Monday, January 27, 2014

January 26, 2014 - Having A Heart Like Jesus: A Heart for the Hurting

John 11:17-37

One of my favorite memories comes, surprisingly, from a funeral I attended seven or eight years ago.  I was sitting in the sanctuary of a church listening to the pre-service music.  Among the hymns that were played came a surprise – Let It Be, by the Beatles, which happens to be my favorite song of all time.  There were two ladies sitting in front of me, friends of the deceased, and one turned to the other and said I like that song.  I wonder what number it is in the hymnal?  That would be a great hymnal, wouldn’t it?  Tanya and I are having a bit of a disagreement over the music for my funeral.  I told her I would like the pre-service music to be The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, but she’s not going for that idea.

If I asked you to name the hardest part of your work, you would probably be able to answer immediately.  I can tell you without hesitation the hardest part of ministry, to me – funerals.

My most difficult task as a minister is to officiate at a funeral.  One of my first funerals was one of my most difficult.  I was a young Student Minister and it was one of the youth in our church, just a high school student.  He was a fine young man – a good student, very polite, hard working – just a fine person.  He began experiencing headaches and was diagnosed with a brain tumor, which took his life less than a year after his diagnosis.  At the time of his funeral, I wasn’t many years older than him, and I was so nervous.  I was so afraid of saying the wrong thing.

I’ve officiated at a lot of funerals over the years, and while I have adjusted to that part of ministry, it remains a difficult task.  One of the reasons I find it difficult is because I assume that, on a typical Sunday morning, people may or not be listening all that close to what I have to say.  And if I have something helpful to say that’s good, and if I don’t, there’s always next week.  But officiating a funeral is very different, because you can sense the stillness among the congregation as people are hoping you can bring some words that will help them to find comfort and peace.  To be honest, I find that to be rather unnerving and I never feel up to the task.

We continue our series Having A Heart Like Jesus, and this morning come to a passage that contains one of the most famous verses in the Bible.  It’s a verse you learned if you ever had to memorize a passage of Scripture.  You probably chose this verse to memorize because it is the shortest in the entire Bible – do you know which one it is?  Jesus wept (verse 35).  It comes from the story of the raising of Lazarus, a story that shows us that Jesus has A Heart for the Hurting.

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles[a] from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

The entire story is longer than the passage we read this morning, and I would encourage you to take a few minutes today, or sometime this week, to read the entire passage from John’s gospel.

This is the story of a family grieving after a very difficult loss.  John’s gospel tells us that Jesus arrives at the home of Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, four days after the death of Lazarus.  Their grief is still very tender, and their home is full of people who are mourning his loss.  This is a story that demonstrates that the heart of Jesus is especially with those who experience the great pain of the loss of a loved one.

It’s impossible, I think, to avoid feeling sorry for Jesus in this passage.  He is scolded by both Mary and Martha.  In verse 32 Mary repeats the same statement made by her sister Martha in verse 21 – Lord, if you have been here, my brother would not have died.  Once would be tough enough, but twice! 

Do you ever wonder how Jesus felt about the things people said to him, and about him?  We all learn that at some point in life we have to have thick skin, but it still hurts, doesn’t it, to be questioned and criticized?  I wonder how Jesus felt when confronted in such a way by two of his close friends.  It had to hurt.  For Jesus, he often experienced such moments, that could be described as What have you done for me lately Jesus? moments. It seems that some were fine with Jesus as long as he was doing something for them.  That’s why I think the passage we studied last week is such a powerful passage (Mark 14:1-9, when Mary anoints Jesus), because we see somebody doing something for Jesus.

But Jesus does not respond by reproving them.  He doesn’t defend himself.  Our first reaction, when we are criticized, is to get into that self-defense mode.  But Jesus did something that is a great lesson to us, especially when we come alongside those who are grieving – he allowed them to grieve, and to grieve in the way that suited them.  Jesus didn’t say now, now, you shouldn’t be talking like that; let me tell you what you need to do and say and how you ought to grieve.

You’ve got to let people have their say, especially when they have suffered the loss of a loved one.  They may be angry and they may be frustrated, but you have to let them have their say.  We can’t tell people how they should grieve and we shouldn’t tell them how they should feel, and we shouldn’t put a timetable on their grief, telling them after several months that it’s time to move on or it’s time to get over it.  You don’t ever get over a loss.  You adjust to the difference in life, but you don’t get over it.

Some years ago I was talking with a father who had recently lost his son.  His son passed away at 41 years old after a long, difficult battle with cancer, and I officiated at his funeral.  It was a tough loss, as you can imagine.  The father made a comment that took me back.  He referenced the passage in Matthew 7:9 – Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  He looked me right in the eye and said, all God has given me is a bag of rocks.

That’s a tough statement, isn’t it?  But this was a father who was hurting deeply from the loss of his son.  His words weren’t all that different from those of Mary and Martha; as they questioned Jesus about what they perceived was his inaction toward Lazarus, this father questioned God through his perception that God did not do enough.

Loss often makes people question.  Loss often makes people angry.  Those are emotions that have to come out.  If they are pushed inside they will only cause further heartbreak.  But we often find ourselves uncomfortable with the questions and the anger and the frustration, don’t we?  We don’t know what to say, and we don’t know what to do, so sometimes do or say the wrong things.  We will say, now, now, don’t feel that way.  Don’t say those things.  I don’t think it’s very helpful to tell people how they should feel.  People simply feel the way they feel.  You can’t put a timetable on grief and you can’t put parameters on how people should feel.

It hurts to see those you love hurting.  Jesus was certainly not immune to the hurts of others; in fact, he was extremely sensitized to the suffering and pain of others, which is why he wept.  He knew what he was going to do about Lazarus, but his love for Mary and Martha and his empathy for them touched his heart in a great way.  We see over and over again in the gospels the emotions of Jesus.  He was often moved by the plight and the suffering of others.  One of the phrases often used about Jesus is he had compassion on them (such as in Matthew 9:36 – when he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd).

In spite of the reaction of Mary and Martha to Jesus, what’s interesting is that Mary and Martha simply sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was sick – Lord, the one you love is sick (verse 3).  Notice they do not ask him to come; they knew he would come.  Have you ever heard the words I knew you would come?  Those are very powerful words.  Mary and Martha knew Jesus would come.

Jesus did not come on their schedule, but he did come.  I don’t understand God’s timing.  None of us do, but God has some kind of timing in mind.  I think patience can trump understanding.  I don’t understand the way God works, or the timing involved in how he works, but as I age I am more willing to be patient when it comes to his timing. 

The heart of this passage is certainly the raising of Lazarus.  In that great miracle Jesus is demonstrating that he is the resurrection and the life.

I vividly remember the first funeral I officiated for a young child.  It was a bitterly cold winter day, such as we’ve experienced this week.  It was early in the year and the ground was covered with ice and snow and a cold wind was blowing.  The cold, hard winter landscape seemed to reflect the cold, hard reality of loss for the young couple who had suffered such a terrible loss.  Their baby, only a few months old, had passed away.  What can possibly be said to bring any comfort or meaning in the midst of such tragic circumstances?  There is no way to take away the pain of such a loss, but it is possible to speak a word of hope.  Because Jesus is the resurrection and the life we can affirm that life does not end with our last breath, it only transitions.  It transitions from life in this world into life in the next world.  When we take our final breath in this temporal world, we take our next breath in eternity.  When the sun sets on this life, we are raised to the dawn of a new life.  Those truths, while they do not remove grief and loss from our lives, give us hope, and hope is what we so desperately need in life, especially when we have experienced grief.

Jesus wept.  He wept for the grief and the pain felt by Mary and Martha.  He is not absent from our loss, just as he was not absent from the loss experienced by Mary and Martha.  He is with us always, and may we rejoice in that great promise!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

January 19, 2014 - Having A Heart Like Jesus: If All I Had Was A Hammer...

Mark 14:1-9

I am going to mention the first phrase of a saying in a moment, but before I do I’ll add that I am offering prizes to those who accurately guess the remainder of the saying.  First prize is an autographed copy of the sermon.  Second prize is two autographed copies.  Third prize is a sermon written specifically for you that I will preach to you at your home.

If all you have is a hammer…

Does anyone know how to complete that old saying?

If all you have is a hammer…everything would look like a nail.  Have you heard that saying before?

As we continue our series of messages titled Having A Heart Like Jesus, we come to a passage of Scripture that takes place in the final days of the life of Jesus.  It takes place sometime between the Triumphal Entry and the Last Supper.

Keep that saying about a hammer in mind as we read the Scripture passage for this morning.  We’ll read the telling of the story from Mark’s gospel, but all four gospels tell the story.  Not many stories are recorded in all four gospels, and I believe that because this story is in all four, its message must be very important.

Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him.
“But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.”
While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume?
It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.
“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.
The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.
She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.
Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.

Did you notice the reaction of those present when the woman anoints Jesus with this ointment?  There was an immediate rush to judgment against her.  Does it ever seem to you that religion makes some people mean?  Or is it that their meanness is made more intense and tragic because they believe they have received a divine mandate that enforces their attitudes and actions?

Mark, like Matthew, does not identify the woman who anoints Jesus.  Luke identifies her as a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town (Luke 7:37).  John tells us it is Mary (John 12:3).  Isn’t it a shame that the first instinct of some of those gathered that day was to rush to judge her?  Have you ever noticed that’s the default position for some religious people?  The first response is not one of grace but to pull out that finger of judgment and start pointing it.  And no words of grace were offered to her.  No one said, you are doing a good thing.  Jesus has done so much for us and given us so much it’s time someone did something for him.

If all you have is the hammer of judgment then everyone gets nailed with that hammer.  And there were a lot of people in the day of Jesus carrying around that hammer of judgment.  The heart of Jesus, however, was always expressed through grace.

Perhaps because of her past, alluded to by Luke – a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town – everyone believed they had her all figured out.  Sometimes we can’t see beyond someone’s past.
I grew up in West Virginia, went to school in Tennessee, moved to Alabama, and then came to Kentucky.  You know what was helpful about moving around?  Every time you move you have the opportunity for a new beginning.  Whatever people thought of me, when I moved I had a chance to reinvent myself and begin anew without the drag of my mistakes defining me in the eyes of other people.

Not so for Mary.  People remembered her past, and were probably quick to point it out to her and to everyone else.  They assumed she was the same old Mary.  They couldn’t believe anything different about her.

Isn’t it amazing how we make judgments other people?  I have, unfortunately, made judgments about people and found that I was totally wrong.  I’ve too often kept my same interpretation of someone else when they had changed and become a far different person.

By offering the reminder that it was at the time of Passover, Mark is pointing out that, at a time of heightened spirituality, there were those who were not very in tune with the Spirit.  When Mary anoints Jesus, she was strongly criticized.  Those critics failed to see that she was responding to the grace of Jesus.

There is no shortage of Scripture passages that demonstrate how resistance many were to the theme of grace.  For Jesus, grace was at the center of everything he said and did.  Having a heart like Jesus means we are called to be people of grace, reflecting in our own lives one of the central themes of his life and ministry.

The woman who anoints Jesus with the ointment demonstrates that she “gets it.”  Almost all of the stories we read in the gospels are ones that tell us about the grace, love, and kindness that Jesus demonstrates.  In this story, we see someone who has understood his emphasis on these qualities and then demonstrates grace, love, and kindness back to Jesus.  Jesus is most often the demonstrator of these gifts, but in this passage, he is also a recipient of them.  In contrast, others fail to learn the lesson.  Immediately after anointing Jesus, the woman is criticized for what she has done.  Focusing on the value of the ointment, these critics immediately point out their perception that the woman wasted a valuable commodity.  It would have been better, they claimed, if it had been sold and the proceeds of the sale given to the poor. 

And don’t we recognize how people can be when we read the line some of those present were saying to one another, “Why this waste of perfume?  It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor (verse 5).  I wonder if their concern for the poor extended to their own wallets?  It’s very easy to be generous with someone else’s money, isn’t it?  If they were so concerned about the poor, what were those people doing to alleviate their misery?  If those critics were so interested in helping the poor, they simply could have done so.  What were they willing to sell, or to give, in order to help the poor for whom they suddenly had such conviction?  The reality is, they were more interested in judgment and criticism than they were love and grace.  They were perfectly content to sit back and judge this woman who reflected the compassion and grace of Jesus.  They allowed their righteous indignation to provide a mask for their indifference to the sufferings of others.

People often think someone else should be doing something, but don’t always stop to realize what they could be doing.  From this group of people down to the skeptics who think God isn’t doing enough about the suffering in the world, it is part of the human condition to point a finger of blame or judgment while not raising a hand to offer any help.  But it’s hard to offer a hand of compassion when that hand is so busy pointing a finger.

Jesus is not indifferent to poverty and is not shrugging off the importance of ministering to the physical needs of others.  Not at all.  He is reminding those in his presence they need to be concerned about the condition of humanity that would create poverty, a condition they seemed immune to while at the same time deciding how to spend someone else’s money.

So they rebuked her harshly, Mark says.

I wonder what that scene must have been like.  What does it mean to rebuke someone harshly?  Whatever they were saying, it got Jesus’ attention.  Leave her alone, he commands.  I’ve often wondered about the tone of his voice in that sentence.  Was it one of sadness for their harsh judgmentalism or one of anger and frustration?

Mary pours out this perfume upon Jesus, and it is rather breathtaking to think of its value – equal to a year’s wages for most people.  That’s a lot of money.  I’ve often wondered what special ingredients are in perfume to make it so expensive.  I’ve gone to get perfume for Tanya a few times over the years.  I’m really out of my element in that section of a store, and I think it’s obvious to the people working in that area.  I’ve choked a bit at the cost of a few ounces of perfume, but a bottle that would cost a year’s salary?  That would buy a lot of guitars!

There is an element of love that does not count the cost.  Love does not calculate expense.  It does not hold back.  Love offers everything, just as this woman gave all of the ointment, though not all would be necessary.

Interestingly, as Mark notes the words of Jesus that wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her (verse 9) the same is true of those who sat in judgment of the woman.  While we are told of her grace and generosity, so are we told of the hardness of heart of those who sat in judgment.  The lesson from this is that our actions, and our attitudes, are noted and remembered by others.  Just as this act of grace and generosity is remembered, so is the lack of grace and generosity exhibited by the others who were present that day.

There is also another important point made by Jesus.  When he says, in verse 7, you will not always have me, it is an important reminder to act while we can.  There are opportunities to express love and grace that may not come again, so we must act while the moment is at hand.  Have you known the sadness of allowing an opportunity to pass by, an opportunity that did not come again?  Perhaps it was an opportunity to express your love to someone or an opportunity to exhibit grace.  All of us, I would presume, are familiar with the regret of missing such a chance, and of living with the sadness of not acting while we had the chance.

Don’t live with that sadness, and don’t live without grace.  Offer grace, and receive grace.

Monday, January 13, 2014

January 12, 2014 Having A Heart Like Jesus: Who Is Lord?

Matthew 4:1-11

Robert Jeffress is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  He’s made a few interesting political comments in recent years.  In his new book, Perfect Ending, he claims that while he does not believe that President Obama is the Antichrist, he believes the President is preparing the way for the Antichrist.  That’s quite a provocative comment, isn’t it?

There are few things as volatile as mixing politics and religion, as we all know.  2014 is an election year – aren’t you happy about that?  Don’t you look forward to the commercials and the noise that comes with campaign season?  Along with the campaigns will come some of the usual fireworks that result when politics and religion intersect.

What are the political issues we face?  What are the pressing political issues of our time?  Health care?  Immigration?  The minimum wage?  Gun control?  Same-sex marriage?  Abortion?  The relationship of church and state?  War?  Capital punishment?  How does our faith relate to those issues?  Is there a Christian position on those issues?  If so, who gets to decide what constitutes the Christian position? 

Those are difficult questions, and, perhaps, they are questions we would rather ignore than engage, especially in worship.  Merely mentioning those issues can cause a rise in blood pressure, so if I have put you on edge this morning simply by mentioning them, I want you to take a deep breath and relax.

This morning, we continue our series of messages titled Having A Heart Like Jesus, and as we continue, I want us to consider the question of how we engage the politics of our day as people of faith.  As our series of messages are based upon what reflects the heart of Jesus, that will be the lens through which we approach this topic, not be through the lens of the Old Testament or Paul, which are often more influential in shaping how we relate our view of faith and politics. 

Allow me to offer a couple of disclaimers as we begin – first, this is a Disciples church, and as Disciples, we both support and encourage diversity of opinion.  We offer the grace of disagreeing with one another in an agreeable manner.  Second, I’m not going to tell you what you should believe about any particular political issue; I don’t believe it is my role to do so.  I am happy to discuss with you any political issue, to answer questions, and to help you come to your own conclusion, but I will not tell you what you should believe about a particular political issue.  Third, my goal is to offer some guidelines that I hope will help you relate your faith to politics in the manner in which Jesus did so.  Fourth, to remind us that we often project our views onto Jesus.  Isn’t it amazing how often Jesus reflects what we think?  We often assume that Jesus would vote the way we vote, that he would maintain the same political affiliation, and, perhaps, even cheer for the same sports team.  I believe that if the words and actions of Jesus do not make us uncomfortable, we are not taking those words and actions seriously.  We must, therefore, think carefully and pray for the guidance of God, that we would reflect his heart.

This subject is complicated, in part, because the manner in which Jesus spoke about politics is not always obvious.  He often made references to the Roman Empire and in doing so was critical of their use of power and their treatment of people, but those references are easily missed in our modern context.  It is also difficult because we relate to government in a way far different from those in the time of Jesus.  When we desire to bring about change in our society our thoughts often turn to how we can use the political system to bring about that change.  That we find it so difficult to think about our faith and how we express it apart from our relationship to government reminds us how hard it is to really study this issue from the perspective of Jesus.

So, recognizing that many political opinions exist among us this morning, I want to offer some guidelines that I believe are very important as we try and reflect Jesus in the ways in which we think about and act upon politics.

I want us to approach this issue through one question this morning – Who Is Lord?  For Jesus, everything comes back to who – or what – is the lord of our lives.  This is why we’re approaching this topic through the story of the temptations of Jesus, because that is one of the questions Jesus faced in those temptations.

1.  If we want to reflect the kingdom of God, we have to follow the right Lord.
The third temptation faced by Jesus was the question of who to worship – who is lord?  Bow down and worship me, offered the devil, and all the kingdoms of the world would belong to Jesus.  Overlooking the fact that the kingdoms of the world were not rightfully his to offer, this temptation reminds us that everyone has a lord in life; the question we each must answer is, who is my Lord?

If you lived under the Roman Empire, the emperor claimed he was your Lord.  In fact, when Jesus used titles such as the Son of Man or Lord, he was directly defying the emperor, for whom those titles were reserved.  It was an act of treason punishable by death for anyone else to use those titles in reference to himself, and Jesus used them freely.

The emperor claimed to be divine – a god – and if you lived in the Roman Empire you were required to offer an annual sacrifice, and when you did, you received a certificate, or some type of token, that proved you had paid homage to the emperor and you were thus allowed you to engage in commerce and business throughout the empire.  To fail to do this made it very difficult to engage in a meaningful economic life.  This is also, incidentally, what the book of Revelation means by the Mark of the Beast.  People worry far too much today about the Mark of the Beast being tied to modern technology, such as a personal ID or other electronic device, but the Mark was used by the emperor to demonstrate his complete control over the lives of his subjects.

That’s why Jesus answers the way he does when asked about whether or not it is acceptable to pay taxes to Caesar in Matthew 22:15–22 – 15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”
18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” 21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away. 

We usually read that passage and interpret it as a very neat, easy way of dividing our loyalties to God and government – each one gets what they are due; God gets some and the emperor gets some.  Except that’s not at all what Jesus was saying.  In his day, his hearers would have recognized that he was presenting a dilemma – both God and Caesar claimed to be lord – you couldn’t divide your loyalties between them as they both wanted to be your lord.

For Jesus, you had to choose the right Lord if you want to reflect the kingdom of God.

2.  The right Lord will give you the right sense of power.
Power is the ability to make things happen.  That power can be through the power of example, the power of influence, or through the power of force.
Jesus knew real faith is not forced upon people.  I can’t find any example, in the gospels, of the power of the state and the power of faith being put together in order to advance the cause of faith.  Not one.  Jesus never used the power of the state to further his kingdom.  Not once.  He had opportunities to do, but he always declined.  At the Triumphal Entry he had large numbers of people ready to accept him as a king, if he so chose, but he did not. While on the cross he was challenged to use power to save himself and proclaim his kingdom (Luke 23:35), but he did not.  In fact, in the ministry of Jesus we see he was more often in conflict with earthly powers and in disagreement with those in authority.  He was in conflict time and again with those who represented earthly power, power that was often used to subjugate and oppress people.

Who we choose as lord will determine how we use power.  Unfortunately, history has demonstrated the tragedy of how the church has sometimes used power, the power of might and coercion and it led to terrible results that haunt us to this day.
Jesus never used the power of coercion, so neither should we.

3. Because Jesus always advocated for people, treated them without judgment, and treated them fairly, so should we.
The early Christians were persecuted because they rejected the Roman Empire and Emperor as their lord.  The Emperor claimed to be the benefactor of people and that he treated them fairly, but he did not.

Jesus upset people because he always treated people fairly and equally, and if that was his heart, so should it be ours.  It is a tragedy that some people use faith and religion as a weapon to divide rather than to serve as a call that we are all created equal by God.  To demonstrate our allegiance to Jesus and not an earthly power we must reflect his values, and we do that when we reflect that he disqualified no one from fellowship with him.

This is where the church is to be a real beacon to the world, because the church is a people created not by the sword, or by the power of coercion, or ethnicity, or national boundaries, but by love, welcoming people simply because they are children of God.  Western society has historically embraced democracy because of he influence of Christianity.  The Roman Empire saw people as disposable.  The Empire did not embrace the idea of equality or the dignity and worth of every person, but Christianity did.  This idea – based in faith – has infused much of the world’s thinking about how to treat people.  Though skeptics of faith may deny it, faith has provided Western society’s idea of the worth, value, and dignity of every individual.  This is a direct result of the ministry of Jesus.

You probably know that late last year we took in a scout troop that had been expelled from another church because of the change in the membership policy of the Boy Scouts of America.  They are not the only scout troop that lost their church home in our community because of that change, unfortunately.  I debated whether or not to reference that event, because I’m not comfortable publicly criticizing other churches, but I will say I believe they were absolutely wrong to expel those scouts.  To do such a thing is to draw a line that I believe Jesus would never have drawn and it made a political statement I believe Jesus would not have made.

I have one overarching political ideology, and it is this – everyone should be treated fairly and equally, and I hold that view because I believe that was the attitude of Jesus.  If a political proposition promises to treat all people fairly and equally, I will support it; if it does not, I oppose it.  I know that sounds overly simplistic, and if it does, then so be it.

It's one thing to have varieties of worship styles, organization, and other differences among churches, but it is a very different matter to fundamentally alter the mission and purpose to which we have been called by Jesus, and to do so by saying some individuals, or some groups, are not welcome in churches.

When Jesus stood in front of Pilate and Herod, before his crucifixion, he flatly rejected exercising any kind of earthly political power, and in doing so, he demonstrated a power that has far outlived the power of Pilate, Herod, or any other person ever to occupy a political throne.  I think that speaks very plainly to us, and should be the model for how we live.