There is an interesting thing about this particular Sunday in the liturgical calendar. As I have been writing my blogs for these past few months, I have been posting my sermons from Walker Valley UMC and Tompkins Corners UMC (this was before I began blogging). But this week, there are no sermons from the two churches. On 28 May 2000, I was in Albuquerque, NM at the USBC Open; on 25 May 2003, I was in Knoxville, TN, for the USBC Open. For the 6th Sunday in Easter in 2006 (21 May), I did post my thoughts (see “Opening the Circle”).
I am again bowling in the USBC Open this year in Las Vegas (it will be 32nd tournament appearance) and it will once again coincide with Pentecost Sunday.
So, here are my thoughts for this Sunday, the 6th Sunday of Easter. The scriptures for this Sunday are Acts 10: 44 – 48; 1 John 5: 1 – 6, and John 15: 9 – 17.
Abraham Lincoln once told us that the government of this country was a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” But it doesn’t appear to me that we have that sort of government anymore.
In the period from 1995 to 2005, the gap between the rich and the poor has gotten bigger and there is almost virtually no middle class left. (Gap between Rich and Poor Growing) The number of people unemployed keeps getting larger each week and while the number of foreclosures may be slowing down, they are still much higher than one would expect in “normal” times. The people of this country are hurting and, yet, we are not doing much of anything to ease the pain and suffering.
It has been reported that the money for the stimulus bill was going to areas that didn’t necessarily need the money while areas which needed the funds weren’t getting any funds. In a review of 5,500 planned transportation projects, the Associated Press found that most of the funds are going to be spent in areas that most likely don’t need the money. The government, according to the AP review, is going to spend 50 percent more money on projects in areas with lower unemployment rates than in areas harder hit by unemployment. Elks County, PA, with a unemployment rate of 13.8 percent is not receiving any of the funds while Riley County (home of Fort Riley Army Base), KS, with an unemployment rate of 3.4% is receiving approximately $56 million dollars. (STIMULUS WATCH: Early road aid leaves out neediest). It was also pointed out that it will probably cost the states as much money to manage and distribute the money as they will receive over the course of the stimulus package. (Stimulus funds in states: It costs money to spend)
Somehow, this doesn’t compute. I am sure that there is some sort of logic to what has been done has some logic to it but it is logic of a day and time that is out of step with what is happening. There is no doubt in my mind that we need to create jobs in this country and that if major parts of this country’s economy go down, then jobs will go down with them. But you cannot create jobs that are copies of the jobs created in the 1930’s and expect anything less than 1930’s results. And I do not believe that anything that is being currently done or anything that took place in the last eight years has done anything for the people of this country, unless they happen to be richer than most or more connected than most.
Our healthcare system is broken but the fixes offered only seek to enrich self-interests on both the left and the right sides, not the people. There are solutions to the health care problems of this country that do not involve immense bureaucracies or are driven by the profit motive but no one wants them because they mean that some will have to give up so that others may have something better.
Our schools are in trouble and while there is talk about upgrading things like science and mathematics education, when it is done it will not reduce the inequality between school districts and it will simply mean that the high income school districts will have more money and the low income school districts will have less. And the students in each district will reap or not reap the benefits accordingly.
I don’t deny that we need to work on the infrastructure of this country but it has to be done in a manner which is fair and equitable, not one that responds to the political prowess of each area’s representatives and senators. While the mantra of the political campaign was and still is change, it doesn’t appear that much change has taken place. But that is because the culture hasn’t changed all that much anyway.
We do not need the same old thoughts because, quite honestly, the same old thoughts don’t work. We do not need responses from our political leaders that are reflections of the old political methodologies and mythologies but rather are images of what we can be. We need new ideas and we are not getting them.
I don’t want the conservatives to begin cheering out loud or telling me that they told me so. To the greatest extent, all conservatives have been doing lately is offering resistance and negative comments, not real and viable alternatives.
This isn’t about being a liberal or a conservative; it is about being who we say we are. We proclaim that we are a Christian nation, though such proclamations come from conservatives and not liberals. But, as Christians, we need to remember the words of Christ when He began His ministry some two thousand years ago. He proclaimed that he had come to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and bring hope to the oppressed; yet today the only words that we seem to recall are his command to go and make disciples of all the people.
And while saving the souls of people is critical, if the daily lives of the people are in danger, if there is no food on the table, then it really doesn’t matter what the condition of their soul is. As John Wesley put it,
Has poverty nothing worse in it than this, it makes men liable to be laughed at? Is not want of food something worse than this?
God pronounced it as a curse upon man that he should earn it by the sweat of his brow. But how many are there in this Christian country that toil, and labor, and sweat, have it not at last, but struggle with weariness and hunger together? Is it not worse for one, after a hard day’s labor, to come back to a poor, cold, dirty, uncomfortable lodging, and to find there not even the food which is needful to repair his wasted strength? You that live at ease on this earth, that want nothing by eyes to see, and ears to hear, and hearts to understand how well God has dealt with you, is it not worse to seek bread day by day, and find none? Perhaps to find the comfort also of five or six children crying for what he has not to give!
Were it not that he is restrained by an unseen hand, would he not soon curse God and die? O want of bread! Want of bread! Who can tell what this means, unless he has felt it himself? I am astonished it occasions no more than heaviness even in them that believe.
John Wesley, Sermons, Heaviness Through Manifold Temptations III 3 (S, II 270-71) (http://www.umc-gbcs.org/site/c.frLJK2PKLqF/b.4452011/k.7E8E/Quotations_by_John_Wesley.htm)
It seems quite clear to me that we have forgotten who we are when we say that we are Christians. We need to remember that those whose actions some two thousand years ago gave us the name of Christian banded together to insure that no one went hungry, naked, or was sick. Yes, they chastised those who did not carry their fair share of the community responsibility but they took care of everyone. And I don’t really care if that would be called socialism today; it is what those who were called Christian did and it is what those who call themselves Christian today should be doing. Society is on the verge of failure, of meeting its collective responsibility to all its members. We cannot blame either liberals or conservatives for this failure; it is a collective failure of all us.
I also know that those early Christians were tortured because of their faith. And yet, the majority of those who proclaim this country a Christian nation have been remarkably silent on the issue of torture and the treatment of prisoners. Have we forgotten that our Savior was tortured? Have we forgotten that crucifixion is one of the most inhumane means of torture and execution ever devised by mankind? Oh, I suppose that we could point out that neither the political or religious authorities were interested in getting some sort of secret information out of Jesus before they nailed Him to the cross; they simply wanted to put Him up there so that others would understand the consequences of going against the status quo. But torture is torture, no matter the reason it is applied.
And now, conservatives are trying to change the discussion from whether or not we tortured the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay or elsewhere and the justification for doing so to saying that those who opposed it knew all about it.
Let’s face it, any discussion of who knew what when is a non-issue; we should be interested in why nothing was said or done to stop it. We tortured prisoners and it really doesn’t matter whether so and so was told or not. What matters is that we did it and many people stood on the sidelines and stayed quiet.
The moment that it became clear that we were torturing other humans, there should have been the loudest cry of protest ever heard on this planet. But somehow we accept the reason that it was necessary for national security and that important information was gained from the process. But what information was gained and why are there reports indicating that torture doesn’t work and that some of those who were tortured were already providing the desired information before they were tortured.
In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus points out that we were chosen by Him and that we will bear fruit, fruit that will last. If our concern for other humans is such that we can willingly accept the notion of torturing people, then I have no desire to eat such fruits.
In that same Gospel reading, Jesus proclaimed His love for us and that we were to return that love by loving others as we have been loved. How can we say that we love others as Jesus loved us when we treat other human beings as we have been doing, economically, socially, and politically?
Now, some will tell me that we shouldn’t love those who are seeking, in some way, to destroy us or our way of life. But can we truly protect our way of life when we ignore the principles that we say we believe in? Or are we blind to the signs that we see and hear?
Those who are conservative and fundamentalist are quick to tell you that society is destroying itself and that we need to return to God. I would agree but not in the manner that they would suggest. This is not a proclamation for the need to become an even more Christian nation. If anything, our hollow proclamation that we are a Christian nation yet we do little to stop hunger, heal the sick, and treat all people fairly and equally should tell us how much we have failed.
We have belittled and forgotten what it means to be a Christian and we are reaping the “rewards” of that effort. Time and time again in the Old Testament, we would read about how the nation of Israel would forget how it came into being and follow a path that only lead to destruction and desolation. Time and time again we hear the words of the prophet urging repentance and a return to God. This, by the way, is not done by laws governing moral behavior or a return to days long past; it is done by changing our lives and our thoughts.
We do not live in an Old Testament world; we are a New Testament people, a people whose lives should have been altered by the presence of Jesus Christ. Jesus came to this world, as He did, in order to offer salvation and promise. He knew exactly what was coming and He had many opportunities to change the direction of His life. But if He had done just that, changed the direction of His life, then His life would have had no meaning and our lives would be equally meaningless.
We should not live our life in expectation of death nor should we live our life in fear. Yes, there is evil in this world and there are going to be those in this world who would seek our destruction. But I don’t believe that we can ensure the victory of good over evil by using the methods of evil; whatever else is true, if we choose methods that our opponents use, then we are no better than they are.
Now, you have the right to feel that it is proper to torture prisoners in the name of truth, justice, and the American way. But, please, please, do not say that you are a Christian. You have the right to earn as much money as you want and keep that money and do whatever you want with it. But, please, please, don’t tell me that you are a Christian.
If we say to someone that poverty is the fault of an individual while others earn far more than they will ever need, we are going to have a hard time when Jesus calls us to task as He said He would in Matthew 25. You can look at verses 14 – 30 and decide if one is wasting their talents or verses 31 – 46 about the blindness of society to the sin and evil around them.
If we say that homelessness, hunger, lack of medical care, and oppression are none of our concerns then we have forgotten the very words Jesus spoke when He began His ministry. If we say that torturing human beings, for whatever reason, is acceptable then we have forgotten what Jesus said about loving others and our enemies.
Christ came into this world to save it, not destroy it. The hymn says that they will know we are Christians by our love. It was the love of the early Christians for each other and their neighbors that changed this world. Let us not forget why we are Christians and what those who came before us did. We who have accepted Christ as our Savior have been given a task; in two weeks, we shall once again receive the Holy Spirit and be given the power to accomplish that task. Let us not forget what we have been called to do.