowner comes back in a year and we have no fruit or it’s misshapen and ugly?  We need to be certain.  Or do we?

 

Food for Thought-Isaiah 55 Sounds Like A Bernie Sanders Stump Speech

Isaiah

55 Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near;let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

The Old Testament reading for the third Sunday of Lent is from the prophet Isaiah.  The first nine verses of the 55th chapter are among of the most well-known words in the Old Testament.  I remember this passage clearly from high school.  The pastor of my home church brought a fad Christian diet program, aptly named the “Isaiah 55” diet to our congregation.  It was founded on the scriptural weight loss premise that, “we spent money for what wasn’t food and ate things which didn’t satisfy.”  This was true. I liked cheap hamburgers and soft drinks.  It was nice to have a prophetic injunction which urged me to eat healthy.

Between dreaming of burgers I couldn’t eat and memories of a Methodist youth, I thought about Isaiah’s words.  For some reason, at this time, right now, and I mean at this instant, they sounded familiar to me.  It’s as if I’ve been hearing them on a regular basis over the past few months.  Where is the Isaiah coming from? I’ve not read any new books on Isaiah.  Is Isaiah simply resonating with my Lenten journey?  It is almost as if he’s in the ether.  Here’s what occurred to me.

If I didn’t tell you who wrote these words, were I not to say from which book they came or quoted from a certain person, who would you guess said them?  Given what’s happening in America, the issues being raised by the election contests and candidates, which candidate would you guess said these statements?

“All of you who are thirsty, come to the water! Whoever has no money, at no cost buy food and eat!  Without money, at no cost, buy wine and milk!  Why spend money for what isn’t food and your earning for what doesn’t satisfy?  Listen.”

Who does this sound like?  Does it reflect any of the Republican candidates to encourage people without money to eat for free?  If it does, you’re not listening close enough.  Does it sound like Hillary Clinton?  Even Hillary’s not giving away free food.  She wants people to work for some of their food.  Hillary says it’s too extravagant to expect anyone to expect food for free.  That leaves only one choice.  Isaiah sound like Bernie Sanders.  Has someone told Isaiah?  Has anyone called Senator Sanders?   The God of Isaiah wants of feed and comfort people at no cost.  God doesn’t want them to live lives of empty self-satisfaction.  Is Bernie reading Isaiah?  Have we discovered his secret campaign handbook? 1-sensanders_sncc_bernie-sanders-uofc_1963_1160

It’s amazing what God is willing to give away for free without concern for market economics, any knowledge of capitalism, or an appreciation for the American way of life.  Does God not care about wealth, the American dream, freedom, or sounding like a socialist?  No, no, yes, and no.  God, if this gets out, that you’re so anti money and into giving food away, the people on the Fox News Channel will savage your chances at being anyone’s first choice as a major world divinity.

God is huge on freedom.  There’s no doubt about it.  To paraphrase Donald J. Trump, “God is a big freedom God.  He is biggest, most beautiful freedom God you’ve ever met.”  But here’s the thing; freedom, as American Christians have come to define it, bears little resemblance to the reality God offers in the Bible.  God, the one Isaiah speaks for, doesn’t seem to care about the things most American Christians believe to be so politically and socially important.  In fact, Isaiah’s words would be belittled, ridiculed, and demeaned by many Christians as un-American, un-Christian, and contributing to the downfall of American Christianity and Judeo-Christian civilization.  When Senator Sanders (or others) say the same things Isaiah says, that’s what happens.  We’re told religion has no place in politics.  It’s wrong to talk about feeding the poor and satisfying the basic needs of humanity.  The pundits claim meeting people’s needs with abundant grace and love erodes individual liberty.  So what do we do?  File a resolution with General Conference? Do a caustic PowerPoint? We could write God a strongly worded letter.

Dear God:  

Your compassion for the poor is misplaced and reeks of Socialism.

Yours,

Angry Christian Voter   

But wait, how can the God of Israel be wrong and contributing to God’s own downfall?  Isn’t God always right?  Does anyone want to go on record contradicting Isaiah or God?  Where are my literalist brothers and sisters?  Do we only take God at God’s word if it’s condemning sexual relationships out of historical context?

Is it possible a substantial portion of American Christians are misreading the Bible and living their faith in ways incongruent with the reality it portrays?  I think it’s a real possibility.  It’s a question worth exploring.

Is Bernie a democratic socialist?  Yes. Does God sound like a socialist?  Yes.  If that makes you uncomfortable, try prayer.  It works wonders.

 

Food for Thought-What If We Die and God Is a Big Fat Chicken? (Luke 13:31-35)

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Jesus says some strange, even disturbing things.  One time he told people to love their neighbors as they love themselves.  In the same sermon, he claimed the meek were due to inherit the Earth; not the strong.  He eschewed violence by telling people to turn the other cheek if assaulted.  Some foreign policy Jesus!  He wouldn’t be Secretary of State, Defense, or Homeland Security in my imaginary cabinet.  Can you imagine, loving people instead of killing them with predator drones?  Today Jesus says one of the wackiest things in the entire New Testament.  He compares God to a chicken!

To really pick up on these strange statements, you have to pay attention.  If you’re not listening carefully, they’ll fly right by.  If you are clued in, you’ll find yourself saying, “What did he say?” If the politicians and religious figures of today said many of the things Jesus said, no one could run for any kind of office.  Like Jesus, they would be running for their lives.  Jesus judged the faith of the Pharisees.  Jesus made provocative statements.  Jesus couldn’t keep his nose out of politics.  With his whole body, he stepped firmly into the political arena between the Roman Empire and those who ruled Palestine.  Jesus spent most of his time healing the mentally and physically ill.  We call that “health care”.  Jesus called that his day job. He preached about the misuse of money and the coming kingdom of God.  Rome called the economic policy.  Jesus said it was the best parts of Leviticus. And yes, he also said God was like a chicken.

Jesus talked about holy chickens.  Your God (my God, our God) is like a chicken.   I don’t know much about chickens.  I’ve never kept hens, roosters or chickens of any kind.  I’ve seen a plenty both here and in other places.  I do enjoy eating chickens; particularly if they are dipped in ranch dressing or some kind of buffalo wing sauce.  I love eggs.  Scrambled, fried, omelets; I’ll will consume eggs in most ways you place them on a plate.  I have a great deal of love for the chicken and everything it has given to human civilization.  Here’s where the problem occurs.  I’ve never really associated a chicken with God.   If I were to be captured by ISIS or some other rogue organization and forced at gunpoint to, “associate your infidel divinity with a bird”, I NOT would choose a chicken.  And that’s assuming my intimate knowledge of the 13th chapter of Luke.  I might say the “the Bald Eagle”.  I know it would irritate ISIS.  I might name some mythical creature like a Phoenix or a Griffin.  I would not name a chicken.

However, we go back to the Bible.  Into the New Testament, the Gospel of Luke, to Jesus’ own words, and there it is in black and white, and what does Jesus say, “God is like a Chicken”.  Wouldn’t it be crazy if we get to heaven, and instead of old man on a cloud it’s a large mother hen?

What an interesting metaphor for Jesus to draw when illustrating who he is, who God is, and who King Herod is.  Despite anything else Jesus may or may not offer at this moment, people get the relationship between foxes and chickens.  Foxes do one thing and chickens do another.  Within the world of chickens, Hens have an even greater protective role.  The rural people Jesus knew understood this.  The city folk with a basic exposure to education (they read fairy tales, like Aesop’s) also knew about foxes and hens.  Jesus puts everyone on the same page.  Who has your best interests?  Who is looking out for you?  You need to understand, you are a character in this story.  The story will not end well if the fox is allowed to roam unchecked.  The fox is not your friend.  Have you realized this?  These are all the things Jesus is addressing by making this strange comparison, “God is like a chicken”.

This whole thing started when someone came to Jesus and said, “Herod wants to kill you.”  What’s new, right?  Someone in that family has been trying to kill him since the day he was born.  This is Herod Antipas, son of the original gangster King Herod.  This Herod, Antipas, has already killed John the Baptizer and now wants Jesus.  This isn’t an idle threat.  Antipas, with the full backing of the religious authorities and the Roman Empire, can have Jesus killed.  Everyone, including Jesus, knows this.

There’s something about how Herod kills that’s passive aggressive.  He’s motivated to kill John by his wife and daughter, he’s a puppet to the Romans and the high priest, and sends death threats through messengers.  Whether that’s fox like behavior, I don’t know.  Jesus thinks so.  It is shady, indirect, wasting his time.  He doesn’t need to be worried about the fox.  Jesus has a whole farm to tend to.

Jesus wants to send a direct message back to Herod.  Jesus has work to be done.  One thing you’ll find in Luke’s gospel is an obsession with time.  Jesus is always on the move.  You’ll see three day countdown clocks (like watching the television networks until the next primary).  Yes, these are hints which point us toward Easter.  More importantly, they tell us Jesus is on a schedule and his tasks are life giving.

What is Jesus up to?  What’s so important that even Herod’s death threats seem like a minor bump in the road?   Jesus is throwing out demons and healing people.  It’s going to take up most of the next three days.  If Herod wants to see him, it’s going to have to wait.  That’s it.  You’re listening to Jesus’ agenda, his plan, straight out the man’s mouth.  He’s healing people.  Again, we call that health care.  He’s restoring the physical and spiritual well being of the mentally and physically ill.  He’s charging no money.  He’s simply doing it.

Can you see why Herod was scared to death of Jesus?  Are you able to envision why Herod wanted him dead?  He made sick people spiritually and physically better.  He sacrificed no bulls, goats, or paid no taxes to the temple authorities.  He worked on roadsides and in synagogues most rabbis had forgotten.  He said God was a bottom up experience not a top down encounter.  God meets you at the bottom, where you are.  God doesn’t force you to climb stairs, begging and pleading for forgiveness.

It does seem natural, if Jesus is going bring up foxes, comparisons to chickens and hens will soon follow.  I agree with that idea up to a point.  As many times as I read this passage, I can’t get over the image of the tough talking, demon expelling Jesus who has just told Herod to go to Hell than comparing himself to a fat mother chicken.  Welcome to the irony, the paradox of Christian living.  This is who we are, people of the paradox because Jesus placed us on this path.

Jesus wants to care for us the way a hen cares for her chicks.  He wants to protect us. You can’t get much clearer.  However, there is something within us that resists this kind of relationship with God.  I don’t know what pushes us away.  Jesus says we go as far as trying to stone those God sends (prophets and others).  In other words, we try to eat the chicken instead of letting the chicken love us.  It’s easier to hang out with Herod and the foxes.  We might even buy into the foxes’ lies about the hen and the chickens.  Foxes are going to lie.  They’ll say, “A chicken isn’t a real God, it isn’t strong, can’t offer real protection and won’t come back from three days of anything.”

Jesus said it for us, “But you didn’t want that.”  We didn’t want the safety the hen provides.  We wanted something else.   We thought chickens were gross and icky. What do we want?  Is it something triumphant, like a man on a donkey or hanging on a cross?  That didn’t do it for us either.  Maybe you want something or someone stronger?  As for me and my house, I’m sticking with the chicken.

 

Food for Thought-The Scandalous Nature of Lent

fear

We live in an anxiety ridden culture.  Our fears, both collective and individual, are all about us-the narcissistic American experience.  From terrorism, unknown mosquito borne diseases, to erectile dysfunction, the mass media both plays and capitalizes upon our fears.  When we fear inadequacy, sickness, and ultimately death those deeply held emotions may be manipulated and monetized by the world we’ve created.  In many ways, our culture has created pathways to fear and is selling solutions to problems it manufactured.  In the midst of this election cycle, made all the more dramatic by the recent death of Justice Scalia, fear is the most powerful and only motivator in some candidate’s arsenal.  Is the fear real? Are we rightly to be afraid? If the fear is manufactured, ginned up, and exaggerated are the proposed solutions equally false and weak?

I’m afraid of being afraid.  I’ve been fearful for so long, sometimes it seems that’s all I know how to be.  Perhaps others feel this way.  I believe politicians see and exploit this condition in voters.  In the Psalms, particularly Psalm 27, the writer starts from this same emotional base line.  She asks, “Should I fear anyone?”  It’s a good question.  Should I fear Hillary, Bernie, Ted, Donald, Marco, Jeb or even the decisions which may be made by the delegates to the General Conference of the United Methodist Church?  Should I fear ISIS?  Should I fear the local veterinarian who was arrested for dealing heroin?  Should I fear?  There is so much to fear.

She goes on.  “The Lord is a fortress protecting my life. Should I be frightened of anything?”  It’s a classic if, then statement.  If the lord is a fortress protecting your life, then should you be afraid of anything?  The implication is “no”.  I’m not sure she sees the fortress or feels like she can touch the walls.  Should she be frightened?  I don’t know.  Maybe she’s trying to cheer herself up, buck up her spirits, and light a candle in the dark.  Should we be frightened of the Zika virus, apocalyptic predictions made by one party of the other, diseases we can’t cure, and lives we can’t mend? No, we shouldn’t.  But we are.  We’re human.  Despite the Lord’s promises of protections and no matter how many times we sing “A Mighty Fortress” we get frightened.

Some would argue that, “If I really trusted in the Lord, I wouldn’t be fearful or frightened”.  No one can live that way.  Our faith in God isn’t measured by our ability to be less human.  Lent is when we become more human, more real, less like Christian robots who parrot clichés to a deaf world.  The answer to being afraid, according to Psalm 27, isn’t to encamp among the death dealing killers who feed on fright.  Fear will eat you alive, beat you to death, and come at you with the brutal force of an invading army.

There is only one way (and it is counter-intuitive) to defeat fear.  We must dwell in God’s house.  God’s house (and the conditions within God’s house) represents the polar opposite of the violence, death, and brutality which are the hallmarks of fear.  This is the one thing the Psalmist says she wants for her life; to live in a place of worship, peace, and joy.  She doesn’t want to kill the evildoers, fight the encroaching armies of fright, or build walls to keep the fear at bay.  The antidote to fear is God’s Shalom.  So yes, I am sometimes frightened and fearful.  But I’ve heard the Good News of God’s Shalom.  It’s a scandalous message that is reordering my life’s priorities.  I’m learning I do not have to fight enemies I cannot see.  I can love.  I will sing.  I will sacrifice.  I will learn God’s ways.  I will have no time for fear.

 

Food for Thought-Giving Up, Giving In (A Lenten Poem)

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I love Lent,
In more ways,
Than I care,
To hint,
Or even say,
Perhaps it is,
Somewhere within,
February’s days,
My obvious sins,
Are spread about,
Far too thin,
Unable to sing,
Unwilling to shout,
Look at me,
Free of something,
For all to see,
Giving up,
Giving in,
choose a word,
It’s only sin.

–Richard Bryant

Food for Thought-Sometimes Paul Sounds Like Joel Osteen and I’m Not Sure I Like It (A Sermon on Romans 10:8-13)

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There’s something both right and wrong about this passage; something that bugs me.  I’m not entirely sure what “IT” is but here’s my best guess.  Paul, in his efforts to explain the basic elements of the Christian faith to the Roman church, makes “IT” sound easy.  “IT” is being a Christian, a disciple, a follower of Jesus Christ.  That bothers me.  Why?  Because I know it’s not easy.  It sounds like he saying all one has to do is, “confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’ and in your heart your have faith that God raised him from the dead” and everything is set, it will all work out fine, and there will be no problems.  Christian belief has been reduced to a magic formula.

What we read in Romans 10:9 is quite possibly a line from an early Christian confession or creed.  Paul was quoting it back to them.  Statements of faith and creeds are important.  We know that no matter how many times we repeat the Apostle’s creed; being a Christian is not easy, simple, or problem free.    The words may be accurate but they don’t necessary make living any easier.  Yes, God is accessible.  Our faith is built on the idea that the barrier which once existed between humanity and God are permanently removed.  What bothers me most about Paul’s framing of God’s accessibility in Romans 10 is how similar it sounds to something Joel Osteen or a Christian self-help guru says.

Is it just about saying the words or the ability to connect the words with something tangible? This is real rubber meets the road kind of stuff.  Where God goes from theory to reality, where we connect belief with tangible action.  Lent helps us to prepare the groundwork for the reality of the Resurrection.  How do we do that beyond repeating “magic formula” phrases, sharing heretical memes on Facebook, giving up chocolate, or anything thing else that is relatively easy to do?

Salvation, Paul says, depends on our ability to do two things:  communicate (confess) and believe.  Most of the people Paul wrote to, even in an upscale place like Rome, never thought of “salvation” as a possibility for their lives.  They never knew they needed to be saved.  Saved from what, a Roman Gentile might ask? Those who believed in some type of an afterlife didn’t see where it mattered to them.  Salvation itself was a foreign concept.  How would they confess or believe in something they didn’t know they needed or understand?

What did Paul tell the Romans they needed to confess and believe in?  Was it that simply Jesus rose from the dead and if you believe in this you go to heaven when you die?  No.  He told them the Good News was about today; right here, right now.  Salvation was about both now and later.  To confess and believe didn’t pull you out of the mire, muck, and mess of your life but left you in it.  The Kingdom of God is built in muddy streets.  Salvation is realized and shared within our dysfunctional lives.  Empty tombs are seen in people who live despite the presence of death.  If you can see those things, then you’ve begun to connect the words of confession and the ideas of belief with the real world evidence of salvation.   Ultimately we believe, not because of what we confess or the specific words we say, but because of what we see and do.

I disagree with Paul and many others.  It no longer seems credible to me that someone’s salvation entirely depends on any human being’s ability to communicate, especially when you factor in cultural, linguistic, socio-economic, and other limitations.  It’s a really fragile claim to make.   Can my words save myself or others?  It’s a tentative argument at best.

In a verse left out (in fact, the next verse) of this lectionary passage, Paul says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the Good News?”   Paul opens the door to the idea that the Good News (Salvation) is something brought, given, and presented by others.  It is something done not words spoken.  We preach with our lives, not the creeds we recite or tracts we distribute.  Our smelly, nasty, hardworking feet are blessed, not our mouths, says Paul!  This is the Paul l know and love.

The Good News is infrastructure, peace, food, medicine, shelter, respect, love, humility, justice, and more.  Call it Salvation or the Good News.  Carry those gifts, with your feet, and your heart.  Speak few words.  People will see Christ and your confession.  When you beautiful, in articulate feet carry the Good News, it will be more powerful than any tear filled testimony or well-rehearsed, however Biblically correct formula.

Food for Thought-Adam Hamilton Should Have Turned President Obama’s Offer Down

Prince Charles

Prince Charles

Martin McGuiness, Sinn Fein Leader

Martin McGuiness, Deputy First Minister Northern Ireland

Adam Hamilton

Adam Hamilton

Some of the most principled people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting are Irish Republicans, British Socialists, and assorted radicals who’ve refused knighthoods offered by the reigning Queen of the United Kingdom.  How radical can they be if they were offered knighthoods in the first place, you ask?

Some, like my Irish Republican friends were tortured in British prisons, solely because they believed in the idea of a united Ireland.  Others are English republicans, meaning they would like to see the monarchy abolished and replaced by a parliamentary republic.  These men and women, at one time marginalized, were later elected to the House of Commons.  Some even served in the House of Lords. With the veneer of social legitimacy conveyed by elected office, phone calls came from Downing Street and Buckingham Palace.  Powerful gifts equate to control.  If they honor you, they own you.

At some point they were offered a choice; to swear an oath of loyalty to a crown they did not recognize or perhaps accept honors from a system which fostered oppression.  (This was the decision John Wesley’s parents made when they refused swear the loyalty oath to William and Mary following the Glorious Revolution).  For an Irish republican to accept an English knighthood (or other royal honor), you’ve given into the system of political and military tyranny which denies your freedom, the power of democracy, and endorses the flawed notion of divinely ordained rule.  This is why Sinn Fein Members of Parliament refuse to take their seats in the House of Commons.  This is why English republicans refuse honors from the Queen’s “Order of the British Empire”. Yes, these terms are meaningless honors in a 21st century world.  There is no “British Empire.”  These awards represent the living legacy of the  greatest repression of human dignity the world ever witnessed.  Where is the world not falling to pieces today that it isn’t somehow the legacy of Britain’s colonial past?  Who would want such an award or title?

This history came to mind when I read the glowing press release announcing three new appointees to the President’s Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.  Among the new appointees was Rev. Adam Hamilton, a United Methodist clergyperson.  Rev. Hamilton has written countless books and is the pastor of the largest United Methodist church in the United States.  He is a star in Methodist circles.  My inbox and postal mailbox are regularly flooded with fliers urging me to purchase his latest study.  He’s known as a mainstream voice within tumultuous times.  Yet, here’s where I ask my question again: who would want such an award or title?

I’m not opposed to President Obama’s interfaith work or the council he’s cobbled together.  I know they fund many projects.  My problem doesn’t lie with the White House. They do their thing.   I don’t like to see United Methodist standard bearers cozying up to political power, no matter how benign it seems.  My problem’s with Adam accepting the offer.  Why accept something which only benefits you, your career, your book sales, your speaking engagements and means nothing to the rest of Methodism?  Why not turn down the offer to make a prophetic point about power, prestige, and where it doesn’t belong? It’s a lame duck; election year public relations stunt Adam.  Did you think of not taking one for the team?  How beautiful would that have been?

Why I am supposed to be excited about a United Methodist being nominated to a Presidential advisory council?  The president will be out of office in less than a year.  These appointments will end at that time.  Besides, each appointment is for a one year term.  How much advising can he do, with all the general conferencing and leading a big church in 11 months?  This council might meet once before this November.  The council will have no authority once President Obama becomes a lame duck.  The office overseeing the council will exist until next January.  So why do this Adam?

Adam will get a trip to the White House sometime between now and November.  It’s not like he is going to become the United Methodist in residence at the White House.  We’re talking about the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.  The religious equivalent of the National Security Council this is not.   In one or two meetings, over nine months, how much advice can he offer?  This all looks great on a White House press release but it means nothing to anyone in the pews.  It will impact Adam Hamilton’s impressive resume.  Why do this, Adam?

Here’s the thing:  Adam Hamilton could have said no.  He could have refused the president’s appointment.    On principle, on ceremony, on the meaninglessness of the post, he should have refused for any number of reasons.   He didn’t.  I’m sorry Adam Hamilton sold out to the fleeting, feel good fame which comes with a White House appointment.  I’m sorry United Methodists continue to trumpet style over substance.