Tag Archives: equality

God’s People, part 221: Samaritan

Read John 4:1-45

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Jesus replied, ‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”  (Matthew 22:37-40, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

SamaritanWomanPart 221: Samaritan. It is hard to imagine just how scandalous this chapter in John actually is; however, trust me when I say that this chapter is extremely scandalous in the context of the first century Jewish world. In our day and age, we think very little of this story. We read it as a warm and fuzzy conversation between Jesus and some unnamed woman at a well in Samaria; however, so much more is going on this text.

For starters, Jesus is seen here talking to and teaching, even debating, with a woman. This was unheard of in the first century ancient Middle East; however, this alone is not too shocking for us as we know that Jesus talked to many women, and even had women followers such as Mary Magdalene. With that said, he was not only talking to her; however, he was talking to her alone. This, alone, would have been super scandalous to anyone in that time period. In fact, John wrote: “Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked to find him talking to a woman, but none of them had the nerve to ask, “What do you want with her?” or “Why are you talking to her” (John 4:27, NLT)?

Add to that the fact that this woman was a Samaritan and you add another layer to the scandal. The Jews traditionally detested the Samaritans and saw them as Gentiles of the worst kind. These were people who had mixed heritage. They were Jewish and Assyrian and they chose to worship God in Samaria, instead of Jerusalem. This was against the Law as recorded in the Book of Discipline; however, the Samaritan’s chose to resist the Jews insistence that the Jerusalem Temple was the only place one could worship.

The contention grew to be so divisively bitter that Jews would do anything they could to avoid the Samaritans, for they felt that if they did cross their path, they would instantly be defiled. Yet, Jesus was talking alone with this Samaritan woman, and instructing her in what it means to truly worship God. In the end, Jesus states that both his people and the Samaritans didn’t have it completely right, but that one day people would worship God in spirit and in truth.

Then, yet another layer can be added to the scandal. Not only was this a woman was also a Samaritan, but this was a Samaritan woman who had been previously married five times and the man she was currently living with she wasn’t even married to. Such a person, in the context of Jewish Law and sensibility, was a sinner of the highest order. Yet, Jesus was not only associating with her, but treater her like a worthy student. He even listened to her and entertained her counter points to him. This was completely scandalous and would have offended many people, including Jesus’ own disciples.

Yet, Jesus was unfazed but this reality. He treated this woman no differently than he would have treated anyone else! He saw past all of the labels and scandalous controversies to see the human being behind it all. He loved her and treated her with the dignity that all human beings made in God’s image should be treated. To Jesus, this woman was not a woman, a Samaritan, a person divorced and remarried multiple times; this woman, to Jesus, was a child of God created in God’s image.

Let us be challenged by that. Far, too often we define people by the labels we place on them. Worse than that, we judge them as being unfit of our compassion and attention. We simply pass them by because we think it would be far better to do that than to be associated with them; however, that is not what Jesus modeled for us. Let us be a people who no longer define people by the labels they are give; rather, let us be a people who define all people as children of God, created in God’s divine and holy image! Then we will be truly living as our God created us to.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Labels are for products, not for people.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to stop labeling myself and others. Amen.

People of the Closed Door

Read Matthew 23:13-36

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'”  (Matthew 23:37-39, NRSV)

Hardened-HeartMy heart, brothers and sisters, is extremely heavy. As many of you already know, I am an ordained elder in full connection in the United Methodist Church. This is the church I was baptized into, the church who prayed for me when I was in critical condition in the hospital at age 3, the church my wife and I were married in, the church I returned to when I came back to my faith in the early 2000s, and the church I finally answered my call in.

When I first came back to Christianity, I tried one other denomination prior to settling in the United Methodist Church. When I walked in that fateful Sunday, I was greeted by people as one often is at church on Sundays. When I asked the usher at the door what the difference was between them and a different denomination with a similar name and background, the person responded to ask me what my view on homosexuality was. He then proceeded to tell me that they split from their “heathen” sister church because of their acceptance of gays and how the Bible said gays were all going to hell.

Friends, I walked right out of that church and never looked back because I knew that such a judgmental denomination was NOT for me. It is following that experience that I found my way back into the United Methodist Church. At the time I didn’t know the language that is currently in our Book of Discipline. What I did know was that I was welcomed by a loving community that accepted me for who I am and not what I came in believing or not believing. They welcomed, they encouraged me, they loved me and my family, and they supported me in answering my call.

That church didn’t just welcome me but welcomed all people. They were a home for the broken, the outsiders, the lost, and the needy. They openly accepted all people, no matter their sexual orientation, no matter socio-economic status, no matter their hurts and/or hangups, no matter what they were or weren’t addicted to. They accepted and LOVED EVERYONE! That witness to Christ’s love is what brought back to the United Methodist Church.

I found my place in the UMC while learning of John Wesley and his belief in radical, omnipresent grace, his push for a balance between social holiness and social justice, and his openness to new ideas that were grounded in the Biblical witness of God’s love and grace. I knew, by this point, that we as a church had a position on human sexuality that I disagreed with; however, there was hope that things would change over time. To be clear, I understood and respected the fact that social change takes time because it involves the changing of hearts and not just minds. I still understand and respect that.

What happened during the Special Session of General Conference (February 23-26, 2019), deeply saddens me as I know it deeply saddens many United Methodists. The decision to pass the Traditional Plan over and above the One Church Plan, means that the denomination has decided to double down on its unholy ban on LGTBQ marriage and service in the Church. It diminishes their sacred worth, and hangs that up over their sexual orientation.

While the United Methodist Church touts having “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors”, the People of the United Methodist Church have shown the world something completely different. We’ve become a people with closed hearts and closed minds. We’ve become a stick that is breaking because it refuses to bend. We’ve become a people of the closed door.

With all of that said, it is important to note that while the global church as a whole voted to adopt the Traditional Plan, it must be said that it only passed by a very, very small margin. There were more than 800 delegates from around the world who voted and if a mere 28 people had voted differently the Traditional Plan would have been defeated. In regard to the inclusive One Church Plan, if 26 people had voted differently it would have passed.

These numbers only show that the vote is not reflective of the people called Methodists as a whole, and that gives me room for MUCH hope. My heart is heavy, my sadness deep; however, my HOPE is very much ALIVE. The church has always been in wrestling with Jesus’ call to be ambassadors of God’s inclusive, loving, and grace-filled Kingdom. We often fail at doing so; however, Christ still loves us and lifts us back up out of the mud we sink ourselves into. I have hope that the people called Methodists will find a way to move forward from the tragic steps backwards we just took.

Right now, Bishops, church leaders, pastors such as myself, and laity are working toward building a path forward to becoming a people of open hearts, open minds, and open doors once again. In fact, many of us never stopped being that in the first place! We will find a way forward to become a people of one church that accepts diversity in all of its richness, complexity, and sacred possibility. Please join with me in prayer for the people of the United Methodist Church and the people of all denominations as we seek to live out the Gospel commission of making disciples of ALL people (not just some), baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Inclusivity has always been a struggle in the church, as it has for all of humanity. Here’s the Apostle Paul recalling a confrontation in his fight for Gentile inclusion: “But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. As a result, other Jewish believers followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.” — Apostle Paul of Tarsus (Galatians 2:11-13, NLT).

PRAYER
Lord, help us to be a people who do not become closed doors seeking your loving embrace and help us to not become closed doors on people seeking to your call on their lives and serve you. Amen.

All Authority

Read Luke 9:1-5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” (Matthew 7:20, NLT)

magic_gateway_wallpaper_by_jerry8448d4nyul6For those of us who are Christian, how easy it is for us to call ourselves people of faith, right? We often set ourselves apart from the “non-believing world.” We often separate ourselves from those who “don’t believe” and/or those who “don’t have faith” and see ourselves in an “us versus them” kind of way. I am not pointing this out in order to point out Christians in a way that is different from any other human religion, institution or group. All humans see their group in an “us versus them” kind of way. That is, whether fortunately or unfortunately, the human condition.

What I am trying to point out, however, is that Christians do see themselves as being people of faith. I am pretty sure that all Christians, everywhere, would agree with that statement. Yet, in my own observance, many Western Christians (in American especially) do not live out their faith with much conviction. Sure, we are good at being convicted about certain things. I mean, many Christians will flip over backwards to tell you how we’ve fallen from God’s glorious standard (Romans 3:23), how Christ’s death was God’s plan to save us from our sins and close the chasm that lay between us and God, and that all we need to do to be saved is to say the sinner’s prayer (whatever that is) and accept Jesus into our hearts. Once that has been done, we are saved and no longer a slave to sin and death (Romans 8:1-2); what’s more, once we’ve been saved nothing can ever separate us from the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 8:38-39).

We are convicted to tell you that part of the Gospel story, but that is just about where our conviction ends. As a result, Western Christianity is rather shallow and completely skips over the ACTUAL end of the Gospel. Being forgiven of our sins is only a part of the Gospel story…and it happens to be the beginning of it, not the end. You see, anyone who has read any part of the Hebrew Scriptures could figure out we’re sinners and that God is working to forgive us of our sins. It’s not like God wasn’t forgiving sins before Jesus. Yes, Jesus sacrifice for us and the salvation that sacrifice brings is a part of the Gospel story, but not the whole of it; rather, when we accept Jesus and his atoning sacrifice, we also accept the authority Christ has given us.

What authority you ask? The authority to represent Christ in the world. We have been the authority to fight against injustice and oppression, the authority to care for and bring healing to the sick, the authority to be present with the lost, the depressed and the lonely. We have been given authority over the powers of darkness and over the inner demons that try to take us and others down. To accept Christ’s forgiveness, to attain salvation in Christ, is to accept the authority that Christ is giving us over such things. But that’s not the end of it either. Once we’ve accepted Christ, and Christ’s authority, we being sent out by Christ into the world proclaiming the arrival of God’s Kingdom. In other words, we are to proclaim to the world that the day of equality, social justice, mercy, compassion, peace, love, and God’s presence has finally arrived. This is exactly what Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was doing when he spoke to the nation at the Lincoln Memorial. It was Mother Teresa was doing in Calcutta, India. It was what Bonhoeffer was doing in Nazi Germany. This is not an activity reserved for a few who are called; rather, ALL CHRISTIANS ARE CALLED to go out into the world and proclaim the Gospel. All Christians have been equipped with spiritual gifts to do such.

Of course, this will not make Christians the most popular people in a world that wants to keep the have-nots in their places. Yet, if we are truly convicted in our beliefs, if we are truly a people of faith, then we will bless those who hear and accept the proclamation of God’s Kingdom and shake the dust off of our feet when it comes to those who refuse to. The latter is not intended to be our judgment against them; rather, Christ is telling us to leave the opponents of God to God and is calling us to focus on those who would ally themselves with God and with the arrival of God’s Kingdom of hope, healing and wholeness. The question for us is this, how convicted are we? How much faith do we possess. God knows what tree we are by our fruit.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
It is much easier to call oneself “a person of faith” than it is to ACTUALLY live a life of faith.
PRAYER
Lord, strengthen me and continually work in me so that I may move beyond my fear and accept the authority you have given me. Amen.

15 Ailments of the Church #15: Competition

Read Philippians 2:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.” (James 3:16 NRSV)

beat-your-ecommerce-competitorsJamie Dornan, an Northern Irish actor known for his role as Sheriff Graham Humbert in the ABC series “Once Upon a Time”, is quoted as saying that “everyone likes a bit of competition.” In our Western society, and in world history as a whole, competition has been a driving force. There is a truth that we all love a bit of competition, as it breeds creativity, it pushes us to excel, it demands of us our very best, and it has propelled the human race forward throughout the millenia; however, at what cost? As a result of competition, and the desire to compete, some inevitably come out on top as the winners and many come out on the bottom as the losers. As much as competition has driven the human race forward, it has set many in the human race back. Just look at the results of competition including, but not limited to, abject poverty, famine, disease, lack of medical supplies, lack of natural resources, wars, etc. This brings us to Pope Francis I’s 15th ailment of the church.

Ailment of the Church #15: Competition. While Pope Francis named his 15th ailment of the church “seeking worldly profit and showing off”, I think this can best be summarized as competition. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ preached about the coming of the Kingdom of God and the reversal of competition, where the first would be last and the last would be first. This economy of heaven is supposed to be reflected by Christ’s church; however, the reality is that we find that the church is often the breeding ground of competition and that we much more reflect the kingdoms of this world far more than we reflect the Kingdom of God.

Throughout Christian history, the church has splintered and divided. Each splinter church has become its own denomination and each denomination has found itself competing against the next. Of course, those denominations ended up splitting over theological and, sometimes, socio-political differences, which is sometimes a necessary thing. Yet, it has also opened the door for competition between the denominations. Within communities, different churches strive to bring in the most members, in order to bring in the most money in, in order to have the most resources to do the most ministry. What’s worse is that there is competition within denominations for who can have the largest church with the most turnout. All of this to amass status within an organization that is not supposed to be viewing people as better or worse, but as unique parts with equal importance in the body of Christ.

For Christ, it is not about who is bigger or better or stronger or smarter or wealthier or most productive; rather, it is all about faithfulness. Faithfulness cannot be competed for, it cannot be measured in greater or smaller. One is either faithful or they are not. Faithful disciples will produce fruit for the Kingdom, unfaithful disciples will not. God does not care who has the biggest church with the largest congregation. God does not care who has the greatest praise band or who is somehow measured to be the most vital congregation. What God cares about is the lives of those he has created.

Each community is filled with such lives and the church is called to bring them the Good News of God’s presence with them, as well as God’s love for them. Rather than competing for worldly profit and/or status, rather than being show offs with nothing to show for it in the Kingdom of God, Christ is calling us to be faithful in bringing his Good News of hope, healing and wholeness to the communities we live in. Let us stop competing and start recognizing that in the Kingdom of God, we are all winners. It’s time to usher that reality in.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“My grandfather once told me that there were two kinds of people: those who do the work and those who take the credit. He told me to try to be in the first group; there was much less competition.” – Indira Gandhi

PRAYER

Lord, help me to move beyond competition. Rather than striving to be better than others, help me to strive to be faithful in all that I do. Amen.