Yesterday's sermon text on Matthew 16, when Jesus asked the disciples, "Who do you say that I am?," took on a new meaning for me as our pastor, Rev. Keith Turman, expounded on the Word. He brought the text down to two separate questions for the Church.
First, who do we say that Jesus is? For the Christian, and for the Church, is Jesus who He says He is, in word and deed? Is He good news to the poor, comfort to the afflicted, welcome to the stranger, reconciliation to the world? Is He turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, give your coat and your shirt, love to the neighbor (as Jesus defines neighbor), prayer for our enemies?
And who does the world say that we (the Christian and the Church) are? Are we good news to the poor, or are we some perverted "prosperity gospel"? Are we comfort to the afflicted, or are we rubbing salt in the wounds? Are we welcome to the stranger, or do we reject "those people"? Are we part of God's reconciliation of all things, or are we the leading edge of the wedge of division?
If we are the hands and feet of Christ in the world, the answer to those questions should be crystal clear.
Tuesday, January 31, 2017
Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. – Psalm 62:8
We Americans love to make the claim that we are a Christian nation. Our politicians end their speeches with words like “God, bless the United States of America.” Yet so much of our politics, our policies, our public discourse, are based in things that run counter to the idea of a people that puts our trust in God as our refuge. We have been blessed with a land with abundant natural resources, and people with a pioneering spirit and can-do attitude. But we have also been cursed with what Rev. Jim Wallis calls America’s original sin, and we continue to wallow in the consequences of slavery. We have instituted and perpetuated an economic system that, unchecked, exploits the earth and oppresses the poor and vulnerable. And we have become so fearful that we have the largest military force on earth by far, the most people incarcerated, and the most firearms in private hands of any nation on earth.
For 250 years, our ancestors bound people from Africa in chains, shackled in the holds of ships, and brought them here to provide the labor necessary to perpetuate their idea of a civil society. When our Framers, whom we revere as demigods, wrote our Constitution, much of the real debate was over the institution of slavery, resulting in things like the Electoral College, the power of states with less population, and exactly how human some humans were. For the first 80 years of the United States of America, slavery continued as the dominant force in politics, culminating in a deadly and devastating Civil War. And while the slaves became free because of that war, our politics continue to be centered on “us versus them,” because many of us still fear “those people.” We trust in concepts like “school choice” and the war on drugs and welfare reform instead of trusting in God to give us grace to see every human as part of God’s very good Creation, made in God’s very image.
Isaiah preached doom to those who enact laws and issue decrees that oppress the poor and vulnerable (Isaiah 10:1-4). Christ opened his own public ministry with his own mission statement, quoting the same prophet, preaching good news to the poor, healing for the sick, food for the hungry, and relief for the oppressed. Yet we have become so afraid of the poor that we blame our nation’s ills on them. Instead of waging war on poverty through protecting the rights of workers, providing an economic safety net for those caught up in layoffs and transitions in the marketplace of labor, we wage war on those people, calling them lazy or otherwise unworthy. We attack what we call income redistribution, ignoring the fact that wages for working class Americans have been stagnant through nearly three decades of “supply-side economics.” We are guilty of the very things Isaiah warned of, and ignore the very mission of Christ.
And for all our talk of America’s strength and exceptionalism, we are exceptional in our fear. We are awash in guns, placing our trust not in the God of refuge and strength, but in the NRA and the misguided notion of the “good guy with a gun.” We build walls and issue decrees because of our fear of those fleeing violence and destruction, just as a young couple with a baby boy born in Bethlehem fled the homicidal rampage of Herod. We reject strangers, forgetting the words in Hebrews 13 that we should welcome the stranger, because we might just be unaware that we are entertaining angels. And we are so eager to send others of us off to war, then abandoning those who return from battle with debilitating injuries to body and psyche, relegating them to charity.
Honestly, there’s not much to commend us as a Christian nation. As the saying goes, if America were to be put on trial for being Christian, the judge would dismiss the charge for lack of evidence. We are so afraid, afraid of those people, afraid of losing the treasures we have stored in barns, afraid of being seen as weak. We are afraid of justice, because we just might get what we deserve. And we’re afraid to put our trust in the God of refuge and strength, because we just might be held accountable for our greed, our hatred, and our disdain for God’s creation.