These are my thoughts for this Sunday, the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany. It is also Boy Scout Sunday. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Isaiah 40: 21-31, 1 Corinthians 9: 16 – 23, and Mark 1: 29 – 39.
Ordinarily, I would be focusing on this Sunday being Boy Scout Sunday. But the Scriptures don’t lend themselves to such thoughts and there is much about what the Boy Scouts are doing these days that I disagree with.
Now, I have a lot to be thankful for from my association with the Boy Scouts. I learned to cook, though I don’t do much cooking these days. I learned to hike and camp; while I don’t do much of that anymore, having been in the Scouts increased my appreciation of the environment. And, of course, it was while I was in the Boy Scouts and working on the God and Country award that I began this journey through life.
But decisions made by the national organization about who can be a leader and who can earn the Eagle award have soured me on the organization. But I shouldn’t be surprised by what the national organization did. It was in step with the agenda of fear, ignorance, and false morality that has so dominated our lives these past twenty years or so. The actions of the national Boy Scout office speak of a morality that is more the product of their own values than it is the values of the Bible.
In this technology driven era where the discussion of church growth focuses on post-modernism, we still associate holiness as a product of moral behavior in terms of sexual purity, financial honesty, and a commitment to private prayer. We act as if holiness were either outdated or something that characterizes a small portion of our daily lives. And while we have cast off legalistic notions of holiness, we have replaced them with private notions of holiness.
And while the Bible may speak of ‘holy’ or ‘holiness’ (qadosh, hagios) with a strong secondary connotation of moral purity, that is not what scripture is talking about. Rather, the most basic meaning of the words is to be ‘set apart’ or ‘dedicated’ to God—to belong to God. ‘I will be your God, and you will be my people,’ says Yahweh (Lev. 26:12; Heb. 8:10). Thus, before one can give any consideration to the idea of morality, we must first consider that unique relationship that God established and desires with his people. This relationship has moral ramifications, but it precedes moral behavior. Before we are ever called to be good, we are called to be holy. Unless we rightly understand and affirm the primacy of this relationship, we fall into the inevitable trap of reducing holiness to mere morality. (From Christianity Today, May 9, 2007 issue reprinted in August, 2007, issue of Context).
It seems to me that the religious voice of the past decade has been that this country is a Christian nation. But it is a self-definition; Christianity is what we want it to be, not what it was or what it was intended to be.
The words of the prophet Isaiah today are designed to remind us of what God has done in this world, the wonders and excitement that come from his creation. But we often do not look beyond the walls of our own churches. The world is crying out and we are safe and secure inside our sanctuaries.
Do we not see what is going on in this world? Do we not hear the cry of the people? There are people without food or jobs; there are people who do not have adequate health care or housing; each day we hear that more people have lost their jobs. And yet the people who call themselves God’s children remain silent.
Oh, some people do speak. Some say that these are the end times and the world is doomed to destruction and there is nothing we can do about it.
There are some who say that the resolution of the problems of the world is either impossible or the beginnings of socialism. And rather than offer reasonable solutions, they merely work to defeat any proposal because it disturbs their twisted sense of decency and fair-play. It is not right these critics say to help the poor because it takes away from the wealthy. Let the wealthy earn their money and they will see that the poor will get what they need.
But how did they earn it? Was it done fairly? Or was it out of step with the workers who actually did the work? I hold the same thought that John Wesley had when it came to salaries; everyone has the right to earn whatever they can get but they are not to do it on the back of others and through oppression and exploitation of the workers.
Wesley also encouraged each person to save as much as they could and then give as much as they could. I do not see much in the way of the later from the many who are earning so much while there are many who do not have any.
The mantra of the last political campaign was “change” and there was change. But was it a true change? The negative voices that warned of doom and failure are even louder and doing everything they can to create doom and failure; those who fought for change only wanted, it seemed, for the control of power to change.
True change requires new ideas and all we are hearing are the same old ideas, ideas that have failed before. But we haven’t encouraged new thinking, we haven’t encouraged creativity. We have built walls around our sanctuaries and we keep people out; we have built walls around our minds and we keep the spirit of creativity and thought out; we have built walls around our hearts and we have kept the Holy Spirit from coming in.
There are people who seek answers; they are the hungry and cold, the sick and the ill, the blind and the lame, the homeless and the oppressed, they are the ones who seek Jesus. And in a society that shows a false Christianity, a rich veneer on a shabby interior, we are unable to provide them with the answers.
We have created a society in which war is almost a necessity. We willingly went to war eight years ago because we were afraid. The walls of our safe and secure home were breached; it is a classic joke that a conservative today is a liberal who has been mugged. We willingly let our rights as people get trampled because we let fear guide our thoughts. Fear lives in the darkness of our souls, not in the lightness; fear demands darkness and we are comfortable there. We cannot stand the light which exposes all our flaws and the cracks in the veneer.
From the book of Proverbs we read
There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that hurry to run to evil, a lying witness who testifies falsely,
and one who sows discord in a family. (Proverbs 6:16-19)
We wan to be a society “without” and that has what we have become. In 1925, Mohandas Gandhi pointed out that all violence can be traced back to seven recurring blunders. We want wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity (and perhaps humanity without science), worship without sacrifice, and politics without principles. But what we are without that which gives us strength and courage to face the unknown, to bring light into the darkness.
Whether you listen to the words of Solomon or the words of Gandhi, it is clear that we must hear the words and change our ways. As Paul points out, we are no longer in this for ourselves; the Gospel is not for an individual, it is for everyone, no matter who they may be.
When I wrote “An On-going Culture of War”, I referred to the April, 2008, issue of Connections, a monthly newsletter by Barbara Wendland. In this issue, she is reviewing The Politics of Jesus by Obery M. Hendricks, Jr. Reverend Hendricks points out what Jesus’ strategies were:
- Jesus treated people and their needs as holy.
- Jesus gave a voice to the voiceless.
- Jesus exposed oppressive systems.
- Jesus called demons by their names.
- Jesus got angry about seeing others mistreated.
- Jesus took blows without returning them.
- Jesus demonstrated His way.
We are reminded of the word of the prophet Micah (Micah 6: 6 – 8 )
How can I stand up before God and show proper respect to the high God?
Should I bring an armload of offerings topped off with yearling calves?
Would God be impressed with thousands of rams, with buckets and barrels of olive oil?
Would he be moved if I sacrificed my firstborn child, my precious baby, to cancel my sin?
But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously— take God seriously.
I entitled this piece “A New Paradigm” for a specific reason. Like so many words that we bandy about these days, words like mercy, justice, piety, and holiness, we use the word without knowing what it truly means. We say that we believe in kindness and compassion but we treat others cruelly and impersonally. Our actions are often the opposite of our words.
Borrowing from my doctoral notes on the nature of scientific philosophy, a paradigm can be considered the boundaries that define our practices. There comes a time, however, when our practices cannot meet the needs of the system and there needs to be a paradigm shift, the development of new practices and possibly new ideas. Such changes come with great difficulty and much fighting.
We are at that point in our society. We need new ideas, we need new thoughts and we cannot be limited by the old ways. As long as we think in terms of the individual and look inward, we cannot be the persons whom we say we are. When Christ came to this world, he offered a radical shift in the role of the person. We were to be for others what we wanted them to be for us; we were to give freely of ourselves instead of demanding that others do so.
It was a shift in the way life was to be. For a period of time, that was the way. But over the years, we have allowed us ourselves to be that which we once opposed. The time has come to cast away the old ideas and search out new ways. It will be difficult because it will require that we leave our safe sanctuaries and our secure homes and go out into the world. We cannot do it alone; we must do it with our friends, our neighbors, and people we haven’t met. But more importantly, we must do it with Christ as well. The people sought Christ because He offered what society could not; we claim to be Christ’s people. Maybe it is time for us to be those people. Let the days of the new paradigm begin today and let them begin with us.