You’re Probably Missing the Fascism

The story of David, Uriah’s wife, Uriah, and Nathan carry over into a second week.  How could it not?  Conspiracies, cover-ups, and human misery on this sort of epic scale are rarely confined to minutes or hours.  These are grand events that unfold over days and weeks.  In turn, they impact the participant’s lives over months and years.  Then we, the well-intentioned purveyors of the word believe that we’ll do justice to the multiple layers of meaning found in these texts over a couple of 20-25 minute rap sessions  Who are we kidding? This assumes we have the intestinal fortitude to talk about something guaranteed to make most of the people in church more than squeamish and a little bit angry.

It’s hard to read 2 Samuel.  In one way, it’s like stepping into the third season of Game of Throne having never watched the first two seasons.  You know none of the characters, themes, plot lines, or ideas.  There are just lots of self-indulgent beautiful people sleeping with each other while other people fight needless wars of aggression against an evil it’s difficult to name.  Why should we care about people so distant and foreign to our own experience?  We care because there’s another writer who is also trying to tell David’s story.  Unlike Game of Thrones, this writer (called the Chronicler) is like turning on Fox News and hearing a sanitized version of David’s reign without any of dirty laundry and political baggage David carries.  As painful as may be to get the truth about David, at least Samuel tells the truth.  The Chronicler can’t find Uriah or Bathsheba anywhere.

Whenever I read the history of King David’s reign in 2nd Samuel, particularly those sections the Chronicler chose not to include, it occurs to me that the propaganda tools of “fake news” to attack the truth are at least as old the Bible.  In choosing to tell the story of King David’s rule, the writer of 1st and 2nd Chronicles decided to ignore the most important event in David’s time as King; a moment which would define the course of which followed.  Whether the Chronicler regarded the affair between David and Bathsheba as fake news or a personal indiscretion between the king and his girlfriend, we’ll never know.  We do know this affair led to the death of honorable, patriotic Israelite soldiers and changed the course of Israel’s destiny.  We know that nothing is personal able to remain privileged on the royal altar of narcissism when you’re the king.

Eventually, the world will know that Bathsheba is pregnant.  Bathsheba’s pregnancy, Mr. King David, is not a crime.  What it took to get there and what it means for the kingdom to live with the results of your cowardice and deception; Mr. King David, that places Israel in danger. Israel is in grave danger.

We are in danger.  I think that’s why these passages from 2nd Samuel make me so uncomfortable.  David’s illicit sex and cowardice are gross.  He’s a Harvey Weinstein-like predator.  However, because of his position, his personal faults lead to bad decisions which put the entire nation in danger.  The cheap sex and political cowardice are  essential ingredients to the political and religious fascism David seems intent on creating.

If the worst sin we see when talking about this passage is a man committing adultery, not solider being sent to die by his own king at the hand of his own men, then you’re missing the fascism.

If the worst sin we see is a king who loved God and was in need of forgiveness after adultery, not the woman who was probably raped in a non consensual sexual encounter, then you’re missing the fascism.

If the worst sin we see is a king who couldn’t momentarily see God’s plan for his life, not the abject brutality of his own actions, then you’re you missing the fascism.

Now  you try:

If the worst sin you see is ____________ , not the _____________ then you’re probably missing the fascism.

Richard Lowell Bryant

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Following the Jesus Code

The man in question was discovered sleeping under the trees in the upper left, above the brick sign.

Here’s the problem.  I’m bound, even obligated, to follow the Jesus code.  What’s the Jesus code?  It’s this idea of loving strangers, showing hospitality to all, and extending care to visitors who enter my world; especially my life at church.  I signed on to live by the code years ago both in its Old and New Testament forms.  In fact, I’m a big proponent of the code.  I love the code.  On a regular basis, I’ll stand up in church and urge others to adopt the code for themselves.  Living by Jesus’ rules of graciousness and hospitality can be challenging.  Jesus, unlike our world, went out of his way to embrace those who many of us might willingly ignore or reject.  This is what makes following Jesus fun.  We are asked to push ourselves into areas where our comfort matters less than sharing God’s love.  That’s exciting, especially when you’re preaching on a Sunday morning or on in the controlled setting of mission trip with people who look just like you.  On the other hand, following the Jesus code can be unsettling on a Thursday morning in late July, particularly when you find a stoned homeless man sleeping in a hammock in the front yard of the church.

We’ve had a tremendous amount of rain over the past three days.  Localized flash flooding has inundated the island.  Ankle to knee deep water is everywhere.  Crickets, mosquitoes, and standing water have made our summer vacation island a swamp.  It’s humid, hot, and nasty.  The severity of the thunderstorms has limited the number of outdoor campers in the National Park Service and private campgrounds.  No one, if they had a choice, wanted to ride those out.

Hence my surprise this morning at seeing a hammock strung among a few of our only trees.  Someone was camping at the church.  No one told me about this.  I saw a few plastic bags and a man with dread locks, a beard, a knit camp, and well-worn beach wear.  He reeked of pot.

I brought him water.  Water is part of the Jesus code.  Without moving from the hammock, he thanked me for my compassion.  It was just water.  He wanted to know if I was a vegetarian.  I am not.  I eat meat.  This, in his mind, was not good.  Humans, he tells me, are mushroom based life forms.  If we were all vegetarians, wars would cease.  Fish would live in peace with chickens.  Pastors, he says, are all about money and power.  I tell him I’m broke and have no power.  In fact, I’m on the way to the dump.  If I had real power, someone would take my trash for me.  The “Christian/vegetarian humans are mushrooms” diatribe goes on for fifteen minutes.

I keep insisting I need to get to the dump before they close.  He laughs, “I ended up preaching you a sermon, how about that?”  Yes, that he did.  I  heard his sermon.  It was loopy and a little frightening.  However, I hope he felt heard and valued.

“What’s your sermon on this week”, he asked?

“I don’t know”, I said.  I didn’t want to prolong the conversation.  It will probably be about something I call the “Jesus Code” and how it’s been getting me into some blessed and strange encounters for more years that I care to count.  One way or another, Jesus is always asking me to practice what I preach.  It’s easy to tell other people what to do.  It’s another matter altogether to be that person you’re telling other people to be.  Church bigwigs will tell you that church involves a lot fancy things.  This morning, here on Ocracoke, church was offering space, water, and an ear to a stoned homeless guy sheltering from a flood.  I was out of my comfort zone.  That’s OK.  Because it doesn’t get more Jesus like than that.

If this was today, can you imagine tomorrow?

Richard Lowell Bryant

If The Same Thing Happened Here, We’d Lose Our Minds

The scene of this morning’s suicide bombing in Suiweda, Syria

This morning’s news seemed worse than usual.  Forest fires in Yosemite National Park are putting lives and vacations at risk.  While on the other side of the world, apocalyptic blazes are raging throughout northern Greece.  As of this morning, at least 80 people have died fleeing the Greek fires.  In Quetta, Pakistan 31 people were killed in a suicide bombing at a polling station.  It’s Election Day for the entire nation and over two dozen people lose their lives exercising their democratic prerogative.  Then reports came from the government held areas of Syria.  Over 200 people were murdered in multiple ISIS attributed suicide bombings in the city of Suiweda.

These events are horrific tragedies.  In isolation, each one is a defining moment, forever changing the lives and countries of the people involved.  Combined, these tragedies represent the ill defined nature of chaos dominant across the world.  Yet, unless you’re in Syria, Pakistan, or Greece (or listening to NPR’s Morning Edition’s second hour), no one seems to notice.

If any one of these events occurred in the United States; forest fires that kill 80 people, the destruction of a polling station on the first Tuesday in November leaving 30 dead, or a wave of suicide bombings, these would be the biggest stories in America since the September 11th attacks.  There would be non-stop, wall to wall coverage, press conferences, memorials, and tributes broadcast for weeks.  Yet, when it happens somewhere else, we could care less.

It’s not that we don’t care.  If natural disasters hit our hemisphere (or country), we’re quick to mobilize and respond to earthquakes, floods, and fires that impact adjacent time zones.  When summer vacations and second homes are threatened with destruction, America will stop at nothing to help.  We pat ourselves on the back each time this occurs an applaud our community spirit.  On the other hand, tragedies marked by an epic loss of life in parts of the world where it’s easier to send projectiles than prayers, don’t register in our collective psyche.  Though, if similar events were to occur on our election day or devastate an equal number of lives, by God the world better pray, support, and love us because we’re, you know, America.  We take names and remember those who don’t support us with their thoughts and prayers.  Yes, something is wrong with our national sense of narcissism and entitlement.  How can we expect the world to care about us when we know so little about the needs of the countries we’ve invaded, impoverished, and isolated?  We can’t but we do.

Yes, it’s easier to stay wrapped up in our blankets of fear and division.  Who cares if people die in Pakistan or Syria?  Isn’t our ambivalence toward Syrians and the Pakistanis just another means of supporting the troops and signaling our support for never ending war in the Middle East?  It’s ironic, the President and Tucker Carlson debated the hypothetical need for Americans to defend Montenegro but neither man thought to consider why anyone else should be sent to Iraq, Afghanistan, or Syria.

Shouldn’t we be more worried about the President’s next tweet and who the media says we should hate today?  If we care about Syrians and Pakistanis, from where in our souls will we mine our most precious resource:  righteous indignation?

We’re not moved to outpourings of grief, sympathy, or prayers for Greece, Pakistan or Syria because we’ve been conditioned not to care.  If events are not moving between the axis of Moscow’s meddling, Washington’s swamp, or Beijing’s retaliatory tariffs; we are told that empathy is treasonous.  We’ve signed on to Faustian bargain:  either care about America’s descent in to Fascist tyranny or be counted among the enemies of the republic.  Both sides of the political spectrum make versions of this same draconian argument.  One cannot care about the dead in Greece, Pakistan, or Syria (or anywhere else) and listen to Michael Cohen’s tapes.  This is the lie we’ve allowed ourselves to believe.  It’s a falsehood we tell ourselves.

In the third chapter of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul reminds us that everyone precious to God.  “Every ethnic group in heaven or on earth is recognized by him.  I ask that Christ will live in your hearts through faith.  As a result of having strong roots in love, I ask that you have the power to grasp love’s width and length, height and depth, together will all believers.”

God’s empathy is boundless.  God’s love is wider, longer, taller, and deeper than we can imagine.  It’s big enough to comfort those who lost family in Greece, Pakistan, and Syria.  Paul’s prayer is that we know and embrace this idea of God’s “big love”.  When Paul says, “every ethnic group” he means that God doesn’t have an isolationist foreign policy.  God weeps for the dead in Pakistan, Syria, and Greece.  God comforts the grieving, be they Orthodox Christian or Sunni Muslim.  God’s expansive love is something to be practiced and embodied.  Accepting God’s love is an act of faith.  God is meeting us in the world we call home.  Are we able to see our way to God?   Who knows who we might need to embrace?

Someone’s crying Lord, kumbaya
Someone’s crying Lord, kumbaya
Someone’s crying Lord, kumbaya
Oh Lord, kumbaya

Someone’s praying Lord, kumbaya
Someone’s praying Lord, kumbaya
Someone’s praying Lord, kumbaya
Oh Lord, kumbaya

Richard Lowell Bryant

 

Revoke King David’s Security Clearance: Send Him Back to Shepherding

Late last night, I took a moment to read through the coming week’s lectionary passages. Over the past few Sundays, I’ve wandered down the Old Testament path, looking at 2nd Samuel. That’s made things a little easier. The gospel and epistle readings have been tough. I say this prayer before I turn to the new readings, “Please God, don’t let them be about treating immigrants fairly, offering free health care to everyone in Galilee, and feeding people who aren’t on a welfare to work program. Amen”. That prayer never works.

Words like immigrants, justice, and peace keep popping up in the readings. It’s almost like Jesus wants me to talk about these important issues. In fact, it’s like the Bible is speaking directly to the social and political divides which haunt America. At those moments when I think I could marry some self-help mumbo jumbo with a bit of Jesus and preach about the “safe” topics; Jesus puts me back in the middle of the briar patch. Sure I could look for something else. I could go to other texts. I could preach a seven part summer sermon series with titles like:

Choices in Prayer

Life in Pieces

Spiritual Ideas I Gathered from Watching Marvel Superhero Movies

How to Calm the Waves of Brokenness

Jesus Died for Your Comfort

God Wants You to Walk on Water

You Have to Get Out of the Boat

Yes, I could preach those sermons but then I wouldn’t be preaching the Old Testament, the demanding stories of Jesus, or the hard words of Paul.  But is that really preaching?  If worship becomes a cross between Tony Robbins and a Ted Talk is it still church?  No.  It’s entertainment.

Still, when I read what’s on offer, I’m sometimes taken by surprise. Last night was no exception. I looked at where we’re headed in 2nd Samuel and there it was: King David is having an affair with Bathsheba. I immediately sent an email to God:

To: God@heaven.org

RE: 2nd Samuel 11

You want me to talk about a powerful ruler who has a history of sexual indiscretions and then commits treason by having one of his own men killed in battle?  Do you realize how awkward this is?  Aren’t people liable to get uncomfortable and draw conclusions to the world beyond church? This is what I’m supposed to preach! Not to mention, there are probably people in my congregation who’ve been impacted, in their own right, by infidelity and betrayal.  Color me queasy.  

Yours truly,

Richard

P.S. Amen

God is incredibly busy so I’m not expecting an immediate reply. That being said, I’m going to go ahead and mull this one over. So, without pushing too many hot buttons, I think King David is a real twit. In fact, I am all for removing King David’s security clearance. Have you seen this man’s history? A man who can’t be trusted to be faithful to his own wife or lead his own men in battle and is responsible for the murder of one of his own soldiers has lost the trust of the nation. There are words to describe such conduct: treasonous, cowardly, and a traitor. David has betrayed the very idea that undergirds the Kingdom of Israel and the very God who placed him on the throne. No, this man, this Judean shepherd can no longer be trusted to guide, guard, and shepherd this Kingdom. His clearance must be removed. Maybe, just maybe, Israel needs to think about getting a king who doesn’t give lip service to God.

If God gets back and wants me to talk about walking on water, I’ll let you know.

Richard Lowell Bryant

I Have Seen the End and It Isn’t Pretty

I have seen the end and it isn’t pretty.

A couple of nights ago, I attended one of a handful of regional gatherings across the North Carolina Annual Conference.  These meetings, led by the Bishop and our General Conference delegates, were intended to outline the three proposals advanced by the Commission on a Way Forward.  Laity and clergy were both invited to attend.  Billed as a time for questions and answers, I hoped it would be a time of learning and sharing.  I was wrong.

I hadn’t been in my seat five minutes when someone raised their hand to speak on the most accurate definition of homosexuality.  It should (said this gentleman), according to any definition one might find, include the term sodomites.  If he said sodomite once he said it three more times.  To be honest, the meeting went downhill from there.

The Bishop did her best to keep order and maintain a sense of decorum.  However, it was clear those in attendance didn’t think much of the one church plan or changing the Book of Discipline to be more accommodating to all United Methodists.  Soon the same tired tropes emerged, homosexuality is the sin par excellence, Jesus didn’t talk about homosexuality because they still stoned sodomites in 1st century Palestine (so Jesus didn’t have to bring it up), and Methodists need to be more concerned about keeping people out of Hell.   I wasn’t sure if the man who mentioned stoning wasn’t still advocating taking people, as he said, “to the local rock pile”.   He was intentionally ambiguous.

There were also secondary complaints about the lack of information from the committee, annual conference, and those in charge.  To those who hear only bits and pieces of information or follow Rob Renfroe’s version of Methodism, these plans seem sudden and frightening.   Fear is the word which kept coming to mind.  Beyond the anger, misquoted Bible verses, and the outright bigotry I witnessed; this meeting contained a palpable sense of fear.

My sisters and brothers are scared.  Frightened people have difficulty being faithful disciples.  They are afraid of their neighbors, losing their church, the control they pretend to maintain over God’s kingdom, and the idea that God’s grace is bigger than they realized.  This isn’t simply homophobia.  Yes, that’s part of the equation.  It is theophobia, a fear of letting God be God. What happens if God demands we love people we’ve been inaccurately taught to despise?  God’s spiritual audacity and expansive moral grandeur is frightening to those who image of God is one of wrath and punishment.

The meeting I attended is a microcosm of events occurring around United Methodism.  In fact, I’m betting this gathering was kind of a dress rehearsal for the special General Conference.  The same hurtful words, self righteous speeches, and stereotypes will be thrown around the convention floor in St. Louis.  It will be as wrong and as hurtful there as it was this week.

There’s free speech and there’s hate speech.  What I heard in this meeting bordered on hate speech.  It made me sick to my stomach and ashamed to be sitting in a United Methodist Church.  By the time our gathering finished, I couldn’t wait to leave the building.  I felt confused, angry, and disappointed.  I know people can be mean.  I realize even when we clean up and go to church, we feel like we can say ugly, vile, and reprehensible things about people God created because we “do it in Christian love” or “tradition”.   I’m not naive or ignorant.  However, I’m always surprised (a bit) when I see in person.   A Methodism that is rude, discriminatory, and cloaked in judgmental self-righteousness isn’t the church I know and love.   If that makes me less of a Christian (or United Methodist), I guess we can get adjoining rooms in Hell.

The great Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote about the idea of “God needing us” for God’s very existence.  I’m not one to usually argue with Heschel, however, after what I saw this week, it looks like God could do just fine if we weren’t figuring out ways to put up roadblocks to inclusivity and border walls around the Kingdom of Heaven.  When we’re like this, God doesn’t need us.  Before we’re going to be of any use to anyone, (LGBTQI United Methodists, the elderly, children, migrant families, Syrian refugees, or heroin addicts in our own community, etc.) we need more of God’s love.

Richard Lowell Bryant

He Had Become Well-Known (Mark 6:14-29)

What happens when Jesus becomes known?  Notice how I’m asking this question.  It has nothing to do with us knowing Jesus.  I’m not asking if you know Jesus.  Instead, I want to look at the verse:  Jesus had become well-known.  When Jesus becomes well-known, what happens to the world?

I remain convinced that it is impossible to be indifferent about Jesus.  I realize some will argue with me on this point but frankly, I don’t care.  To quote C.S. Lewis, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.”

Whether we realize it or not, we’ve all formed an idea about who Jesus is and live our lives accordingly. For some, Jesus is who he says he is.  For others, they’ve made the gamble and rolled the dice; Jesus isn’t all that important.  Regardless of the decision we’ve reached, we’re at this point in our lives, because Jesus became well-known.  His stories, ideas, and reputation reached beyond Bethlehem, Judea, Nazareth, and Jerusalem.

Here’s the problem we face, one that is not new to us:  there is a difference between being “well-known” and “understood”.  Jesus was and is extremely well-known.  King Herod knew of Jesus’ reputation.  There is a chaplain in congress who prays for members of the House and Senate each morning.  Blue collar fishermen were his disciples.  Everyone knew Jesus.  His name was talked about it houses and synagogues up and down the country.  It is another matter altogether to understand what he’s doing.

When we confuse knowledge and understanding, we start to get into trouble.  Making decisions on what we’ve heard (rumors vs. fact, context vs. no context) instead of what we’ve seen or witnessed, distorts what people know and understand about Jesus.  It’s much like playing a game of telephone.    The message which shared at the beginning is rarely what’s received at the end.

Following the death of John the Baptist, Jesus is caught between the conundrum of knowledge and understanding.  This push and pull is essential to the Christian life.  It’s where Mark places us this morning.

John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin and partner in ministry is dead.  Herod’s decision to marry his wife’s brother was more than John could stomach.   Arrested for questioning Herod’s ethics, it wasn’t long before his daughter helped Herod’s new wife gain the one gift not her registry:  John’s head.

John wasn’t Jesus.  At this time, John was the famous one.  Jesus was on the way up but he wasn’t John.  Now with John gone, what did people know about Jesus?  Who was this Jesus?

Herod seems to be confused.  “Didn’t I kill John?”  “You mean they’re related?”  “Are they same person?”  What did they think they know about Jesus?

Herod and his cronies knew “recycled news”.  Jesus couldn’t be someone new, different, or unique.   Jesus must be a figure from the ancient Israelite past returned to judge the iniquities of the present.  First of all, let’s say he’s the guy who just died, come back from the dead as a different person.  In other words, “we think we know Jesus is John the Baptist.”  If that can’t explain his teaching, preaching, or healing, let’s go back a little further.  Maybe Jesus is Elijah.  The think they know that he is the prophet Elijah who lived nine hundred years before the events Mark is describing in the 6th chapter.  If Jesus isn’t’ Elijah, he’s probably one of the ancient prophets.  The Old Testament is full of so many prophets, both major and minor, surely this Jesus, with his cryptic language of life, death, and healing must be one of those prophets.  Jesus is Hosea, Micah, Amos, or even Jeremiah.  Do you see the trend here?  Jesus must be anyone but Jesus.  We know what we’ve always known about religious matters, people, and ideas.  Jesus fits into none of our preconceptions.  A recycled faith, reapplied to the same concerns, has left what?  People like Herod; people know about religion (words, terms, history, and people) but understand nothing about being faithful to the God who made them.

Knowing Jesus is more than having the ability to point out similarities between Jesus and other religious figures in the Bible (or history).  You’re responding to your own religious past or your conscience.  If that’s all you know, you’re fighting the urge to remain indifferent to what’s happening in your soul.  Putting who or what you think Jesus is into boxes you can manage the same as knowing Jesus is uniquely Jesus.  I’m not a big fan of the excuse people use to not go to church that is, “I’m spiritual but not religious”.  There other kinds of people who are the exact opposite, “religious but not spiritual”.  I think both perspectives miss the uniqueness of Jesus.  If anything, now is the time that we need to be reminded God came to us from the bottom, the margins of society, in places forgotten and ignored by those who claimed religious traditions and self-serving spirituality as a way life.

One of the reasons we affirm our faith each Sunday is to remind us Jesus’ uniqueness.  The Apostles’ Creed is one of the ways we know Jesus.  Its words acknowledge the prophetic tradition of Old Testament while setting Jesus in his own story.   We know that he was unlike any other figure in human history.  That’s why we say together that he was, “born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate”.  He wasn’t, as much as Herod wants to believe, John the Baptist.  I think, it’s difficult, to be indifferent to Jesus’ unique story.  It’s hard to shrug your shoulders when told someone suffered on your behalf.  Saying “whatever” is difficult to do when you see children, taken from their parents and you hear Jesus’ words, “In so much that you have done this to the least of these, you have done it for me.”  You may disagree with Jesus.  He may make you angry.  You may hear him, “I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” and say he’s right.  Church, let’s go and do.

My point is this:  you can’t ride the fence with Jesus.  He deserves a response.  See him for who he is, what he says, and what he does.  Agree or disagree but don’t ignore him.  There’s too much good Jesus, embodied in his followers, can do in a fragile world.  Ignoring what we know about Jesus is a statement in its own right.  To embrace indifference toward Jesus, for most people, is a tacit admission that we believe in nothing more than a convenient idol we use to explain the mysteries of life.

Acknowledging Jesus’ uniqueness doesn’t hurt, it only helps.  Nothing that Jesus touches leaves his presence worse off.    Everything is better for being in and around Jesus.  You know the saying, “A rising tide lifts all boats”.

For whatever reason, what you’ve heard of Jesus or understand about God isn’t moving you one way or the other.  It may be that Christianity has gotten in the way.  Sometimes in our zeal, we turn people off from the thing we’re supposed to love most.

That’s OK.  I want to apologize, on behalf of the church, for making the well-known Jesus less knowable, angry, judgmental, or rude.  I’m sorry.  For the moment, let the church, allow me, and those around you respond anew.  We will sing for you.  We will pray with and for you.  We will say the Creed.

Indeed, Jesus is well-known.  He is who he is.  Let’s point people toward what we know; the unique nature of the loving Son of God who dwells in the least known and overlooked corners of our world.    Let’s talk about the Good News for all people. Where the darkness, may we bring light.  Where there fear, may we carry hope.  Where there is hurtful indifference, may we share Christ made real.

Richard Lowell Bryant

 

A New Testament Look at Immigration: Texts and Topics

1) Revelation 3:20 – Jesus is knocking at our door. Jesus comes in many forms, some obvious and others less noticeable. Nonetheless, Jesus ends up on our doorstep, the borders to our home, and at the frontiers of our nation. Do we ignore the knock? Do we drain our compassion dry to eventually proclaim, “This is not Jesus”?   Wouldn’t it be easier to open the door?  We know who it is.

2) Matthew 8:20 – Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. Even beyond the story of being a refugee after his birth Jesus remains the ultimate stranger in a strange land. Nowhere is home, despite being creator of the Universe. Where else can Jesus go?  Receiving the undocumented, homeless Jesus is our responsibility.  Our role isn’t to ask, “Why can’t a carpenter build his own house?”

3) Romans 12:13 – Paul reminds the Roman community to, “Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.” Unlike the Old Testament scriptures reminding the Israelites to care for foreigners because “they were once slaves in Egypt”, Paul gives no word of explanation.  It doesn’t matter that your ancestors were slaves.  Now, as people of faith, hospitality is something we all do. The justifications of the past are no longer relevant. Paul writes to the Romans, “Do the right thing.” Christians care for the saints living among us, no matter where our journeys began.

4) Timothy 1:8 – Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it legitimately. Paul is also telling Timothy that there are illegitimate uses of the law (religious, judicial, and political). Paul’s sampling of legitimate uses of the law does not include welcoming strangers, refugees, or asylum seekers in the wider community.

5) Hebrews 13:12 – Therefore Jesus suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. Let us go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. Jesus didn’t suffer and die in the well-defined borders of a modern nation state. Held in the detention centers of Roman Palestine, Jesus died on a physical and spiritual border. As a common criminal with no rights, Jesus could not be tried by laws protecting those “inside “the city gate. Salvation, as we read Hebrews, happens on the border, somewhere between our idea of civilization and the coming Kingdom of God. The writer of Hebrews says it’s what happened outside the gates that defined the future of Christianity. It’s past the gates, within the fences, and among the camps where we will encounter the resurrected Christ.  Let us go to him.

Richard Lowell Bryant

My God is undocumented,
He arrived,
Illegally, unwanted, and unknown,
Across the border of heaven and Earth,
With no identification, family, or job,
A permanent refugee,
From a genocidal king,
Forever being sought,
By greedy statisticians in Rome,
Living hand to mouth,
Among the poorest of the poor,
With no fish, no one would eat,
With no money, no taxes got paid,
with no money, no prayers got said,
with no documents you were as good as dead,
My God is undocumented,
living on the margins,
of fishing villages,
and textile towns,
crossing over,
to the other side
of the big bad lake,
to the undocumented side,
He’s moving today,
From your Capernaum,
To today’s Decapolis,
And back again,
To meet the undocumented,
Unloved, chained-up, people,
On the other side,
People like us,
Our undocumented God,
Our God who arrived without papers,
Illegally, against Roman law,
And no family at all,
With dubious lineage,
And no photo id,
Who died on the cross,
For you and me,
My God is undocumented.

–Richard Bryant