Daily Office, Holy Spirit, Musings, Prayer, Relationships

“Let me dwell with you in this place” – Daily Office Reflection

Third Week of Lent
(Psalm 80; Jeremiah 7:1-15; Romans 4:1-12; John 7:14-16)

Jeremiah 7:1-15

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah, you that enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’

For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors for ever and ever.

Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are safe!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight? You know, I too am watching, says the Lord. Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel. And now, because you have done all these things, says the Lord, and when I spoke to you persistently, you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your ancestors, just what I did to Shiloh.And I will cast you out of my sight, just as I cast out all your kinsfolk, all the offspring of Ephraim.

“God is here.” This is a phrase we often use in holy moments or in worship gatherings. It is a way of calling attention to God’s presence amongst God’s people; Jesus being true to his promise of being in the midst of his people. While leading in corprpate worship this last weekend, I recounted a conversation I had with another pastor in the area (who also happens to be a scholar on the Holy Spirit and Worship) about why we need to pray prayers which invite God to be with us. “Isn’t God already here? Why do we have to ask God to be somewhere where God is already present.” He responded by saying, “We don’t have to…but, as God’s children, we get to.”

In light of this passage this morning, it causes me to reflect: is God really present in those places where we simply assume God’s presence? Might it be  that God could be absent?

This is the accusation and correction brought by Jeremiah to God’s people. You oppress the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow. You have pledged allegiance to things or ideas or beings that are not God. You continue to break the commandments with license, trusting that the Temple is more of a place for you to come and be comforted in these sins than it is to truly offer worship to God.

Could it be that God is withholding God’s presence from our times of gathered worship, and is instead inviting us to “amend our ways” and act in justice toward one another. Next time you are tempted to say that a worship service didn’t move you or connect with you, perhaps consider your relationships, your desires, and your neighbors. Assuredly, this will create space and need for God to dwell in your midst.

Is God present? Have you invited God to be present? We get to, and God is respectful, often not coming to parties to which he is not invited and which are not about his ways.

 

 

 

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Musings

“We are prophets of a future (and a past) not our own…” Daily Office Reflection

March 7th, 2017: Week 1 of Lent

(Psalm 45; Deuteronomy 9:4-12; Hebrews 3:1-11; John 2:13-22)

In reading both the OT and NT readings today, I was struck by the idea of legacy. The Hebrew people were about to step into the land, and were tempted to think it was because of their own work or righteousness rather than God’s grace. The writer of Hebrews wants to convey the importance of Moses and Jesus in the story of God, the former being in the house (or the house) and the latter building the house.

The words of this prayer came to mind immediately. It is a prayer that is attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero, though he likely never said it. It was read at a commemoration service by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw. Romero was shot and killed during the civil war in El Salvador while presiding over the mass in a hospital. He was a huge advocate for the poor and pushed for an end to violence in his country. Here is his prayer:

Archbishop Oscar Romero Prayer: A Step Along The Way

 It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

We are prophets of a future not our own… And I would add, we are beneficiaries of a past not our own. We can walk into the land because God is the one who is preparing a way for us, even in spite of ourselves.
There is a sense of liberation which can come when we resign ourselves to the fact that our holy obligation is faithfulness in living where we are, when we are.
Were you to come to terms with your limitations today, what would it free you to “do, and do very well?”
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Daily Office, Musings

“It was because the LORD loved you…”-Daily Office Reflection

March 2nd, 2017

Lent (Psalm 37:1-18; Deuteronomy 7:6-22; Titus 1; John 1:29-34)

Deuteronomy 7:6-11

6For you are a people holy to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession. 7It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the LORD set his heart on you and chose you-for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8It was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, 10and who repays in their own person those who reject him. He does not delay but repays in their own person those who reject him. 11Therefore, observe diligently the commandment-the statutes, and the ordinances-that I am commanding you today.

Here, as Moses is giving a very long sermon and retelling the law to the people of God (nom0s=law, deutero=second), he is preparing them to enter the new land. This was a new generation of people who would be seeing the fulfillment of God’s promise to deliver the Hebrew people.

And he reminds them of their roots. They were not chosen by God because they were powerful or numerous or gifted. They were chosen out of pure love and faithfulness. They are a part of a story that started well before them with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. And the story will continue on beyond them as well (a thousand generations!).

Today, I needed to be told again (deuteronomied?) that God loves me because God has chosen to do so. I don’t bring anything that impresses God, so I don’t need to shy away from God when I feel I have failed or am weak. I am a part of a people who are deeply loved by God because God decides to do so and has a plan to bless the world through us. What makes us special and valuable is that we are with God and we are loved by God.

How could we respond to this good news today, that God loves us before we do anything or bring anything? I know, for one, it affects my disposition of obedience. As I enter this time of Lent and follow through with my commitment for fasting and abstaining, I am very aware that I am earning nothing with God. Instead, I am creating more room to experience God’s love and to obey with delight, knowing I am perfectly loved. My response today is one of intentional praise and thanksgiving for God’s perfect and abiding love.

How do you want to respond today?

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Daily Office, Jesus, John, Musings, Prayer

“…and the darkness did not overcome it.” -Daily Office Reflection

February 27th 2017

Epiphany VIII (Psalm 25; Deuteronomy 6:10-15; Hebrews 1; John 1:1-18)

John 1:1-18

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a fathers only son, full of grace and truth. 15(John testified to him and cried out, This was he of whom I said, He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me. ) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Fathers heart, who has made him known.

Today, I am really appreciating the overlap of the Gospel and Epistle readings today. They both are paradigmatic for why I am specifically a Christian–a follower of Jesus, and simply generally spiritual or theistic. Taking these two passages together, Jesus is not simply a great teacher, prophet, or social revolutionary (though he is all of those things). Jesus most clearly reveals God by being God with us. When we want to know what God is like, we look to Jesus as “the exact imprint of God’s very being.”

But there is something more specific about this Jesus and how he reveals God: he is light shining in the darkness. A light which, itself, enlightens. A light which engenders change, the ability to become daughters and sons of God, and to actually become light to this world.

The fact that darkness has not overcome light is very good news for us: this is the story of Jesus at work. Many of us have become more and more aware of the darkness in our world, and even in ourselves. There are days for me where it feels like the darkness is crowding out the light; that darkness is winning. There are days that feel more like Good Friday or Holy Saturday, than Easter Sunday–where the reality of death and loss and the powerful winning still seem to hang in the air. But light has overcome darkness, particularly in the work of Jesus.

As people of the light, our hope is not that, hopefully….someday….light will overcome darkness. This is not Christian hope. The light shines (as in…right now) in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. Our God, as seen in Jesus, is the light which still shines in the world. Darkness cannot overcome light because it tried and failed at the death and resurrection of Jesus. So today, when we feel like darkness is winning, we can remember that we are Easter people. We are people of the light. We are free to shine with confidence and hope, knowing that darkness has been defeated. And, perhaps, this is how the world will continue to see God in the world. When we, nevertheless, shine…we reveal who God is in Jesus: a light which has not and cannot be overcome.

 

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Musings

“But I still my soul and make it quiet…” Daily Office Reflection

February 23, 2017

Epiphany VII (Psalm 131, 132; Ruth 2:14-23; 2 Corinthians 3:1-18; Matthew 5:27-37)

Psalm 131

1O LORD, I am not proud; *

I have no haughty looks.

2I do not occupy myself with great matters, *

or with things that are too hard for me.

3But I still my soul and make it quiet,

like a child upon its mother’s breast; *

my soul is quieted within me.

4O Israel, wait upon the LORD, *

from this time forth for evermore.

My only thought this morning is simply this: could we take time to set aside our occupation with the great matters of the world and simply be still with the God of all? I know I need to. And at a deep level, I desire that sort of intimacy with God. 

For today, I resolve to quiet my soul, abandon solving the problems of the world, and simply be quiet and comforted by God. I resolve to relish my status as a child today. 

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Musings, Neighborhood, Relationships

‘Why have I found favor in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?’- Daily Office Reflection

February 22, 2017

Epiphany VII (Psalm 119:145-176; Ruth 2:1-13; 2 Corinthians 1:23-2:17; Matthew 5:21-26)

 

I was so taken with this part of Ruth’s story this morning:

Ruth 2:1-13

1 Now Naomi had a kinsman on her husband’s side, a prominent rich man, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. 2And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, ‘Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone in whose sight I may find favour.’ She said to her, ‘Go, my daughter.’ 3So she went. She came and gleaned in the field behind the reapers. As it happened, she came to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech. 4Just then Boaz came from Bethlehem. He said to the reapers, ‘The Lord be with you.’ They answered, ‘The Lord bless you.’ 5Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, ‘To whom does this young woman belong?’ 6The servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, ‘She is the Moabite who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. 7She said, “Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the reapers.” So she came, and she has been on her feet from early this morning until now, without resting even for a moment.’

8 Then Boaz said to Ruth, ‘Now listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. 9Keep your eyes on the field that is being reaped, and follow behind them. I have ordered the young men not to bother you. If you get thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.’ 10Then she fell prostrate, with her face to the ground, and said to him, ‘Why have I found favour in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?’ 11But Boaz answered her, ‘All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. 12May the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!’ 13Then she said, ‘May I continue to find favour in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, even though I am not one of your servants.’

Ruth is an alien in a foreign land. She has come from Moab to Bethlehem with Naomi. They have nothing left. They have lost family and provision and are going to the only place they know to go for sustenance and refuge.

So Ruth decides to take advantage of the opportunities available. She knows of Boaz, a kinsman to her husband. She goes to the field, gleaning what is left over. This, of course, was a common practice for the poor, the widow, and the foreigner. And Ruth certainly fit the bill. And she hopes that someone may end up showing favor to her.

The example of Boaz in this passage is fascinating. He notices her and asks about her. No doubt there were plenty of people gleaning the field, so much so that they could become invisible to the owner of the field or even the other workers.

He also then approaches her, bestows dignity, and welcomes here continued presence, even at his own expense. Boaz calls her daughter and invites her not only to continue to glean, but offers above and beyond from his own resources.

This is overwhelming for Ruth. She breaks down and asks, “Why have you shown me such favor? Why do you even take notice of me?” Boaz’s response is simply this: “I have heard and know your story and I want for God to bless you.” And Boaz is being used by God to bless her!

Today, whether we realize it or not, we have the opportunity to love the foreigners in our midst. This not about political positions. This is about noticing and loving our immigrant neighbors, many of whom are much like Ruth. They have experienced great loss of family and resources even before coming to our place. They have deep needs: physical needs, a need and desire to work, a need to be noticed and loved, and a need to be valued and included. In short, our immigrant neighbors need the exact same things we all need.

I often say that to love someone is to at least know them. This is what we all want, isn’t it? Have you taken the time to get to know the stories of your neighbors? Have you taken notice of the new family that has moved in down the street? Have you taken steps toward those who may be experiencing heightened fear during this time and offered your love and support?

What would it look like today for you to bless the foreigner among you?

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Baltimore, Daily Office, Mark, Musings, Prayer, Suffering

Remembering Frederick Douglass: Daily Office Reflection

February 20, 2017

Epiphany VII (Psalm 106:1-18; Ruth 1:1-14; 2 Corinthian 1:1-11; Matthew 5:1-12)
Alternative Readings (Psalm 85:7-13; Isaiah 32:11-18; Hebrews 2:10-18; John 8:30-32)

Many of the readings today seem to fit so well with the life an legacy of Frederick Douglass, whom the Episcopal Church commemorates toda. If you don’t know about his life, a quick Google search will do the trick. He is an inspiration and a figure that continues to speak to us today as a prophetic witness.

I have been reading through Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, and I was struck by this quote from Douglass:

In the darkest hours of this era, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass saw his health fade just as everything he spent his life fighting for was falling apart. He said, in his last great public lecture, delivered in Baltimore in January 1894, a year before his death, “I hope and trust all will come out right in the end, but the immediate future looks dark and troubled. I cannot shut my eyes to the ugly facts before me.”

-Wilkerson, Isabel (2010-09-07). The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (Kindle Locations 791-795). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

This quote has been haunting me over the past weeks, and I think it is because it embodies so much about what Christian hope is about. Douglass did not ever shy away from the stark realities of his day. Nor did he simply have a “sweet by and by” hope which would allow him to ignore such facts for the sake of focusing on heaven. He named reality as he saw it and proclaimed reality as he saw it could yet be. This, it seems to be, is the essence of the prophetic task. His words remind of St. Paul’s to the church in Corinth as he suffers. He is able to name what their sufferings are while also naming his hope for their to be fruit and rescue.

Over the past weeks, I have seen more darkness and trouble than I can remember being aware of in the past. And I have felt the impulse to want to shut my eyes to the brokenness and evil around me. Sometimes it just feels easier to ignore it, to self-medicate with television, or to lose myself in books. But I cannot. And, if I want to maintain truly Christian hope; I dare not close my eyes to the suffering of this world. To hope all will be made right in the end is to also come to terms with all that is not right, both within me and in the wider world.

What evils do you tend to ignore or explain away in yourself or around you? What wrongs in the world feel overwhelming and insurmountable? How can our God bring comfort to you here? How could you proclaim a good message of true Christian hope to yourself or those around you?

 

Collect for Commemoration of Frederick Douglass

Almighty God, we bless your Name for the witness of Frederick Douglass, whose impassioned and reasonable speech moved the hearts of people to a deeper obedience to Christ: Strengthen us also to speak on behalf of those in captivity and tribulation, continuing in the Word of Jesus Christ our Liberator; who with you and the Holy Spirit dwells in glory everlasting. Amen.

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Daily Office, Mark, Musings, Prayer

“Render unto Caesar…” is Not About Your Taxes: Daily Office Reflection

February 16, 2017

Epiphany VI (Psalm 105:1-22; Isaiah 65:1-12; 1 Timothy 4:1-16; Mark 12:13-27)

Mark 12:13-17

13Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. 14And they came and said to him, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? 15Should we pay them, or should we not?’ But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, ‘Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.’ 16And they brought one. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ 17Jesus said to them, ‘Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they were utterly amazed at him.

 

This is a passage that is often used to talk about taxes and civic duty. The argument generally goes something like this: “Be sure to give the government it’s fair share and give God his fair share.” It argues for and reinforces a view of the world in which their are two spheres: the civil and the religious, the church and the state, or the city of man and the city of God.

There may be some value to viewing the world in this way, and indeed, many have and do. But I contend that this is not what Jesus is arguing for in this passage.  This is another classic example of Jesus being asked a binary question (do we pay taxes or not) and providing a paradigm shifting answer.

This was no simple question. To answer ‘yes’ would be to grant legitimacy to the oppressive and occupying government of Rome. To answer ‘no’ would be to effectively be seen as a religious zealot and a blatant act of treason.

Jesus chooses a third way. He asks the questioners for a coin, a denarius. This is a significant act. The imperial denarius of Tiberius includes not only the likeness of the Emperor but also an inscription which read “Tiberius, Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus.” The image on one side of the coin represented Tiberius sitting on his throne as one who ruled over the known world. The inscription reads “PONTIF(ex) MAXIM(us) or “High Priest.” Tiberius Caesar claims to rule the whole world–both politically and religiously.

No good, faithful Jew would be caught dead carrying this coin. It was idolatrous! They actually minted other coins to use for day to day expenses so they wouldn’t break any commandments. On top of that, it was unlikely that the average Jew would have that much on them. Most Jewish people were quite poor, living day to day. And Jesus was popular with the poor.

So Jesus asks them for a denarius and, uh-oh, they have one! Mark says that Jesus knew the hypocrisy of the accusers. This is not really in reference to their disposition in asking the question. It was in reference to the question itself. The emphasis could read, “why are you trying to trap ME?” You are the one with the coin! And inside the temple courts! With all of these poor/oppressed people around you! Why are you asking ME if I buy into this system or not. You are the religious and political leaders and YOU obviously do!

The denarius bore the “image” of Caesar. In the world of currency, this was a statement as to whose authority gave the coin value and to whom it ultimately belonged. Jesus uses the word “image” to allude to something else that bears the image of its maker: you and me. Genesis 1:26-27 says that we are made in and bear the image of God.

So Jesus looks at this coin with the image of Caesar’s and says, “That’s cute. It has his face on it so give to Caesar what is Caesar’s; i.e. the coin. But there is a greater at work here. Are you giving to God what has God’s image? I can imagine Jesus lifting up his hands to all the people gathered there in the Temple courts and gesturing to all that was around him as he spoke: these people are God’s. (put perhaps you are giving them to Caesar instead for political power…after all, he had just maligned them for abdicating the responsibility of caring for God’s vineyard)

So Jesus makes the question not about a division of loyalties, but of a primacy of loyalties. The Jews had a saying during this time, “No King but the LORD.” To which we would give a hearty “amen” because it is true and sounds true and feels good to say. Because it is easy for us to look back two millennium and point our fingers at these religious/political leaders and judge them for their shortsightedness.

Jesus exposed the fact that the men who asked the very question about participating in the system were, in fact, participating within it themselves (and benefitting!) This is not about taxes, it is about loyalty and about thoughtful participation in the world around us. It is about recognizing our own role in the “system” before asking others about their own. And it is about the responsibility that we have as followers of Jesus to proclaim and embody the deeply political and cultural statement that “Jesus is Lord (and Caesar is not).”

This does beg the question: “When laws or acts of the modern day Caesars effectively disregard the image of God in others, what then is the responsibility of those who bear God’s image in the world?”

Collect of the Day: The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Musings

Daily Office Reflection: “By what authority?”

February 15, 2017

Epiphany VI (Psalm 101, 109; Isaiah 63:15-64:9; 1 Timothy 3:1-16; Mark 11:27-12:12)

Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?’-Mark 11:27-28

 

We struggle today with the idea of authority in a variety of ways, and the texts today deal with authority in a variety of ways. We see across these texts people who abuse authority, an appeal to God’s authority, a discussion about those who hold authority in the church, and a questioning of Jesus’ authority by those who felt their authority questioned!

We hear this come out in different ways today. “What gives you the right to tell me what to do?” “Tell me your qualifications/credentials again…” and even statements like “Not my president…” There is a not-so-subtle indication that authority is not assumed, it must be earned. And if someone seems to be exercising authority toward something I disagree with or which threatens me, I immediately question them.

These religious leaders do the same thing. But notice Jesus’ question. It is genius! Amongst other things, it exposes something  of which we are all guilty: we question authority in order to disparage or discount others, not in an effort to discover real authority.

And it helps to distract from the ways in which we have failed to properly exercise authority in our own lives. This is the point of Jesus’ parable. People who were given authority over the vineyard abused it and the people they were meant to “protect and serve” (to borrow a contemporary phrase).

For those of us who follow Jesus, we have authority that is to be exercised in service to the world. We also are free to submit ourselves to others, as people all under Christ’s authority. What could it look like for us to seek to use our influence for the flourishing of others?

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Musings

Proclaiming and Embodying Good News to Our Neighbors (Why Extreme Vetting and Deportation is NOT the Gospel)

There were two situations which have prompted reflection for me and this post. The first is seeing Franklin Graham’s use of “extreme vetting” as a way of trying to talk about the gospel. He posted the following on his Facebook (I decided to place the whole quote here for context):

I’m on my way to Puerto Rico—to warn people that God uses extreme vetting. What do I mean by that? I want the people of Puerto Rico to know that God loves them and that there is only one way to enter the gates of heaven—and that is through faith in Jesus Christ, and Him alone. Good works can’t get you into heaven. Religion can’t either—being a Baptist, a Catholic, or a Methodist, can’t save you. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Thousands of Christians have been praying across the island for this weekend. I’ll be preaching the Good News that God loves sinners and sent His Son, Jesus Christ to die for their sins. My purpose for going is to help Puerto Ricans “immigrate” from earth to heaven one day. I want Puerto Ricans by the thousands—and people everywhere—to have their immigration status in Heaven stamped and sealed with the blood of Jesus Christ for all eternity.

It prompted many to respond, both in affirmation and disavowal. One meme stood out to me, posted by a supporter:

16473849_715644895271869_5698116421289523950_n

While I’m tempted to run in a lot of different directions with this, there was a second, even more infuriating reason for me to write here: a beloved community member in our neighborhood was pulled over by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officers over the weekend, who were allegedly impersonating Baltimore City police officers. They arrested him and sent him to a detainment facility in Frederick. You can read more here and see that this is a trend nationwide in increased enforcement. This follows multiple affirmations by city police and officials that people will not be stopped or questioned out of suspicion of their immigration status. In a neighborhood where trust of police is already low and crimes committed against immigrants are largely unreported, this is a huge blow (not to mention the loss we are feeling a community member who did so much to heal racial/ethnic divides amongst youth). To be clear, this young man was not a violent criminal. He was a valued community member.

As a result, neighbors organized in about 12 hours to rally together in our neighborhood to march in solidarity for our immigrant neighbors. Kara and I eagerly joined the hundreds of people from a variety of backgrounds, beliefs, and statuses to say collectively that immigrants are welcome here, that they matter, and that we are with them. We want our neighbors to be able to work and go to school and to the store without increased fear, and we want them to see their neighbors love them.

For us, this was a way to embody the good news of Jesus, that has nothing to do with “vetting” or fear and everything to do with welcome and dignity. The claim by Graham (and this meme) is that “God uses extreme vetting” is categorically false, not to mention tone deaf and hurtful (as one of my Latina friends noted). A vetting process is, by definition, a background check on someone based on their life up until that point. So how does vetting align with God’s work in the world? Graham says that the facts that God “vets” people is a part of the good news. I strongly disagree. God is about reconciliation, not a stringent vetting process. 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 says this:

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Our responsibility as ambassadors of the kingdom of God is not to talk about a stringent vetting process (and baptize it with spiritual language), it is to urge others to receive the free gift of reconciliation from God. Restored relationship with God is available to all because of the work of Jesus. The results of a background check do not deny us entry into the kingdom of God! They pre-qualify us for the demonstrated need for reconciliation in the first place!

The good news does not compel us to build walls, but rather proclaims that the walls which have divided us are destroyed in Jesus.We see this in Paul’s discussion of the Dividing Wall of Hostility in Ephesians 2. We catch a vision in Revelation of embodied difference in the Kingdom, yet unity in Spirit as we will gather around God’s throne from every nation, tribe, and tongue to worship. In a new heavens and a new earth where the gates will never be shut, by the way!

What is lost in this analogy of vetting and gates and such is that Scripture refers to followers of Jesus as immigrants, as people in exile. We have our citizenship in heaven (Phil 3:20) and are described as exiles and foreigners (1 Peter 2:11) Not only are we to practice love and hospitality for others (and hospitality literally means a “love of the foreigner”), we are ourselves foreigners, strangers, and exiles. God’s Kingdom is our home.

When we talk about heaven (or, more biblically, the new heavens and new earth) as a place with extreme vetting, walls, and gates and when we cheer the building of walls and the deportation of “those people” and it gets likes and shares on social media by other Christians, we must admit that there is a reason why this is good news for many of those who support such measures. Extreme vetting is good news for those who fear the other. Walls are good news for those who want to be safe. Gates are good news for those who want a strong selection process for their eternal neighbors. This is good news for white, privileged Christians because it starts to make heaven look a lot like the American idyllic life. This is how someone like Graham can make the statements he makes: he truly believes them.

But how is this good news for the refugee family? How is this good news for Lazarus at the rich man’s gate? How is it good news for the majority of the world’s population? How is it good news for our immigrant neighbors who are wondering if they can even take their kids to school anymore?

Quite simply, I don’t think it is.

The good news for all of us, is that God loves us all so much that God has made a path of return, reconciling everything and all of us. The vetting process is overturned, because the wages of sin is death. Vetting is BAD NEWS not good news!! It is all about gift. And the gate has been flung open wide and the invitation extended to all regardless of country of origin, background, orientation, identity, or ideology. Should anyone desire to enter, they are welcome to do so. This is good news for all of us.

And this is why we march in solidarity. This is why we sing “You’ll Have to Go Through Me” (a wonderful song written by one of our community members). Our neighbors see what sort of good news we believe and embody. Kara commented on how many of our Latino neighbors stepped out of their workplaces along the street as we marched by, smiling and waving. They knew we were there to support them and their families. They knew they were loved and valued. I want to make every effort to show that the good news I believe and proclaim is, in fact, good news for all my neighbors–not just the ones who share my privilege, who look like me, or who agree with me.

Yesterday, proclaiming the good news meant chanting: “No Hate. No Fear. Immigrants are welcome here.” and “Aqui estamos y no nos vamos” (We are here and we aren’t leaving).

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