Tag Archives: Bible

Taking Back The Welcome Mat – The Catholic Church Closes Its Door to Gays & Lesbians.

The Pope and the Catholic Church sent up a trial balloon. They wanted to see if the conservatives within the church could tolerate hospitality toward gay people. At the end of the day, I guess they determined that they cannot welcome people who sin in the areas of sexuality.

Any church that claims to have Jesus of Nazareth at its head should not have to even discuss whether to be a welcoming church to all people regardless of their “sins.” A common theme in the New Testament is how Jesus offended the conservative religious folk of his time by associating with outcasts of his society. Specifically he was criticized for eating with sinners.

In the Catholic Church the priest is supposed to represent Jesus Christ. These Bishops in Rome failed in their representation. Let’s be clear that what they failed to pass was not some change in direction of doctrine about homosexuality; it was a document that simply reiterated the fact that “people with homosexual tendencies must be welcomed with respect and delicacy.”

First Peter 1:17-23 – Belief Should Inspire Behavior

Rome - Saint Peter Basilica - Detail

Image by Pluca via Flickr

[Reflections on the Lectionary Reading for May 8, 2011]

In this passage from Peter‘s first letter, he makes a connection between faith and action. He says, “Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22, NRSV). Peter expects that people who accept the truth of who Jesus really was will begin to live their lives differently. Peter expects them to love one another deeply.

This connection is not always present in Christians, it seems. Even a cursory review of Paul’s letters to early Christian communities reveals that there were bickering and strife among believers. Anyone who has spent much time in one congregation or another is likely to encounter the same. Today we see Christian groups become more involved in politics and protests, and oftentimes their behavior doesn’t seem to reflect a deep love of others.

Why aren’t Christians more loving?  Was Peter wrong in making a connection between right beliefs (orthodoxy) and right actions (orthopraxis)? Jesus certainly taught that we should love one another deeply. Does belief in Jesus as the Messiah lead to allowing Jesus to shape and change one’s life?  Shouldn’t a disciple of a teacher learn from and behave according to that teacher?

Much is made by Protestants that salvation is not earned through works. I fear this leads many to focus so much energy on their right beliefs that they spend precious little energy worrying about whether their behavior reflects the teachings of Jesus. Many claim to have accepted Jesus as a personal savior, but they don’t seem to see themselves as either disciples or servants of their savior.

If I see Jesus just as my savior, then my relationship fits into the worldly mode of focusing on, “what’s in it for me?” As my savior, Jesus rescues me from death. If I see Jesus as my Lord, then suddenly it’s not about what Jesus is going to do for me, but it is about what I’m going to do for Jesus.

Jesus didn’t ask for much.  Jesus asks us to love each other. Christians need to be constantly monitoring their behavior for signs that they have veered from the path of love. By remaining in prayer and keeping the attitude of a servant, the Holy Spirit will help us to see how we should be living and loving.

Matthew 6:24-34: Service to Wealth

You cannot serve both God and money

Image by skambalu via Flickr

[Reflections on the Gospel Lectionary Reading for Feb 27, 2011]

In the context of prosperity in America, Jesus’ words, “You cannot serve God and wealth” sound as if he is challenging our rich neighbor but not us. Despite America’s wealth, we don’t consider ourselves to be wealthy individuals. Wealth begins somewhere north of our net worth and income.

Jesus continues, “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.” Suddenly his words no longer seem targeted at the super-rich. He appears to be talking to everyday folk. Uh-oh, I think he might talking to me. He is equating serving wealth to such mundane tasks as worrying about where our next meal will come from. He isn’t talking about luxuries; he’s talking about necessities.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that Jesus wouldn’t consider the American passion for conspicuous consumption to be an example of serving wealth. But, that’s an obvious example–one that is so easy, that we can easily deflect the warning as one that doesn’t apply to our lives.

Jesus expands the notion of what it means to serve wealth to include our obsession with financial security–even for necessities. We live in a security obsessed culture. Media bombards us with tales of danger, and we become stressed about our own security. We feed our feelings of insecurity by storing up wealth as some sort of fortress against potential future danger. Jesus challenges us to let all of that go.  He says, “do not worry about your life.” He stresses the power of God to provide for us.

This isn’t just some sort of fluffy, feel-good message. Jesus is not singing a chorus of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” This is a radical challenge to our habit of justifying all sorts of selfish behavior in the name of security and self-defense. We save for our retirement in order to mollify our fears around security. We purchase many forms of insurance, just in case.  In order to do that, we must secure a “good” job that pays well. Meanwhile, we adopt a lifestyle fitting our income, and this in turn raises the stakes for our retirement. We want to be able to maintain this nice lifestyle beyond retirement. This nice lifestyle demands going into debt to buy automobiles and homes. In order to secure such a high-paying job, we must heavily invest in education. This usually involves more debt. In order to ensure success in school, we must work in early childhood to master certain concepts and skills. In other words, we spend an entire lifetime investing in self-centered endeavors that have nothing to do with serving God. We cannot serve both God and wealth.

Our service to wealth in the name of security spills over into our society. To make our lifestyle more affordable, and thus more secure, we are willing to turn a blind eye to the exploitation of others. We clamor after bargains made at the expense of exploited workers. We vote according to our pocketbook.  Our political friendships are determined by economic advantage rather than the Godly principle of  love. Our obsession about security convinces us to go to war against our enemies rather than to love our enemies.

Jesus tells us to strive first for the kingdom of God. We try to strive for that second, but we never get around to it. Jesus promises that God will take care of our security, but we’d rather do it ourselves. Our faith in insufficient to rely on God for such an important thing as our own welfare.

Isaiah 49:1-7: Called in the Womb

Light of the World

Image via Wikipedia

[Reflections on the Old Testament Lectionary Reading for Jan 16, 2011]

The servant song of Isaiah includes the inspiring promise, “I will give you as a light to the nations” (Isa 49:6). God called God’s people to be a light to the nations. What does it mean to enlighten nations?  Many people who try to faithfully fulfill that responsibility disagree with each other.

For some servants of God, enlightening the world means mining Scripture for answers to all sorts of questions. As a Methodist, I look to Scripture for all sorts of answers, but I also recognize the limits of Scripture.  Scripture, for example, was not written as a scientific text.

Some Christians have dissected Isaiah’s servant song and found confirmation for their opinion that life begins at conception. This scientific “fact” is supposedly attested by Isaiah’s claim, “The LORD called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.” It’s quite a stretch, but supposedly the fact that God ordained and named Isaiah before his birth indicates somehow that Isaiah’s life began before his birth. Next the argument leaps to the assertion that life begins at conception.

Life may, in fact, begin at conception.  I don’t know.  But I know this: Isaiah’s servant song is not making any claim about when life begins.  I am also pretty certain that God’s inspiration of this passage wasn’t intended to be a Hebrew or Christian text concerning science.

My reading of the text suggests something quite different from what Pro-lifers try to make of it.  Isaiah is marveling at how God had a plan for his life before he even existed. Nothing here suggests God’s plan for Isaiah began at his conception; God’s plan existed long before that moment.

The message of Isaiah’s servant song is not about abortion or the beginning of life. The message concerns how God’s faithful are to be a blessing to the world. We are to be a light. What sort of light would God have us be?  Are we to be a harsh spotlight of interrogation and judgment, or are we to be a warm light of hospitality and love?  I do not believe we enlighten the world by misusing Scripture in a way it was never intended. When we do that, we diminish and discredit God’s Word. God meant for God’s servants to bring light not darkness to the world.

Isaiah 2:1-5: God & War

[Reflections on the Old Testament Lectionary Reading for Nov 28, 2010]

Isaiah tells of days to come when the LORD’s house shall be established, and many will come to learn how to walk in the ways of God.  Famously he says that nations shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  They won’t study war anymore because God will judge between nations.

Isaiah is one of the Old Testament prophets.  When we think of prophecy, we think of a prediction of the future.  Some predictions come true, but others do not.  This vision is not called a prediction, however; it is called “word.”  This means it has more authority than a mere prediction.

Isaiah ends this revelation by encouraging his listeners, “Let us walk in the light of the LORD!”  He does not bemoan the fact that the reality of their geopolitical situation made it impossible for them to emulate this vision of peace.  He does not scoff at this imagery as too idealistic to follow.  He believes this “word” is intended to direct the actions of those who call themselves followers of God.

I am no pacifist, but I often wonder whether my faith demands that I become one.  I cannot deny that this passage is a clear directive against warfare.  Many serious Christians have felt compelled to embrace pacifism based on Scripture, and I respect their conviction.  Many other serious Christians have a list of objections on the ready whenever there is a hint of conviction about the way our nation embraces war as a solution to political and economic problems.

St. Augustine was one of the first Christians to argue that war can be just.  He lived in North Africa during a time when the Vandals were a constant threat.  They were a warring tribe that eventually succeeded in capturing Roman Africa before his death.  It was natural for him to see the Roman military as a protector of his culture and religion.

It is normal for us to value our society and culture.  It is easy to believe that our society is somehow ordained by God to preserve Christianity.  It is easy for a people to imagine that they belong to God’s kingdom on the mountain, as described by Isaiah.  Once we buy into the idea that our’s is God’s country, then it becomes easy to see war as a legitimate tool of protection.

Our wars do not protect Christianity.  Our wars protect our lives, culture, and society.  Yet Scripture teaches us that all of these things are temporary.  Jesus never taught his followers to mount a defense to protect their lives, culture, or society.  Jesus taught us that we must follow in his footsteps.  His steps led to the cross not to the battlefield.  On the cross, Jesus died in the face of injustice.