The Brief Message of Jesus

 

by John Roy Pelham Road Church, Greenville, SC.

September 2016

 

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“Corpus Christi” is Latin for the Body of Christ. This year we are going to explore the width and depth of what it means to be Christ body in our world.

The messages during the month of September address the over-arching purpose of the life, witness, death, and resurrection of Christ.

The Brief Message of Jesus

He Went around doing Good

The Best News

The Mystical Body of Christ

Of all the identified religions Christianity is the most widespread.  Being the largest also means it is the most diverse. There are three major divisions: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants. Within Protestants, which is our side of the family tree,  we have charismatics to Calvinist, Amish to United Methodist,  Mainliners to Outsiders. Yet this is Christ Body on earth, those who wear robes and swing incense to those who get baptized in the spirit this is our family and Christ Body. What a family.

Christianity, in whatever form you encounter it centers on the life of Jesus from Nazareth.  Jesus was born around 4 B.C., he was baptized by a prophet named John, he gathered followers and began a teaching and healing ministry at 30. In time he encountered the hostility of those who disagreed with his teaching and the suspicion of Rome. This led to him being sentenced to death by the authorities of his day. He was crucified, and later the tomb where he was laid was found to be empty. In time his disciples saw him alive and others reported experiencing the living Jesus.

At a minimum, Jesus was a charismatic worker of miracles. He stood in a proud Jewish tradition of a spiritual man uncorrupted by the world. He was the man spoken of in Psalm 1.

Happy are those

who do not follow the advice of the wicked,

or take the path that sinners tread,

or sit in the seat of scoffers;

but their delight is in the law of the LORD,

and on his law, they meditate day and night.

They are like trees

planted by streams of water,

which yield their fruit in its season,

and their leaves do not wither.

In all that they do, they prosper.

 

He was a man who mediated the world seen and the world unseen, Jesus provided the bridge to take people from brokenness to wholeness, from life bound by the flesh to a life quickened by the Spirit.

It would appear from an investigation of Jesus’ words that the Spirit is where he found the wisdom and strength to be this bridge, to bind up the brokenness. This morning we will consider the Spirit and how Jesus drew upon the spirit to create healing and a new social arrangement.

  1. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me

According to Luke Jesus opened his ministry by quoting from the prophet Isaiah. Where he announces that the Spirit is upon him.

Now we don’t live in an age where the spirit, any spirit, is taken seriously. In fact, when people use such language they end up on the edge of respectability.

The doctor does not refer to the spirit. The pharmacist does not speak of spirit. The lawyer does not speak of spirit. Spirit language is almost dead. We live in the world of procedures, drugs, and legislation. About the only place, we use the word spirit is in regards to sports or country. In these situations, it is really a synonym for enthusiasm. “Team Spirit” the “American Spirit.” Never defined and never holy the spirit is a way of explaining why people spend money they don’t have to follow a team or why people get tattoos of their team’s logo on their arm or paint their face in team colors.

Oddly enough we once used spirit to describe liquor. Technically speaking “spirits” is reserved for liquor (gin, rum, etc), not wine or beer. The reason these liquors were also called “spirits” was in the  distilling  process the mash would begin by being cloudy and then the vapor would be released into the air, thus clearing up the remaining alcohol. When the monks (who often were running the distillery—at least in Europe) witnessed this process they named what was left behind the spirit.

So spirits, at least as the distillers saw it, was the true essence of the beverage. When Jesus says the spirit is upon him he is saying—the essence of God is with him.

What happens when you live in a world where we exercise the spirit from medicine, education, family, or the church. Well, you end up with very efficient organizations that perform best practices, the most up to date methods, but without understanding the essence of who we are or what God has created us to be.

The spirit was Jesus specialty. The religion of his day and the politics of his day had forgotten the “Spirit.” What remained was law and order.

At his baptism, it is reported that the heavens opened and the spirit descended on Jesus like a dove. The spirit (the essence of God) went with Jesus into the wilderness. What followed were 40 days of impractical living, out of date rituals, and certainly not what our world would label best practices. Yet it was these 40 days where the spirit went from entering Jesus to controlling Jesus. Once he was owned by the spirit Jesus entered again the world, empowered.

  1. By the spirit of God, I cast out demons

Unlike modern man, the ancient Hebrews believed in the superiority of the spirit to nature. In this world, the world Jesus was sent to, illness, erratic behavior, and all other forms of maladies were blamed on the spirits.

Shamans, medicine men, and healers were the answer in this pre-scientific era. Albert Schweitzer was a man of science. A modern man. An accomplished theologian, a world class musician, and a physician. As a Christian and physician, he answered the call and left his beloved France and went to Africa to serve as a missionary.

Of course in Africa, he often encountered Medicine Men and so Albert recognized that the spirit world was very much a real world. His education taught him about the natural world, which of course is real, but like Jesus, Albert recognized that there were problems beyond not being able to walk or speak.

Jesus, if he were only a healer would not have developed much of a reputation beyond the Sea of Galilee. What made Jesus more was that the spirit was not simply an instrument, but the spirit was his guide. So following the spirit Jesus turns to changing the kingdom of the earth to the kingdom of God.

  1. Thy Kingdom come on Earth

Politically speaking the Jews during the life of Jesus were desperate. For over a century they had lost their freedom to the Romans. There were four typical responses to this crisis.

First, the Sadducees preached let’s make the best of a bad situation. Accommodate the Greek culture and Roman authority. Don’t rock the boat you might tip it over.

Second, the Essene considered the world too corrupt to continue so they removed themselves from the world. Withdrawing and practicing piety in obscure villages and mountain caves.

Third, the Pharisees wanted to stay engaged in the world, not retreat. But instead of accommodating and living like a Roman, they said to live like a Jew. Follow the law, especially the holiness code.

Fourth, the final group believed the only way to change things was with armed rebellion. They did revolt and they lost.

Jesus comes with a fifth option. Unlike the Sadducees Jesus wanted social change, not accommodation. Unlike the Essene, Jesus went into the world , not into a cave. Unlike the revolutionaries who carried swords, Jesus preached and practiced peacemaking. It was the Pharisees Jesus stood closest to. The difference between the two was what they emphasized in the Torah. The Pharisees rallied around the holiness code, while Jesus stressed the compassion of God. This seems like a modest difference, but in the end, it would turn out to be too large of a gulf to span.

Do to others as you would have them do to you.

The Pharisees believed if the law was practiced Judaism would be revived. Jesus, agreed, holiness was to be practiced, with one exception, he did not believe in the lines of us and them the Pharisees so cleverly created. The Pharisees, from food to people, believed there were unclean things to be avoided. Jesus believed you could practice holiness with compassion.

The system erected by the Pharisees created clean and unclean people. This was a social structure Jesus could not endorse. The man made barriers had to be broken down and Jesus would invest his three years teaching, healing, loving, and modeling to tear them down.

In the wrong hands, the church becomes something it was not meant to be. Without the guidance of Christ, we can veer off the path and become a social club, a political action committee, or a relic. We are not the Center for Biblical Studies or the Institute for the Study of Religion, we are not even the Society for Christian Studies we are the BODY OF CHRIST. If we are anything, it is the Institute for Practicing Christianity or the Center for Living Christian Values. There are other places for research; this is a place for action. Christ Body has hands, feet, mouth, and ears, we are about being His body and doing His work.  The universities and seminaries can keep the institutes and centers; we have enough to do being the Body of the Living Lord.

 

 

 

 

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The Ironic Jesus —

Irony is when something happens that is the opposite of what we expect. The Titanic was promoted as being 100% unsinkable; but, in 1912 the ship sank on its maiden voyage, that’s irony. At a ceremony celebrating the rehabilitation of seals after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, at an average cost of $80,000 […]

via The Ironic Jesus —

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The Ironic Jesus

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Irony is when something happens that is the opposite of what we expect.

The Titanic was promoted as being 100% unsinkable; but, in 1912 the ship sank on its maiden voyage, that’s irony.

At a ceremony celebrating the rehabilitation of seals after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, at an average cost of $80,000 per seal, two seals were released back into the wild only to be eaten within a minute by a killer whale, that’s ironic,

So the ironic Jesus is when Jesus is a surprise—a shock to the first century and an even bigger shock to us.

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.

And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax-collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinner?’’ (Matthew 9:9-11).

That’s ironic.

‘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? Should 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.’ And they brought one. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s’ (Mark 12:13-17).

That’s a surprise.

The expected answer is “sure there is no need to give Caesar our hard earned money.” Yet Jesus says, “go ahead and give Caesar his money but give God what belongs to God.” Even the song we just heard “A Tramp on the Street” is the irony of Jesus. From all appearances, Jesus was nothing more than a criminal, a tramp from the streets, but looks can be deceiving. He was God’s gift to the world. He looked like a tramp but he was a King, that’s irony. Organized religion has struggled with the irony of Jesus from the beginning.

John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ When the men had come to him, they said, ‘John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” ’ Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them (Luke 7:18-22).

John the Baptist had expectations of what the Messiah would be and do. His expectations were based on his interpretation of the scripture and certainly his own influences. He expected a Messiah who was a bit more violent and nationalistic. After all the Romans did persecute the Jews so certainly a Jewish messiah would want to liberate the Jews. Yet Jesus confronted the Jewish leadership more than the Romans. Further, he was not very interested in building an army to confront the Roman overlords. While Jesus did live righteously himself, he was more likely to direct others to repentance through welcoming words than harsh words.

Due to these unmet expectations, John the Baptist sends a question to Jesus—-

Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” ’

Disappointed John wonders if Jesus is really the one. Maybe he was wrong when he announced to everyone Jesus was the lamb of God and baptized Jesus. Does Jesus cease to be God’s messenger when he does not meet our standards? That’s a modern question, yet many a person who did not get their prayer answer has stopped following because God was not who they thought he was? Many have stopped following when Jesus said—“love your enemies.” It happened in the first century and it happens now.

People much prefer Christianity to following Jesus. To most Christianity is an organized system of belief—-there is the trinity, the resurrection, the return of the Christ, but following Jesus—well that’s forgiving, loving, and showing compassion—-the hard stuff.

John was unconvinced that Jesus was the one because Jesus was not what he expected. But Jesus is patient; he does not even chastise John for his doubt. Jesus just says –here’s the report, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.”

Which is really not an answer? (Quietly)

An answer would be “yes” or “no.” It’s as if Jesus is saying what Popeye the cartoon was prone to say—“I yam what I am.” This is what a Messiah looks like if you want to wait for another go ahead. If you want to raise up a substitute who is not a messiah but fulfills your fantasies—go ahead.  Here’s my resume

the blind now see

the broken can walk

the lepers are made clean

the deaf can hear

the dead live again

God speaks to the poor

And if we wanted to update it we might write

Those who education have forgotten—I remember

Those who the new economy has left behind—-I remember

those who can’t afford a doctor—I remember

those who no one will listen to I hear

And those who are dead—from guilt, sin, bad religion, and any other obstacle you have built are made alive

and still, God speaks to the poor.

It’s a shock, isn’t it. That’s why we call it irony. We thought Jesus would be more religious than he was. We thought he would be more of a law and order messiah. We thought he would be upset by sinners. Turns out, He’s forgiving of sin and eats with sinners. More of a grace and start over messiah.

Jesus’ irony also turned the Old Religion on its head.

Jesus method was entirely different from what Jews or anyone had previous been exposed to. This may also explain John the Baptist question. This is one of many Old Testament selections I could offer.

 If you hear it said about one of the towns that the LORD your God is giving you to live in, that scoundrels from among you have gone out and led the inhabitants of the town astray, saying, ‘Let us go and worship other gods’, whom you have not known, then you shall inquire and make a thorough investigation. If the charge is established that such an abhorrent thing has been done among you, you shall put the inhabitants of that town to the sword, utterly destroying it and everything in it—even putting its livestock to the sword. All of its spoil you shall gather into its public square; then burn the town and all its spoil with fire, as a whole burnt-offering to the LORD your God (Deut. 13:12-16).

A disciple was required to judge if someone was leading others astray, then your discipleship required you to then kill the others, then you burn their possessions. The point, of course, is that you could not coexist with these people, even their possessions were tainted.

Now this mindset went way beyond the Jews. Another writer calls these instructions as coming from the old religion. You can find them in other ancient texts. Purity seemed to be highly valued.

In Leviticus, it is written

Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine (Leviticus 20:26).

Can’t be much clearer than this. God is holy and he wants his people to be holy. Of course holy would be closely akin to being pure. To be holy people we would indeed need to clean the land of temptations and remove foreigners who might try to corrupt the rest of us. So the old religion calls for holiness, and the reason is God is holy.

This may have been what John the Baptist was looking for. A savior who stayed away from the sinners, lepers, prostitutes, and publicans, maybe that is why John is wondering.

Jesus appears and while I think he was holy, he did not spend his time separating himself from those who were sinners and failures. Instead he was ridiculed for spending time with sinners, which I suppose are the people previously in the old religion, you would stab or at least avoid, but Jesus would speak to women who had multiple marriages and lived with another man and touch people who had withered hands, and let people touch him who were total strangers. There is the irony, the holiest of all people having no problem with the unholy.

Even further, the irony is seen when Jesus echoes what was written in Leviticus.

“You must be merciful as your father in Heaven is merciful” (Luke 6:36).

Jesus replaces holy with compassion. Was it a coincidence that Jesus picks the same syntax? Or did he choose it deliberately to remind his listeners of what they had previously heard? Surely the disciples who followed him and the other Jews who listened to him knew their history well enough to hear the echo of “holy” when Jesus said “merciful.”

Not only was God’s role updated, but now the people would be judged not by their ability to separate themselves from the pain of people, now they would be judged by how well they extended the same mercy as the father. Jesus was sent from a God who was not angry at the people, but a God who felt for the people.

But the old religion does not die easily. While Jesus, was calling people to practice mercy and grace, the other voices did not fall silent. The call for holiness/separation continued to speak up.

Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’ (1 Peter 1:15).

The believers this author is writing to are facing a very difficult time, even persecution. The call from this writer is BACK to the Old Religion.  Be holy as God is holy. Holiness, however, is not one dimensional. It does imply purity from corrupting influences but at its heart, it means to belong to God. So maybe the author is only calling us to remember who we belong to, to act like God’s people.

Yet it remains a curiosity to me that the author actually quotes the Leviticus passage. Of course, there would not have been a bound volume of Luke circulating around to quote from, but surely this writer would have been familiar with one of Jesus MAJOR themes. The authors point is to remember who you belong to. However, the faith which has followed have often used this call to return to the OLD religion, the religion of separation and holiness at the price of compassion.

Jesus makes the church uncomfortable. All this talk of compassion makes us squirm.  Are showing and living compassion more difficult than being pure or holy? I don’t know.

I do recognize that to be pure or holy as the Old Religion called for, I must avoid certain people, draw a circle and make sure I am inside the circle.  I think this would get tiring after a while, not to mention we are really not changing the world only protecting ourselves.

Which returns us the irony of Jesus—-he actually describes his followers as salt and light. It would appear Jesus did not anticipate a way forward which involved division, he wanted his followers embedded in the world.

Salt in the salt shaker is useless. It must be generously applied to do its work. Light invades the darkness, not living elsewhere but facing the darkness. To bring light is a compassion act, especially when we all live in the dark.

While living compassionate may not be more difficult than living holy, I think I know why people today want to return to the Old Religion. Living compassionately is dangerous, it is risky, and that’s why it scares us.

In a final twist of irony, it would appear that living holy is harder than living compassionately. Until we try to do it. Then we realize Jesus was not lowering the bar when he said, “Be merciful as your father is merciful” he was raising it.

By John Roy, Pelham Road Church, July 2016

 

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A Friday Benediction

sunset1It’s been a long week for some, may they find rest
It’s been an uphill week for others, may the weekend be downhill
It’s been a loud week for many, may the weekend be quiet

Yet, as we move from the labors of the week to the task of the weekend
May we find at least a moment this weekend where
your presence warms us like the Summer sun
a hug becomes a sacred moment
we feel unconditional love
we breathe deeply and enjoy the people and places of our lives

May we find a Sabbath this weekend
A place bathed in sunshine where our soul can be quiet
May we live full of grace and truth
And allow us the courage to treat others the way we desire to be treated.
In the name of the one invites the weary to find their rest we pray, Amen.
by John Roy

 

 

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Heart—broken

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There are at least two ways of having our heart broken. First, our heart could be broken into pieces. Like candy falling from a pinata, pieces of our heart scattered across the floor. We can certainly break this way, broken with little chance of the pieces being found, much less mended. The second way our heart can break is “in two.” Imagine a watermelon being cut open or a cantaloupe. The hard shell is broken to reveal what we really are. When we are broken “in two” something good pours                                                                                                     forth from our brokenness.

There is little doubt we will be broken in this world but how we will break open is left undefined. “Having said a blessing, he broke the bread and gave it to them.” This is the power of being broken “in two.”

What we remember today is how one person was broken open and the transformation made possible by the breaking. It is not often that breaking anything has a positive outcome. “My car is broke.” “I think I broke my arm.” “That’s not working, I think it is broken.” The word implies—not functioning. Only God could take such a word as broken, and turn it on its head.

Jesus breaks bread, this is the body broken. But Jesus has been broken open since he was born. He was broken when the disciples could not love Samaritans but instead wanted to call down fire. Jesus was broken when James and John argued over who was the greatest. Jesus was broken when his disciples could not fulfill his mission and heal the sick. Jesus was broken when Peter denied him three times. And of course, Jesus was broken open on a cross.

What we are reminded of today is what happens when someone is broken open, not broken into pieces. This world breaks us all, it breaks us with unnecessary deaths, destructive marriages, debt, fear, and unfulfilling jobs. The question then becomes will it break us into pieces or will it break us open. In a moment we will hold in our hands what represents the broken body of our Lord. As you are served the body of Jesus may you be reminded that a life broken open gives life? From the broken flesh of Jesus poured forth a healing spirit that gave life to us all. Not a life that is fleeting, but a life that is deep and wide, eternal and abundant. From his brokenness comes our life. Hallelujah.

What flows from our brokenness?

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The Kingdom Without Borders

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Matthew 3:1-3, Mathew 10:7-9, Mark 1

By John Roy

Pelham Road Church

Greenville SC                                                                          April 2016

It started with a conversation about parking lots.

Rabbi Aryeh Azriel, a senior rabbi at Temple Israel, a Reform Jewish congregation, was speaking to Bob Freeman, past president of Temple Israel, about building a new place of worship. They both remarked how nice it was to share parking lots with a Methodist church and an Omaha theater on High Holy Days.

They planned to relocate to West Omaha and contacted Dr. Syed Mohiuddin, president of the American Muslim Institute, whose group was also relocating. The conversation moved from sharing parking lots to wondering about a campus where three communities — Temple Israel, along with Muslim and Christian houses of worship — would share what is now known as the Tri-Faith campus.

Temple Israel, the American Muslim Institute and the Episcopal diocese of Nebraska purchased the land in December 2011. A founding partner, the Episcopal diocese transitioned the partnership to Countryside Community Church, a United Church of Christ congregation, in April 2015.

Azriel, who is retiring in June, said he is not focusing so much on the Tri-Faith Center’s impact on the rest of the world. “I’m just interested in doing something here in Omaha, making sure the relationships are solid, meaningful and just,” he said.

He added that it is possible that the same sort of initiative could work elsewhere, but “we have a long road before we accomplish this neighborhood that will be established finally in 2018.”

Temple Israel opened on the campus in October 2013. The American Muslim Institute broke ground in May 2015 and Countryside Community Church is in the midst of making plans with an architect. A Tri-Faith Center, which will be shared by all three groups, will break ground sometime in 2016.

“We are going to call it Abraham’s Tent,” said Mohiuddin. “He’s the father of all three religions and the building will be shaped like a tent.”

From Nebraska travel with me to Kenya, in East Africa violence broke out in 2014. An American journalist was covering the violence as was trying to get a little background to what was going on. He was interviewing a knowledgeable Kenyan about the situation.

“The tension is between the Luo, Luhya, and the other fifty tribes in the country,” is how the Kenyan explained the situation.

The journalist ask, “Which tribe are you from?”

The Kenyan said, “I could answer that question I am not ashamed of my tribe. It is part of who I am. But at the risk of sounding rude I would rather not answer.”

The journalist of course could not let that go, “Are you afraid.?”

“No” said the Kenyan, “In every country there are only two tribes those who have and those who don’t have. It is enough to know I am one of the haves. But I don’t exist to serve my tribe, I am here representing Kenya—all tribes, all people.”

Like this Kenyan I know who I am. I know the tribe I originated in. I love my heritage, from old hymns to fried chicken, and I am grateful for it. But my identities as a Christian cannot become a barrier or a wall. Being a follower of Jesus, the one who welcomed all to his table, my priority must be to make welcome all people from all tribes.

From strangers we become friends, then we become co-workers, and eventually partners. If we remain in tribes, we will remain fractured and broken. Of course we would be beyond foolish to think there are not differences. Differences, however, are not barriers. Barriers are fear, hatred, prejudice, and an unwillingness to listen.

Jews, Christians, Muslims, just to reference the tribes sharing the campus in Nebraska, are not identical. Our dietary requirements even differ. But we all believe God is the answer, not money or power, but God. Flowers are not identical either but they live in harmony, and so can sincere people of ALL faiths.

Beyond religion we break our world down into many tribes—tribes based on bank accounts, color of skin, sexual orientation, education, and the list really could go on and on. The first point of the morning is that tribes divide and division is not an answer. Yet how does Christ overcome these barriers?

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God] 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:14-15).

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”(Matthew 3:1-3).

As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand,] Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. (Matthew 10:7-9).

The Kingdom is AT hand.

Jesus did not say the Kingdom was beyond reach. There is no indication in scripture that Jesus believed the things he was teaching were for some future time. Pray for your enemies, turn the other cheek, and love one another, these were real practices to be extended to their world/ our world. The Romans and Pagans to the earliest believers were to be loved, forgiven, and welcomed. For us it is other religions and the mosaic of tribes we call neighbors that are to be loved.

Neither did Jesus say the Kingdom is IN HAND already accomplished. That the walls had been replaced by bridges and the barriers removed.

The Kingdom of God is both in reach yet not possessed. A gift given but not completely received.

Jesus was about one tribe and everyone was included—God’s Kingdom. All are welcome in God’s commonwealth—remember your scripture—Jesus offered a place where the Pharisee and prostitute were both at home, the chief priest and the Samaritans sat side by side with Christ, the Sadducees (Jesus theological rival) and the Roman Centurions ( Jesus’ ethical rivals) were both included at the table of our Lord. This commonwealth would test the boundaries of polite society—gentile and Jew, male and female, the slave and the slave owner were all welcomed. What eventually became our name Christianity was not the point. For Jesus and the New Testament authors the point was the Kingdom of God.

The way some people today talk about Jesus you would think he is private property, their deity, reserved for their needs, tribe, and worship. We dare proclaim that Jesus is larger than us, he cannot be held hostage—“God so loved the WORLD he gave his only Son.” The world is much bigger than Christians, America, or however, we define our tribe. The world includes the Shik, the Muslim, the Wall Street Banker, and Black Lives Matter. We call them tribes, but God calls them his creation, his beloved. Christ was sent, and thus belongs, not to us, but to the world.

What did Jesus mean by the Kingdom of God? Jesus resisted boxing himself in on a definition. I imagine though he meant something larger than religion could contain. It has something to do with growing and transforming and becoming. Growing beyond our tribe and being transformed beyond our comfort zone.

Jesus once preached–

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 

Jesus was a Jew of modest means, his tribe did not have all the power  but Jesus was not blind, he was not a captive, he was not oppressed, those were not his tribes—but he came representing God, who invites all tribes and all people. The pressure is on us to follow the example of our savior and break down the modern barriers.

How do we overcome these modern barriers—-Jesus answer is the Kingdom of God, preach it, welcome it, live it, share it and the barriers will be broken. It’s that simple and that challenging.

The Kingdom of God is at hand. The barriers are already falling.

When we try to decrease the gap between rich and poor by planting a garden or giving to the Frazee Center so children can break free of the cycle of poverty, barriers are falling.

When we teach our children to love all people the walls are crumbling.

When a church, synagogue, and Mosque share property in Nebraska the fortress is falling.

When we serve brownies with Gospel Love to graduating seniors at Carolina High  who are overcoming poverty, troubled homes, and social disabilities, recognizing their accomplishment and that they may the first in their family to attend college barriers are falling.

When we march with others in our community to raise awareness that children are gifts from God and need love and protection walls are falling.

The Kingdom is at hand so we must keep the doors of the church open wide. God’s message is being heard, captives are being released the oppressed are being liberated.

In the end, at the Apocalypse, the seventh angel blows the trumpet and shouts—-“Everyone has joined our religion or been destroyed.” No . . . never, they shout, “The Kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of our Lord.” Yes.

Prejudice replaced by love
Fear replaced by hope
Enemies replaced by friends
Hatred replaced by worship

That’s a kingdom worth following.

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Love and Harmony

by John Roy, Pelham Road Church Greenville, SC. April 2016 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13Bear with one ano…

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Love and Harmony

by John Roy, Pelham Road Church
Greenville, SC.
April 2016

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.14Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Colossians 3:12-15

If someone was to say of another “they are so Pollyanna” what would they be saying? This is the first of three places where your participation is expected.

An overly optimistic and cheerful person.

I’ve been preaching pretty frequently on being kind, using kind words, and other practices that prioritize forgiveness and mutual respect. Of course if you’ve been awake during recent months you might say the world is in open rebellion against my words. I would of course remind you that I am preaching to YOU and that as far as I can tell you have doubled down on kindness—your generosity toward the 40 for 40 campaign, your enthusiastic support of the Easter basket project, the continued concern you have for children by supporting project pinwheel, the way you rally around the bereaved and the newcomer. So I’m not Pollyanna I’m simply looking at the results and saying—Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Now if you lift your eyes beyond our church family and watch the news—you could make a reasoned argument that kindness cannot stop a bomb or create a job. In Pakistan a bomb explodes killing Christian’s, in Belgium a bomb explodes and kills Muslims. In Greenville a man shoots a police officer. In New Jersey a teenager commits suicide due to bullying. There is an appalling lack of kindness that we must acknowledge. Should we then conclude that being kind is fruitless and join the rest of the madness?

The madness we are facing today is nothing. Consider the events of September 11, 2001 now that was a maddening day. One of the most remarkable and memorable aspects of the tragedy, was when faced with human tragedy even the tragedy of strangers people ran to help.

Not to minimize the effort of the police or fire fighters but they are trained to run toward tragedy. But if you can stand to watch the footage you will see bankers, custodians, and construction workers and they are carrying and bandaging total strangers. I encourage you to look at some of the footage. It’s horrific that people care so little about human life but it is also heroic that people care so much about strangers. What I found compelling was everybody was gray—due to the ash. You could not tell who was white, black, or Latino so race was not a factor. Neither was age or religion—-there were no strangers, no enemies—-just neighbors.

No one trained these sandwich makers and custodians how to love. No instruction videos were circulated to teach kindness and generosity. These people without financial motivation carried people to safety, helped people find loved ones, gave fresh water, and medical attention because they knew what was right. It would appear they were wired this way.

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.14Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 

Of course others might argue we are not wired to be kind. Scripture directs us to “cloth” ourselves which may be a subtle or not so subtle way of saying there is effort—-in forgiveness, kindness, humility, etc.  I agree there is effort, but effort does not mean it is not natural. What makes it effort is that in life we learn or witness other values that compete against patience and kindness. The effort is to listen to our original programming and not listen to the software installed at a later date.

Scripture refers to this software as the fruit of the flesh—-and we might summarize the fruit as decisions which result in self-preservation and pleasure. Sure these compete against the way of kindness but when you observe from afar, kindness has as many converts as self-preservation and on our worse day’s (like 9/11) maybe MORE.

Now for your second audience participation question; the following is a song—from what musical does it come.

Carousel, South Pacific, or State Fair
“You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!”

–Rogers and Hammerstein

It’s the last stanza that troubles me. Hate is taught to the young, the impressionable. As we are considering our children and protecting our children, one of the things we need to protect them from is hate and prejudice. If we teach hate we poison our children and that does not make us a hero that makes us a villain.

What should be our curriculum for our children? The temptation is to make our curriculum modern or post-modern something relevant for today. Something that takes into account the technology, surveillance, and the lack of privacy world we live in. Yet the human heart, the one that beats in our child’s body has not changed, it remains the same and so I think some ancient advice may be in order.

14Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

This sounds a bit Pollyanna—–love is good but it’s not duct tape.

Scripture is not written to call us to do the sane and predictable, our symbol is not a weather vain but a cross, we don’t follow where the wind is blowing. Scripture is often counter cultural, that’s what makes it worth living by. It ask us to do the hard thing—

“turn the other cheek,”
the unpredictable “pray for those who persecute you”
and the lonely—-“go into your prayer closet.”

While I think it is in our DNA to be kind, loving, and patient, I recognize there are other values that compete with even these natural tendencies. In the age of the bully, the selfish, and the hater I think we are summons by God to ignore these “values of the flesh.”

In the book Wild Justice: The moral lives of animals we learn that animals can show compassion. Your third question this morning. Which animal did research show was most often compassionate—–squires, cats, or spiders?

It turns out that red squirrels are kind and compassionate in that orphan baby squirrels are often adopted by other squirrels. Due to the high rate of squirrel deaths from encounters with cars many squirrel pups are orphaned. After the death of a mother a neighboring squirrel will go over and retrieved one of the orphaned pups and bring it back to her nest to raise as her own. There was really no reason for her to do this and further there’s no reason to reject the idea that she did it out of kindness and compassion.

But what about us—can we be this compassionate?

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?[i]

Think for a moment about the ways this can be applied?

If you have the time to hold a child who needs holding.
If you have a book another person would enjoy?
If you see a teenager with their head hanging low and you have a nice thing to say?

If you have time to do the dishes for your spouse?
If you have time to pick up the dry cleaning?
If you have money to treat your mom and dad to dinner?
If you have an extra coat and you see a person without a coat?
And our response is to have no pity (to not be kind) then why do we bother calling ourselves Christian.

In other words, if WE haven’t mastered the ability to be kind, to see and do, then why even bother with more bible study, more singing, because the love of God is not end us.

Love and un-Love are two different actions.

If what we feel and do is limited to certain people, conditional, and is exclusive what we have is the makings for a country club, or civic organization—we have un-love. Un-love is not hate but it is not love.

But if what we have is unconditional and unlimited and is inclusive, not exclusive what we have  is the Kingdom of God. We have found and practice love.

What can we do this week which makes the world into the world God desires?
Coach an employee up instead of putting them down?
Give some time to visit someone who is sick?
Pass down some clothes to another and save them some money?

Speak with a person of another faith or a different color?
Send a card or email to someone who needs a word of encouragement? Acting on love and being kind doesn’t cost anything, except giving our time and paying attention.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.[ii]

 

 

[i]  I John 3:17

[ii] Colossians 3:12

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Kind Speech

2013-07-06 20.18.39The Americans with disabilities act was signed by George H.W. Bush in 1990. This legislation set in motion the reserving of parking places for the handicapped. It’s hard to believe 26 years have passed since the law was enacted. Today we take for granted that those who are physically restricted should receive the parking closest to the front door of a restaurant or store. To most of us, it makes common sense.

This piece of legislation is considered one of the first signs of political correctness. It was a policy written to not offend (no longer disadvantage) a group of 53 million Americans who suffer and live with disabilities.

Prior to 1990 businesses did not desire to offend a sizeable group of the population. Most likely it was only a matter of thoughtlessness, it did not cross their mind that rolling a wheelchair 50 yards across a parking lot was harder than rolling it 15 yards from the front parking spaces.

After 26 years most of us would not identify “Handicap parking” with political correctness. Today it seems like the right thing to do. Today it seems natural to be as kind as possible. Maybe that’s all the testimony needed, what one person views as political correctness is nothing more than being kind to another.

As Christian’s our calling is much higher than being politically correct or avoiding hate speech. Our calling is to be kind, “Be kind one to another.”

My mother had a good friend named Alice. Alice and she shopped together, drank coffee together, camped together and played cards together, they were friends—good friends.

As a teenager, I noticed there were times when Alice stood my mother up. Mom would get ready on Saturday morning to go shopping –a big day, all dressed up with jewelry and heels and then Alice would not show.  Mother would naturally be disappointed because a Saturday of shopping was always better than a Saturday of housekeeping. I once asked my mother about Alice and why she was unreliable. Mother told me not to talk like that and explained Alice’s absence by saying, “Oh Alice had a spell this morning, she’ll feel better and we will go out next weekend.” A spell?

Mother always spoke of others in these modest tones “spell,” “fit,” and “bless their heart.” In my twenties, I learned the truth. Alice abused prescription drugs and often could not get out of bed on Saturday or for the whole weekend. Alice needed rehab.

Instead of “telling it like it is” which is trendy these days, mother was kind. Of course, she pleaded with Alice in private to get help, but in their social circles mother–

 Did not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (Ephesians 4:29).

Our parents and grandparents were unfamiliar with hate speech and political correctness, mainly because they were familiar with Christianity.  They were keenly aware that—-you treat (and speak) about others the way you would like to be treated (or spoken about).

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Blue Sky and Gray Sky Prayer

gray-clouds-blue-sky

Father of all time and any weather, our lives are composed of days with blue sky and gray. May we recognize the blue sky days, open our eyes to see the days where the birds sing and the sun shines and the sky is clear. May we not take these days for granted or ignore the beauty of your earth and our days.  May we celebrate the love and warmth found on these days, celebrating with longer hugs, meaningful conversation, and grateful hearts.

Yet when the sky turns gray may we accept these days, not as a curse or a difficulty to bear, but for what it is, another day. A day when  the air will be colder and wetter, yet we have nothing to fear from the gray sky. May we look at the gray sky with courage. Give us the ability to see clouds as temporary.

In the name of the one who is always present whether the sky is blue or gray, we pray, Amen.

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March 10, 2016 · 2:42 pm