Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Righteous Resistance

When I saw this photo, I wept. And continue weeping. I am a Papa to two sons. when I saw this photo, I saw my son. This child was my child. The deep grief his father and mother were suffering, I was now suffering.  As I went in to pray, I broke down. Weeping. I could barely speak a word from the sorrow I felt. And I thought, "How must my Heavenly Father's heart must be breaking . . ."

Yesterday, in America, there was a March for Life. But were they marching for this little boy? We cannot call ourselves Pro-Life if all life, if this Syrian boy's life, does not matter. We cannot claim to serve Christ if we don't even heed his teachings and commands. Where is love thy neighbor? Where is the Good Samaritan? We cannot say we are obeying His greatest command to "Love your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" and "Love they neighbor as yourself." We must admit that we either don't care or that we are willfully choosing to disobey this commandment.

I have begun rereading the Prophets, as well as reading books on them. What they are teaching me is that love is never silent to injustice, oppression, repression, discrimination, hate, fear, greed, and self-centeredness. Their words break through our self-denial and self-deceit.

While reading the prophet Isaiah, I was struck and convicted by his warnings:

Quit your worship charades.
I can't stand  your trivial religious games.
Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings -
meetings, meetings, meetings - I can't stand one more!
You've worn me out!
I'm sick of your religion, religion, religion,
while you go on sinning.
When you put on your prayer-performance,
I'll be looking the other way.
No matter how long or loud or often you pray,
I'll not be listening.
And do yo know why? Because you've been tearing
people to pieces, and your hands are bloody.
Go home and wash up.
Clean up your act.
Sweep your lives of your evil doings
so I don't have to look at them any longer.
Say not to wrong.
Learn to do good.
Work for justice.
Help the down-and-out.
Stand up for the homeless.
Go to bat for the defenseless.

God is tired of our fake worship of Him. God is sick of our ignoring His commands to take care of the poor, the orphans and foster kids, the refugees, the immigrants, the marginalized, the outsider, the foreigner, the sojourner, the very ones whom Christ identified himself with. The one who Jesus told us that when we did something for them, we did something for him. 

We need to stop saying and praying, "God bless America," and start praying, "God, have mercy on America." 

Our country can claim no moral high ground, can claim not God's blessings but only His judgment by the choices we are making. And much of The Church is either silent or embracing the idols of nationalism, militarism and "America first." Christ called us to be kingdom focused, not nation-centric. 

Scriptures warn us again and again not to pervert justice, not to enact evil statutes, not to deprive the need, rob the poor, oppress the least of these, and to lie. "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free" has no room in it for post-truths or alternative facts. Lies are lies are lies.

The prophets and Christ teach us that love is not acceptance. Love is costly. They warn of the consequences of our sin and the judgment that is to come if we don't heed their words. They call us to embrace the Truth. They are there to shake and wake us from the stupor of self. 

As the Psalmist wrote, "Vindicate me, O God, and plead my case against an ungodly nation; O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man!" Are we not only embracing the "deceitful and unjust man" but becoming him in our decision to protect ourselves, to be concerned only about our own safety and security?

Christ is not interested in our security, our safety or our comfort. 

We are called to move beyond them, beyond our fears and ourselves. We are to deny ourselves, pick up our crosses and follow him. But how many, within The Church, hear this and turn away? Even if it is only an inward turning away, it is still turning. We are the rich young ruler. We are the many who turned away when Christ spoke the Sermon on the Mount. 

God has shown us what is good, but are doing it?

What does the Lord require of us?

"To act justly and to love mercy and walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8). This verse is often quoted but so seldom lived out. Cheap words. The very words Isaiah said God is sick of hearing from our mouths but not seeing in our lives. 

The Church is too busy embracing the politicians and ignoring the prophets. We are not following Christ, but following Caesar. 

"Woe" is the word we must heed. 

The Church must rise up and become The Church, the bride that Christ has called us to be. We have become more interested in being part of the body politic than the body of Christ. But we will never have power if we are rushing to grab it in this world. True power is found only in being a servant. Christ taught and lived this out. We are called and commanded to, but are we? 

We are too busy seeking power and prosperity, but Christ is not found there. He is found among the poor and powerless. James 5:1-6 warns us, "Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!"

How many in America and in The Church will hear that?

The prophet Amos cried out, "But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!" 

The Church must do likewise and strive to speak out against injustice or else suffer judgment. 

God desires mercy, not sacrifice. He is wearied by our worship-tainment. Our mega-churches that gather to enjoy performance. God is turning away. He is not listening. 

The Church must step up and speak out. The Church must stop aligning itself with the wealthy and powerful, seeking their favor over the favor of God. We are not called to raise celebrities but prophets and missionaries and servants who understand that all are our neighbors, all are our brothers and sisters, all are created in the very image of God. 

We cannot be silent. We cannot be complacent and be Christ-like.

"When you put us through the fire to purge up from our sin, our dearest idols go up in smoke," Psalm 39 tells us and I pray that it is so in the American Church. 

God always sides with the powerless, marginalized people. Why? Because He is showing us the significance of the insignificant in the kingdom. The kingdom of God is an inversion of our own. The last shall be first . . .

This morning I prayed, "Open my heart to your love. Open my heart to your love because I'm afraid of the hardness that is taking root there. I am afraid of the hate that is forming . . ."

Now is not the time for hate. Now is the time for righteous anger. 

Now is the time that we move from our indifference and apathy.

The scriptures show us that the politics of oppression is overcome by the constant practice of pursuing justice and compassion. We must be His Church, His body and live this out with our lives and our love. God is not disinterested in this world and neither should we be.  We are called to be the kingdom in this world, not an empire. We are to take care of all of the least of these.

Eugene Peterson wrote of the prophets, "They contend that everything, absolutely everything, takes place on sacred ground. God has something to say about every aspect of our lives: the way we feel and act in the so-called privacy of our hearts and homes, the way we make our money and the way we spend it, the politics we embrace, the wars we fight, the catastrophes we endure, the people we hurt and the people we help. Nothing is hidden from the scrutiny of God, nothing is exempt from the rule of God, nothing escapes the purposes of God. Holy, holy, holy."

As followers of Christ we are called to not only to pray, "Thy will be done. Thy kingdom come. On earth as it is in heaven," we are to live and work for it. We are to love the kingdom into the lives of others. We are ambassadors of the kingdom, of Christ. But to be an ambassador, we must reflect what we are representing. Are we? Are we truly? 

Do we reflect God, do we reflect Christ, do we reflect the scriptures?

How many of us reflect CNN or Fox News more than we do the good news, the gospel that is found in Christ Jesus?

How many people would know us from our political affiliation before they would ever see a trace or glimpse of the God we claim to worship?

Rabbi Abraham Heschel wrote in The Prophets:

Why were so few voices raised in the ancient world in protest against the ruthlessness of man? Why are human beings so obsequious, ready to kill and ready to die at the call of kings and chieftains? Perhaps it is because they worship might, venerate those who command might, and are convinced that it is by force that man prevails. The splendor and the pride of kings blind the people. The Mesopotamian, for example, felt convinced that authorities were always right: "The command of the palace, like the command of Anu, cannot be altered. The king's word is right; his utterance, like that of a god, cannot be changed!" The prophets repudiated the work as well as the power of man as an object of supreme adoration. They denounced "arrogant boasting" and "haughty pride" (Isa. 10:12), the kings who ruled the nations in anger, the oppressors (Isa. 14:4-6), the destroyers of nations, who went forth to inflict waste, ruin, and death (Jer. 4:7), the "guilty men, whose own might is their god" (Hab. 1: 11).

Their course is evil,
Their might is not right.
Jeremiah 23:10

The end of public authority is to realize the moral law, a task for which both knowledge and understanding as well as the possession of power are indispensable means. Yet inherent in power is the tendency to breed conceit. " . . . one of the most striking and one of the most pervasive features of the prophetic polemic [is] the denunciation and distrust of power in all its forms and guises. The hunger of the powerfit! knows no satiety; the appetite grows on what it feeds. Power exalts itself and is incapable of yielding to any transcendent judgment; it 'listens to no voice' (Zeph. 3:2) ." It is the bitter irony of history that the common people, who are devoid of power and are the prospective victims of its abuse, are the first to become the ally of him who accumulates power. Power is spectacular, while its end, the moral law, is inconspicuous.” 

The Church must not be blind to our leaders (political and religious). We must stand up and speak out. We must heed the warnings of the prophets and, like them, concern ourselves less with how much we are liked but by how much we love. Christ-like love is not easy, comfortable, or safe. It is costly but the cost is far less than the burdens we bear under the weight of our own hate, indifference, fear and discrimination. 

Social justice is not a political idea, it is a biblical one. What reading and studying the prophets is teaching me is that we must embrace this godly mandate of social justice. It begins individually. We must repent of our own sins, of the hurts we have caused, the silence we have kept over the suffering of others. Then, repentance must be national. As a nation, we must reflect and repent of the sins we have committed in the name of power, security, greed, and the furtherance of our own empire. We must repent of the sins that have bloodied our nation's soil: slavery, the slaughtering and betrayal again and again and again of Native Americans, the old and new Jim Crow, racism, discrimination based on not only race, but gender and socio-economics. We must stand up against those who would seek to profit the few at the expense of the many. We must not allow for our leaders to continue to create a gap between the wealthy and the poor. We must realize that when God created this world, He called it "good" and that we have been poor stewards of our environment. We must realize that the Bible commands us again and again to take care of the foreigner, the sojourner, the refugee, the orphan, the widow, the poor, and the oppressed. Either we will heed His commands or we must admit that we either don't care or don't believe them. 

We must, as a people and a nation, let the light of God shine on our sinfulness (our bigotry, our hatred, our fears, our selfishness), repent and act. Our voices must be ones that call for justice to roll down for all. There will be no peace in this county until we do. I only pray that we will.

So what's the answer?

It's simple, as Isaiah stated:

Live right,
speak the truth,
despise exploitation,
refuse bribes, 
reject violence,
avoid evil amusements.
This is how you raise your standard of living!
A safe and stable way to live.
A nourishing and satisfying way to live.

May we live rightly.

May we step up in righteous resistance!

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