Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Maria Skobtsova

Maria Skobtsova (Mother Maria) was an Orthodox nun who was arrested by the Nazis for the crime of aiding Jews to escape from Paris and France after the German invasion. She was sent to the gas chambers at the Ravensbrück concentration camp on Holy Saturday, just weeks before Germany surrendered, in 1945. Perhaps her best known quote is this: "At the Last Judgement I shall not be asked whether I was successful in my ascetic exercises, nor how many bows and prostrations I made. Instead I shall be asked if I fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick and the prisoners."

My Imprecatory Prayer

Psalm 94:6-7 They slay the widow and the alien; they murder the fatherless. They say, “The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob pays no heed.”
Psalm 146:9 The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
My imprecatory prayer for these difficult times: Lord God, Almighty Father, I ask, I beg, I plead with your Word in my lap, that you will indeed prove that you do see, that you will indeed "frustrate the ways of the wicked" who sit in power in Washington acting like you don't see as they plan to enact laws and regulations that will most certainly cost many, many lives.
Protect, Father, the innocents, the aliens, the children, the elderly that your very Word commands us to love, from those who are preaching hate and doing harm. Show us how to promote justice in this time when the most powerful are proving they care only for the rich and powerful. Grant us the courage to speak out and go the way of Shalom even though it may cost us dearly. Amen.

Make It So

Psalm 12:5 “Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise,” says the Lord. I will protect them from those who malign them.”
Make it so, Almighty and loving Father. Make it so in our time of need. For even now, as your Word says, "The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honored among men"(Psalm 12:8).

A Religion of Hate or Compassion?

"Jesus in his solidarity with the marginal ones is moved to compassion. Compassion constitutes a radical form of criticism, for it announces that the hurt is to be taken seriously, that the hurt is not to be accepted as normal and natural but is an abnormal and unacceptable condition for humanness. In the arrangement of "lawfulness" in Jesus' time, as in the ancient empire of Pharaoh, the one unpermitted quality of relation was compassion. Empires are never built or maintained on the basis of compassion. The norms of law (social control) are never accommodated to persons, but persons are accommodated to the norms. Otherwise the norms will collapse and with them the whole power arrangement. Thus the compassion of Jesus is to be understood not simply as a personal emotional reaction but as a public criticism in which he dares to act upon his concern against the entire numbness of his social context." -- From "The Prophetic Imagination" by Walter Brueggemann
Sadly, most non-Christians in America today think of Christianity as a religion of hate rather than as a religion of compassion. Largely, I think, because biblically illiterate church goers spend so little, if any, time reading the Sermon on the Mount and Matthew 25:31ff.

Better to Listen to the Prophet than the President

Zechariah 7:8-10 And the word of the LORD came again to Zechariah: “This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.'"
Meanwhile, our president who received a reported 80% of the Evangelical Christian vote is sending his ICE agents to arrest undocumented Hispanic parents of young children while they are driving their kids to school. His Secretary of Education is talking about eliminating free school lunches for undernourished poor kids, and both the White House and "Freedom Caucus" members of Congress are proposing significant cuts to WIC. Already we have zip codes in America where the infant mortality rate is higher than in some third world countries. And cuts to WIC will certainly increase our already embarrassingly high number of baby deaths due to poor nutrition and inadequate postnatal care.
The verses above from the Prophet Zechariah are among hundreds of verses in both the Old and New Testaments that command both secular (political) and religious rulers to adequately provide for the needs of the poor and the aliens living in their land. The fact that so many purported Christians vote for people whom they know will do just the opposite suggests to me that either they don't actually read the Bible they profess to love, or it is not Christ they worship, but Mammon.

It is no wonder then...

In his book, "Vision of a World Hungry," Thomas Pettepiece writes, "James considers it natural that a person with faith also has works. It is not a heavy and moralistic Christian duty, it is the Christian lifestyle...response comes from faith.
"On this theme, the Bible is clear and direct in both Testaments--God loves and cares for the poor. Jesus said to be perfect. In other words, to be imitators of the perfect God, to do as God does. If we are to love God, we are to love and care for the poor and hungry, too. 'You will know them by their fruits' (Matthew 7:16) he said, and by that he meant we are known by our behavior...."
So on the one hand, we have literally hundreds of verses in Scripture that command God's people to care for those marginalized by society, particularly the poor and the aliens living amongst us. And on the other hand, we have powerful people in the White House and Congress who, though claiming to be Christ's followers, demonize, shame and plan to harm the poor and the aliens whom God commands us to protect and love.
It is no wonder then, that the New Testament epistle writers warned us time and again to be on the watch for "false prophets" and "anti-christs" in our midst who seek to subvert the Gospel. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.

Where to Find God

"An old rabbi was once asked why so few people were finding God. He wisely replied that people are not willing to look that low. Jesus was born in a stable, and (as His Scriptures make clear) God is especially concerned for the poorest, the lowliest, the lost, and the neglected." --From "Liberation of Life" by Harvey and Lois Seifert.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Lusting for Stuff

"We should remain within the limits imposed by our basic needs and strive with all our power not to exceed them. For once we are carried a little beyond these limits in our desire for the pleasures of life, there is then no criterion by which to check our onward movement, since no bounds can be set to that which exceeds the necessary." --Nilus of Sinai, a fifth-century Christian monk who is venerated in the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Armenian Church. His feast day is November 12.
A paraphrase: "If you lust after stuff, you will never be happy because no matter how much stuff you have, it will never seem like enough." --Paul White, a Christian kvetch who is not venerated by anybody and feasts way too often.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

For around four years I was the Intake Supervisor at the Memphis Housing Authority. My group was responsible for interviewing applicants called off the waiting list to make sure they qualified for rental assistance. Contrary to what most Americans seem to believe, our clients did not get free housing. To qualify, they had to have jobs and pay a portion of their rent. We paid the rest. Most of the clients I interacted with worked a minimum wage job, some single moms worked two minimum wage jobs but even with rental assistance from the Housing Authority, they still made so little that they also qualified for EBT cards (food stamps). It troubles me that so many people look down upon those who are just trying to survive.
So I was reminded of my former clients when I read in Mark 2:15-17 this morning. The Pharisees were upset that Jesus dined in the house of a known sinner and ate alongside numerous sinners. The Greek word translated as “sinner” is αμαρτωλός (pronounced: hamartolos). The Pharisees used that word to describe both people who committed Biblical sins and people who were not Jews or “common” Jews who did not obey all the extra-biblical rules the self-important Pharisees had established. It was kind of like the way some Baptists and Southern Methodists thought of other Christians in the 1950s who went to “sinful“ places like dances and movie theaters.
Jesus replied to the Pharisees in this manner: "You Pharisees claim to be righteous and to have no need for repentance and salvation. But these tax collectors and sinners realize their need for repentance and salvation. So who do you think I’m going to spend my time with?"
I believe that true followers of Jesus should be as much like him as they possibly can be. And that means we have a similar responsibility to the outcasts of society: the poor, the homeless, the ignored. Jesus was not above ministering to such people, even going so far as to visit them in their homes. Should we be any different? Are we who profess to love Christ above ministering to and mingling with the people whom Jesus loves? I am thankful that the two churches Connie and I spent most of our time at since we moved to metro-Memphis, Community Bible Church in Memphis and St. Luke Lutheran in Cordova have no problem mingling and dining with and ministering to “the least of these who are members of my family” (Matthew 25:40)
If you are looking for a church that loves and cares about and cares for people who are not perfect, you should check these churches out. Fair warning though, they will ask you to pick up your cross and go where Jesus went. You would probably be happier some place else if you just want to butt-warm a pew.