Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Text:  Mark 6:13-29
“I want you to give me John the Baptist’s head on a plate, right this minute.”

The back half of chapter 6 of Mark’s gospel is a recap of the demise of John the Baptist.  He had called out Herod for marrying his brother Philip’s wife in violation of Leviticus 18.16, a ballsy move given that Herod had his brother assassinated, which was typical of his ruthlessness.  Oddly enough, it wasn’t Herod who had it in for John but Herodias, the widow of Philip who married Herod.  To make a long story a short, she asked for John’s head on a platter and literally received the same.

As we read through and past the soap opera we are witness to an account of  much of the worst that can happen when power is horrendously abused.  John had been arrested and imprisoned for no reason other than he had angered Herodias (v.17).  That she manipulated his execution for the same reason is reprehensible, but the way it all went down is chilling and horrendous.  During a feast attended by the movers and shakers around Herod, Herodias’ daughter danced and delighted Herod such that he offered her whatever she wanted as a reward.  Prompted by her mother Herodias, she asked for John the Baptist’s head an a platter.  Surrounded by guests who witnessed his offer to Herodias’ daughter, Herod complied in order to save face.  We don’t know whether he was gutless, sociopathic, or callous to the life of another human being.  Regardless, the all too casual execution of John was a horrendous abuse of power.

It might be a little easier to deal with if we could indict Herod of some form of bigotry that would have distorted his morality.  But Herod, who had John’s life in his hands, disposed of him on a triviality.  Herod was driven more by a narcissistic concern over how he would appear to others should he renege on his offer to Herodias’ daughter than by consideration for a human life.

The account of John’s death should call us to vigilance, keeping an ever watchful eye on those invested with power, especially when they exhibit narcissism (and a near constant need for positive affirmation)  or when much that they do is self-referencing (they perceive the world with themselves at the center of all things).  When a ruler’s power becomes self-, instead of other-serving, the likelihood of abuse is high.

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Text:  Mark 4:21-23    “Everything hidden will be revealed.”

Light.  It’s a common image in the Bible, from God’s word as “a lamp before our feet and a light for our journey” (Pss. 119.105) to Jesus’ proclamation that he is “the light of the world” (Jn 9:5) and even we who follow him are also “the light of the world” (Mt 5:14).  Light, be it the physical phenomenon or the metaphor for truth, is unambiguous, unequivocal, unbiased, and terrifying to anything that wants to remain hidden, obscured, or obfuscated.  Light does not allow for the negotiation of what it reveals.  It simply exposes what it illuminates without pretense, prejudice, or guile.

Jesus’ call to me to come and follow him as a minister of the gospel came in the form of a jarring revelation of the world as illuminated by God’s light of truth.  For anyone familiar with the movie The Matrix, it was like taking the red pill.  For the first time, I was beginning to see how self-centered “powers and principalities” conspired to operate in the shadows and keep us blind to all but what was being marketed to us for our consumption and their profit at the expense of the common good, be it consumer goods and services or a political party’s ideology.  Exposed by the light of Christ, I was beginning to see what I can only label as systemic evil or sin using deceit and misdirection as its primary tools.

Whether an ad for beer on a beach somewhere or a politician espousing relief and help for the middle-class, I now reflexively listen through the words, sorting out the marketing and manipulation in order to discern what the advertiser or politician wants me to do, what they will get out of it should I accommodate their intent, who will benefit, who will be harmed, and whether it is right based on the ethos of God most clearly seen in Jesus.  This is why I am skeptical of advertising and politicians of all stripes.

Truth can be heartbreaking and hard.  If you don’t want to deal with it then turn off the light and don’t take the red pill.

Text:  Mark 2:23-3:6

“The Sabbath was created for humans; humans weren’t created for the Sabbath.  This is why the Son of Man is Lord even over the Sabbath.”  (2.27-28)

Jesus confronts us with a question.  Which is most important: ideology or people?  My first impulse is to say, “people!”  If I say, “ideology matters most” and even rephrase it as “I stick to my principles,” I run the risk of trading compassion for slavish adherence to rules.  But if I say, “people matter most,” then I’m likely to stumble over the cliff and fall into moral relativism.  Even when rushing one’s pregnant wife to the hospital to give birth, ignoring stop signs and lights is a bad idea.  There is often a strong tension between keeping faith with our convictions and beliefs versus compassion for others.

Jesus lived among a people who defined their identity through Torah–the law given the Israelites by God through Moses and beginning with the 10 Commandments.  To be an Israelite and, by Jesus’ time, a good Jew, was to be a person who lived by Torah.  At the identity-defining center of Torah was the Sabbath law.  Observing a day of rest given to God marked one as a Jew as much as circumcision.  So when Jesus’ disciples were seen casually plucking heads of grain while crossing a wheat field on the Sabbath day, he was asked, in effect, “Why are your disciples violating the Sabbath law? Don’t y’all know better?”  And when Jesus was approached, on the Sabbath, by a man with a deformed hand, his critics watched to see if he would himself break the Sabbath law by healing the man.

Jesus’ critics cared more about the rules.  Jesus cared more about the people.  (Without spending time in dissertation here, I believe that Jesus was faithful to Torah, although not in the slavish manner espoused by his critics.)

As I write this, I am listening to a brief interview with the governor of Kentucky, who has applied to the federal government to place a work requirement as a qualifier for receiving Medicaid.  The ideology behind this is that able-bodied people who can work should not receive assistance if they don’t work lest they fall into a state of dependence that is both unnecessary and an unwanted burden on taxpayers.  Although there are exemptions that allow Medicaid for non-working disabled people, I haven’t heard how people who are unable to find work will fare.  If I heard Kentucky’s governor correctly, it sounds like being unable to find a job is no excuse–no work, no health care.  To me, this is draconian and a good example of elevating ideology over people.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to a question that Jesus implied when he sparred with his critics about the Sabbath:  Who or what is our God?  If we ideology is everything to us then we commit idolatry.  If humanity is everything to us then we commit idolatry.  But . . . if we love God above all things, value as sacred and cherished all who bear God’s image in their creation (i.e. all people), and value God’s will most clearly expressed through Jesus Christ, then we will indeed find a way to be faithful to God’s will yet practice compassion in a way that transforms people’s lives.

Text:  Mark 2:13-17   “Why is he eating with sinners and tax collectors?” (v.16)

Today’s text, picked from the daily lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer is amazingly topical today.  The president of the U.S., yesterday, bemoaned immigration from Africa and Haiti with a vulgarity, in effect giving voice again to his prejudice against non-white, non-European, mostly poor people.  Closer to home, my own town’s city council has been waffling on using an empty nursing home unit of our local hospital as a transitional shelter for homeless women and children in a way that gives the impression that some council members are struggling with the notion of housing “those kind of people” here.

Both situations distill down to this question:  Who is worthy of compassion, consideration, and respect?

To the Pharisees who witnessed Jesus at a dinner hosted by Matthew, those worthy of Jesus (or any other “good Jew”) were not the tax collectors and “sinners” with which Jesus was breaking bread.  Because of their prejudice, all they saw was a faceless, less than fully human group unworthy of Jesus’ attention and respect.  Jesus would later answer one of his critics by reminding him that all it took to be a “good Jew” and fulfill the Law was to love God above all else and love our neighbors as ourselves, to which the critic responded by asking who qualified as his neighbor.

Today’s reading hits the ground fast and hard as I imagine the following dialog:

Pharisee 1:  “Jesus, why are you eating with poor, useless, probably criminal immigrants who don’t look like white, middle-America?”

Pharisee 2:  “And Jesus, why do you want poor women and children around?”

Jesus:  “Remember the Greatest Commandment: Love God with all you’ve got. And the second is like it–Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Pharisees 1 & 2:  “Fine, but surely my neighbor is not Haitian, African, or a poor woman with a child.”

Jesus:  “You don’t get it, do you. . . .”

Text:  Mark 1.29-45

Part 1

It’s hard to miss the irony when reading today’s text.  I now live in a nation in which conservative Christian Evangelicals were a large part of the voting block that brought us a single-party Republican government that viewed the Affordable Care Act as anathema, despises Medicaid, and will probably need to scale back Medicare to pay for its recently enacted, top-weighted tax cuts.  Yet the first thing Jesus does as he begins his ministry is to heal people.  I realize that there is a lot to debate and carefully consider about having government involved in health care and I don’t know what is best to do vis-à-vis policy and legislation.  But I do see how health care in this country has become class-bound such that the higher one’s economic class, the better their access to good health care, which the “least of these” are most likely bereft.

Damn the politics and party ideology!  If people need healing and the technical/medical means are available to do so, then they should be healed. . . and without putting them into a lifetime of debt!

Part 2

It’s easy to see Jesus as a healer and miss the larger thing that he was doing.  “Let’s head . . . to the nearby villages so that I can preach there too.” (v.28) — As wonderful as his healing ministry was, Jesus’ larger task was proclamation of the coming Kingdom of God.  It is the first thing he did following the arrest of John the Baptist.

But, how can preaching be more important than healing?
A better question to ask is, does Jesus’ preaching mean anything without his healing work?

Jesus preaches/proclaims the coming Kingdom of God, and then by healing “many who were sick with all kinds of diseases” and exorcising “many demons,” he demonstrated what that Kingdom will, in part, look like.  In other words, Jesus preached the Kingdom, then brought the Kingdom.  These were not isolated actions.

This is chastening to me as a preacher because now I have to ask, as I preach the coming Kingdom, what am I doing to lead the Body of Christ in my community to bringing it about?

Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  (mission statement of The United Methodist Church)

It’s that last bit—“for the transformation of the world”—that has driven my ministry since I retired from software engineering a baker’s-dozen years ago to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  And it’s that last bit that obliges United Methodist preachers to bring the affairs of the outside world into the church, a place where a good many would prefer to be a sanctuary away from the conflicts and anxieties of the world.  If we are to be a Christ-following people of world transformation, we must engage the world and do so within the context of Christian community (i.e. the church).  Bit, never have I known this imperative to be so difficult as it is today.

In this winter of our divisive discontent, having just elected a president unlike any other, and whose leadership is decisive, unconventional, and results-oriented (bypassing the red-tape to fulfill campaign promises), yet sometimes dysfunctional and too-often immoral (lying and promulgation of prejudice against Mexicans and Muslims), a Christ-centered perspective on current events is necessary.  We need to sort out and clarify who we are and what we believe as Christians (individually and as a church), and then interact with our world from that identity.

My first impulse, not unlike that of the bazillions of commentators and trolls on social media, is to speak and preach directly to our current situation.  But to do so would allow me to drift too far into preaching political and social opinion rather than interpretation of the Bible.

My solution to this problem, and I hope it works, will be to focus first on the Bible and its theology.  Our turbulent world will always be in the background, but with the Bible and Jesus Christ in the foreground, those to whom I preach and teach will receive from me tools for making their own decisions about the world around us.  In other words, I want to “Make disciples of Jesus Christ.”  They will, in turn, go forth and impact the world around them in their own unique ways.

Part of me feels like this is a bit of a cop-out that allows me to avoid conflict, and it may be, but I do not see how we get to “the transformation of the world” without first “making disciples of Jesus Christ.”  And it will be those disciples who, out of their own deep faith and Spirit-stoked inspiration, will do whatever they do best to make a difference in the world.  I intend not to get in the way of that by alienating the very people whom I am trying to help become more devoted disciples of Christ.

Finally . . . my time is here! Time to get some mileage out of my so far unused math major (Dr. Vandenboss, I hope you’re paying attention), I can now share a revelation:
During a piece on one of the current presidential candidates, it was said that we live in a POST-TRUTH WORLD. That being the case, my Post-Truth Theory of the World, which can now be revealed, is as follows:
The earth is NOT a SPHERE but a DODECAHEDRON – a lovely polygon with 12-sides.

Since we are in a Post-Truth world, I expect that, while there may be some controversy among some about this theory, there will surely be considerable support for a dodecahedral earth among all those who are fed up with geography-as-usual and the rigged system of maps and globes that smooth off the edges and points in a way that smacks of excessive geometrical correctness.

Support the Dodecahedron Earth theory—it is the first step back to a world so-called mathematicians and scientists have rejected, but is the post-truth truth, a world in which we really can fall off the edge and beyond those edges be monsters.
MAKE EARTH FLAT AGAIN!