Born of God

Sermon on 1 John 4:7-21 – Born of God

A revelation washed over me Friday.  Not a new revelation, but a reminder from God.

My grumpiness defined last week.  Poor communication and my desire to achieve “Super-Pastor” status came to a vicious head when Alan asked me to lead communion at presbytery and gave me two days to prepare the liturgy.

If you spent any time in the church this last week, I need to apologize to you.  I complained way more than the situation warranted.  I allowed that one request to define and ruin my week.  I felt angry, frustrated, and miserable; every day I wanted to scream at nothing in particular while I worked in my office.

Despite me and my drama, the Spirit use my labors to give me God’s reminder.  As I put together the liturgy, a verse jumped out at me and reminded me of why we do this, why I do this, and the wonder communion should give us: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8a NIV) I knew immediately that verse need to lead the liturgy because it reminded me something.

That first Sunday we worshiped without Sue, nothing quite went to script but the Holy Spirit made her presence loudly known.  Tamara and Cathy played wonderfully, I remember giving a good message, we laughed with joy, a wonderful service just appeared from our struggles, and I, for the first time, fully felt the awe of leading communion.  I remember I could not stop smiling.  I worried smiling did not fit into proper communion decorum, but that worry could not stop my smiling.

I still have the new-pastor shine on me, but I know that communion will remain one of my most joyful; I truly felt like I lead our meal with Christ that day.

We over-complicate faith and church.  Good Presbyterians will rip anything apart to its smallest piece so we worry greatly about what bread we use and which kind of bread matches best with our intent when we gather around the table and how big the pieces should be cut or if we should cut them at all before the service because are we taking or giving and does it feel natural or manufactured and continue ad nauseam until the pastor bashes in head into the brick wall.

Like I said, we over-complicated faith, and frankly, I might as well stop using the plural pronoun.  Over-heady and borderline-insane Presbyterianism defines me.  Wanting perfection and high-gloss shine on my pastoral ministry defines me.  Tearing apart every action, complicating every decision, and second-guessing every step I take defines me.

I forget that God, first and foremost, called me as “Loving Pastor.”  Not “Super Pastor,” not “Perfect Pastor,” not even “‘Acts Like an Adult Over 50% of the Time’ Pastor.”

God calls me as “Loving Pastor” above all else, and I correctly and fully respond to that call 27.6% of the time.

If someone sees and recognizes a Christian, what do they recognize?  Do we—or should we—wear signs around our necks labeling us “Christian”?  Do they know our God by the ichthyses on the back of our cars and Christian radio blaring on our speakers?  Do we show ourselves as Christians by knowing what words to say in worship and what times the stand?

Do those things define a Christian?

Bubble-bursting time.  I know people who wear the label of Christian like badge of honor, have all the paraphernalia, only have the right music coming out of their speakers, and attend church every week that drive people away from God.  I have examples in my mind, but we do not need my examples; I have confidence each and every person who reads knows that person, and we each have numerous examples.

The label means nothing without love.  If someone recognizes you as a true Christian—a true follower of Christ—they recognize your love.  Your theology and ichthys means nothing without love.

I realized—or remembered—we should define Christianity by love.  Christianity as a label requires a few other things—those things often dependent on who currently fills the pulpit—but without love, those other means nothing.

We have misplaced our concern with making sure we believe the right thing and aligning our belief with the doctrines of the particular church.  Yes, belief itself gives life, absolutely—believing God in the form of Jesus Christ walked amongst us and willingly gave his life for us gives me hope in the midst of this dark and frightening world—but without love, it means nothing.

Love with doubt—even profound doubt leading to unbelief—still has God present and means something; faith without love means nothing and does not have God.

What is God?  God is love.  Period.

You cannot be Christian—even if you proclaim faith and do the proper things and know the words and have the appearance of righteousness—if you do not love.

Interestingly—and really, really obviously—the letter says nothing about theology beyond basically believing in Jesus, and absolutely nothing about orthodoxy or proper denomination or church attendance.  It does not say God requires absolute and rock-solid faith.

It does say, “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”

God gave birth to all who love.  Read through the rest of the passage.  It literally defines true faith as believing in Jesus and, almost more importantly to my eyes, showing love.  The author really wanted to drive that point about love home.

Love or you do not follow Jesus and do not believe in God.  Period.

Do you see Jesus as call to love, or as a weapon and path to power?  Do you see God as love, or as vengeance against those you hate?

Did God give birth to you, or did the Earthly desires of greed, power, and hatred?

You answer this with what you worry about.  Do you worry most about looking righteous or showing love?

You know the correct answer.  You know your actual answer.  Do they match?

Show love; mark yourself as born of God.  Amen.

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

Jesus Loves You and I Love You

I simply need to put that out there.  No matter who you are – your sexuality, your political party, your attitudes, your biases – Jesus loves you and I love you.

I can’t contribute anything unique or helpful to the conversations that are happening around us, I don’t have the energy to add my voice in a meaningful way other than to say Jesus loves you and I love you.

Peace,

– Robby

A Random Memory (And a Rabbit Hole)

I had a memory flood back to me like that I hadn’t thought of in a while:

When I was young, I really struggled with spelling.  I mean, I still struggle with spelling, but I have those wonderful red squiggles to help me out now.  Anyway, I remember sitting at a parent-teacher conference in fourth grade – I think – and there was conversation about how I was still not reading chapter books and I was still using “inventive spelling,” which was unacceptable at that level.

I guess.

This memory is always spurned by a slightly earlier memory, I think first or second grade.  I was trying to write “The Indians are our friends.” and what I wrote was “The Indians are are friends.”  I knew they were different words, but I didn’t understand the spelling difference.

Chronic bad speller.  I legitimately thank God for whomever added the squiggly lines to Word, and also whomever added them to browsers.

That one popped into my head because I meant to type “our” and I typed “are.”  I deleted, corrected, and then the memories flooded back.

There is always a third thing that pops into my head.  There is a story from this guy talking about a girl on social media who is obviously a teenager with teenage theories and beliefs.  He goes through how dumb she supposedly is – again, probably because she’s a teenager1 – and yet she always used the right version of there/their/they’re, as a righteous condemnation of anyone who gets it wrong because “she’s dumb, and even she can do it.”

I wonder how much brilliance is ignored because communication isn’t everyone’s forte.  Sometimes saying something is more important than saying it properly.  Sometimes the thoughts get ahead of the grammar, and the thoughts are much more important than the grammar, yet we condemn anything not written properly as stupid.

I’m as guilty as anyone.  I’m a little bit racist in this regard, in fact.  There is a pronunciation of “ask” that makes me immediately discount the speaker as less educated and less wise.  Now, I recognize this about myself and I consciously snap myself out of it – I have casual racism within me, like anyone else, and I believe just acknowledging it and then putting it aside when it happens will make me, and anyone else, better at interacting with the world – but it’s a thing for me.  And it almost made me discount the wisdom of someone in CPE, someone who brought a lens to my experience I was so very lucky to have because her presence was so very atypical to the CPE process.

We need to become better judges of the thoughts expressed to us and stop using our biases against certain types of communication in that judgement process.  How often have you discounted something because it isn’t well written?  How often have you discounted something because the speaker is angry, or upset, or emotionless?  How often have you discounted someone because they lack education, or are highly educated?  How often have you discounted someone because of their level of privilege, be it high or low?

Because I have.  Probably every day.

There was a great article – and if I find it, I will tweet it and link it here – that has an argument that we can’t possibly be fully “woke” and trying to attain the title of “King Woke” or “Queen Woke” is a fools errand.  Instead, we just need to acknowledge our biases – in the terms of the article, racism, but all biases that divide and silence – and do our best to set them aside as we live in this world.

So I issue a challenge.  Read a poorly written article and judge is based on the merits of its argument, not the quality of its writing.  Read an article arguing a position you disagree with – hate, even – and evaluate it honestly, not biased by your current preconception.  If we do this, we can both widen our minds and also widen our arguments when we come up against something we find abhorrent, attacking it at its core and its logic instead simply in a way that can be described as “divisive” and “political.”

And instead of pretending you have no biases – and especially no internalized and/or casual racism – acknowledge it and work to set it aside.

Maybe we can start interacting with each other and loving each other fully if we try.

Okay, I need to stop procrastinating.  Hopefully this mind-dump makes sense.

Peace,

– Robby

1For anyone my age and older, you should be insanely thankful that all the stupid thoughts you had as a teenager were not recorded as a permanent record for all to read forever – and to nail you to the wall about because you are a stupid teenager. Every election around/after 2032 should be pretty entertaining…

In the Name of My Sanity (Or, Sharing the Works of Our Hands)

Something in my last post that is absolutely true is that I want to write about something not awful.  The darkness in the world has been a reason why the previous iteration of this blog remained kind of active over the past three years, but only writing to respond to travesty is soul-killing for me.  Cathartic, but soul-killing.

So I decided I’m going to write something happy.

Last night we had a delicious meal: butter-fried steak, roasted tomatoes, sauteed bell peppers, blanched and cooked green beans.  It was heavenly.

All of the major ingredients came from the hands of someone whom loves us.  The steak came from a couple of parishioners who are responsible for us not buying ground beef for the past three years.  The beans and tomatoes came from the generous excess of another parishioner who loves being able to give away the excess from her garden.  The bell peppers came from our pots, and I think it is important to love myself.

At Bible study last night there were four pints of grape tomatoes, a pound or two of green beans, and a dozen eggs to share because of the excess of the loving work of the gardeners – and Marv’s chickens – and God’s creation.

And it is freely and joyfully given.  We have offered – many times – to pay for the eggs, and the offer is always declined.  By the end of the summer anyone who wants to can tomatoes, beans, beets, or really any food has ample produce to do it.

There is something absolutely wonderful this level of generosity.  I haven’t bought sweet corn since we moved to Cascade.  From the moment I moved here I have felt loved and part of a family under God.

I’ve struggled with how to respond to the darkness of the world – and I still struggle with it as I also consider how to respond to potential reactions to my words – but I have been preaching an answer for basically my entire ministerial career:

Show love to those around you.

Yes, I can tell you to not be racist and disavow those who are and publicly condemn acts of hatred, but last night, eating from the generosity of others and receiving more generosity last night, I felt more love and more welcome.

If we can live our lives like that in our small circles, and do that will all people, we will reduce the darkness in our world.

I can’t fix the racism of our nation, I can’t heal the deep wounds that it has caused, but I can show love to all.

Show love to all.

Peace,

– Robby

Sleep On It

Last night a young couple came and essentially tried to convince Nora she’s going to Hell.  I’m not going to name-and-shame what church they came from, but it was very close to home.  It made me furious that the version of the gospel that was being sold in my neighborhood, and because I was busy feeding the sheep I lead.

I am still furious, but I’ve decided to bite my tongue a bit on it, trying to figure out how best to respond.  I don’t know if a public response is best, or a conversation with their pastor asking why this is an acceptable mission practice, but what I’ve written is 95% of what I will say on the matter.

I am very happy I started writing my response last night and waited until today to post it.  It was poorly written, crafted out of anger and exhaustion, not helpful but rather condemning and accusatory.  My thoughts weren’t wrong – again, I’m still angry about it – but I couldn’t write it in a pastoral way.  As I sit in the office this afternoon, not able to focus on real work, I am having a hard time being pastoral again.

So instead of talking about that, I decided I was going to do something else: talk about how to be a mature adult.  Last night I was ready to send all sorts of e-mails and a “Letter to the Editor” and try to get a meeting with the other church in town and create a united front against the teachings of this church.  Today, my vision has cleared a little bit and I can see the folly of that.

Often times sleeping on it is the best option.  Responding out of blind anger would do two things: get my supporters in an unhealthy frenzy and break and line of communication or compromise between this church and my own.  That accomplishes nothing but making me feel good and righteous, which, in its own way, is what caused that brand of theology.

Feeling righteous feels really damn good.  Having people in a fury affirming your righteousness feels amazing.  Judging and condemning the other feels really good.  It all would have made me feel great.

And accomplishes nothing more than divide an already divided and spiritually struggling community further.

I wasn’t home last night because I was preparing for Bible study at the church.  We are studying 1st Timothy.  Last night was chapter 1, including a difficult conversation on verses 9-10.  This verse that includes a word whose translation we can’t guarantee and whose interpretation partially caused to the ELCA and the PC(USA) to both have a major splits and vocal proponents on each side of the debate risking their careers for what they believe God is directing them to do, including a professor I never got the chance to study under because firing him meant money was continuing to come in.

Last night I wanted to add my voice to the larger argument of scripture and sin in a way that furthered the frenzy and anger.  Today I want to share the message of the gospel that is love and salvation, not condemnation and growth based upon fear and guilt.  I want to provide community today, not provide a place to fulfill an obligation so someone can get into Heaven.

I slept on it, and now my anger has calmed so I can actually be light instead of darkness, as dim as my light is today.  I approached it with calm, understanding and love, and now I can respond with calm, understanding, and love.

I will close with this.  If anyone who is local to Cascade, Iowa reads this, know that the message in the church I am leading is not that message.  We believe that we are broken and need Christ, but we will not drag you in with the threat of Hell if you act differently than us or have sins that we don’t struggle with.  I am not ignorant of what has happened with this congregation, and I am not ignorant of why someone might not feel comfortable or welcome in the walls of that church – and that saddens me greatly – but the message from my pulpit is love, compassion, and hope, not judgement nor condemnation.  If you are seeking that, the doors are open to you (and everyone from every walk of life).

You are loved, and that is the message of the gospels.

And don’t respond to stuff out of anger.  It doesn’t help; it only feeds your ego and self-righteousness.

Peace,

– Robby

Love Thine Enemy

43 “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you

– Matthew 5:43-44 CEB

Last week at Bible study one of the men, with a pained look on his face asked:

“God created everyone and loves everyone, and that includes the terrorists who killed those kids in England, right?  How do you accept that?”

I responded with a comment about how those who are dying as terrorists are usually just horribly misguided children, and those in charge are the ones pulling the strings, and that we should mourn their death, as well, because they are loved children of God.

A good response, I supposed, but what I wanted to say was, “Yeah, it’s be really freaking nice if God would come down and explain to us how He loves someone who would murder a bunch of innocent children for simply going to a concert, innocent children who did nothing wrong.”

How do you love your enemies?  How do you look at someone who means harm to the most innocent of us, and say, “I love you. God loves you.”?

And even if you can look at the misguided footsoldiers of an evil master with love, compassion, and sympathy, how do you look at those who are brainwashing them and using them as disposable tools of violence, and desiring the destruction of the innocent, all for selfish and hateful gain?

Or let’s go out a step further.  How do you look at a politician who makes decisions that you know – or at least strongly suspect – will have a detrimental effect on the lives of the weak and innocent, all to the gain of the powerful, and say, “I love you.  God loves you.”?

And how do you not just fall to your knees, screaming at God, “Why do you love them?  Why do you allow them to be in power?  Why?”

I don’t know.  I don’t know, and I can’t pretend to have an answer.  I gave an answer when the question was presented to me, but I don’t know.

But that’s what we are called to do.

God loves us all, even those we condemn as evil and irredeemable.

I’ve been asked recently what I believe the future of the PC(USA) is and the answer I keep coming to is this: if we can learn to work with each other and see each other not as enemies but brothers and sisters in Christ, and if our focus can be on showing Christ’s love with the world and not on yelling at each others, we might stand a chance; if not, we will die out.

I realize, writing this, that even if we do see each other as enemies – the though of which makes my soul mourn – we still are to love each other.  I know that I have pastors, ministers, and faithful people of the entire spectrum who may see the link to this, and I ask you all if you are showing love to those you disagree with, even if you see them as your enemy, or are you simply showing them hate and judgement?  Because tearing ourselves apart will not do anything for the body of Christ or for us individually.

Love your enemies, and also learn who an enemy is.  But most importantly, love your enemies.

Peace,

– Robby

A Moderate in a Radical World

I just listened to this podcast and at the very tail end, when discussing why young protesters are more effective today than 20 years ago, one of the qualities of young protesters were described as was, “More radical.”

It stopped me in my tracks.  The whole episode is worth a listen* but that one little bit about current protesters being lauded for being “more radical” just stopped me.

A few days later I read this blog post** and again, I found myself stopped.  Instead of staying stopped, though, I got indignant.  I found myself wanting to scream at the culture of “radical or wishy washy” and being told the only way to be a force for good in the world, or a Christian, or even just a loving person is to be radical in a direction.

I’m not radical, and I will never be radical.  I am very strongly moderate – not moderate because I won’t make a decision but moderate because I believe the middle ground contains more truth than the fringes – and very passionate about extremism being the cause of so much of our world’s problems.  I’m that person who gets accused of being a bleeding-heart, communist liberal (stretching there) or heartless, gun-toting conservative (not much of a stretch) depending on who I’m talking to.

As a moderate, I have always valued discussion from all sides of an issue.  Opinions may be misguided, anecdotes and experiences may shade observations, and your personal feelings and desires will always bias your thoughts, but the truth comes from analyzing everything.  Politics should stop removing the “science” from “political science” and start treating the discussion like a scientist, observing everything, collecting as much information as possible, and then moving forward.

I try to live in the gray.  I fail sometimes, sometimes I get indigent over people not living in the gray, and sometimes I just don’t have the energy to fight for the middle, but I firmly believe the gray contains the most truth.

This nation has become black and white about everything.  Race.  Gender.  Sexual orientation.  Religious and Non-Religious.  Political Ideology.  Pro-Pot and Anti-Pot.  The idea of having conversations to find a common ground on any of these things used to be an uncomfortable necessity; now it doesn’t feel uncomfortable because impossible things aren’t uncomfortable

It is impossible to have a conversation because everything in our lives – politics, church, even our marriages and families – have become adversarially two-sided.  Nothing is a discussion; everything is a battle that must have a clear winner.

Does it bother anyone else that we treat our politics like a damn football game?  Does it bother anyone that we worship the letter that we put behind our name more than we worship Christ?  Does it bother anyone else that if they have the wrong letter behind their name – or, God forbid, they don’t have a letter behind their name – that we demonize them and make them out to be monsters who want nothing more than to kill your children/kill all the people who look different?  Or for those of us who aren’t on a side, we are “lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, [and God] will spit [us] out of [His] mouth?” (Revelation 3:16)

We do this at church, too.  Any time a controversial topic is decided, the losing team – because it is teams fighting each other in a game at this point – prays for the winning team to find God again and stop denying the teachings of scripture/the love that Christ taught us.  Why do we Presbyterians have a new denomination?  Oh, because the PC(USA) no longer follows scripture.  We all know that isn’t true, but that doesn’t stop us from saying it.

If you can’t tell, I’m pissed off.  I’m tired of being told I don’t love enough, I don’t care about safety enough, that I’m not allowed to mourn violence, that I’m not allowed safety because I’m not violently preventing violence (take a second to unpack that one), that I’m being to literalist or I’m ignoring the teachings of scripture.

I’m tired of being condemned because I’m not radical.

And I’m tired of us worshiping those who are.

I posted a comment on the Facebook wall of the seminary classmate who posted the article and his comment went to the motivation or pushing Presbyterians to action and “loving radically” and though I agree with him, I think, especially as pastors, we need to be intentional about what we said, and the article compared middle-of-the-road to being lukewarm.  It did, absolutely, and the comments basically echoed the ideal that we can’t be moderate and do any good.

Again, everything about this being more radical has nothing to do with loving more – or following Christ more – but moving closer to a side of our adversarial division.  No one has said that we need to give ourselves completely to loving our neighbor – all of our neighbors – but they certainly tell us how we are loving them wrong.

Personal politics have no bearing on loving neighbors as self.  You want radical talk?  You don’t love as much as Christ commanded you to.  I don’t love as much as Christ commanded me to.  It doesn’t matter what American political ideology you subscribe to, you are not loving as much as you could nor as much as you are commanded to.

You want to love radically?  Forget your own needs and desires and love at a personal loss to yourself.  Love even when it hurts or is uncomfortable or you cannot help but hate the person you love.  Show love to Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton and Kim Jong Un and ISIS and the drug addict down the street and the husband cheating on his wife and the hacker who stole your identity and the guy on Facebook who’s political posts make you sick.  Show love to people who have killed, to people who have harmed children, to people who have left God completely, to people who rape and murder, to people who enslave and torture.  Show love to people you hate – all of them – and people who mean to harm you.

That’s radical love.  Spouting off about how much someone you disagree with isn’t loving enough or isn’t Christian enough isn’t love; it’s battle and it’s war.  Christianity is neither of those things.  Christianity is submission and sacrifice and love despite our own desires.  Christianity has no political affiliation because both completely ignore the call to act outside of your own desires and your own needs and to love all your neighbors, evil and good alike.

That is not lukewarm, but that is moderate.  That is the middle of the road in our two-sided, adversarial culture.  That is loving both sides more than you love yourself, and showing love to both sides despite their hatred of you and calling you “lukewarm.”

My prayer – my ultimate prayer – is that we can put aside our narratives, our political ideologies, and our need to win, and we can instead take that truly higher ground of loving everyone – literally everyone – and showing that love even to those who desire us jailed, tortured, and dead.

I am passionately moderate, I am passionately in the middle of our two artificial sides, and I am not lukewarm.  Stop interpreting scripture in the midst of American politics and interpret it as love, not war.

Now my head hurts, I killed two hours I didn’t really have, and my blood pressure is up.  Need to breathe a few breaths and do some work.

Out of Love and In Peace
– Robby

* I will make one remark about the second half of the episode talking about the race protests around the country.  It is wholly uncritical of the protests, making out that their methods and ideologies are absolutely correct.  I don’t want to make this a forum to discuss race relations in the country, but I do want to be fair and make that observation.

** </pastor hat>As a side note, Donald Trump isn’t anything other than what he can convince you of to increase his own power.  He is super-pandering, working to combine people’s irrational fears of people who are different, rational but overblown fears of terrorism, and legitimate desire to be not-crazy.  I will, without fail, vote for an other candidate, even the ones I fear most, to prevent him from becoming President.<pastor hat>