I’m a Thomas Apologist

Sermon on John 20:18-29: I’m a Thomas Apologist

It fascinates me when I notice something new in passages I preach on regularly.  Every year I preach Thomas’s understandable response to his friends telling him Jesus rose from the dead and understand his doubt a bit more.

I noticed something I cannot believe I missed before.  I seriously questioned if I had ever actually read the passage critically before, it jumps out that obviously:

I saw this.  Read verse 20 again:

20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy.
– John 20:20 CEB

 Now read verse 25:

25The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!”
But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”
– John 20:25 CEB

See something similar?  The disciples did not rejoice when Jesus said, “Peace be with you!”  They rejoiced after Jesus showed them his wounds.  They needed the same proof Thomas demanded, and yet we remember Thomas’s doubt vividly and gloss over the other ten disciples not fully believing Mary Magdalene.

Listen to the story in a slightly less flattering light for “The Beloved Disciple.”

When Mary came to find Peter and the author, they ran to the tomb to verify what she said, concluded that Jesus had gone missing, and then ran and hid like cowards.

No judgement – I would run, too, and hide like the coward I am – but the author glosses over his cowardice, instead saying they “went back to their homes.”

After Jesus reveals himself to Mary Magdalene, she tells the disciples the amazing news and yet Jesus still has to show them the wounds for them to rejoice what Mary had told them.  No mention of why they paused and did not immediately start rejoicing.  Mary only needed to hear Jesus say her name to believe; the disciples need to see the wounds to believe.

Again, I cannot judge.  I cannot grasp their level of fear.  An unrecognized man appeared behind the locked door they hid behind from people who wanted to kill them.  They should have screamed like children.  They get a pass for not recognizing Jesus in that moment, but author glossed right over the fact that they needed to see the wounds while making sure we know Thomas needed the same thing.

Verse 25 paints the image of “Doubting Thomas” as written, but read it again, only with some transliteration by me:

 Unless [I get literally what you all needed to believe, even though Mary Magdalene had already told you he was alive], I will [continue to doubt the same way you all doubted].
– John 20:25, Pastor Rob’s Transliteration

Then Jesus appears, encounters Thomas where he stood, and Thomas responds to Jesus exactly as anyone would: “My Lord and my God!”  A recognition, a celebration, an acknowledgement of the truth of Jesus.

How I wish I could experience Jesus responding to my doubt as he did for Thomas.

I have more sympathy for Thomas than a significant portion of the church.  Some of the western church loves to make verse 29 the judgmental lesson of this passage:

29 Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me?  Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”
– John 20:29 CEB

They make verse 29 into this lesson: do not doubt; just believe.

Some like to condemn doubt as proof of weak faith and weak relationship with God.  Some call doubting the work of the devil and struggling with faith the devil making us weak.  If we simply had stronger, most wholesome faith, we would not doubt.

I do not believe that in the slightest.  If the devil causes doubt and wrestling, the devil has written more than a couple of my sermons.  If the devil makes people wrestle with scripture, the devil made seminaries.  If the devil causes doubt and makes us wrestle with scripture, the devil is giving us all the deeper meaning we find in scripture beyond cursory reading.

Me personally, I give credit to the Holy Spirit for my doubt and wrestling because it makes me a better student of scripture.  I refuse to believe the devil makes me think about scripture critically, and I find that thought process fascinating because Jesus does not respond to Thomas like that.  Jesus does not scold Thomas – or the other 10 – for doubting

What he gives speaks to a reality: faith without doubt can be a blessing.

He tells them to desire the faith of a child, the faith of innocence without doubt, but he does not condemn them because they cannot have that faith anymore.

I miss the faith of my youth.  I have three years of academic study basically in faith, I have written hundreds of sermons, and I pray multiple times a day, and yet I have a much more fragile faith than I did in my youth.  How wonderful does believing without seeing feel?  How much blessing and comfort does it provide?

But I cannot have that faith anymore; that faith cannot mature into deep faith.  You must wrestle and think more critically as you mature, making the innocent faith of childhood impossible in adulthood.

Look at what actually happened in the story.  Thomas doubted – with good reason as we all would do the same – and Christ encountered him where he stood and deepened his faith through that encounter.

Thomas’s doubt lead to deeper faith.

Stop ignoring and denying your doubt.  Thomas spent three years with Jesus, he saw the miracles and had 11 trusted friends tell him Jesus came back to life, and yet he doubted.  You are not somehow less broken or less human than Thomas.

And Thomas’s doubt did not violate his love of God and did not violate the love he felt for his friends; he did not sin by doubting despite what the gospel of judgement would love us to believe.

Jesus did not condemn or even scold Thomas; he responded to Thomas’s doubt and deepened his faith.

Lean into your doubt, wrestle with scripture and with God, even shout to God with what you need to deepen your faith and what you need to believe.  I can guarantee that your faith will become more fragile and you will doubt, but wrestling and doubting will also make your faith more honest, more real, and it will open you up to deepening your relationship with God.

Blind faith is shallow; faith built from wrestling and doubt is deep.  More fragile, more confused, but deeper and built with God, not dictated by humanity.

Doubt, wrestle, and build your deep faith with God.  Amen.

“And I won the footrace!”

Easter Morning Sermon: John 20:1-18 – “And I won the footrace!”

A curious thing happened at the tomb.

Obviously, we celebrate the empty tomb.  We celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, we celebrate our salvation.  We celebrate our God rising from the dead and defeating death itself.  We celebrate everything about that empty tomb.

He is risen!  Alleluia!

But this curious thing happens, and the author of John – “The Beloved Disciple” – seems to gloss over it.

Mary arrives to prepare her friend for his final resting place.  She goes to his tomb the first moment the “Law” allows so she can give her friend care and compassion one last time.  She comes in love, ready to complete this awful and yet wonderful task for her friend.

And she finds an empty tomb!  Not the curious part I mentioned, but still very curious and very important.  She arrives to find a missing body.  She assumes – quite logically – someone stole the body.  So, she runs to Peter and “the beloved disciple” for help.

The men race to the tomb, and “the beloved disciple” – again, the author of this gospel – made sure anyone who reads this gospel knows he arrived first.  “The Beloved Disciple” and Peter both see the missing body – or rather do not see it – and then they believed Jesus’ body had disappeared.

For some reason they seemed to not believe Mary Magdalene – or at least doubt her – when she told them upon arriving wherever they were staying – and most likely hiding – but when they saw, they believed he disappeared.

And then they left.

Hence forth I will call them cowards because they ran in fear.  Read ahead to Jesus revealing himself to the disciples; he appeared as they hid behind a locked door, Peter and “The Beloved Disciple” hiding right along with the rest.

Peter and “The Beloved Disciple” saw the same things Mary Magdalene saw, they the same things she experienced, and they were men with at least one sword between them, giving them much greater ability to deal with a Roman or Jewish Leadership attack.

And they just finished spending three years with Jesus and devoting their entire lives to him.  The author calls himself “The Beloved Disciple.”  They should have felt some desire – or at least obligation – to find their friend’s missing body, or at least help Mary Magdalene figure out exactly what happened.

And they left like cowards.

Honestly, though, that should not raise eyebrows.  They acted like humans, like each one of us would in their situation.  They acted like their human selves.

I would have proved myself a coward in the exact same way.  I would never stand around and wait for the Romans to arrest or murder me while I figure out what happened to the body of my dead friend, and I would never wait for the Jewish leaders to lead a crowd to stone me.

Missing body, missing Robby.  Period.  They did nothing curious.

But Mary Magdalene does something very curious at the tomb: she stayed despite having every reason to run because her compassion for her friend outweighed the real, actual, logical fear she definitely felt.  She loved Jesus greatly, and she wanted to serve him one last time by giving him the final gift she could before they sealed him away for his final rest.

That should fascinate you.  The men from Jesus’ inner circle had too much fear and cowardice to show their dead friend the same level of compassion, but this loving woman risked her safety and possibly her life to show compassion and love to their dead friend.

Then Jesus does something equally curious: he appeared to Mary Magdalene first.

Why would he choose Mary Magdalene?  I cannot know for sure, but I believe he chose her in part because she showed him compassion and acted fearlessly in this moment.

She should have run.  She should have protected herself.  By staying, she placed herself in grave danger and did the exact opposite of the rational course of action.  She showed Jesus an irrational amount of love, even after his death, and I believe he rewarded and honored her love and compassion.

I believe Mary Magdalene saw Jesus first because she chose to show love and compassion instead of listening to her fear.

Part of this scene’s curiosity comes from Jesus revealing himself to a woman, a woman no one would believe.  In the patriarchal Jewish society under the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire, a poor, Jewish woman had no power and no voice.

And Jesus chose to reveal himself to this woman first.

A very curious scene has unfolded alongside the curious event of Jesus’ resurrection.  Neither Jesus nor Mary do anything proper or what a rational, logical, worldly person would have done.  The whole interaction reeks of curious madness.

And perfection.

Maybe we need to stop looking for rationale or reason or logic and just love and care for each other.  Maybe we should express the most compassion and love we can without any motive or method apart from compassion and love.

Just love and show compassion to each other.

I find myself, as I think about just doing the compassionate, loving thing despite it going against logic, reason, and worldly instruction, looking towards Fred Rogers and how he served those who needed love.  A documentary about Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood comes out in the summer, and the trailer itself has a wonderfulness that speaks to me.

In it, producer Margy Whitmer describes what Fred Rogers did to make his show:

“You take all of the elements that make good television and do the exact opposite; you have ‘Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.’  Low production values, simple set, an unlikely star, yet it worked.”

Fred Rogers did nothing right according to the standards of television, ratings, and entertainment, instead just doing what the children who watched his show needed.  Glory, honor, fame, riches, and security did not matter to Fred Rogers.  He simply desired to show compassion and love to children who needed it.

In his words, “And the greatest thing we can do is to let people know that they are loved and capable of loving.”

Logic, rationale, effectiveness, safety, security, and comfort are all important, but they must take a back seat to showing compassion and love.  Forget what the world or the church or anyone else tells you to do, forget your selfish desires, forget “the right thing.”  Literally, we need to live in the example of Jesus, and of Mary Magdalene, and of Fred Rogers: act in love and compassion, without other motive or method, and outside of fear.

Peter and “The Beloved Disciple” ran in fear; Mary Magdalene stayed in love.

Forget fear; show love.  Amen.

THE NOTE:  I don’t preach from a manuscript; it’s something I gave up in the past couple of years ago to challenge myself and open myself to interacting with the congregation more.  My effectiveness instantly grew in spite of my delivery suffering.

Effectiveness over pride.  I’m less eloquent, but the Word is preached better.

Grace has a tradition that speaks to my soul, though.  I believe that there should always be an entry point to worship for everyone, in this case those who are hard of hearing or home-bound.   They have a printed manuscript available for those who struggle to hear and they send a manuscript to those who can’t attend.

You probably see my dilemma: no manuscript, no manuscript to print and give out.  So I decided to create a written version of my sermons.  Same basic outline, but in a smoother style of writing instead of the conversational style my delivery has.  It’s a good happy-medium and, as I said, provides the entry point to worship.

I’ve had a huge uptick in subscriptions despite writing very little, and I do a lot of writing for like 10 pairs of eyes, so I decided that I would start putting my manuscripts on the blog like I have done in the past with previous blogs (including this blog’s predecessor).

If you happen upon this little corner of the internet and have strong feelings about it, let me know.

Peace,
– Robby

My Stupid Expectations

So I have this voice in the back of my head that won’t stop repeating itself over and over again.

“It’s Easter; you’re sermon better be perfect!”

This voice never shuts up; every week, it’s either criticizing me because the sermon got done late, is going to be too long or too short, it is poorly exegeted, ad nauseam until it tries to convince me I’m a giant fraud.

I hope that’s not just me because otherwise this turned into a giant confession.  Oops.

Anyway, most weeks I can point my finger at the voice, tell it that it’s a dirty liar, and then go on with my life.  It never shuts up, but at least I convince it I’m actually in charge.

This week is different.  That voice is loud, and it has the advantage; Easter is important, and it decided to use that to break down my confidence.

“It’s Easter; that isn’t an Easter sermon!  You aren’t talking about salvation enough!  Now you’re looking only at salvation and missing any other message!  Wait, now you’ve forgotten salvation!  Where’s the empty tomb, moron?!?  That’s the same sermon they hear every year!  That’s a sermon they’ve never heard because it’s terrible!”

It’s like the importance of the day gave it a shot of steroids and made it mad.  And I listen because I’m a people-pleaser and the voice in the back of my head is someone to please, I suppose.

I swear this has a point other than me whining.

That voice has a purpose.  It does, in fact, make me strive for better sermons.  Every once in a great while the voice hits the nail on the head and makes me re-evaluate.  Even today it made me look deeper into a passage I’ve probably read a thousand times and find that thread I had never seen before.

But then it started yelling at me that I’m not allowed to preach on that!

I have this expectation that I will give the very best sermon of my career every week, and that my sermon will be the best sermon anyone hears in any congregation anywhere in the world.  I’ve worked on that expectation somewhat, but still the voice that makes me expect that of myself still lingers.

Growing up, my pastors always said that if they weren’t nervous walking into the pulpit, it was time to quit, and I have taken that to heart and applied it to myself.  And every week, painfully over-prepared or woefully under-prepared, I feel about the same level of nerves.

But my CPE supervisor said something to me that I have wrestled with since: he doesn’t get nervous preaching.  He said there’s a 50% chance he gives a great sermon, and a 50% chance he gives a terrible sermon, and that’s pretty much irrelevant because of the Holy Spirit.

Now, I don’t take that to the farthest conclusion, but I know if I’m being faithful, the Word will be preached.  I just need to drop the expectation that every week will be a master-class in preaching.

Or any week.  They can’t all be zingers, or even most.

Drop the silly perfection expectations for this week.  Yes, the Easter event defines our salvation and makes us Christians.  No, my Easter service does not.

Shut up, voice in the back of my head.

Peace,
– Robby

Communion and Feeding the Hungry

My family showed love through food.  As my physique likely portrays, we showed love through rich, delicious, and absolutely terrible for you food.  There was always a plate for another mouth at our table, and they would walk away full.

Also, people have dreams about my grandma’s scalloped potatoes and bacon.  Like I said, rich, delicious, and terrible for you.

We also where poor.  It would never be said – we always called ourselves “lower middle class” – but the reality is that we were poor.  Despite that, our table was always open.

It always fascinated me that there would be people who would not offer up their table to their neighbors.  There is very little in this world that I love more than feeding friends and having fellowship with them.  Honestly, it brings me a selfish amount of joy to give friends, family, and strangers alike a delicious meal from my hands and from my resources.

The idea of eating a lavish meal in front of people who could not afford to join me feels absurd.

Three things have lined up to make it really relevant this week.  One, the NFL changed the Super Bowl to the first week in February 15 seasons ago.  Two, some ingenious people created the Souper Bowl of Caring in 1990 to collect food for the hungry to coincide with the big game.  Three, protestant churches are not creative and typically have their monthly communion on the first Sunday of the month.

Interestingly, I also had a conversation around that passage in 1 Corinthians that our Words of Institution come from.  It’s oddly apt that we would choose this passage from a larger passage about how rich people where gluttonously eating in front of poor, hungry people and creating a divide, and how doing that was a grievous sin against the Body of Christ.

I have more than enough.  I am not rich by Corinthians standards – or 2018 American standards – but I have plenty.  I just bought a new TV, I have an expensive computer, my car starts every morning, we are not living on scraps.  I have more than enough, more than I probably thought I would ever have growing up.

And so I am helping feed the hungry on the day that I share a meal at the table with my Lord and the saints of every time and place, and a day that I cheer against the Eagles because I don’t particularly care who wins, just that the Eagles lose, which I realize means the Patriots win, but I really couldn’t care less about that.

I encourage you to use this Sunday and our communion as an opportunity to feed the hungry and help the needy.  If you are in Fort Wayne and want to contribute to me losing my beard, Grace will definitely take your donations.  But if you are anywhere, there is a church or school or another group that is collecting soup this week.

For more national information, check out SouperBowl.org, though it may not be the most up-to-date information on groups collecting.  Or just give to food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens, and whoever else feeds the hungry.

Souper Bowl of Caring

We don’t eat our meal with our savior alone, and no one should go hungry, especially when we eat that meal.  Let’s help make that a reality.

Peace,
– Robby

How I (Suddenly) Became Progressive

I have been trying to find where my outside church ministry in Fort Wayne and Indiana is leading me – that ministry you do because you are called to just a little bit more than just being a preacher, hospital visitor, and administrator – and I found myself attending a presbytery justice advocates group.

As we talked, I found myself hearing the politics and concerns of the groups and found myself agreeing with them, not in a surprising way but in a, “Yes, my people.  I found my people.”  Then one of the people call the group “progressive.”

I was a little bit taken aback.  I’m a moderate, certified fence-sitter.  I have strongly held political beliefs, but they don’t fit neatly in the adversarial binary off the American political system.  The only thing “radical” about me is my insistence that those I minister to and I myself love radically and the sheer volume of coffee I drink.  I don’t lean left, I never have.  I used to lean right, but I’ve centered myself.  My positions tend to be more logical than anything, seeking first to love than to actually see things work.

If you see me or talk to me, you don’t think progressive.  At all.

But I realized something in that meeting: I have become a progressive, in a way.  I didn’t change all that much – I fleshed out more theology and stopped giving benefit of the doubt to one side, which didn’t really change all that much about me – but I can easily be labeled a progressive now.

I didn’t change, but the line moved, and I’m on that side of the line.

Here are some things it became progressive to believe or observe:

  • That all people – all of God’s children – should be able to participate in the fullness of the church, no matter their lifestyle, brokenness, or who they love.
  • That there is still racial inequality in the United States of America and Christians are called to speak out against it despite their political allegiances.
  • That there is economic inequality in the United States of America and Christians are called to speak out against it despite their political allegiances.
  • That people should be able to go to the doctor and not need to make a decision between eating or healthcare, rent or healthcare, or any other necessity of life or healthcare.
  • That people should be paid a fair wage.
  • That the rich should not gain their wealth by the abuse of their workers.
  • That Christian allegiance is to the cross, not a flag.
  • That Christian allegiance is to Christ, not a world leader.
  • That all Christians are broken, all Christians desperately need the saving love of our savior, and that none of us can cast a stone against another sinner.
  • That Christians are called to protect, lift up, hear, and speak out for the vulnerable and the weak, using whatever privilege and power we have to help those and speak for those who do not have that privilege and power.
  • That wealth is not a blessing from God but simple a resource for use to better God’s creation and show Christ’s love.
  • That Christians cannot act in fear and are called to act against their own well-being when it comes to showing love.

I used to believe that the vast majority of these things were boilerplate Christian values.  There may be some deviation if we really want to break them down to the most minute subtleties, but I thought this was pretty basic Christian doctrine for the mainline.

The reality, I’ve learned over the past few months and even couple of years, is that these believes and observations make me progressive politically.

I was taught that not being strongly conservative made you a liberal.  I was taught that being liberal was evil.  I was taught that being a liberal Christian meant that I didn’t believe anything.  I was taught that the progressive church was the coming of the Antichrist.  I was taught that disagreeing with the narrow doctrines of the conservative church was tantamount to being not-Christian.

And our binary, adversarial political tribalism has made it to where a prophetic voice is discounted and ignored because it is simply seen as an attack from the other.

When did being a moderate make you progressive?  I don’t know, but it has, and I guess I’m a progressive now.

I guess being a progressive means that you value showing love above all.

29Jesus replied, “The most important one is ‘Israel, listen!  Our God is the one Lord, 30and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  31The second is this, ‘You will love your neighbor as yourself.’  No other commandment is greater than these.”

– Mark 12:2-31 CEB

I guess being progressive means following the Greatest Commandments.

I guess I’m progressive now.

Peace,
– Robby

A Difficult Sermon

Note: When I preached on this passage, I realized I hadn’t preached on it since taking “Preaching” in seminary, and I almost quit seminary due to that course.  I never titled this sermon, and I can’t think of a title while I post some previous sermons to the archive, so the title has more to do with me than the sermon.

Sermon on 1 Samuel 3:1-10 (and 1 Samuel 2:12-25)

If we just read the 10 verses the lectionary recommends, we get a Sunday School lesson.  Now, I usually say something like that when the passage misses something huge, but this passage gets most of the story.  Samuel does not know the Lord yet, but he is attentive and ready to fulfill his duty.  Eli helps Samuel understand who called him, much the same way he has helped Samuel become the beloved prophet he has already become.

The passage has a strong lesson: listen for when God calls, and willingly do what God calls you to.  The passage tells a very relevant passage for literally every moment in human existence, and we should tell it regularly.

The background does not change the message: the message remains “Answer when God calls and do what God says,” but the background makes it stronger and shows consequences of not doing God’s will.

What happens before this shows why God needs Samuel, and why God needs someone other than Eli.

Eli is worthless.

I preached on this passage last in my first Preaching class in seminary.  I said something to that effect, and the professor and class responded poorly to it.  Their struggle came from me not giving Eli any credit, how Samuel’s coming of age gave pain and sadness to Eli, how God’s message to Samuel felt like a birth pang for Eli, how he grew Samuel and now he painfully gave birth to Samuel’s ministry.

That rings of truth, but incomplete truth.  The full story tells it differently: Eli did not control his family, especially his sons, and allowed travesties to happen to those under his care.  This painful experience of Samuel coming into authority was precipitated by Eli’s inaction and ineffectiveness, and had he taken a stronger position, one of Eli’s sons would take his place.

Samuel does not become a prophet if Eli does his job.

But Eli did not do his job.  In fact, Eli grossly ignored a call I harp on every week: protect and love the vulnerable.

Eli’s sons are evil.  Wicked, despicable scoundrels, according to scripture, depending on how you translate the word.

They first abuse their power by forcing people to give the best of their sacrifices, a large, uncooked portion with fat instead of the portion of the boiled meal they should.  I think about this, and immediately I think about the number of people who came through that had spent every spare coin they had to purchase this meat for sacrifice.  Eli’s sons not only took from God, which sounds pretty darned awful in and of itself, and took from people who had to spare, but they took from every person who came to Shiloh to worship and sacrifice, including those who had nothing to spare.  The priests, those called to a live of servitude and humility, demanded the finest cuts for their own use.

It can get worse, though.  They also had sex with the servant girls at the city gates.  These are servant girls who certainly cannot say no to the powerful priests serving Shiloh.  Scripture does not tell us if they did this by physical force or through coercion or through taking advantage of vulnerabilities–probably because it does not matter.  No matter how they did it, they sexually took advantage of the women at the gate.

The sons are evil, and Eli does nothing.

Well, Eli does something.  He basically says, “You boys stop it!” and then does nothing.  His words have no teeth, he will not actually make them stop taking advantage of the vulnerable.  Under his watch, people who cannot resist suffer abuses at the hands of his sons.

This goes beyond just not being able to control his sons.  All parents have times when their children do terrible things.  We do not blame the parent for the sins of the child unless you can see that no actions were taken to correct what was happening.  Eli’s sons did not just start raping and stealing.  They did not go from perfectly mediocre priests to evil men.  They had to progress from one sin to a more painful sin to a more painful sin to get to the point they arrive at when Samuel is called by God.

And Eli effectively did nothing.  Eli is worthless to protect and help the people of Israel, especially the poor and vulnerable who could not help themselves.  This swan song comes not just because Eli painfully gives birth to Samuel’s ministry, but because Eli fail and his failure caused abuses of the vulnerable.

It sounds familiar.  Listen to the cries of the vulnerable around you today.  We are coming up on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and racial tensions have grown in recent years instead of declining.  The church has a call to protect the vulnerable yet stories come out regularly about people in about abusing those God called them to protect.  The poor, the vulnerable, the “less than” are currently, today, right now, being abused.

We can be Samuel, answering the call of God, listening to the cries of God’s people, and reacting.  God has called us to protect the weak and vulnerable, the feed the poor, to live out what Christ lived out while he walked the Earth despite his own poverty.  We can do good in the world and actually act to prevent evil in the world.

Or we can be Eli.  We can have good intentions, say, “Don’t do that!” and do nothing more.  We can allow abuses to take place under our watch, speaking the right words but taking no action, doing nothing to actually protect the vulnerable.

We can do either.  God calls us to one, but Eli clearly chose the other.

Now, we may not fully recognize God’s call at first.  Samuel needed guidance and did not recognize God’s voice at first.  But once he listened for God, he did what God needed and helped the weak and the vulnerable.

We can listen for God and help the vulnerable, or we can do what we have always done, not listening for God’s direction, and just let darkness win.

I recommend we listen for God.  Amen.

Loving Rapists and Terrorist

This week I attended a Boundaries and Ethics training, and I had a wonderful conversation with a couple of other young pastors about the message of the gospel.  Later that night, I tweeted this:

I like provocative tweets, and that’s exactly what I meant to say.  If you read the gospels (especially Matthew 5:43:48) “Love your enemies” is pretty much the command.

Everyone loves their friends and who it’s easy to love.  Our command is to love all; in practice, that means to actively love our enemies.

The conversation on Wednesday revolved around one thing: Jesus wasn’t kidding or pulling punches when he said, “Love your enemies.”

We were a bit cheeky about it.  “No really, love your enemies.  No, really, love your enemies.  No, really, love your enemies.  Terrorists and rapists and pedophiles included. *NOT MY POLITICAL PARTY* included.  No, really, love your enemies…no, REALLY, love your enemies.”

Then we started talking about boundaries.  And I realized today that my tweet, which I stand by and would tweet again, might have been oddly timed.

One national conversation this week was how many women and non-CIS people have had their bodily autonomy and sexual boundaries broken, sometimes in small ways and sometimes in violent, terrible ways.

I would claim it is a universal experience.  Everyone woman I have ever talked to about it has had it happen, even if it was the cultural norm even 30 years ago.

So I wanted to write a little bit about loving rapists and terrorists.  Because I don’t want any to hear what I wrote as accepting and downplaying the horror victims feel.

Because it is horrific, and should be named as such.

Loving someone does not mean to make their sins and their atrocities okay.  To love someone does not mean to downplay what they have done or pretend it didn’t happen.  To love someone does not mean to tell their victims that they aren’t victims.  To love someone does not make them not a rapist or terrorist, and it does not make rape and terrorism okay.

Much the same way that God loved us and provided salvation even if what we do is not okay.  Jesus didn’t make our sins okay, he didn’t make us killing each other and tear each other apart okay, he didn’t make our destruction of our planet okay.

None of that is okay.  All of it is still horrific.

But we are still loved.  And so we are supposed to love all, include those who we find horrific and who victimize.

Love and not hate.

There is something that my tweet misses, and it can’t be included to make it pithy, but it needs to be said.  The ultimate message is to love all, but there is a certain bias towards the weak and the powerless and the victimized.  Jesus loved the broken by healing and caring.

And love the money changers in the temple by turning over the tables.

Love comes in different forms, and love is not telling a rapists or terrorist that what they are doing is okay and allowing them to continue.  Love is healing, which includes healing the victim and healing the perpetrator so they can stop creating victims.

Love is calling sin sin, horror horror, and terror terror, and creating healing for the ravages of sin.

And love is trying to stop sin.

I can’t write the practical method of loving a rapist or a terrorist that also heals and does no harm to their victims, but I know that I must love them even if I despise them.

You are called to to the same.

Hopefully that through just the right amount of more mud into the muddy waters so it’s murky enough to be helpful.

Peace,
– Robby