Pastor Steve Mechem
Philippians 3:4-7 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh. If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.
Saul was kinda a big shot
He was thoroughly Jewish,
from the tribe of Benjamin- as was his namesake King Saul,
from the time he was circumcised when he was eight days old up through adulthood he was a conscientious follower of the Torah.
He was a leader in the Pharisaic political party.
In addition, he was a Roman citizen, which most people in Palestine could not claim, and that citizenship gave him a host of privileges his fellow Jews did not have.
He was a well educated scholar having studied under the prestigious Rabbi Gameliel.
He was honored with the designation, “Rabbi.”
And He was trusted to be the head of the task force to eradicate Christianity. He had arrest powers and prosecutorial oversight. His goal was to wipe out the heretical movement of Jesus.
If Saul had an office, the walls would be littered with plaques and proclamations attesting to his acclaim.
But then, one day, on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus, Saul met the risen Jesus and became a follower. He changed his name to Paul, he changed his affiliation to Jesus and he changed his career path from powerful persecutor to itinerant preacher.
As he is writing to his friends in Philippi, he is thinking back on all that he was before Jesus, all the things that made him special, and he says he counts all of it as “rubbish.”
Well, some translations read “rubbish,” others say “garbage” and the Common English Bible cleverly reads “sewer trash.” He counts all his previous bragging points as rubbish compared to the value of knowing Christ and his love.
The greek word that modern english translations translate as rubbish or garbage or sewer trash is Skubala (σκύβαλα).
Literally, the word σκύβαλα means “poo.” It is the greek word for excrement.
So when Paul says he counts all of that past stuff as σκύβαλα, he is saying that it means nothing, it is most disposable, it is of no value.
For Paul, all those things which used to matter, the things that would make a sweet resume, have come to mean less than nothing in comparison to what he discovered on the road to Damascus.
What is important to you?
I mean, beside family, what is important to you?
I lead a bible study at StoneCrest Senior Living center. This past week we were looking at the passage in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says, “Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven… Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
In this passage, Jesus seems to indicate that stuff, possessions, accolades, trophies, success are of much less importance than the heavenly treasure that comes as “we seek first the kingdom.”
I am convinced that 3, and only 3, things go with us beyond this life:
our relationship with God,
our positive relationships with others,
and the service we do for others.
Sure, You can try to take other stuff with you, and people have,
I have seen full cans of beer and cartons of cigarettes in caskets,
I have seen books in caskets,
I have seen medals and awards in caskets.
I have read about people being buried in their cars, or with their motorcycles.
I have read about caskets lined with money or valuables,
Even the great wizard Dumbledore was buried with the Elder wand in his hand.
Its all good if its done as commemoration, but if anyone thinks they can take that stuff with them, they are sadly mistaken.
It will rot, spoil, disenigrate, go unused, or if Voldemort finds out, be stolen.
All the stuff says Jesus, says Paul, is incidental and inconsequential compared to what matters.
Don’t get me wrong.
There nothing wrong with having a car, house, and things.
Yesterday I was part of a house blessing ceremony as one of our wonderful young families moved into their new home. It was a special time. About 30 of us worshiped together and thanked God for God’s provision and blessings! It was a great time.
And it is quite okay to be successful, to receive accolades, to be popular.
In the Narthex, in our display case, is a trophy Mary Ambler was awarded in 1921 for constant attendance in Sunday School. I don't think she attended just to get the trophy, but I am sure she appreciated the recognition.
Nothing wrong with it at all.
But, there is something wrong when stuff or recognition is what life means to you. When you become obsessed with stuff and personal achievement, and quit caring about people’s needs, its a problem. To follow Jesus, to know Jesus, is to be committed to making a difference with your life.
Compared to knowing Christ, writes Paul, all the other stuff is poo.
Paul describes his relationship with Jesus as “knowing Christ.”
Now, I think it is fair to say that knowing God is an impossible thing. God, creator, transcendent, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, mysterious, unapproachable.
Truth be told, it is impossible to know much about God, let alone, know God.
And if I will be honest, if we can take that, reading the Bible isn’t always helpful in knowing God. The Bible presents God in many lights and those lights are often in contradiction with each other. So God is presented as
blood thirsty, gracious.
So, with the mystery of God, and with these varying pictures of God, how can we really know God?
The word Paul uses that we translate “know” is “γνωσις.” “Gnosis” means a lot of things and gets used a lot of ways, but the basic meaning of the word is “understanding.”
To know God is to understand God.
But how can one understand God?
Well, if you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the expression of God in the world, then you believe that to understand what God is like you simply look to Jesus.
To know Christ is to understand Jesus.
To understand Jesus it is important to listen to Jesus and to watch Jesus.
Of course there are no video tapes from the first century, so we get our knowledge of Jesus primarily through the gospels.
In the gospels, we hear Jesus speak-
words of love and grace and acceptance and forgiveness
and we get to watch Jesus work,
healing the leper,
calming people’s fear,
accepting the sinner,
speaking truth to the powers that be,
advocating for the poor and the underdog,
sacrificing body and life.
At the heart of Jesus’ teaching is love.
A love from God- gracious, unconditional, affirming, encouraging
A love for God- heart, soul, mind and strength love
A love for people
that love for people is lived out through …
compassion- There is an old saying, “Be kind, because everyone you encounter is fighting a hard battle.” If we would simply realize that … and give each other a break because of it, it would be a different world!
One Saturday when my kids were younger, I gave them money to get breakfast at Hammond’s restaurant in downtown Madison, Indiana.
Later in the day, my older son, Luke, pulled me aside, and said, “Dad, you need to talk to Caleb about tipping. He gave the waitress way too much money at breakfast.” He then told me the amount and it was indeed hefty.
So I asked him about it and he said to me, “She just looked like she was having a horrible day so I thought that a big tip might make her feel better.”
Hmmm! Compassion! Giving! Hard to criticize that.
Our love for people is lived out through our words.
There is a saying I learned as a kid,
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
Biggo lie. Words hurt.. Words can cause much more damage than physical wounds that heal with time. Words settle deep and sometimes affect us for a lifetime.
So, if we are serious about following Jesus, it becomes important that we choose to use words,
that affirm and don't ridicule,
that build up and don’t tear down,
that create peace rather than division,
that resound with grace rather than accusation and harshness.
If you think your words, even said in jest, might offend or injure or hurt— don’t say them.
Seriously. This is hard work, but we can do it! Lift up- don’t tear down.
Our love for people is lived out through our actions.
Jesus, Buddha, Mohammad, the Torah, Hindu writings, Confucious, Zorastorism, all have variants of the same command,
“Do to others as you would have others do to to you.”
“Do”- act out, treat others the way you want to be treated.
It’s what matters!
Pastor Steve Mechem
Philippians 2:1-5 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.
Pastor Steve Mechem
Philippians 1:21-27 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again. Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel.
Does anybody know how old the Apostle Paul was when he died?
Me either. Nobody does, but interestingly, some scholars who make educated guesses think that Paul was probably in his late 50s when his end came. Some assume he was older, but others place him right around my age.
I always assumed he was old, but if he was may age, you know what I am saying, not so old. But then again … after the things Paul had been through, perhaps his body and spirit felt older.
Paul was a craftsmen, tentmaker, by trade. An hard occupation that wore out the body.
And after his conversion, Paul, adopted a lifestyle as a Christian that was filled with experiences that might age one beyond his years.
How many times was Paul in prison? Hard to say, but numerous, and prison cells in first century Roman empire didn’t include Serta iComfort Blue Max Touch 3000 series mattresses. Prison cells included shackles and stone floors and beatings.
Paul, along the way, had been beaten with hand and with rods, caned on three different occasions, hit with a nine strapped whip embedded with glass and rock that was intentionally designed to tear skin 195 times, and stoned and left for dead.
Paul had been in three shipwrecks, at least one of which left him floating in the Mediterranean Sea until rescue.
He was arrested, roughed up, and run out of numerous towns. Death squads were dispatched to assassinate him.
Paul was continually plagued by a physical illness that he described as a thorn in his flesh, from Satan himself. Something that was hard to live with and something God would not remove.
Posionous snake bites, earthquakes, and rotten fruit and accusations thrown at him were the way his life worked out.
An itinerate preacher, he had no home and spent most nights sleeping on the ground and most days walking.
And we won’t even get into the psychological wear and tear on him as he established churches, debated cynics, corrected detractors, battled the Judaizers, all the while being on guard for those who might physically hurt him or kill him.
So, suffice it to say, Paul’s 59 year old body may have felt much worse for wear and his 59 year old spirit was continually weary of the personal and community burdens he carried.
I mention this because the passage read by Fred and Cary this morning leads me to think that Paul was thinking about his mortality as he was writing a love letter to his friends in Philippi.
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. What shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”
Paul is in Prison, perhaps under house arrest, as he writing to his friends.
I think, and it is just conjecture on my part, as Paul is dictating the letter he was reminiscing about the past and thinking about the future.
It seemed like just yesterday that He had come to the riverbank in Phillipi where Lydia and a few women were worshipping the God of Israel. Paul preached and they responded.
Paul’s preaching and healing ministry so inflamed some merchants of Philippi that they had him (and his traveling companion Silas) arrested, stripped naked, beaten and thrown into an underground prison complete with shackled feet.
During the night in prison, as Paul and Silas prayed and sang, a violent earthquake brought freedom, and fear, to all the prisoners in the earthen Jail.
In response to all these events Paul confronted the Jailer and the authorities in the name of Jesus.
All these memories flooded Paul’s mind as he wrote. The memories also reminded Paul from where the stiffness in his back and the pain in his legs and the numbness in his feet and the perpetual limp and the soreness in his shoulders and stiffness in his neck and the crookedness in his fingers and the scars on his back came. An adult lifetime of mistreatment by authorities, religious people, and the elements had taken their toll. A life spent sacrificing his body for the cause had left him weary and constantly in pain.
And as he thought about where he had been and where he was now, he couldn't help but think of where he might be when this life was over.
Paul believed that if he were done here, he would be in the presence of God there, and that a broken body would be healed and whole in that new reality. No more pain, no more suffering, complete wholeness. All in the presence of his beloved Jesus.
And when Paul thought about that, he naturally had a desire to go home, to be done, to experience the presence of Jesus. But yet, he knew he had a role to play in the inbreaking Kingdom of God. Back and forth he went with himself and that personal conversation found its way into his writing. I think Paul’s words in Philippians 1 are the result of the philosophical debate he had with himself.
It almost appears as if Paul gets to decide if he lives or dies. I think it is simply the philosophical ruminations playing out.
Paul admitted that being done with the struggles of this life meant a new reality in the presence of God. But, he decided that living for others is better than the glory of the hereafter.
Being alive meant a difference can be made.
Being alive meant that lives could be touch, heart could be mended, men and women and boys and girls could experience God’s love through him.
Unfortunately, some Christians have become so obsessed with the life to come, so focused on heaven, that they lose focus on the here and now. They forget that their assignment is to make a difference in the lives of others.
Example, as a teenager and a new Christian in the 1970’s, I was in the car of one of my Christian friends and mentors. As we were driving along the street in Frankfort, Indiana, he rolled down the window and threw out an empty soda can.
“What are doing doing?” I fussed at him. “Don’t litter.”
His response as I remember it was, “Why do I care. Jesus is returning soon and I’m going to heaven. I don’t care about litter here.”
Seems ridiculous. But some Christians, citing Christ’s return as rationale, reject the need to care for our environment, or work to alleviate poverty, or to stand for justice. They say this temporal world doesn’t matter. Some Christians ignore social issues and human rights issues and human compassion issues in the name of waiting for heaven to solve those problems.
They are, as is said, “so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.”
They have somehow missed the line from Jesus’ prayer, “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Paul teaches that while the other side is wonderful and beautiful and amazing and the ultimate goal, we are in a position to make a difference here and we best be doing it.
So, let’s let heaven take care of itself as we strive to introduce the reality of heaven on earth.
By following Jesus’ example
By choosing unconditional love
By practicing radical kindness
By expressing ourselves graciously
By caring about other people’s P.q
By rejecting old platitudes and striving to understand
By being who we are called to be.
By standing in the Grace of God and following the voice we hear.
You see, whether we kneel, or stand tall, or stoop low, or march in silence, or chant, or sing, or dance, is not as important as the voice we strive to be for justice, for peace, for brotherhood and sisterhood, for God’s kingdom.
The life we live is lived to the glory of God and the betterment of others.
So, we keep moving, loving, caring, giving,
looking forward to what is to come on the other side,
but focused on who we are in Christ together as we touch others with God’s amazing grace.
Pastor Steve Mechem
Romans 12: 17-21 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
There is an old Croatian proverb, “Better a bad harvest than a bad neighbor.”
Once there was a man named Gus.
Gus lived in a small house on a quiet street in a small town in Iowa.
Gus shared a driveway with his neighbors to the west- parents, 2 soccer loving daughters, and a beagle named Lester.
Gus’s neighbor to the east was a single mom and her three teenage boys, a german shepherd named King and a cat named Gizmo. The boys formed a punk band called Total Eclipse.
Gus kept his lawn mowed but didn’t have any flowers or bushes in his front yard; he thought landscaping was a waste of time. There was a large Oak tree in the middle of the front yard.
Gus’s back yard was surrounded by a 6 foot wooden privacy fence.
Gus lived alone.
Gus had no wife or significant other.
Gus’s children were grown and lived out of town. Sadly, they never came home to visit.
Gus was a grump and a fussbudget and was kinda mean. People who tried to befriend Gus usually quit after a time because it just wasn’t worth it.
Gus’s neighbors had little to do with Gus. He was always complaining and grousing.
He would sit on his front porch surveiling his neighbors and often shouting at them for one thing or another.
Occasionally, the girls’ next door would kick a soccer ball into Gus’s yard. He would yell at them as they ran into his yard to retrieve the ball. Truth is, the errant soccer ball so enraged Gus that he built the privacy fence to keep it (and them) out.
The fence, however, became the homerun wall for the boys next door. Unfortunately, Gus confiscated the balls that flew into his yard. He had a trash can full of them. “My yard, my ball,” he would say.
The boys’ band, Total Eclipse, practiced in the back of a bike shop until it was closed due to a fire. So, in the short term, they practiced in their garage.
Gus heard the band practicing, stormed across his front and pounded on the garage door. Gus yelled at the band members for making such a racket and warned them to stop.
So Gus called the police. A somewhat embarrassed officer came by to tell the boys to keep it quiet because of a neighbor’s complaint.
The officer had stopped by Gus’s neighbors on several occasions-
-because King was barking too loud,
-because Lester pooped in Gus’s yard,
-because the boys next door parked their cars the street,
-because the neighbors who shared the drive way had a neighborhood party that lasted too late into the night.
Truly, the neighbors had tried to make nice, but soon gave up as Gus continued his rampage of grumpiness.
There were moments when the neighbors actually acted a little like Gus in response to Gus.
The Mom next door was aware that Gus’s privacy fence had accidentally been built two feet onto her property. She didn’t care much about it until Gus called the police on Total Eclipse.
After the police visit, she had her lawyer write Gus a letter demanding Gus rebuild his fence so that was not her property. Gus was furious.
Gus constantly complained about the neighbors with whom he shared a driveway- the way they parked,
the number of cars they had,
the way they shoveled snow.
For a short period of time, Gus owned a pick up truck. He parked it on the front edge of the drive way and would have to swing around it to get to the garage. This meant veering onto the neighbors’ half of driveway.
One day, as Gus came home he pulled into the driveway only to discover that he couldn’t pull into the driveway. The neighbors had constructed a barricade to prohibit Gus’s car from getting around the pickup truck.
Gus marched up to the neighbor’s house, and pounded on the door. “What the blankety blank!,” he yelled as the door opened.
“Sorry Gus, just following the rules you set.”
Gus, for the first time since he lived in that house, had to park his car on the street that night. It got egged.
The family who shared the driveway moved.
And a young family moved into the house. There were two moms, Kathy and Lisa, a six year old daughter, Candace, and four year old son, Justin.
On the day they moved in, they looked up to see a man walking toward them. They were excited that a new neighbor was already there to greet them.
Gus stared at the women, assessing the situation. He rolled his eyes.
“Umph,” he said, “I’m Gus.” He didn’t wait for his new neighbors to introduce themselves.
“Here’s the thing.
I’ve lived here 20 years and there are some things you need to know. This is a shared driveway and you are not allowed on my side.
You are responsible to shovel your side.
I don’t allow kids in my yard and I don’t want your dogs pooping on my grass. I go to bed early and I will not tolerate loud noises.
I can’t abide by people who don't take care of their yard.
Don’t let your kids leave their junk, their bikes or skateboards on my side of the driveway or I will drive right over them.”
Ok. Do you understand?”
The two moms, standing with their arms around their children, looked at each other, smiled a bit and then Lisa said, “we don’t have a dog.”
Gus sternly umphed. He turned around and walked home.
The moms took their kids trick or treating introducing themselves to their new neighbors.
They were greeted with sympathetic looks and remarks like, “Oh, Gus is your neighbor,” and “Good luck living next to him.”
As they were returning home, they passed by Gus’s darkened house. Someone had covered the Oak tree and front of the house with toilet paper.
Kathy and Lisa, with Candace and Justin, stepped onto forbidden ground and cleaned up the mess made by neighborhood kids.
While they picked Toilet Paper off the branches of the tree, they couldn’t see Gus looking at them from behind the curtains in his home.
They never told Gus they had cleaned up his yard and Gus never told them that he had watched them do it.
One day in December, Gus heard a knock on his door. He answered it, ready to yell at Mormon Missionaries or kids selling stuff for school. Instead, he encountered his new neighbors, standing there, a paper plate covered with foil paper in Candace’s hands. She handed him the plate. “Merry Christmas. Its cookies we made.”
Gus umphed and reached for the plate. Candace looked at him and asked, “what’s your name again?”
“Ok. I like the name Gussy.” Candace beamed.
Gus umphed again.
In January, a six inch snow visited the neighborhood. Gus hated snow and hated shoveling.
He was shocked to see that his driveway was completely shoveled, and Kathy and Lisa and Candace, were finishing up their side of the driveway. Kathy looked up, saw Gus through the window, waved and smiled.
Gus umphed, and stepped away from the window.
In March, a massive spring storm saturated the Iowa town. The creek flooded and water was marching toward Gus’s house (he had had problems with creek water in his basement in the past).
Panicked, he started digging a trench in his back yard. He was muttering and sputtering and digging, when he looked up to see Lisa and Kathy, digging next to him.
Gus was Gus, mostly. He grumped. He groused. He looked disapprovingly at the kids as they ran around their yard and got too close to his.
And oh my, did he look disapprovingly when low and behold, Kathy brought home a puppy. “Don't let that expletive dog poop in my yard,” he groused. But as he turned away from the puppy, a slight smile came across his face.
Whenever Kathy or Lisa or one of the kids saw Gus, they would wave and holler, “hello.” Candace would always add “Gussy” to her “hello.”
In June, Gus landed in the hospital for ten days. Emergency surgery.
Gus was not annoyed when a homemade card arrived from Candace and Justin.
Gus was slightly annoyed when the whole family visited him in the hospital.
Gus was wonderfully annoyed when, as the family was leaving, Candace came over to Gus, patted his hand, and said, “Get better Gussy. We miss you.”
“Umph,” Gus said.
He rubbed his hand, where Candace had patted it, after they were gone.
When Gus came home, he was surprised to see that his lawn had been mowed. While nobody said anything, he knew Kathy and Lisa were responsible.
Kathy, Lisa, Candace and Justin were constantly dropping by, bringing food, getting the mail, picking up prescriptions, saying “hi.” Gus was surprised by how much he didn’t hate it.
In the early fall, a mended Gus heard a knock on the door. It was Justin. He asked Gus if he had any duck tape.
Gus answered, “No, I don't have any Duck tape, but I do have some Duct tape. What do you need it for?”
The plastic tire on Justin’s electric car had split.
Gus and Justin and Gus’s bright red Duct tape took care of the plastic car.
On Thanksgiving day, Gus noticed several cars in his shared driveway. He was surprised that he didn’t mind they were partly on his side.
A few minutes before noon, Gus heard a knock on the door. Upon opening it, he discovered Candace and Justin standing in front of him all dressed up.
“Gussy, will you eat with us today?”
“Umph,” said Gus.
“We will eat at 1:00,” squeaked Justin with a giggle. And off they ran back to their house.
Gus ate with Kathy, Lisa, their parents and siblings. He was surprised that there was a chair prepared for him in between Candace and Justin. The kids insisted on it, said Lisa.
While Gus ate, the new puppy slept at his feet. Gus didn’t mind, and even dropped some turkey onto the floor for him.
Gus wasn’t great at friendly, benign conversation. But it was the best day.
As Gus left, Candace asked him if he would come to church for their Christmas play.
Gus umphed. And wrote down the date on a piece of paper.
Candace played an angel. Justin was a sheep. Lisa and Kathy sat in a pew and proudly watched their children perform. Sitting beside them, with a smile that almost broke his face, sat Gus.
After cookies and punch, and a lot of strange stares from people who only knew Gus as a grump and a fussbudget and kinda mean, Gus walked out of the church with Kathy on one side, Lisa on the other and two little kids pressed up against him holding his hands.
“Thanks for coming Gussy.”
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Pastor Steve Mechem
Romans 12: 9-17 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is
good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one
another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in
spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering,
persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints;
extend hospitality to strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse
them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who
weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty,
but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than
you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought
for what is noble in the sight of all.
Pastor Steve Mechem
Micah 6:6-8 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
With what shall I come before the LORD,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
From an objective point of view, the world’s a mess. Sure, its been messier, but that doesn’t change the assertion that things are a mess.
Natural disasters helped along by human ignorance.
Let us be in prayer for people affected by the hurricanes in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas, the Gulf Coast.
And Let’s be in prayer for people affected by fires in California, Oregon, Washington, Montana- The whole west.
And lets be in prayer for people whose lives are affected by massive flooding in Nigeria, Nepal, and Bangladesh.
And let’s be in Prayer for the continuing refugee crisis in Syria that and the human rights crisis in Burma.
Such a mess-
Wars and Rumors of War
Violence against women and children
Forced migration of people
Government Corruption and incompetence
Religious led violence
Politics of Fear and Despair
Most religions say that the primary problem in the world is evil.
Evil that may be personified and which finds itself possessing evil people
Evil that visits all of us from time to time in our worst moments.
Evil that feeds on greed and fear and narcissism.
Evil that causes the strong, the wealthy, the powerful to use and abuse the weak, the poor, the powerless, the other.
Evil that turns human beings against one another, against creation, against the divine.
Some of us agree with the major religions that evil is present and real and at the source of many problems in our world. But we would also argue that religion itself is a significant part of the problem.
Blaise Pascal in his philosophical treatise, The Penses wrote, “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”
Religious people of almost every religious persuasion have done monstrous things to fellow human beings in the name of their God.
Christianity, founded by the Prince of Peace who taught his followers to turn the other cheek, is guilty of persecutions, of tortures, of inquisitions, crusades, and greed and selfishness.
Christianity, along with other religions, has been a source of divisiveness and intolerance in our world, dividing people into camps of us and them.
Sadly, often religion has taught us to hate rather than love.
Now I must say, in its defense, religion has done tremendous good in our world. It is fair to say that the mess would be far worse without religions’ effort to confront injustices and inequities and bring comfort to the comfort less.
But sadly, the voices of hate and divisiveness within the religious experience tend to be heard over the voices of love and grace.
So, if religion is a part of the problem,
and we are religious people,
Then, it behooves us to be a part of the solution.
So, how do we fix this mess?
Not with more religion, that’s for sure.
Not with more dogma and religious values that separate people into groups
Not with more “us versus them” theology
To fix this mess, people of faith, must reject religion that encourages hate, that excludes, and must turn to the voice that speaks love and truth.
Jesus talking to his disciples (and all of us) asked,
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
There is so much in these sentences to unpack, for this moment I am interested in the “walk with me” and “work with me” sentence.
The walking with and working part of Jesus words refer to following him.
And he makes clear what it means to follow him. His commands that we love one another and care for each other. His life right up to the point when they executed him, was lived loving for and caring for others.
Jesus said, (as do writings from every major and most minor religions) that we should treat people the way we want to be treated.
So simple. And world changing, if it happened. Imagine a world where people, strangers and friends, families and neighbors, governments, treated others the way they wanted to be treated. It would be amazing. Kum Ba Yah.
To treat others the way we want to be treated means to treat people with respect and kindness and good will.
The prophet Micah basically instructs us on how to live out the command of Jesus long before before Jesus ever said it (but about the same time Buddha said it).
“God has told you, O mortal one, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to act justly, and to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God?”
Micah writes to people who are wondering how to best honor God. The approach, for centuries, had been blood sacrifices. But Micah asks the question, does God want burned up cows or a thousand sheep killed to honor God?” The prophet answers the question with an surprising “No.”
What God wants is fairness, kindness and humility. God requires that we treat each other with respect as part of our spiritual walk with God.
We practice fairness, advocate for fairness, work for fair the treatment of our fellow human beings.
We practice kindness, we give others a break, we respond in a way that lifts people up, we are generous with encouragement.
We walk humbly, recognizing that it is God who works in us and through us.
The apostle Paul fleshes out Jesus’ command and Micah words in this beautiful bit of advice found in Romans 12.
“Love should be shown without pretending.
Reject evil, and hold on to what is good.
Love each other like the members of your family.
Be the best at showing honor to each other.
Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord!
Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer.
Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home.
Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them.
Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying.
Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status.
Don’t think that you’re so smart.
Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good.
If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people.
Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good.”
That’s how we fix this mess. Each of us, trusting God, living lives that make a difference for others.
One day at a time.
One interaction at a time.
One person at a time
choosing to stand with the strugglers,
to welcome the strangers,
to encourage the discouraged,
to help whenever we can.
to love, because God is love and because Jesus modeled love.
Mahatma Ghandi summed it up this way,
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time, they seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it— always.”
Love will always win. Eventually, and that is how this gets fixed!
The Outlook for August-September is now available here.