Creating Neighbors and Neighborhoods Leviticus 19 and Matthew 5 February 19, 2017
I believe that we are at a pivotal time in the life of the church in the United States. The last several elections have clearly demonstrated that there are vastly different ways in which the church identifies and responds to the challenges facing our nation and the world. One part of the church has cast her lot with the powers of government, big business, and striking back at any perceived enemy.
Another part of the church works hard to seek justice, to love mercy, and to walk with God. It chooses to see Jesus in the poor, the oppressed, the sick, and the hurt. It seeks economic justice for all, fair and just labor practices, and compassion for all. It sees others who are different not as enemies but as someone who has something to enhance life in the community.
One part of the church says we must close our borders, discriminate against non-Christians, and obliterate enemies with powerful weapons. They want to take away rights from anyone who is non-white, non-heterosexual, and non-christian because they fear them. They want to eliminate discrimination protection in the workplace. They want to give big business a free reign to pollute, pay poverty wages and destroy the social safety-net that seeks to help people who need help to survive.
One portion of the church is working hard to resist that. They are writing letters to legislators in state and federal government, marching, protesting, and offering what they can to help those who need it. They are standing for others and speaking with and for those whose voices need to be heard.
Please don’t think that this is all cut and dried. Please don’t get the impression that the lines are clear and the two camps don’t agree on anything. These two vastly different understandings and practice of Christianity hold some things in common.
We hold in common that we are all sinners in all that we do. We sin in the worst of the things we do and we sin in the best of the things we do. We hold in common that we trust Jesus Christ as our savior. The truth is that we are all human beings, made in the image of God. Whether we like it or not; no matter how much we may disagree with each other, we are sisters and brothers in Christ even if we do not accept that as true. That is what makes it such a challenge to live in the manner our texts call us to.
In the text from Leviticus, God speaking through Moses, reveals that we are to be holy as God is holy. God gives concrete examples of what being holy looks like. In Matthew, Jesus tells us what holiness looks like when dealing with enemies. We are to be neighbors to them. We are to build neighborhoods with them rather than destroying them.
Fred Rodgers, the host of the Mr. Rodger’s Neighborhood children’s program on PBS, was a Presbyterian minister. He dedicated his life to help us learn to see others as neighbors. He demonstrated that neighbors were created through love, understanding and compassion. Leviticus gives us some ways to do that.
In verses 9-10 God says do not harvest the edges of your fields. Leave that for the poor and the alien so they will have food. Don’t take all of the grapes out of the vineyard for the same reason. This action is a call to trust that in God’s provision, there is more than enough to meet the needs of others by sharing what we have. This was put into action in a large scale way through several ministries I am aware of.
The first one is The Society of St. Andrew. They were formed in Virginia but they have expanded in many places. Their ministry is gleaning food. Gleaning is the concept that these verses lay out. Volunteers go to various growers and glean the produce that they cannot sell because they are misshapen, or they have fallen off of the tree, or some other reason. Over the years they have developed a network of farmers that plant specifically for them. The food goes to hungry people. I have seen them distribute tons of corn, green beans, potatoes, apples, and squash. One time 50,000 pounds of bananas were given out. All of the work of picking and distributing was done by volunteers.
There was another ministry, Gleaning for the World, that had a similar mission. Their mission was not food it was gleaning medical supplies, children and infant supplies, hygiene materials, or anything else that would be useful after natural disasters. They have very few paid people. They rely on volunteers to sort, classify and pack up what they receive and prepare it for shipping.
Those two ministries help create neighbors and neighborhoods as they bear witness by their work to God’s care and provision. They also bear witness to what God is like through the work of God’s people. They bring people together who may disagree on matters of faith, politics, or just about anything who are willing to work for whatever reason for the betterment of another human being.
God says that neighbors and neighborhoods are created when people are paid just and fair wages. One of the great challenges that we have in this country is what is a living wage. There are many people that we call the working poor. They are employed. Even if they are employed full time, the wages that they earn are not enough to provide enough food, clothes, adequate housing and reliable transportation. To be a neighbor requires fair and just wages that you can live on. That is what helps create a stable and flourishing neighborhood for all. God goes on to talk about dealing justly with all.
God says in verse 15 “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great. Judge your neighbor fairly. This one is a real challenge. One part of the church tends to romanticize the poor and think that they do no wrong. That part of the church sees everything is done to the poor. That is not always true.
Wealth or poverty does not stop us from doing wrong at times. The challenge comes in that the poor and the wealthy have different access to legal counsel. There is also the matter of assuming the poor are guilty while giving the wealthy the benefit of the doubt. Justice and building a neighborhood demands that rich or poor be treated with justice and equality before the law. Neither is to be favored. Each is to be judged on the merits of their case.
Then God gets to things like slandering, harming, or otherwise endangering a neighbor’s life. All these things destroy the neighborhood. They separate rather than unite. They create enemies. The create a desire to retaliate. These actions cause grudges to be held and carried. They block the love for neighbor that is needed to have good healthy neighborhoods.
God’s people have worked at this over time. Sometimes we do it well and other times we do it poorly. As the neighborhoods expand and there are more neighbors, human sinfulness causes breakdowns creating enemies. The neighborhood turns on itself and begins to break apart. Jesus has something to say about that.
In our text from Matthew Jesus is teaching us how to create neighbors out of enemies. Jesus knows human nature. Jesus knows that our natural inclination is when we are hurt by someone we want to strike back and hurt them. We have been wronged and we wish to get vengeance on the wrong doer, forgetting that vengeance does not belong to us, it belongs to God. What does Jesus tell us to do? Jesus said “you have heard it said love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Jesus goes on to say that it is no great feat to love those who love you. Anyone can do that. I am expecting that you will act like your Father in heaven and be holy. That is tough. It is challenging. History has proven Jesus to be right.
In 1918 at the end of World War I, the victorious Allied Powers wanted to punish Germany and her allies for the war. The Allied powers remade Germany changing their form of government, disarming them, and assessing a tremendous monetary payment to be made to the victors. Germany was humiliated. Their economy crashed. Poverty exploded. The situation kept building until the eventful election in 1933. In 1933 a veteran of that war, Adolph Hitler tapped into the fear and anger that was in Germany. He placed blame on those he believed caused their problems. He began his rise to power. With the backing of his people he lashed out at country after country. Finally on September 1, 1939 he invaded Poland, the British said enough was enough. World War II began and raged in Europe until May 8 1945. Death and destruction spread all over Europe.
At the same time in the Pacific the Japanese were reacting to the perceived injustices from the west. They began their expansion through China and through the Island nations. The attack at Pearl Harbor in 1941 was the event that started the war in the Pacific that lasted until September 1945.
At the end of World War II the allies and the United States had learned their lesson from the end of World War I. We embarked on the Marshall Plan that rebuilt all of Europe, not just the nations of our Allies. We did a similar thing for Japan. As a result of this, bitter enemies are now strong friends, allies and neighbors. This is not the only time this has happened.
In South Africa in the 1990’s when Apartheid was dismantled, the country was on the brink of Chaos. Nelson Mandela, a black man was elected president. The white South Africans lived in fear that they would be killed by those seeking vengeance for the injustice of all the years of the bitter racial hatred and separation.
Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu came up with a way to move forward. Mandela formed a government of black and white people making a public commitment for that government to be just to all. Bishop Tutu devised a forum for reconciliation called the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission gave people the opportunity to be heard. Having been heard by the ones who had oppressed them, healing could begin to take place. Today South Africa is a flourishing nation.
Since we have these two stunning historical examples of working to love enemies which in turn creates new neighbors, I have often wondered what might have happened if after 9-11 we would have paid attention to the challenges that those Muslims who have become radicalized, faced rather than choosing the way of vengeance. Things might be a whole lot different today if we had had the courage to take the risk.
Creating neighbors and neighborhoods is difficult work. It requires us to set aside our own interests. It requires us to be more attuned to and responsive to the needs of others. It requires us to see each other as God sees us.
God sees us as beloved children who have brothers and sisters beyond what we can imagine. It means we strive to see the common humanity that each of us share. It means we seek to understand the point of view and circumstances of the other rather than to cast judgement upon them. It means that we take a risk to love as God takes the risk to love us in spite of ourselves.
This is our calling. It is our calling to build neighborhoods in the world. Those neighborhoods are built by loving as God loves. We build these neighborhoods by letting God’s love flow through us. It is not easy. It is risky and painful. It will always be a work in progress. It is like swimming against the tide. This creating of neighbors and building neighborhoods is a mark of our faithfulness to God.
As I said in at the beginning of the sermon the church in the United States is at a pivotal moment in her life. Will she choose the way of creating neighborhoods and building neighborhoods or will she work to wall herself off from any who are different and who are perceived as outsiders at best or enemies at worst? Will the church be found faithful? Will we in our part of the church be found faithful?
Choosing Life or Choosing Death Deuteronomy 20 and Matthew 5 February 12, 2017
A few years ago, our niece lived and worked in Portland Oregon. Robbie and I were able to go visit her once. Portland is a beautiful city sitting at the western edge of the Willamette Valley on the Columbia River. Like many urban areas, Portland’s downtown is being revitalized. There were many business, shops, restaurants, and startup companies. Young adults flocked to this open, quirky city that encouraged new beginnings.
The city has an unofficial motto; “Keep Portland Weird”. Granted you can see many strange things there. The beauty of it is, reveling in differences, there is encouragement to be who you are, and there is a freedom that encourages one to try most anything.
The sense that Portland has of itself is that of a city that chooses life. Life being about welcome, coming and trying, enjoying a community by becoming part of one or creating a new one and being who you are. Do not get me wrong, Portland is no utopia. It has its problems with crime and all the other social problems that plague communities. The difference is that they are open and welcoming.
In our texts for today Moses declares that we must choose the ways that bring life or will we choose the ways that lead to death. Jesus clarifies what it means to choose life declaring how the community that chooses life lives together. Both Moses and Jesus remind us that those who choose life will look strange to the world because the world more often chooses the ways of death than the way of life.
In our text from Deuteronomy, Moses is at the end of an extended time of teaching as the people are about to cross the Jordon into the promised land. Moses is not going to lead them. His death is imminent. The whole of the book is about what it means to be the chosen of God to model God’s desired way of life to the world. He reminds them of the struggles they have had along the journey. He reminds them that they have not always obeyed and they have paid the price. He reminds them that they must never forget that God has never abandoned them even though God wanted to walk away at times.
Moses reminds them that they live in covenant with God. If they obey God will provide. If they violate the covenant there are consequences. You know all of this Moses reminds them. I have set before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversity. You must choose. Choose life Moses urges.
What does it mean to choose life as opposed to choosing death? Choosing life means to make every effort to live out what is embodied in the Shema. The Shema is the passage in Deuteronomy 6 that says “Hear O Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all of your might.
In a faithful Jewish home this is recited each day. It means that the faithful are committed to living out the ways of God. In practical terms, it means to build up the community by guarding against excessive wealth, limiting punishment for wrongdoing to respect human dignity, offering hospitality to runaway slaves and others outside the community. Paying employees and laborers fairly. It means leaving produce in the fields so those who are in need may gather it for their use. It means to offer our worship to God with the praise of our mouths and the praise of our right relationships in our community. Choosing the way of life means to live in the ways God desires and therefore encourages giving to the poor, fighting for justice, caring for the hurting, laughing and crying with each other. Choosing the way of death looks like this. The way of death is setting up an environment where the weak are dominated by the strong, the poor are told they are on their own, jobs are sent to those places where laborers are paid a non-living wage. The way of death results in no community. There is only a group of human beings that live in the same geographic area. They think that they are not connected to nor do they have any concerns for their neighbors.
The way of death is when the sick are told too bad. Unless you can pay for healthcare you will just have to suffer and die. It is where people in need are told too bad no one was there for me and so you are on your own too. They way of death says money and power are king. Them who has the gold make the rules is the prevailing morality standard. We can choose that way. It will never be blessed by God. It will only bring death and destruction.
It’s not just a matter of deciding correct economic policies, writing just and humane laws. It is not just about making sure that there is a safety net for the most vulnerable people. Those are a part of it. It is about the human heart. It is about what is behind the life we are called to. That is what Jesus is getting at in today’s text.
In this wonderful part of Jesus teaching that we call the sermon on the mount, Jesus fleshes out for us what it means to choose life and to live in God’s ways. In this case, Jesus is working to clarify and apply what Moses gave to the people as the ways of God.
Moses said in his last sermon to choose life was to choose to live the way God commanded us to live. The problem comes when we live only in outward conformity to the law. We can give the appearance that we are loving and concerned when the truth of the matter is we are only outwardly complying because of community or legal pressure. Our hearts have not been changed. We comply because we have to and not because we want to. Jesus deals with this in this section of the Sermon on the Mount using the frame work you have heard it said… but I say …
The basis for behavior in the convent community is found in the 10 commandments. The first three deal with our proper relationship with God. The fourth reminds us that we rest from our labors for a day as God is in control of all. The next six deal with ordering relationships in the community. The question about choosing life or choosing death has to with how do we comply with these.
Do we comply only with the letter of the law and what it prevents? Do we comply with the spirit of the law and work to embody what the law intends to create? Those commandments God has given us are intended to create a vibrant community in which all that we do is to help bring about the good for all which in turn creates the community that God intends for us.
For example, Jesus says you have heard it said you shall not murder and whoever murders is liable to judgement. No argument there. Jesus takes it to a much deeper level. Jesus says but I say to you “you will be liable to judgement if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable if you say you fool.
It is fairly easy to comply with the command you shall not murder. Most people can do that with no trouble. That outward compliance says nothing about what is going on inside a person that has adverse effects on them and the community.
The anger and the possible hate or the fear that are behind these matters are significant to health and well- being of the community. When the murder happens, it is too late. All one can do then is to punish the perpetrator and comfort the families. Jesus says to us that what is going on inside of us is matters to God and matters to the community. The only way we can be a life -giving community is when we are willing to take the risks to deal with the problems, that if let undealt with, fester over into anger or rage that lead to killing each other.
Jesus spoke about our personal relationships when he speaks of committing adultery. Jesus says; “you have heard it said You shall not commit adultery. I say to you whoever looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” That is a challenging one.
It speaks with the relationship between men and women. Under the terms of the commandments you could comply with the law by not cheating on your wife. That says nothing about how a man treats his wife.
In the day of Moses and in the day of Jesus, a women was looked at as less than fully human. They had rights that were on the same level as children. Their testimony in any legal matter was inadmissible. They were considered property to be bought and sold by the fathers of the respective families when marriages were arranged.
Jesus knows the toll an unhealthy marriage relationship takes on the family and then on the community. Jesus knows the corrosive power of single mothers left to raise children on their own. He knows the damage done to children when a parent breaks the relationship with the spouse. Jesus knows that the trust broken by parents can have lifelong consequences. That is just within the home. Adultery and any subsequent break up can tax the community resources. The community must step up to help out with the children. Jesus goes on to speak about divorce.
In the Jewish tradition, the male was in total control of the destiny of the female. In that day divorce meant the women was thrown out of the home. She had no resources of her own. She could be divorced for any reason serious or frivolous without recourse. Without living under the roof of a man had she had nothing. On top of that she was marked as forever undesirable. Her fate was sealed. She was a good as dead. Choosing life according to Jesus meant that there was only one reason for divorce, adultery. There would be no more of men divorcing women so they could have a younger better looking wife,or a better cook or housekeeper or someone who would bear them many children. That harmed the community. That harmed the women and damaged the stability of the home and community.
Jesus goes on to speak about how do we deal with the evil that will inevitably come up in any community. Jesus says “you have heard it said and eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, Do not resist the evil doer.” He talks about turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, and giving to everyone who begs from you. Jesus expands this into loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us. These are perhaps the hardest things that Jesus has said to us. When someone hurts us or the community it is our natural reaction to retaliate in the same manner. We want to cause pain to those who have caused us pain. We want to hurt those who have hurt us. We want to respond to a violent action with another one preferably stronger than the one that has affected us. In summing up this vicious cycle someone pointed out that if it is continued long enough, everyone will be blind and toothless. There must be a better way. According to Jesus there is. The better way according to Jesus is not to retaliate and replacing hatred with love.
Non-retaliation and responding to hate with non-violence goes a long way to changing around a community or a nation. On Sunday March 7 1965, we saw this with our own eyes when CBS news broadcast the horror at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma Alabama.
A large peaceful group of African -Americans were marching from Selma to Montgomery to secure voting rights that they have as Americans. When they got to the bridge they were blocked from crossing by the Alabama State Police and Sheriff Bull Connor.
They were stopped. They knelt down to pray and were attacked by police dogs and fire hoses. They were beaten with night sticks before the eyes of a nation. The unspeakable violence against these fellow human beings who were peaceful and respectful, outraged a nation and moved President Johnson into action.
Good was standing up against evil not returning evil for evil, not retaliating for the blows, the bites and the high- powered hoses. Good eventually triumphed on the day when the Voting Rights Acts were signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson.
Choosing life is not the easy way. It is not the practical way. It is often the hard way. It is a way that seems weird to those who are looking into the covenant community.
People who have chosen to live in the way of death think that the ones who choose the way of life and of community building to be fools at best, deluded at worst. They are people ripe for the picking by those who will choose to prey on their goodness and welcoming spirit. What matters to God is how we love and treat our neighbors. That matters more than our worship styles and our devotional practices. Will we choose the way of life and build the beloved blessed community or will we choose the way of death and live in isolation from others? Choose this day the way you will go. Choose every day the way of life.
Enter to Worship Depart to Serve Isaiah 58 and Matthew 5:13-20 February 5, 2017
September 1, 2001 marked a tremendous change in our country. The shock and fear after the destruction of the twin towers in New York, the attack on the Pentagon and the crash of the plane that was wrestled to the ground in Pennsylvania changed us. It is a frightening change that is not for the better. The fear raised in us made us want to withdraw from the world and go after those who perpetrated the act of terrorism. We also vowed we would do everything we could to protect the homeland. The feelings of fear and vulnerability moved us to take unwise and destructive actions. The results are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These two wars have broken us in ways we are only beginning to understand. We distrust any people who are non-white no matter whether they have just moved here or have lived here for a couple of generations. We fear other people whom we do not know. We have given up any sense of community we may have had.
In our state and national elections, we now elect people who believe passionately that it is every person for themselves. Elected officials make no bones about the survival of the fittest.
We buy into the narrative that everyone is out to get us, that the source of our problems are immigrants, poor people, people of color or those who think in different ways. We have decided we need to build walls and hunker down because we are about to be overwhelmed by a hostile world. We have given legitimacy to that narrative for next four years as a result of our election of 2016. In the midst of this, the Church of Jesus Christ is on both sides.
Part of the Church is on the side of fear, discrimination, and saying look out for yourself. Part of the church is on the side of welcome, non-discrimination, and building a beloved community of neighbors that look out and care for each other regardless of race nationality or religion. The result of these dramatically different outlooks and understandings of who we are and what we are called to do and be is having a disastrous result.
The Church of Jesus Christ is imploding. Part of the church believes that the world is going to end soon. Therefore, there is no need to worry about climate change, preserving the environment, feeding the hungry, caring for the hurt, the sick, the lonely, the poor, creating good jobs, improving housing, housing the homeless, or providing medical care. The end is coming soon and everything will be better for believers and the rest will continue to suffer in eternity. That kind of religious belief is what Karl Marx called “the Opiate of the People.” That is the kind of belief that tells the suffering faithful you will get your pie in the sky by and by.
Part of the church believes that only Christians should be in charge of governing and that Christianity should be the state religion. They want religious tests for everyone. They want to force Christianity upon everyone and judge harshly anyone who is not. Part of the Church sees things quite differently.
There is a part of the Church that takes very seriously the command to work for justice, freedom, and peace. This part of the church believes that the community is the most important part of the society rather than the individual. This part believes that there are more than enough resources to provide for the well-being of all. They believe that this is what God desires. God has made it clear in such places as Matthew 25:31-46, Micah 6:1-8, and Isaiah 58. The church is divided how to apply these and other texts.
The challenge before the Church is; are these individual mandates, that individuals carry out or are they mandates for what communities are to look like in the realm of God? One of the challenges is that the Bible does not recognize individualism. It only recognizes life lived in community. Our challenge is that we have brothers and sisters in the faith who support the understanding of the community over the individual and other brothers and sisters who resist that and seek only the good of the individual, usually themselves.
We have other challenges. We have sisters and brothers in Christ working to defend discrimination, racism, and institutional injustices. We have sisters and brothers in Christ working to uphold the communal nature of our life together, who are actively working to tear down the walls and barriers of discrimination, fear, and hostility, as they are seeking economic justice. This is not new.
Isaiah 58 declares to us that we have a problem. Our problem is coming to worship, thinking it is going to impress God, and then actively working against what God desires for us and the community the rest of the week. It is a lie that we tell ourselves and believe at our own peril. My desire says God is that your worship and spiritual practices bear witness to and work to bring about what I desire for my people. Your worship and spiritual practices should result in the growth of the community of peace and shalom that provides for all in acts of neighborly caring.
Isaiah is speaking to the people have returned home to Judah. God warns them that they are backsliding into the ways that got them into trouble in the first place. They are doing the things that the prophets warned them about. They are doing the type of thing that drove them into exile.
In this particular case, God says announce to the people that they are in rebellion. They seek after me, they want to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness; they say we fast and I do not see them, they humble themselves and I don’t pay attention. God points out to them, in reality they are only serving their own interests. They are not serving God’s interest. It’s not your well-ordered worship I am interested in; it’s not you going through the motions of spiritual practices I desire; What I desire is for you to act by feeding, clothing, and caring for the poor. At the same time developing a humane economic policy that benefits all and building the beloved community of well-being for all. If you work at this, this is what the results will be God declares. God tells us our light will break forth like the dawn.
Let me share with you a couple of places that I have seen the light start to break through in these last couple of weeks. Those in power have acted out of fear and ordered a travel ban on people of a particular heritage and religion. As a result, people of faith, goodwill, and compassion have stepped in to protest, to declare that they are not afraid, and that they desire a country that welcomes all ethnicities and religions. Lawyers have volunteered to assist those who were caught in the mess trying get back to their home in our country after they went to visit their country of origin or some other place. In those actions, I see a demonstration of what it means when Jesus says we are to be salt and light. In the portion of the Sermon on the Mount we read this morning, Jesus declares that we, his disciples, are to be salt and light. The salt part may seem a bit strange to us. The light part we can understand.
As followers Jesus, our calling to be salt in this world is a call to enhance the world which is what salt does when we use it to season something. Things that enhance the world are things are programs like Habitat for Humanity, Relay for Life, Wheels for Hope, Step-Up, Alliance Medical Mission, food pantries and such. It is working with our neighborhood schools to support the teachers and students. It is people who act as mentors to the young to encourage them to dream big and get an education. It is working with mission partners at home and abroad to bring about such things as fresh clean water, improving agriculture and developing medical care.
Our calling to be salt means we are to act as a preservative of the ways of God and community. One of the challenges we face in Raleigh and other growing metropolitan areas is keeping affordable housing. It means that the disciples of Jesus have a calling to work to rebuild, repair, and build decent affordable places for people to live. These decent affordable homes in good repair form the basis of all good healthy communities. It is our calling to help make that happen.
We work to preserve our communities by encouraging people to get to know each other. When we know each other, it is much harder to distrust or fear our neighbors. When we know each other, we tend to be more helpful to each other and more caring toward each other. Our calling to be salt implies we are to be an irritant to the powers that be when they seek to act with injustice toward anyone. When I hear the words of David Duke of the Klan and white people saying now we can begin to get our country back, I want to cry. When I hear shouting about building a wall to fence people out, I am very sad. When I hear people speak with hostility to Muslims, and increasingly also about Jews, it turns my stomach. We have people who risked their lives or gave their lives for people to come here and live in peace and with freedom. I can either wallow in my pity and hide or I can summon up the courage and faith to speak out. Answering the call to be salt means that we, disciples of Christ, must irritate, must challenge, must make ourselves heard by those in power. That is not easy nor is it popular.
Jesus did not call us to a life of ease or popularity. Jesus did not call us to be rulers of the world. Jesus did not call us to side with the powers that seek to divide people, make the rich richer nor to increase the power of the powerful. Jesus calls us to be salt and light, to build communities that show love and justice.
When the church manages to act in the way of salt and light, when it works to serve, and build up its community, God says through Isaiah; “you will be called restorer of the streets and repairers of the breach, you will bring glory to the Lord. That is a wonderful picture and something to aspire to. The real question is, are we willing and able to do it?
Throughout its history, the Church has been divided on this. Part of the church has always wanted to side with the wealthy and the powerful. They have always wanted to be in the halls of governmental power. They have always wanted to have influence and have sometimes sold their souls to make it happen. There have been other parts of the church that have clearly seen the wrong in that and have fought against it as hard as they could.
In that horrible part of our history leading up to the Civil War, the church was bitterly divided over slavery. One part of the church believed in it and believed it was God ordained. One part believed that abolition and the destruction of the institution was what God ordained. Our nation and her churches were torn apart. Some of those wounds remain open to this day.
After the Civil War, when our history is tarnished by the period of the Jim Crow laws of separate but equal, the church again was divided. Part of the church supported that system, believing it was God ordained and part of the church did not and acted as an irritant to get that system destroyed and replaced with a system of justice and equality. To this day part of the church sees discrimination based on color, gender, nationality, sexuality, or religion is what God desires and what the bible teaches. Part of the church believes that Jesus calls us to be salt and light, breaking down those walls and building a community of love, joy, peace, kindness, patience, goodness and self-control.
The question for you and I and for us as a congregation is what camp will we be in? Will we cast our lot with the part of the church that gathers for worship, reads their bibles, says their prayers while either ignoring or being hostile to people who are hurting and need good news and help? Will we cast our lot with the part of the church that gathers for worship, reads their bibles, says their prayers and then engages the community and its people. Will we be the ones who say something should be done about such and such and then do it? Will we be someone who tells says my thoughts and prayers are with you, but then does nothing. Will we be salt and light or will we be flavorless and useless bringing only dark clouds that drive out the light of Jesus in this world? The choice is mine, yours and ours.