Fear

Special General Conference

Fear

This is it.

As I write this, the Special General Conference of the United Methodist Church will begin its session at the end of this week.  Delegates from around the world have already begun their journeys to St. Louis for their deliberations.  This appears to be a great watershed moment and the future of the United Methodist Church will be forever changed.

We worry.

Some of us may even experience fear.

I admit to being concerned.  Many of the proposals specifically designed to hold our church together will instead drive the church apart or accelerate its decline. 

So, what will we do?

My advice, to those who have asked me, is to relax (a little).  There are many proposals that the General Conference will consider but they are not obligated to pass any of them.  They might choose one, but it is more likely that they will craft something new from pieces taken from among the various proposals or, at the very least, modify one of those proposals before passing it.  There is also a reasonable chance that they won’t pass anything at all and decide that the best way to keep us together, however unhappily, is not to change anything.  And finally, there is a chance that some elements of whatever may get “kicked down the road” for debate at the regular General Conference in 2020.

But, assuming that the General Conference passes something, then what?

Still, my advice is that we should still not get excited too quickly.

Some proposed changes may require ratification by the annual conferences and that would take a year before the results were known.  But even if a major change were to be passed by the Special General Conference, many of those changes would require Annual Conference action.  And, since our Annual Conference doesn’t meet until June, nothing could happen until then, and understanding the difficulty of preparing that legislation for the Annual Conference, there is a fair chance that we wouldn’t take any action as a conference until June of 2020.  Other actions that are being proposed would open a window for churches to decide and in most cases, we would have a year or so to choose a path forward.

Are you confused?  Of course, you are.

At this point the road ahead looks like a bowl of spaghetti, or a road map of the Los Angeles freeways.  That is precisely why I have been advising folks not to get too excited.  The path ahead, for now, is confusing and unknown.  But, once the General Conference passes something, whether that is next month or in 2020, then the path ahead, and our options, will become much clearer.

And until it does, we will continue to be in ministry to the people around us as Christ Church has for over a hundred years.  For now, we should continue to pray for all of the General Conference delegates.

Trust that God knows what is going to happen.

Have faith that God is in control.

Try not to worry.

And fear not.

 

“So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

– Isaiah 41:10

 


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Fear, Respect, and Posers

“Fear, Respect, and Posers”

October 08, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Exodus 20:1-20                      Philippians 3:4b-14                           Matthew 21:33-46

 

 

 This morning I want us to begin by using our imagination for a moment.  Imagine if you met someone who referred to themselves as a professional race car driver, but who never drove a car.  Imagine someone who owned a steel company but the factory that they owned never produced a single ton of steel.  Imagine someone who bragged about owning a vineyard but that vineyard never produced a single grape.  In each of these cases, you would quickly begin to doubt their credentials and would suspect that they were posers, faking their way through life trying to make themselves feel important.

 

At the same time, imagine living in a place where the police department was prohibited from making arrests, had no handcuffs, no jail, and had nothing more than balloon animals and water guns to enforce the law.  Instead of stopping criminals, the police spend their time entertaining children at birthday parties.  Obviously, they wouldn’t be much of a police department and no one would take them seriously.

 

With these ideas in mind, we return to the story of the Exodus and the people of Israel.  Today we hear the words of God as he handed down the Ten Commandments to Moses and to the people. (Exodus 20:1-20)


20:1 And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

 

I could present a sermon on each one of those, but for today I wanted to stress the last sentence.  First, Moses tells the people that they should not be afraid, but then immediately says that these commandments were given so that the people would have a “fear of God” that would keep them from sinning.  Doesn’t that sound like two conflicting ideas?  How can we be unafraid, and yet fear God?

 

The simple answer is that although these words translate the same, these two uses of the word fear, and afraid, are used to express two curiously different ideas.  When Moses says “Do not be afraid” that is exactly what he means.  He is telling the people that they needn’t run from God, that they do not need to keep their distance from God, and that simply being in the presence of God is not a life threatening situation in which they must worry, from moment to moment, that God will strike them dead with a thought, a look, or a bolt of lightning.

 

On the other hand, God has given these commandments, and has revealed his presence on earth, so that we might be prevented from continuing in our sin.  As I noted in my earlier example, imagine what would happen if everyone knew that the people charged with law enforcement were prevented from, and totally incapable of, enforcing the law.  In that case, law breakers would have free reign to do whatever they wanted, and even decent people would be sorely tempted to do things they shouldn’t do.  How many people would follow the speed limit if it were announced that the State Highway Patrol and local law enforcement officers would no longer patrol the interstate highways or give out tickets?  In this case, what Moses is saying is that God is real, God is powerful beyond imagination, but that God is a good god who loves you beyond measure.  At the same time, there is a list of things that humans do that offend God and we would be wise to avoid doing them.  When they are functioning correctly and when our relationship with the police department is the way it’s supposed to be, we are not afraid to meet a police officer on the street.  We know that they are there to protect us and to keep us safe.  But we also have a healthy respect for them and for what they do, and their presence reminds us that it is wise for us to obey the law.  This deep, abiding, and healthy respect for the presence of God is what Moses describes as “the fear of God.”  We need not be afraid of him, or fear to be in his presence, but we should be stopped in our tracks by the thought of offending him and breaking his laws.

 

God’s intent is not to destroy us, but to prevent us from violating his law and thus bring harm to ourselves.

 

By the time of Paul, the commandments and the laws of God had been elevated in status by people, like the Pharisees, to become an object of worship.  The laws became so important that they became idols that distracted people away from the will of God instead of pointing toward the will of God.  And, before his encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul was one of those people.  But afterward, Paul understood the law in an entirely different way.  In Philippians 3:4b-14 he described his new understanding this way:
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

 

Paul had spent his life learning the rules, following the rules, respecting the rules, teaching the rules and then enforcing the rules.  The rules were his life’s mission.  And then, after his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul says that he considers everything that he ever did to be garbage, filth, because he now understood that following the rules can never make us good enough, but that we can only become pure because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  He now understood that we can never, on our own, be good enough, but we must continually work to get better, to become worthy of the gift that we have been given by Jesus.

 

But how do we know when we are doing the right thing?  If following a bunch of rules isn’t good enough, then how do we know when we are following Jesus the way that Jesus desires for us to follow him?  And for that, at least in part, we can turn to Matthew 21:33-46, where Jesus tells his disciples what we now call the parable of the landowner.

 

33 “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

35 “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

38 “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir.  Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

41 “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. 46 They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.

 

Once again, this entire parable was told as a criticism of the leadership of Israel and of Israel’s religious leaders.  They were, in opinion of Jesus, leadership posers.  They were standing in front of the people telling them what to do and how to do it, but they weren’t doing any of the right things themselves.  They were the race car drivers who never drove a single race, steel makers who never produced a single pound of steel, and vineyard owners who never produced a single grape.  Jesus said that the measuring stick to measure a race car driver was to watch him, or her race.  We judge steel makers by how they produce steel, and we measure vineyards by how many grapes are grown.  Likewise, Jesus says, the leaders of the church, and the church itself, are measured by the fruit that they produce.  You can talk about rules all you want, you can talk about churchy stuff all you want, but in the end, the important thing is to measure how many lives have been changed because of what you are doing.

 

Although the Ten Commandments are of obvious importance, the question has never been about how well we follow them, but about why we follow them, and about the results that we get from doing so. Our calling is to follow the law, not because that’s the most important thing, but because we want to be obedient in order to express our gratitude for what Jesus has done for us.  We cannot be posers who pretend to do the work of God in order to make ourselves feel better.  We must measure our success by the people who have come to faith in Jesus Christ, the lives that have been changed, and the souls that have been drawn closer to God.

 

This is our vineyard.

 

This is the fruit that we are called to produce.

 

And Jesus warns us that if we fail, he will move us out and bring in someone else who will.

 

 

 

 

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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

 

Released From Fear

“Released From Fear”

June 19, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Luke 8:26-39             Galatians 3:23-29                1 Kings 19:1-15a

 

Have you ever been afraid?

I’m not talking about scary movies where you might be afraid, but a part of you always knows that it isn’t real.  I mean the kind of fear that comes from real life.  You might have been afraid of a bully, or your boss, or cancer, or a number of other things.  If you’ve been in church for a while, you have probably heard some of the things that the Bible says about fear and how we should trust God.  But in the end, even those with the strongest of faith will sometimes be afraid.  We begin this morning once again in 1 Kings 19:1-15a, only days after Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal.

19:1 Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.

All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram.

If you remember, last week we head about how corrupt Ahab and Jezebel were and how they thought nothing of framing an innocent man just so that they could take away his little piece of land for themselves.  They were both completely unscrupulous and utterly evil.  And so, only days (maybe less) after Elijah witnessed fire from heaven consume God’s sacrifice, and the altar, and the water, and the dirt under it, Jezebel threatens that she intends to kill Elijah next, just as he had done to the prophets of Baal.  And even though Elijah was the most powerful prophet in the entire history of Israel, and even though Elijah had just witnessed God’s amazing power in answer to his own simple prayer, Elijah was afraid and he ran for his life.

And then in Luke 8:26-39, we hear the story about Jesus healing a demon-possessed man that everyone was afraid of because of his great strength and unpredictable nature.

26 They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. 27 When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” 29 For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.

30 Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. 31 And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.

32 A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission.33 When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

34 When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, 35 and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. 37 Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

At first, the people are afraid of the man who is possessed by demons.  They were so afraid of him and what he could do, that the people put chains around his hands and feet and hired armed guards to watch over him.  But he broke the chains, and drove off the armed guards, because of the strength of the demons within him.  Perhaps this was something similar to the great strength that is sometimes seen when people are under the influence of PCP or other drugs, but however it happened, this scared the daylights out of everyone.  And then the man made his home in a place of death, in the tombs outside of town, so that people would leave him alone.  But Jesus isn’t afraid.  Jesus commands the demons to leave the man and they obey.  And when the people in town heard what Jesus had done, they were afraid of Jesus because they understood that Jesus had great power and it was a power that they didn’t understand.

And then in Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia, he writes these words (Galatians 3:23-29):

23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Now, I know that I left you hanging on some of these stories, so let’s connect the dots.

Elijah is afraid, despite his intimate relationship with God and despite being a witness to God’s incredible power only days before, and he runs away and hides.  And in the end, God quietly listens to his fears… and tells Elijah to get back to work.

The people who heard what Jesus had done for the demon possessed man were so afraid of Jesus’ power that they asked him to go away. Their fear caused them to push away the one man who could help them.  Their fear caused them to push away the one man who could rescue them from death.  The man who had been healed wanted to leave with Jesus, perhaps because he wanted to help Jesus’ ministry in return for what Jesus had done for him, or perhaps he was afraid of beginning a new life where people were still afraid of him.  But instead of inviting him into the boat, Jesus transforms this man one more time by making him one of God’s first missionaries to the Gentiles.

In answer to his fear, Jesus tells him to get to work.

And Paul’s short summary tells us that before the coming of Jesus, human beings were prisoners to the law.  In other words, they lived in fear of the law.  Do what the law says, or die without God.  But Jesus changed all that.  With the coming of Jesus it doesn’t matter what other gods we might have once worshipped.  It doesn’t matter that we are from a foreign country and we aren’t Jewish.  It doesn’t matter if we are rich or poor, or anything else.  Paul’s message is a message of belonging.

It’s okay to be afraid.  It’s normal.  Even Elijah, the most powerful prophet in all of scripture, was sometimes afraid.

But don’t let your fear control you.

Don’t let your fear push you away from Jesus.

Take your fear to God.  Tell God how you feel.  Tell God about your fear and trust him with it.

Because of God, we have nothing to fear.

Because of Jesus, we all belong.

We all belong to the same kingdom and we all work for the ultimate good of God’s kingdom.

But the message that God speaks into our fear is the same as it always was.

God quietly and patiently listens to our fears…

…and tells us to get back to work.

 

 

 

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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online athttps://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Ten (or more) Lessons from Ferguson


    Recently I read an article by Jeremy Smith, in United Methodist Insight, in which he wondered why more  clergy did not speak out on the events of Ferguson, Missouri.  In the article, Smith insists that when we don’t speak out about injustice, we make it seem that we aren’t responsible for things that happen far away from us.  In his words, “When I don’t speak up, I help turn the response into a pocket and not a whole garment of the human experience crying out for justice. “  He’s right of course, but I have a hard time speaking out about events like those in Ferguson because I am so personally ignorant, confused and conflicted by them.
    I’m a white guy and I grew up with the privileges that come with that.  Our family was far from wealthy, but I haven’t suffered from the subtle or overt discrimination that my non-white friends did.  I have not been pulled over by the police for “Driving While Black.”  I have no idea what that must be like. 
    I know that because I am white I do not fully appreciate all of the issues in play in the mess that is Ferguson, MO nor do I feel the impact of those events personally, as people of color undoubtedly do.  I know that anything I say about these events will lack understanding.   But Jeremy Smith is right, keeping silent allows injustice to continue and so I feel like I have to say something. 
    As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to stand against injustice, and there has been plenty on every side.  Not long ago, a colleague of mine posted a link to an article (to which I will not provide a link) that was so filled with hatred of hate and racism that it became hateful and racist itself.  In opposing racism, it named anyone who disagreed, for any reason, or for any principle, as a racist.  That sort of language is unhelpful and it doesn’t help any of us to think clearly.

    So here are ten lessons that we can learn from the mess that is sorting itself out (and will be for years) in Ferguson, MO:

1)      There is never an excuse to hate someone whose skin is a different color, simply because their skin is different color.  It isn’t okay to hate someone because they are black but neither is it okay to hate someone because they are not.
2)      In a town that has a population with a majority of African Americans, it is inconceivable that the police department can’t find African American recruits or that the imbalance should be so substantial.  As I understand it, the federal government is investigating this disparity, and they should.
3)      When there is injustice it should be okay to protest that injustice. Peacefully.

4)       Protests about injustice should not devolve into riots in which property is destroyed and innocents are put in the hospital, and worse.
5)      It’s not okay to use injustice as an excuse to cause injustice.
6)      It’s not okay to hurt someone who is on your side, just because they are the wrong color.
7)      It’s not okay (nor is it helpful) to destroy the businesses that have supported an abused community to make the point that the community has been abused.
8)      To say that it’s NOT okay doesn’t go far enough, it is flat out wrong, offensive, and even criminal, for the police department to try to disperse a riot by showing up dressed and equipped for a war.  Uniforms and weapons of war have no place on our streets.  I have no idea why anyone thought that showing up with M-16’s and armored personnel carriers was going to bring peace.
9)      While it is important, even necessary, for the media to have access to the story and for the story to get a wide distribution, there is a point at which the media becomesthe story.  From several stories that I read, from several very different media outlets, a point was reached when most citizens had gone home and rioters appeared, many from out of town, simply because the media was there.  I don’t know how we could, and we probably can’t and shouldn’t place restrictions on media access, but when the media’s presence makes the violence worse, something needs to be done.  Perhaps the media outlets themselves can agree on some sort of code of conduct, or organize a media pool as is often done in wartime, to share stories and prevent an area from being mobbed by reporters.
10)   As to who is guilty in the original event that triggered this mess, I have to admit that the conflicting reports in the media make me unsure.  A young man is dead and shouldn’t be.  I don’t know who is at fault, but I am sure that a careful investigation is needed.  I am also sure that the Ferguson Police are not the ones who should do the investigating.  In Ohio, it is standard procedure for accusations against social workers to be investigated by a neighboring (outside) social service agency.  Perhaps police departments ought to do the same with any officer involved shooting.
    Ultimately, there is plenty of fault to go around.  Ferguson may not be a “Perfect Storm” where everything went wrong, but a whole lot still went wrong.  The police got it wrong, the protestors got it wrong, the media got it wrong, and probably a few others as well.  But in every case, we, the people of God, the church, need to find a way to fight against injustice. 
All injustice. 
    We need to speak up against institutional racism.  We need to speak out against a police force that is preparing and equipping to fight a war against its own citizens.  We need to speak out against rioters who overshadow legitimate protestors and also against a media machine that makes problems worse instead of better.
    As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to be salt and light to the world.  We are called to stand against injustice.  We are supposed to be doing all we can to make things better.
    The events of Ferguson, MO make it clear that no matter where we live, regardless of our race, we have a LOT of work to do.

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No, Mr. Oswalt, We Are Not All Good


    After the bombs exploded during the Boston Marathon, Patton Oswalt (from television sitcom the King of Queens) wrote a Facebook post that was quickly recopied and reposted around the world.  He said,
 “The good outnumber you, and we always will.” 
    This is a wonderful sentiment because Oswalt has already noticed that many people were running toward the explosion and not away from it.  People were not afraid as much as they were motivated to help those who had been hurt.  Finding this spirit and attitude in the American people is noteworthy and worthwhile.  I’m proud that we are not easily intimidated.  But after thinking about this, I realized that there was something bothering me.  Over time, I realized that ‘something’ was this: The good may outnumber the bad, but evil is never as far away as we would hope.
    I don’t mean to say that every human being is evil, but most of us are not as good as we like to imagine ourselves.  As hundreds of law enforcement officers were hunting down the bomber who was hiding in a boat stored in someone’s back yard, Patton Oswalt declares that most of us are good.  But are we?  After the bomber’s photograph had been discovered on surveillance tapes and distributed all around the world, what if he had been discovered sitting in a neighborhood bar or in some other public place?  I don’t mean, what would happen if the police discovered him, I mean, what would have happened if you or I were sitting at our neighborhood watering hole watching television and realized that the guy sitting next to us was the bomber we just saw on the news?
    Today, more than a month after the bombing, the chances are good that we would detain him until the police could arrive.  However, if he had been discovered in a public place the day after the bombing, it may well have been to coroner that came to get him instead of the police.
    Last month when Amanda Berry and the other girls were discovered in Cleveland, their rescuer, Charles Ramsey said something like, ‘It’s a good thing I didn’t know what he was doing next door or I would have gone over there with a baseball bat and it would be me the police were taking to jail.’
    I am a teacher of mercy, grace and forgiveness but if someone were to rape or murder a member of my family, they would probably be safer with the police.  That wouldn’t be the most Christian reaction, but I’m not sure how well I could control myself under those circumstances.
    Don’t get me wrong.  I’m just as inspired as you are by police, firefighters and others who run toward danger instead of away from it.  I’m glad that there are good people in the world who will rush to help a neighbor and that we come together as communities to help one another.
All I’m saying is this: We are not all good. 
There is darkness inside every one of us.
More often than not, the distance between good and evil is not nearly as great as we think.

Called to a Different Path


“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson 

    I am a Cleveland Indians fan.  I follow the Indians, not because they their winning record (obviously), but by accident of geography. I grew up in Northeast Ohio, went to high school in Akron, and my first job after college sent me to Cleveland for ten years.  As a Cleveland fan, Boston is considered to be an evil empire second only to the New York Yankees.  This week’s attack on the Boston Marathon (a very different thing than baseball) stirs in me the sort of protective feelings that siblings have for one another.  Feelings such as, “Nobody messes with my brother but me.” We don’t yet know who committed this horror, but the reaction of most Americans is, like mine, anger.  This is, I think, a natural and instinctive reaction, but a dangerous one as well.  As Christians, we need to carefully gauge our reactions so that our emotions do not draw us away from the path we have been called to follow.
    Anger is not evil.  Nor is it wrong or sinful to feel angry, but how we allow anger to motivate us, in what direction we allow anger to push us, may well be.  Anger over the attack on Pearl Harbor drew the United States into a war with Japan.  Anger over the attacks of September 11th provided support for wars against Iraq and Afghanistan.  These may, or may not, be proper if we judge them as a means of seeking justice or resisting aggression, but we cross a line when we allow hatred and revenge to become our motivation.
    As a follower of Jesus Christ, I do not believe, as some of my friends do, that we have been called to a path of non-violence or pacifism.  I do believe, however, that we have been called to a different path, a direction different than our instincts alone would lead us.
    In Leviticus, a book often noted for its violence, we find a warning that revenge will lead us astray.
“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”  Leviticus 19:18
 
    But what if the perpetrator of this horror is not “among our people” but someone else?  Well, Jesus had something to say about that…
27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
    This is hard.  Jesus wants us to do good to people who insist upon doing us harm.  Why?  Every fiber of my being wants to hit back when I am hit, to hurt the guy that hurts my family and to put the smack-down whoever did this thing to the people of Boston.  But that isn’t what Jesus had in mind.  Our calling is to a different path.  If you read the rest of the passage I just interrupted we get a few more details…
 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. – Luke 6:27-28
    This is hard.  Why should we do good to those who seek to harm us?  Why should we be merciful?  Because we are called to follow a different path, a radical path, a path that calls us to love not only those who love us back, but everyone, whether they love us or not.  We are called to love the way that Jesus loved.
    Paul echoes these same feelings in his letter to the church in Rome and summarizes it by saying, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)
    I don’t think that any of this means that we cannot protect ourselves or seek justice, only that we must guard ourselves from seeking revenge and retribution instead of justice, and being driven by hatred and vengeance instead of mercy and compassion.  
This isn’t the place our instincts would lead us.
We are called to follow a different path.

Do Not Lose Heart


    Americans are a resilient bunch.  Throughout our history we have been known to roll with the punches.  Our fights with the British roamed halfway across the continent from 1776 until 1812.  During the American Civil War between 600,000 and 700,000 lives were lost, then more through other wars including a devastating attack at Pearl Harbor and the more recent attacks in September 11, 2001.  While we have always come back after such horror, it is difficult for us to grapple with death on our home soil.  It has been a long time since 1812, but we understood that we were at war with England and the English, generally, only fought those who chose to fight.  Pearl Harbor was hard but it was, at least, an attack on a military target.  September 11th was different.  It shook us and caused many to begin looking for revenge.   Many joined the military to be a part of finding the perpetrators or at least to do something to be a part of our national defense.  
    After September 11th most everyone expected that there would be more of the same.  We knew we were in a “War on Terror” and so we expected that there would be more frequent attacks on American citizens and on American soil.  It is a huge credit to law enforcement and military personnel across the country and around the world that nearly all of the expected attacks since 2001 were discovered and averted before they could be carried out.  Until now…
    With this latest attack during the Boston Marathon many of our feelings revert to what we felt on September 11th.  At this time we do not know anything about the attacker(s), who they are, or where they are from, or why they did what they did.  We heard that a suspect has been arrested but that too, was premature.  We want revenge, we want retribution and a few may feel that somehow we should run away, or give up fighting.  Any of these responses will cause us to lose our way.  As Christians we are called to something different, to follow a different path.  Today I specifically want to speak to those who are frightened by these events.
    In scripture our temptation to surrender because of our fear is referred to as losing heart.  It is ‘heart’ that makes us who we are and what we are, it is ‘heart’ that makes us move forward in the face of fear.  In Hebrews 12 we are encouraged, when times are hard, to consider all that Jesus endured for us, “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:3)  The prophet Jeremiah offers similar advice, especially in times like this, saying…
 “Do not lose heart or be afraid
    when rumors are heard in the land;
one rumor comes this year, another the next,
    rumors of violence in the land
    and of ruler against ruler.”
(Jeremiah 51:46)
    Remember that we are citizens of two nations, one is an earthly kingdom ruled by men, and the other an eternal kingdom ruled by the creator of the universe.  Our King has not forgotten us.  The Savior of the world still cares for us and watches over us.  Jesus knows your limits.  He knows how much you can take.  Find comfort and reassurance in knowing that even though…
He will not quarrel or cry out;
    no one will hear his voice in the streets.
20 A bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
21 In his name the nations will put their hope.” (Matthew 12:19-21)
A bruised reed he will not break.  
A smoldering wick he will not snuff out.  
He knows what you need… and how you feel.
He hears your prayers and he understands your fear.