Archives For Sermon on the Mount

Sermon Illustration

Jason Micheli —  October 20, 2019 — 1 Comment

Exodus 20, Matthew 5.38-48

Christian de Cherge was a French Catholic monk in charge of a Trappist abbey in Algeria. A veteran of the French army, de Cherge grew up in an aristocratic family. 

After the rise of Islamic radicals in 1993, de Cherge and his fellow monks refused to leave their monastery, because they refused to cease serving the community’s poor.

Held hostage for two months, de Cherge and his fellow monks were executed in 1996. Their heads were discovered inside a tree. Their bodies were never found. 

Anticipating his murder, Christian de Cherge left a testament with his family to be opened upon his death. 

Published in newspapers all over the world, his letter is a moving exemplification of the Gospel. In it, he wrote:

“If the day comes, and it could be today, that I am a victim of the terrorism that seems to be engulfing all of Algeria, I would like my community, the Church, to remember that I have dedicated my life to the Lord Jesus Christ. 

If the moment I fear comes, I would hope to have the presence of mind, and the time, and the faithfulness, to ask for God’s pardon for myself and to ask it as well for he who would attack me. I pray that I am able to love my enemy even in my death….” 

The reason his note grabbed headlines and inspired a film, Of Gods and Men— Christian de Cherge then concluded his letter by addressing his would-be executioner: 

“And to you too, my dear friend of the last moment, who will not know what you are doing. Yes, for you too, I wish this thank-you, this ‘A-Dieu,’ ‘[go with God] in whose image you too are made. May you and I meet in the kingdom of heaven, like happy thieves, if it pleases God, our Father.”

No doubt, on any other day but today, I expect that you would find Christian de Cherge’s witness not only edifying, but inspiring. 

If you heard the story of his martrydom on a different occasion, say All Saints Day, then in all likelihood you would understand, intuitively, how his exemplification of the Gospel is exactly the sort that first attracted pagans to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. 

Don’t forget— 

Christianity converted the heart of the Roman Empire before there was anything called the “New Testament,” and they did so at a time when nearly everyone was illiterate. 

And in those first centuries of the Church, not only was the sacrament of holy communion off limits to outsiders— not only was the table closed to the unbaptized— so, too, was the Sunday worship gathering. 

Unbelievers didn’t become believers by having been invited to the worship of Christians. 

Unbelievers became believers by being attracted to the lives of Christians.

That’s just a fact of history. 

The ancient Christians did not pass out tracts to people who could not read. 

The lives of the ancient Christians themselves were the holy texts. 

The saints were the scripture and the sacraments that persuaded pagans to the truth of what Christians professed.  

That is, the Church in the ancient world grew by Christians daring to live in an odd, counter-intuitive manner that made no sense if God had not raised the crucified Christ from the dead and made him Lord of heaven and earth. 

Christian de Cherge’s story is the kind of story that exemplified the story of Jesus and, in the ancient world, stories like de Cherge’s story made the story of Jesus more than a short-lived rumor from a backwater place called Galilee. 

And for that reason, we rightly admire a story like Christian de Cherge’s story. 

Yet, if you’re like me, not today.

Because, today, admiration alone isn’t an option. 

Admiration is off the table.

———————-

Today, you might find the monk’s story unsettling— accusing, even— because today we’ve just heard his story in conjunction with the Sermon on the Mount where Christ teaches that we are to love our enemies. 

We’d prefer to think the witness made by those French monks was the exception rather than the expectation. 

We’d like to make their example remarkable, but today Jesus makes it the rule. 

Moreover, Jesus putting this teaching (on how his disciples are to love their enemies) at the very outset of his ministry, implies that following Jesus will make for us enemies— enemies we would not have were we not following Jesus. 

Our sentimental assumptions to the contrary, Christianity is not about having no enemies. Christianity is about loving the enemies we’ve made by our being Christian. 

Jesus is not referring here to the enemies you had before you met Jesus, (he’s not talking about your mother-in-law or your ex-husband). Jesus is, instead, preparing his disciples for the command he will give them later in Matthew’s Gospel: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

To follow the Crucified One is to anticipate that there will be those who wish to nail you to a cross, too. And like the Crucified One, Jesus teaches today, you are to suffer your persecutors in patience and love. 

This part of the Sermon on the Mount is particularly problematic for people like us. 

After all, if we have any conviction, it’s that God is nice. And, because we’re a sanctificationist people, we think that the conviction, “God is nice,” ought to come with a correlative; therefore, we believe that we should be nice, too. 

It seems a contradiction that nice people following a nice God should discover that they’ve made enemies for themselves precisely by being Christian— enemies to whom we’re required to be more than nice. 

We’re required to love them, Jesus says, going so far as to offer them another cheek to strike, giving them the coat off our back, and walking an extra couple of miles in their shoes. 

It might not be any credit to us if we love the people who love us. 

But it sure sounds smarter. 

And safe.

But—

Christ’s command to love the enemies we’ve made by following him— the unavoidable implication to Christ’s command is that if we’ve made no enemies by following him then we’re likely not following him. 

We’re admiring him, maybe. But we’re not obeying him. 

John Wesley called those who admire Jesus but who dare not obey Jesus “almost Christians.” “Almost Christians” want Jesus to secure for them life after death, but “almost Christians” do not want to offer Jesus the kind of life that could mean their death. 

———————-

Listen up—

Let me make it plain. 

This is what is at stake in the sermon Jesus preaches today:

If your account of Christianity is such that it makes no sense whatsoever why anyone would want to kill Jesus or his followers (or you)— if we’re just a club of nice people admiring a nice God— then, it’s not Christianity. 

As Jesus tells the disciples later in the Gospel, following his peaceable way in the world will make the world more violent, not less: 

“Do you think that I will bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, I will produce division! Even households will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother…”

Which means— pay attention now— 

Christ’s command to love our enemies is not a strategy. The point of Jesus’ preaching here is not, “Give peace a chance,” or “Love is all you need.” Christ does not promise us that through our love of the enemy our enemy will cease to be our enemy and will one day love us. 

No.

Christianity is not naive. 

Jesus does not promise us that our nonviolent, cruciform love is a strategy to rid the world of violence. 

Rather, in a world of violence Jesus has called his disciples to be a particular people who love their enemies, because that is the form God’s care for us became incarnate in the world. 

This is what we do, not because it works, but because this is who He is.

“While we were yet his enemies,” the Apostle Paul says, “God-in-Christ loved us.”

“Let that same mind be in you,” St. Paul writes, “that was in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

Love of enemy— 

It’s not about what works in the world. 

It’s about our witness to the world. 

Our witness to what God has worked in Jesus Christ. 

He has conquered. 

He has overcome the crosses that we build with resurrection. 

———————-

And, then—

Just before this, Jesus forbids his followers from swearing oaths. 

That sounds innocent enough until you think about it and realize that Jesus forbids his followers from swearing oaths because an oath is but an exception to lies, and every word out of his followers mouths should be “the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” 

Meanwhile, here we are in America, where we can no longer even distinguish the truth from the lie, much less speak nothing but the truth.

You gripe about some of our sermons. 

Jesus preaches a hard sermon, and then he ends this section today with “Be perfect.” Actually, in Greek, it says, “There should be no limit to your goodness.”

Jesus preaches a hard sermon. 

Just before the command about oaths, Jesus teaches that we are to live visibly in the world— like salt, like light— in a manner that substantiates our message. 

And, let’s be honest, most of us live in the world in a manner that corroborates our sin, not our having been saved from it.

Even if you could take a red pen and redact this part of Christ’s preaching, this part where we are commanded to love the enemies Jesus has managed to make for us, even if you could cut out today’s passage, it doesn’t make the rest of the sermon any less convicting on nice, Jesus- admiring, “almost Christians” like us. 

So, what are we to do with this Sermon on the Mount from which, on any number of counts, we all fall so short? 

I mean, I can barely manage my inbox, let alone love all the people who love me, much less cover all the law Jesus lays down in this sermon.

What do we do with this?

———————-

When we treat Christ’s Sermon on the Mount as an impossible ideal to be realized only in some future kingdom, when we regard it as a collection of generalized principles that anyone can follow whether or not they’re following Jesus, when we interpret the sermon only as overwhelming law meant to convict us of our sin and compel us to Christ’s grace— when we interpret the Sermon on the Mount in any of those ways, we neglect to notice how the Sermon on the Mount is a sermon. 

That is, it’s not directed to unbelieving individuals. 

Nor is it meant for believing individuals. 

It’s a sermon. 

It’s addressed to a particular congregation. 

It’s intended for that community to act out and embody. 

This is why Matthew tells you at the top of Chapter Five that the twelve disciples have visibly left the crowd on the mountainside and drawn close to Christ. 

They are the ones for whom the Sermon on the Mount is meant, because they are the ones through whom Jesus is reconstituting Israel and relaunching Israel’s vocation to be a light unto the nations. 

Twelve tribes.

Twelve disciples. 

And like Israel’s Law, Jesus’ Torah on the Mount is meant for the particular people that Christ has called, and that Christ is putting into the world to witness to the new age inaugurated by his resurrection. 

The Sermon on the Mount is not meant for everybody. 

The Sermon on the Mount is meant for his Body. 

The Sermon on the Mount is meant for his Body of disciples. 

So, the good news is that the command to love our enemies is not a command for everyone to obey. 

The bad news is that, by virtue of your baptism, it is a command— just like all the others in the sermon— that claims you. 

But, that burden is not all bad news for you are just a part of the Body, and, as St. Paul tells us, the Body of Christ is made up of many different members where no part of the Body can say to another part of the Body, “I have no need of you.” Which is but a way of saying, “I need you.” 

I need you.

We need each other. 

We need each other if we are, as a community, to be Christ’s sermon illustration.

You see, the object of Jesus’ sermon is that it makes us dependent on one another if we are to exemplify it. 

Some of you speak the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but you do not know how to pray well. 

Others of you are skilled at prayer, but struggle with gossip. 

Some of you are open about your faith, while others of you hide it so far under a bushel basket your closet friends would be surprised to discover that you’re a Christian. 

Many of you hunger and thirst for justice, but you do not pray for those who persecute the victims of injustice. You advocate for vicitms of oppression, but you do not pray for the victimizers. 

We need each other if we are to be Christ’s sermon illustration. 

The point of the sermon isn’t that each of you, individually, need to be like Jesus Christ. 

The point of the sermon is that Christ’s Body, collectively, bear witness to him.

You might be weak on sanctification.

But, taken together, Christ’s Body spread through the world— there is no limit to the goodness. 

And so, perhaps you aren’t very compassionate on the poor, yet here you are today a part of a people who will package thousands of meals for them. 

Maybe you can’t imagine ever being capable of loving your enemies in any risk-taking ways, yet by baptism you belong to a Body with members that include witnesses like Christian de Cherge. 

———————-

Brother Paul (Favre-Miville) was another Trappist monk martryed at the abbey in Algeria in 1996. He came from a family of blacksmiths in France, a family of cultural Christians who had Paul baptized as a baby, but who did not practice the faith with any real commitment. 

Paul’s family did not welcome his decision to become a monk, nor did they understand his insistence on remaining at the abbey after it had become dangerous. 

When his unbelieving friends and secular, skeptical family would ask him about his life in Algeria amidst enemies, Brother Paul would often joke to them, “Well, my head is still on my shoulders.” 

In a letter to his friends and family, Brother Paul wrote:

“Becoming a monk is a choice, like the choice to become a follower of Christ….  Our sins are not the same nor are our gifts the same and in this way the calling Christ places upon us as his Body compels us to live in such a way as to be dependent on one another. The faithfulness of his Body is bigger than the failures of its individual members.”

The calling Christ places upon us as his Body compels us to live in such a way as to be dependent on one another. 

I’ll tell you what that means—

It means faith does not name your own inner commitments, your own private beliefs, or your own interior feelings.

No, faith names making your life vulnerable to a people who will hold you accountable to what you think is true, a people through whom, by belonging to one another, each of us is made more than we otherwise might be. 

That is the hope we call the Gospel. 

And it is the hope that takes flesh in these creatures of bread and wine; so that, we might taste and see here and now what, one day, we shall become. 

This past weekend Rev. Dr. William Barber described praying for Trump “theological malpractice bordering on heresy.” Certainly, if what Rev. Barber has in mind is the sort of QVC Christendom prayer captured in this picture above, then I agree.

Here’s a story from the Washington Post

Looking at the clergy gathered around the Donald, I can’t help but wonder if they’ve shut their eyes not out of piety but, like Indy and Marianne in Raiders of the Lost Ark, out of terror, afraid that the holiness of God will smote them for their idolatrous acts. Let’s not kid ourselves. This isn’t an image of God-fearers beseeching God for God’s providence or peace; it’s a picture of sycophantic partisans wanting Religion, like holiday bunting, to decorate, and so to bless, their culturally-derived agenda. It’s a still captured image of collective cognitive dissonance, seeing the Donald as either a Cyrus-like agent of God’s mysterious ways or just willfully ignoring the Donald’s manifest immorality, narcissism, and ineptitude.

Still, if what Rev. Barber condemns is instead the sort of prayer the Book of Common Prayer gives us, then I’d argue that it’s theological malpractice to judge even the Donald as so beyond the pale to be exempt from our practice prayer:

O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We commend this nation to thy merciful care, that, being guided by thy Providence, we may dwell secure in thy peace. Grant to the President of the United States…and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do thy will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in thy fear… Amen.

And if what Rev. Barber has in mind is this sort of prayer from the BCP, then he might be the one flirting with heresy:

O God, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth: deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you…Amen.

On MSNBC’s “AM Joy,” Barber added:

“When you can P-R-A-Y for a president and others while they are P-R-E-Y, preying on the most vulnerable, you’re violating the sacred principles of religion.”

Citing the Prophet Amos, Barber suggested:

“What leaders ought to be doing is challenging the president, challenging McConnell Ryan, and challenging these senators and others and not trying to appease them. Instead, they’re acting like priests of the empire rather than prophets of God.”

Never mind that some of God’s prophets (Isaiah, Nathan) were in fact priests and scribes of the King’s court and that the actual ultimate indictment of prophets like Amos- idolatry- would twist secular progressives’ sphincters into a knot.

I think it’s revealing who Rev. Barber does not mention in this discussion of the president and prayer:

Jesus.

Notice how Rev. Barber referenced the sacred principles of (generic and abstract) “religion” rather than (the inconveniently specific) Christianity.

While I sympathize with his antipathy, Barber commits the same crimes of civil religion perpetrated by his peers on the religious right; that is, his argument is insufficiently Christocentric.

Just as ‘God bless America’ cannot be so easily transmuted into ‘Jesus Bless America’ or ‘God hates fags’ cannot be rendered as ‘Jesus hates fags” it’s difficult to argue that Jesus would not want his followers to pray for a man who, for progressives- admit it- personifies the word enemy.

Given his first sermon in Nazareth, a shameless cribbing of Isaiah, I’ve no doubt Jesus concurred with Amos’ condemnations of the affluent and their consequent apathy and that Jesus would take a dim view of Paul Ryan’s Ayn Randian worldview. But when Jesus stands on the mount like Moses and gives his disciples, the New Israel, a New Law, one of the commandments he issues instructs his followers to forgive, love, and pray for their enemies.

In such a partisan, divided culture, where political ideology continues to prove such an attractive religious idol, it’s difficult to believe the Donald isn’t for progressive Christians exactly the sort of enemy Jesus had in mind. For that matter, Donald-loving partisans just might be the neighbors that Jesus also commands progressive Christians to love as much as they love themselves or pretend to love God.

It’s one thing to pray for an enemy comfortably overseas who will never impinge on anything in your life but the newsfeed on your iPhone; it’s another to beseech God for sufficient civility to love the ignorant, possibly racist, definitely xenophobic neighbor with whom you actually have to make a life.

Barber warns that it borders on heresy to pray for the president, an odd comment from a clergyman.

Surely Rev. Barber knows that 1 Peter instructs Christians “to honor and pray for the emperor” just as surely as Rev. Barber recalls from Church History 101 that when Peter issued that command for Christians to honor and pray for the emperor he had the Emperor Nero in mind, for whom the Book of Revelation marks with the number 666- not a very popular president.

Christians should not be chaplains of civil religion, praying for the president in the partisan sense of festooning his political agenda (to the extent he has a discernible agenda) with the appearance of divine blessing.

But neither should Christians be so captured by their own blue-hued civil religion that they are willing to qualify their allegiance to the Lord’s commands.

             Blessed are the poor. Check

             Pray for your enemies. _______

I agree with Rev. Barber that Americans should agitate against an agenda that would harm, callously so, the most vulnerable of our neighbors.

Unfortunately, Christianity has “sacred principles” in addition to the principle that we should care for the poor, welcome the stranger, and comfort the victims of our indifference- and caring for the poor, let’s face it, is a principle that is hardly unique to Christianity.

Another sacred principle, not of generic, generalized religion but of the offensively particular Christian Gospel, is that God loves not the good people who care for the poor and welcome the stranger (nor the ones who at least think the government should care for the poor and welcome the stranger for them) but the ungodly.

God loves not just the victims of our indifference but God loves the victimizers too. Indeed God loves them enough to die for them, especially for them. 

How can we not pray for someone like Donald Trump then when, Christians believe, Jesus prayed for someone just like him: ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

To exempt someone like the Donald from the command upon us to love our enemies risks our forgetting that while we were enemies of God, God died for us.

Just as prayer should not be used as a strategy by Jerry Falwell Jr. and Richard Jeffress to advance their own independently derived agenda, praying for our enemies is not a strategy.

It is instead part of our own ongoing conversion to- which is to say, exorcism from the Red and Blue idols in our hearts- the Lordship of Jesus Christ who commanded us to do so. Scripture doesn’t teach that by loving our enemies our enemies will cease to be our enemies. Rather, in a world of violence whose injustice, poverty, and loneliness is made possible by seeking to determine our enemies for us, the  Lord has called us to be his subjects who love enemies.

We do this not because it ‘works’ but because Christ is the Lord to whom we owe our allegiance.

Prayer for Omar Mateen

Jason Micheli —  June 23, 2016 — 8 Comments

2016AC-logo-color-with-UMC-flameI’m recovering from 3 plus days spent at my little nook of Methodism’s Annual Conference. Given that nearly a quarter of every dollar a United Methodist gives goes out the door of his or her congregation to the larger Church, there’s many structural and strategic critiques I could offer about how we spent our time (and I’ve already seen many of my younger clergy colleagues doing so on social media).

I won’t belabor the organizational beef. I do want to address what I took to be both a grave theological error and a personal one too. During the proceedings we debated- debated- a resolution recommending that we pray for the (gay) victims of the Orlando tragedy. We actually debated it. Christians debated praying. Full stop. For victims of murder. We eventually did so and in it we prayed for the victims and their families and, if I recall, there was verbiage spent on gun violence and gun legislation and hateful ideologies.

What was missing, I noticed immediately, was a prayer for the perpetrator. We didn’t prayer for the shooter. And that wouldn’t be odd in any other context except for a Christian one, for we are the people who believe the cross erases any meaningful distinction between victim and victimizer.

I noticed the lack in the prayer and in our debate about it, but I was too afraid to step up to microphone 10 to say anything about it. For that, I am ashamed. It’s little recompense but I offer this prayer here that I should’ve offered there:

Slaughtered Yet Risen Lord-

You forgive us from the cross with which we push you out of the world, invoking to the Father that we do not know what we are doing. Perhaps we know ourselves better than you know us, for surely we knew what we were doing.

We confess.

And, we presume, Omar Mateen knew what he was doing too by murdering out of hate (and it seems self-hate too) by wounding just as many, and, in so doing, wreaking violence on his family and any who cared for him. We presume he knew what he was doing, and so not one of us has any natural inclination to forgive him or, even, to pray for him.

We confess.

Actually, Lord Jesus, we’d rather pray for you to punish him. We’d prefer the assurance of his eternal torment, and we don’t know how to square that desire with the news that you’ve already suffered hell for us, once for all, and that you died- accursed- not for people like us but the wicked. Like Omar Mateen. We desperately do not want him to be counted among that ‘all’ for whom you died.

We confess.

We don’t want to pray for him, Lord. Maybe it’s because we don’t think he deserves it, or maybe it’s because we suspect it will prove hard to hate someone for whom we pray. We don’t want to pray for him, but you queerly command us to love enemies and trespassers and to pray for them. So we do- not because it’s a strategy to make the world more peaceful and not because we believe that by loving our enemies our enemies will cease to be our enemies. We do so, reluctantly, only because you commanded us, and as dumb and offensive as praying for him strikes us, you’re still the only one whose character God has vindicated by resurrection. And if you can raise the crucified from the dead, then perhaps you can raise up a People whose hates are not more precious to them than their faith.

We hope.

So against our better judgment but towards our Easter hope, we pray for Omar Mateen and any and all who, in the mysterious complexity of life, loved him. We’re told he killed in the name of righteousness; help us not shirk your command to pray for enemies in the name of righteousness. Give us grace, Lord Jesus, that in the fullness of time we may see in him, and him in us, thieves welcomed by you undeservedly into paradise.

Help us to pray for Omar Mateen and those like him. Help us to believe the Gospel that its through such practices and the communities constituted by them that you have chosen to redeem this sinful and violent world. Amen.

Untitled101111For the past 18 months, I’ve been working on writing a catechism, a distillation of the faith into concise questions and answers with brief supporting scriptures that could be the starting point for a conversation. The reason being I’m convinced its important for the Church to inoculate our young people with a healthy dose of catechesis before we ship them off to college, just enough so that when they first hear about Nietzsche or really study Darwin they won’t freak out and presume that what the Church taught them in 6th grade confirmation is the only wisdom the Church has to offer.

You can find all the previous posts here.

III. The Son

17. What is the Significance of the Sermon on the Mount? 

If Jesus, as Matthews sees him, is the Second Moses, then the Sermon on the Mount is the charter of the New Israel, the Church, whom God elects to be an alternative community in the world witnessing to God’s creative intent for the world.

As Moses received God’s covenant commands upon Mt. Sinai, Jesus stands upon the Mount of Beatitudes and issues new commands. Thus the Sermon on the Mount is the constitution of God’s Kingdom People in both senses of the word:

It is the covenant by which Jesus’ People are obligated

And it is the way in which Jesus’ called are formed as a People.

The significance of the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ own significance, for the Sermon is firstly a description of Christ’s own character. In this Sermon, the Word who is the preacher and the word preached are one and the same because the proclaimer of the Kingdom’s nature sits at the right hand of this Kingdom’s throne. Indeed he has established this Kingdom through cross and resurrection.

As such:

The Sermon on the Mount does not describe an impossible ideal achievable only one day in the future.

It describes the way Christ’s People live the future now.

It characterizes the habits born out of the community’s conviction that the future arrived, once for all, on Easter: the Old Age has passed, Death and Sin have been defeated, the Powers and Principalities toppled, Christ’s Lordship has been established, and all those in Christ are and embody a New Creation now. In other words, the Sermon on the Mount does not provide general principles for a generic life. It does not prescribe ethical principles practicable by all. It narrates the practices that constitute the community of Jesus.

Therefore-

It commends a way of life that is unintelligible to those who do not confess that Jesus is Lord and that makes absolutely no sense if that confession is not true.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies.” – Matthew 5.43-44

10917296_10205661027787221_3674691722071054151_nA Eucharistic Meditation ~ 

Dear $@#holes,

It’s me, Jason- Tamed Cynic. You know, the Christian whose blog you hacked.

What’s that? You don’t remember me? There were thousands of other random, anonymous victims just like me?

Oh, I see.

I guess that’s a valid excuse. Of course- and this is just a word to the wise- it’s a not a compelling excuse, morally speaking. It’s like Ray Rice explaining that he’s hit so many women, he can’t really recall the one in the elevator. See my point?

But you still don’t remember me?

Fine, never mind. Let’s just indulge my narcissism for a moment and pretend you do.

Now that we’re speaking one-on-one, maybe I should begin where you began and take you to task for your big, bold header you left on my hacked homepage:

‘Muslims are Not Terrorists.’

I get it. I even agree with you, Muslims aren’t terrorists. Terrorists are terrorists, and some of them happen to be Muslim and some of them (more than we care to remember) are Christian and most of them are motivated by something else entirely (politics, economics etc).

So I agree with you, but it’s like Marshall McLuan said way back at the time of the Shah and SNL: ‘The medium is the message.’ 

Following McLuan then, the fact that the medium in this case is a cyber terrorist hacked website belies the message you want to lead with in your headline.

You could post ‘Mom’s Chocolate Chip Cookies are the Best’ in that header but your creepy, comic sans-meets-Osama-hacker-font still would make us wonder if maybe Mom was a baby-eating witch who lived in a hovel deep in the Black Forest.

You see, you want your message to be that ‘Muslims are Not Terrorists,’ fine, but your hack-attack medium makes it inescapably obvious that at least one Muslim IS a terrorist.

You.

You’re lucky I’m a Christian, Mr Islamic Cyber Terrorist.

I’d love to torment you with the irony of you declaring that Muslims are not terrorists whilst cyber-terrorizing me, but then it wouldn’t really be fair to ridicule you when the fundamentalists of my own tribe don’t do irony well either. After all, Christ’s non-violent cross was painted on chainmail and swords long before Mohammad came on the scene.

While we’re at it there’s the other little irony that the instigating sermon in this case wasn’t critical of Islam at all.

Indeed you hacked me for a sermon that wound its way to telling Christians that they needed to love people like you.

Well played, Mr Islamic Cyber Idiot.

When it comes to those Christians who question the veracity of your headline that ‘Muslims are Not Terrorists,’ your I-didn’t-read-all-the-way-to-the-end, irony-laden screw-up speaks volumes more to them (to indict you) than anything I said to them (to love you).

Way to take a semi-decent, conscience-afflicting sermon and let all my listeners feel like they were justified for suspecting it was just a load of horse s@#$.

‘Because,’ they’re all thinking now (thanks to you), ‘we can’t love terrorists.’

Speaking of which- and I ask since this is your area of expertise, what’s a few notches down from terror? I mean, the feelings you induced in me weren’t exactly terror, yet it was more than inconvenience. While it’s true the craptastic havoc you wreaked on my blog was a giant pain the @#$, it was (a bit) more than a bother you made feel.

For starters, you scared my mom a little more gray, and (thanks to you, again) now I’ve got to text her every night, like a cub scout away at camp, that we’re all okay and not, say, bound and gagged inTurkey.

Your shenanigans provoked feelings in others too.

I can’t tell you how many finger-wagging notes I got messaged to me scolding:

‘This is what you get for letting them worship at your church.’

You see, thanks to you, a whole bunch of otherwise open-minded Christians think its defensible to assume that the old guy at Starbucks or the lady who drives the neighborhood ice cream truck are probably party to an Islamic terrorist network.

Hearing this, Mr Islamic Cyber Terrorist, should irritate you at least as much as it irritated me. But irritation is not what you made me feel either.

After all, my kids’ faces and names are buried there, in bits and bytes, in my blog. So is my wife’s. And, a bit further down, as you no doubt already know, is our address. Where our credit card number is to be found as well.

I’m not trying to play the martyr, that’s your forte. It’s not like I ever felt my life was in danger, and I’m definitely not suggesting I’m on the front line of freedom. We’re talking about a freaking blog, let’s not forget, I’m not on the front line of anything. Still, you made me- anonymous me- feel…vulnerable.

Yes, I think that’s the right word.

Vulnerable.

I can’t help but think, Mr Islamic Cyber Terrorist, the feeling you made me feel is exactly what so many of my neighbors and friends and congregants feel all the time. Vulnerable.  And when you’re feeling vulnerable, convinced that yours is an exceptional situation, I can tell you it’s not long before the rationalizing kicks-in, reasoning your way away from Jesus:

Surely we can’t forgive that person… It would be irresponsible to forgive that sin…

Jesus doesn’t really expect us to turn the cheek in this situation…

What am I supposed to do, just give them my children’s cheeks too?

Loving this enemy is no strategy to make them no longer an enemy, it will only get you killed…

Jesus must be talking about life in the Kingdom not in this world…

Our enemies sure won’t abide by any of these commandments…

Those were the thoughts running through my head in the hours and days after your ‘attack,’ Mr. Islamic Cyber Terrorist. They’re all thoughts similar to the ones a good many of my friends and congregants hold, and, truth be told, I used the word ‘rationalizing’ above for a reason.

They’re all incredibly reasonable rebuttals.

They make a lot sense; in fact, truth be told, they make a hell of a lot more sense than Jesus.

And that wouldn’t be a problem if Jesus was politely removed elsewhere, a figment of history or an absentee lord. We could raise our reasonable, real-world rebuttals to his teaching and then get about dealing with the likes of you. Conscience cleared.

The problem is Jesus has this annoying tendency to show up.

That’s what makes him different from your prophet.

You might not know this, Mr Islamic Terrorist, but the night before he dies Jesus sits his twelve disciples down and he says: here’s bread, here’s wine. Eat. Drink. Do this.

Do this and I’ll be with you.

Admittedly, this is irrational and it can’t be explained and it can’t argued with.

And maybe that’s the point.

Maybe it has to be that way because people like me are always going to have to deal with people like you.

Maybe Jesus knew that without bread and wine, we would forever think and argue and rationalize the claims he makes on us as a way of keeping him from us.

Maybe Jesus knew we’re no different than those two disciples on the way to Emmaus, who’d heard all the stories, who knew all the beliefs, who could recite the Easter Gospel and yet had no intention of doing a damn thing about it, who were quite content to say ‘isn’t that interesting’ and not have it change their way in the world.

Maybe Jesus knew that without bread and wine we’d always find a reason to reason our way away from him.

So then, maybe Jesus gives us- Christians, I mean- bread and wine not so we can get close to him as we- Christians, I mean- so often imagine.

Maybe Jesus gives us bread and wine because it’s the only way he can get close to us.

And therein lies my problem, Mr Islamic Cyber Terrorist. You see, I know how I feel about you. I know what I’d opt to do to you had I not made the mistake of giving my life to Jesus, and I can come up with several dozen cogent reasons why you and your ilk warrant an asterisk at the bottom of the sermon on the mount.

My problem is that I can mount my own reasonable arguments against you, but I can’t argue away what Jesus says about you (worth dying for). I can’t avoid how Jesus would regard you (with grace, for you not what you do) or deny what he’d tell me to do about you (love and mercy).

And, like I said, this wouldn’t be a problem if Jesus had conveniently absconded to the great by and by, but tomorrow is Sunday, Mr Islamic Cyber Terrorist.

Tomorrow I’ll set the table with bread and wine. We’ll all ask Jesus to come join us at the table. And if there’s one thing the Gospels make clear: Jesus never refuses a dinner invitation.

Tomorrow, Jesus is going to show up, real and present. It’ll be the same the Sunday next and the Sunday after that ad infinitum, or at least to the eschaton.

I can come up with all kinds of good reasons why you should be the exception to Jesus’ teaching, and I’d be happy to list them for you someday, but what in the world am I supposed to say to Jesus tomorrow morning when he shows up in bread and wine?

How can I tell Jesus to his face that he’s wrong about you?

How can I tell Jesus that you don’t deserve grace or mercy for your sins when he’s sitting right there at my table?

Talk about an awkward dinner conversation.

Like a lot of dinner parties I’ve been to, to be stuck with the host often means you’re stuck with the other guests too; likewise- and you can be damn sure I never saw this coming- when I gave my life to Jesus, I also in some odd way gave it to you even though I’ve no reason to expect you to treat it well. I guess that counts as another irony.

Anyway that’s my problem, Mr. Islamic Cyber Terrorist. I don’t want to love you; I don’t think you’re lovable.

I don’t even know what it means, practically speaking, to love you.

But tomorrow morning I’m having breakfast with Jesus and I know, if it were up to him, he’d save a seat for you.

So maybe GI JOE was right all along: knowing is half the battle.

Maybe whatever it means to love you starts right there, with bread and wine, and knowing that whenever we invite Jesus to dinner he invites the likes of you.

Maybe the first step in no longer seeing you as an enemy, the first step towards regarding you as a friend, is seeing you as a fellow undeserving guest.

How I’m Voting Tomorrow

Jason Micheli —  November 3, 2014 — 6 Comments

Yeah, sorry for the tease, but I don’t think so.

With the polls closing tomorrow here’s some pastoral, Kingdom-focused wisdom from yours truly….

Every now and then I flirt with the belief that Christians should opt out of campaigns and elections, let the chads and voting booths, the empty soundbites and inane talking points lie fallow for a season.

It’s not that I don’t think certain issues are important. It’s not that I don’t think Christians should be engaged in the concerns of their given context.

It’s that I suspect a mass Christian opt-out on Election Day might be a helpful and cleansing reminder to our politicians that:

A) the means by which they engage political conversation couldn’t be more divergent from our faith convictions and

B) the notion that the teachings of Jesus fit perfectly into either party is what the Church has usually referred to as heresy. Or, even, idolatry.

After all, issues and elections may be important, but only Jesus brings the Kingdom.

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And Jesus’ plan to heal the world is neither the Democratic or Republican platform                but the Church.

The extent to which that notion scares you or strikes you as naive exposes both                Jesus’ unreasonableness and your own lack of faith.

Every election year when well-meaning Christians either ask me voting advice or just post their silliness about ‘voting the bible’ on Facebook, I’m reminded of Martin Luther’s maxim that he’d rather have an effective pagan leader than an incompetent Christian at the reins of government. Since I’ve recently gotten cable once again, I’m painfully aware that the nation has its full of idiot Christians.

When it comes to me, I’ve got conservative Tea Party types in my congregation convinced that I go to sleep at night beneath a portrait of Che, Mao and Jesus arm-in-arm. And I’ve got liberal Democrats who think I’m raging right-to-lifer. There are military folks who think I’m a Mennonite in every way but name, and left-leaning activists who think my reluctance to believe in ‘rights’ language is proof I’m a backwards fascist.

Without trying to sound self-congratulatory, such ambiguity makes me, I think, a Christian.

Or at the very least, a pastor.

jesus-red-blue

As examples like Pope Benedict and Archbishop Rowan Williams point out, Christian convictions do not easily lend themselves to party affiliation despite those parties’ drooling eagerness to adopt ‘God language’ into their platforms.

Which is to say, as a follower of Jesus, you shouldn’t really care for whom I vote just as I, frankly, do not care for whom you do.

As Jesus might say, ‘render unto Caesar …’ or maybe he would say…’the law and the prophets do not hang on…’ or maybe he would say…’put away the sword…’ or how about ‘the Kingdom of God is like a tiny-not-as-significant-as-your-paid-advertising-mustard seed…or might he warn ‘you cannot serve God and Mammon…’?

Despite what all the campaign crap in the mail and the hyperbolic rhetoric on Fox News and MSNBC would suggest, the best posture for Christians on election day just might be ambivalence.

Because for Christians the word ‘election’ refers to being chosen by God to serve as a witness to others that Jesus is Lord.

For Christians, the word ‘election’ should be a reminder that we’re called to be a People within a people who embody not the Bill of Rights but the more strenuous and life-giving Sermon on the Mount.

 And the more Christians double-down on ‘election day’ and act as though life as we know it will cease to exist if ___________ [doesn’t] gets elected is but proof their faith is in the empire and not the Lordship of Christ. Jesus will continue to reign as Lord over the Earth no matter who wins our elections. Seriously, he will. Just as his Kingdom- not our empires- will continue to be the only hope for the world.

 

 

IMG_3916-768x1024Here’s a homily written by friend, congregant and seminary student Jimmy Owsley (above…no that’s not me). He wrote this sermon for our evening worship in Guatemala during our mission there in July.

His text was Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:3- ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’

 

What do you think it means to be poor in spirit?

According to Matthew Henry’s commentary on Matthew 5, “To be poor in spirit is to be contentedly poor, willing to be emptied of worldly wealth.”

Putting it another way “The poor in spirit have accepted the loss of all things, most importantly the loss of self, so that they may follow Christ,” says German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

I’d like to start this sermon off with the premise that he Sermon on the Mount demands our whole allegiance. If Scripture is our authority then we don’t get to pick and choose which verses we want to follow and which ones we don’t. And this is one of the most comprehensive segments Jesus’ teaching that we have available.

Furthermore, when Jesus instructs in the Sermon on the Mount, he is not speaking of merely spiritual realities. When Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God or the kingdom of Heaven, he speaks of a present physical kingdom, the kingdom prophesied in the Old Testament which the Messiah was to bring about. This is why the early Christians could say “Jesus is Lord” in direct contradiction to “Caesar is Lord.” It was kind of a big deal. In orthodox Christian belief, this kingdom an already-but not yet reality that Christian are called to live into. This is a paradigm in which the realities of heaven and earth collide.

So when Jesus says blessed are the poor in spirit, he is not saying that they will be blessed in spirit sometime later, such as when they die. And he’s not saying that being poor in spirit has nothing to do with earthly wealth. “You cannot serve both God and wealth,” he says.

Rather, the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who would renounce all earthly gains. This is why Jesus says that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

And when he says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” he is saying those who are poor in spirit are blessed now, in this life. They are the partakers of the kingdom of Heaven. Those who have emptied themselves, who seek not their own gain but live according to the principles of the kingdom of God, that God’s “will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” these people have God’s peace in their hearts. For these are the ones who, as Jesus says elsewhere, have lost their life that they may find it. How contrary to our “American Dream”?

So he says do not store up treasures on earth, but rather store up treasures in heaven. In other words store up treasures based on the principles of God’s kingdom, where poverty, simplicity, justice, meekness, and mercy are valued. Leave behind the values of the kingdoms of this world.

Indeed, every earthly gain can be lost. But it is our relationships with others, established through loving service of God and neighbor, which are the stuff of heaven. Only our relationships with God and with neighbor can bring us the overwhelming peace that comes with the kingdom of God. This kind of peace requires renouncing the false securities that this world has to offer: “There is no way to peace along the way of safety,” says Bonhoeffer “For peace must be dared. It is itself the great venture and can never be safe.”

If you are poor in spirit, if you sacrifice your own wealth and aspirations and live on mission for God in this world as you are meant to do, “Seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness,” God will take care of you, Jesus says. But if you strive first and foremost for your own security, then your heart is not with him in his kingdom for “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

“For this reason” Jesus says “do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on…” And of course, all of us doubt this. How can we not worry about providing for ourselves? And even for our families?

But Jesus anticipates this. “O you of little faith,” he replies. “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you?

So what would it mean to live at peace? To follow Jesus commands not to worry? To not be pursuing that next highest paying job, a successful career, or that dream of more comfortable house? What would it mean to live wholeheartedly for the purposes of God, relying on each other and trusting that, if we live according to principles of His kingdom which are vastly different and most often contradictory the principles of our earthly kingdoms, that if we trust and follow God will provide?

This week we all will experience God’s kingdom in some way. I trust that you are here, not to check off a box or fill in that volunteer line on your resumes. You are here in good faith because you feel some calling to serve God by serving your neighbor. You feel the pull to live out your faith, and you have renounced a chunk of your valuable time and resources to be here this week.

This may feel like a mountaintop experience for some of you, or a break from reality in some way. And it is a break from our normal everyday American reality. You might wonder how to live so simply and meaningfully in your everyday life when you return.

I encourage you to soak in the principles of the Sermon on the Mount this week, and to fully enjoy the extent to which you will be able to give of yourself. Please also be thinking about ways in which you might reorient you everyday life around these principles. What would it be like to really live according to the beatitudes day in and day out?

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Oprah: The Antichrist

Jason Micheli —  August 5, 2014 — 3 Comments

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“But I say to you: love your enemies…Be perfect therefore, as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”

               – Jesus

 

 

 

 

mainRather than break my promise (reading Mark Driscoll’s crap ebook, Pastor Dad, in a charitable spirit that’s open to learning) I decided to avoid my promise. That’s right, I’ve (e)shelved the book.

So rather than posting another Driscoll rant, here’s a Father’s Day letter to my boys.

     Dear Gabriel and Alexander,

 

Another year has passed! Boys, the more I enjoy our time together the faster it seems to speed by. Even to the two of you- looking at the photos on our cork board recently, Gabriel, I mentioned how much older you look now than you do in some of the photos.

And you replied: ‘Yeah, you look older too.’

 

No matter how old I look to you, boys, I hope you’ll at least realize that in your Father’s eyes you two are perfect, just perfect.

 

I told you last Father’s Day how I stole this idea of writing you a letter from Dennis. I figure Dennis spends much of his time taking credit for my hard work and brilliance so turnabout’s fair play. Boys, the folks in the 8:30 service won’t realize I’m joking but I trust you do.

 

I also confessed to you last Father’s Day how normally I have strong convictions against celebrating cultural holidays in worship. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day…they’re not Christian holidays. Christians have a different calendar and a different story I’ve always believed.

 

So in one vein you could say my writing you this letter for worship makes me a hypocrite.

 

But in another vein I think its a faithful act because if you two are not a means of God’s grace for me then God never spoke a Word.

 

Alexander,

 

You’ve been with us for three years now. It feels like yesterday and like you’ve always been here.

 

No longer do I need to hold you at night and reassure you that ours is your forever family. Instead you’re now content to hug me, pray your prayer, roll over underneath your covers and drift off to sleep.

 

This year thanks to those annoying place-mats your Aunt Andi bought you, you’ve memorized seemingly endless, inane Presidential trivia. You can tell us which President kept goats, which President was single, which President killed someone in a carriage crash.

 

And you do tell us, over and over and over, at every meal.

 

Sometime during this year, X, you finally got the hang of sarcasm. It was an answer to prayer.

 

There was the night I made polenta and onions for dinner and you leaned over your plate, inhaled the rising steam and said: ‘Man, I love polenta and onions.’

 

And there was the night after Christmas when we were stuck in New York City during the blizzard. I couldn’t see because of the snow and wind and I got us lost. And you said from behind your frosted hood: ‘Dad, you really know your way around New York.’

 

I suppose some parents wouldn’t want their kids to be sarcastic, but I thought it was perfect.

This year, X, I watched you on several Sunday evenings sit down on a love seat next to Eleanor, our elderly friend, and read to her. You had with her the same endless supply of empathy I see you display with your baby cousins.

 

I will forever remember the day before New Year’s, standing in the back of the funeral home and watching you kneel at Eleanor’s open casket and earnestly pray for her.

 

Far from feeling concerned for you, in that moment I thought you were perfect, just perfect.

 

This year, X, you’ve gone from not being able to swim at all to swimming Butterfly with the grace of, well, a butterfly.

 

Watching you in the water, you look perfect.

 

You may not even remember, X, but one evening this winter after swim practice another kid looked at you and then looked at me, and he asked you if I was your “real” Dad.

 

I wasn’t sure for a second if you knew what the kid was getting at, but then you said ‘Yeah’ and you grabbed my hand and you looked up at me and you smiled and I knew you got it.

 

And in that moment I felt perfect, just perfect.

 

Gabriel,

 

I can’t believe the little hands I first held at Easter four years ago are now holding #2 pencils and doing worksheets at the kitchen table.

 

I can’t believe you’ve gone from playing with the plastic astronaut toys Charlotte Rexroad gave you to explaining the revolution of the earth to me.

 

I can’t believe that the Legos you used to shove up your nose you’re now using to do math problems. I wish I could take those Lego pieces and subtract the time that’s gone by too fast.

 

This year you’ve learned to make pancakes. And you’ve learned to ride your bike without training wheels. Actually, you didn’t learn. You just announced you didn’t need your training wheels anymore and then you did it.

 

Like so many other things, you did it on your own terms. That same quality that often makes me want to wring your neck I think will one day make you a leader.

 

This year, Gabriel, you gave me my biggest laugh.

 

When we were camping, one morning while I was making coffee you emerged from the tent with your hiking boots on, your footy-jammies unzipped and hanging down your knees, with no underwear on and, for some reason, wearing your enormous orange skateboarding helmet on your head. You stepped from the tent, gave me a knowing grin and then marched over to a nearby tree to do your business.

 

Your mother won’t like that I’ve shared that story and I’m sure someone in church will tell me it was inappropriate, but I think it was perfect.

 

Perfect because you make me laugh, Gabriel.

 

Whether its wearing your underwear on the outside of your jeans, putting on a red cape and pretending to be Nacho Libre as you jump off the back of the armchair or whether its the glee in your eyes as you ring Mark Gunggoll’s doorbell and then run away before he can answer.

 

Your sense of humor- it’s perfect.

 

For your fifth birthday, Gabriel, you asked for a kitten. You named her Karli, and you’ve displayed with her nothing but gentleness. It’s the same gentleness that wakes me up every morning with your smiling eyes on the corner of my pillow and your hand rubbing my hair.

 

Speaking of which, Gabriel, you keep telling us you’re too old to keep sneaking into our bed at night, but you’ve yet to make good on your words. As you get older, my share of the bed gets smaller and smaller.

 

Even still, waking up to your gentle, smiling eyes is perfect, just perfect.

 

One afternoon this April, Gabriel, you walked in on me while I was struggling to write a sermon and you found me crying. You asked me why and I told about you about a little boy who’d died.

 

 

You blinked and then gestured emphatically with your little hands and said: ‘Poor him. His poor family. It’s a good thing Jesus loves all the children.’

 

And you didn’t know it but you’d just given me my sermon and, just like that, you’d reminded me that you’re perfect, just perfect.

 

Boys,

 

A few months ago we were in the checkout line at Safeway. Sharon Perry was behind us. She hadn’t noticed us but, Alexander, you saw that it was her. I could see the little gears in your head turning.

 

Alexander, you pointed up at an issue of Men’s Health and you announced loudly so Sharon (and everyone else) would hear you: ‘Dad, his muscles are way bigger than yours.’

 

I feigned outrage and threatened to teach you a lesson. Alexander, you responded by saying: ‘Dad, you could not beat anyone up.’

 

Maybe that’s true now, but it wasn’t always true.

 

There’s a story I tell the confirmation kids every year. It’s more like a confession.

 

When I was in the sixth grade, I was bullied mercilessly for 3/4 of the year. I was the pimply, awkward, new kid on the bus, and every day- every day- a boy who was two years older and sat in the seat in front of me would shame me, spit on me, pick on me and hit me.

 

There are worse details I could share but if I did you’ll never go to middle school. He literally made that year Hell for me, and, as is the way in Jr High, I suffered it in silence.

 

Everyone called him Frog because he kind of looked like one. It never occurred to me that he was the way he was because he’d been treated the same way he treated me.

 

Anyway, after suffering nearly a year of his abuse, I decided to put a stop to it. One afternoon I didn’t get off at my bus stop. I rode for three more stops and got off at Frog’s neighborhood. And then I beat him up. Badly.

 

Boys, when I tell that story to the confirmation kids, I always build it up in a deliberate way; so that, when I get to the part about beating Frog up the kids- girls as well as boys- they always applaud. They always cheer.

 

They always think the way I handled Frog was perfect.

 

And then I tell them the rest of the story.

 

I tell them how what I did to Frog made him a sad, timid person who never again looked me or anyone else in the eye. I tell them how I became a Christian some years after that, and I tell them about the Sunday morning I heard Dennis Perry read from the sermon on the mount at Woodlake United Methodist Church:

 

“I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Every year, boys, I tell the confirmation kids how, having heard Jesus’ sermon, I knew that if I was serious about being a Christian then I needed to ask for Frog’s forgiveness.

 

That’s what I did, in the parking lot of a grocery store where he worked as a bagger.

 

No one ever applauds when I end the story there. My Father’s Day wish is that one day you’ll become the sort of men who do.

 

Boys, in my eyes the two of you are perfect in every way. And I’ve no doubt God looks upon you with a joy similar to my own. But the hard Gospel truth is that the perfection God wants to see in us is a peculiar sort.

 

To be perfect is not to be sinless or without fault.

 

To be perfect in God’s eyes is to love those you’ve no inclination to love, to love those who do not love you, to love those who hate you and those you long to hate.

 

Jesus could’ve said it in so many other places in the Gospel.

 

When Jesus praised the generosity of the widow with her single coin, Jesus could’ve said: ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your Father in Heaven is perfect.’

 

When the disciples ask him how to pray, Jesus could’ve ended his lesson with ‘Be perfect as your Father is perfect.’

 

Or when Jesus told the rich, young man to sell all his possessions or when he told the lawyer “to love your neighbor as you love yourself’ Jesus could’ve added ‘Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.’

 

But Jesus says it here about turning the other cheek and loving your enemies and giving the clothes off your back to the person attacking you behind your back.

 

Don’t think, boys, this is about the avoidance of conflict. Because nothing will make enemies for you like a determination to love like Jesus, and that’s where faith comes in, boys.

 

After all, if you really did give your clothes to the person accusing you, then you’d be left standing there before a judge naked and that sounds ridiculous.

Except that’s exactly what Jesus did. You see it’s about faith, boys. Christians love their enemies not because its a guarantee our enemies will cease to be our enemies.

 

No, Christians love their enemies because that’s the same love that was nailed to a Cross. That’s the love God vindicates on Easter.

 

It takes faith- faith that if we love as Jesus loved then God will vindicate us too. Of course, boys, this sort of love is costly and counter-intuitive and doesn’t come any easier for your father than for anyone else in this world.

 

So I’m not the example you should be looking to. Instead you should strive to be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.

-Dad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Through the years I’ve had friends and close acquaintances who are Muslim. As a prison chaplain I worked alongside a Muslim Imam. In every instance, I’ve always noticed how I actually have MORE in common with them than I do with many of my cultural (non-practicing) Christian friends. Given how radically secular our culture and my generation is how could it be anything but? In college, for example, the only other people I knew who prayed besides myself did so to Allah.

As many of you know, Islam is defined literally as ‘submission’ to God’s will and teaching. The closet Mennonite in me, which is to say the Methodist in me, has always admired the Muslims’ notion of submission. After all, most Christians define Christianity as what? Beliefs…faith in…Jesus as Savior? That’s part of it certainly but I’ve always been uncomfortable with how so many Christians define their faith in a way that conveniently sidesteps or makes optional the actual teachings and example of Christ.

I’ve been thinking this week about the doctrines of incarnation and trinity for the Sunday sermon and I’ve been struck once again how those beliefs work to secure Jesus’ place in the God-head. In other words, the one who gave the sermon on mount wasn’t merely an historical teacher whose words can be dismissed or ignored. He’s God. The sermon on the mount is, literally, the word of God.

So that’s why I’m thinking about submission. I’m wondering what the Church would look like, what the world would look like, if Christians understood THEIR religion as submission to the teachings of Jesus.