“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” [Micah 6:8]
Too often, perversions of our world’s religious traditions make the daily news for their violence, corruption, greed, and prejudice. Meanwhile, authentic representatives of those traditions are often busy doing good — good that goes largely unnoticed. That’s why I’m glad that a diverse group of religious leaders are sharing about seven ways authentic people of faith can work together to make a better world.
I served as a progressive evangelical pastor for 24 years, and during those years, I saw the evangelical movement struggling with its identity. The best versions of evangelicalism, whether they were labeled conservative or progressive, always took seriously passages like Matthew 25, where Jesus said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink.” Those verses continue to inspire evangelicals of all persuasions to engage in life-giving mission — and in particular, to engage constructively in the world in seven positive, reconciling, and healing ways.
If you invest just a few minutes over the next seven days thinking and speaking up about these seven ways to participate in our world, I believe by week’s end you will be moved to action and in it find a richer, more faithful life:
Years ago on a bright Tuesday in March, I was driving to seminary and I found myself stuck in traffic on I-25. Sitting in a dead stop on the interstate I stared up into the clear blue Colorado sky and thought, “What in the world am I doing? I don’t believe a word of this Jesus stuff. I mean, It’s a fairy tale.”
But then in the very next moment I thought, “Except…throughout my life…I have experienced it to be true.”
I experience the gospel to be true even when I can’t believe it. And honestly sometimes I believe the gospel even when I don’t experience it. And I suggest to you today that this is why we have and even why we need Word and Sacrament. Because see, we are a forgetful people.
And it is to this office of Word and Sacrament that you have been called Matthew and I feel like in an ordination sermon, the preacher should in some way address the level of preparedness of the ordinand in question, and I am in a position to do just that.
The question of moral character and how it plays into public life has tended to be fairly low level conversation in our country. It’s subjects of discussion are usually those who we aren’t planning on voting for.
This is why it’s hard to trust what most commentators, religious leaders or politicians are saying right now. Things said in this moment might have more to do with which party or candidate they are planning on voting for than serious thinking about moral character and public life.
Arizona won a significant victory last week when Russell Pearce, author of Senate Bill 1070, lost in a first-ever recall election.
It was not without great effort. I’ve since been reflecting on the lessons of the work and how we traveled from the darkness of SB1070 to the hope we feel today.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Archbishop Oscar Romero are our heroes. They shared much in common: Both ultimately were focused on being obedient to God and his call on their lives and as such they were both, first, ministers of the Gospel. King and Romero were fixated on justice — in love with poor people and hurting communities. Both searched for middle ground while others stayed safe inside comfortable margins; both were agents of reconciliation.
And, finally, both were martyred for their message.
Yet Romero and King have a seeming discrepancy I want to explore.
Romero called us to take the long view; King discussed the fierce urgency of now.
Romero essentially prays: Trust God, be faithful. King preaches: now is the time, act forcefully.
The reason the word Evangelical has become so poisonous is because the answer to the above question comes from a conversion-based model of cultural engagement - political, theological and social. Too many Christians believe, and have wrongly been taught, that those "others" and "opposites" who have made an active choice not to believe in "our" teachings are justifiably: 1) left to their own devices as we wash our hands of them because of their bad choice (think in terms of blood-on-their-own-head); or 2) uninformed, so much so that their "no" is an illegitimate answer.
Evangelicals care more about positions -- whether progressive or conservative -- than people. We lack nuance. We have become either all Scripture or all Justice. I don't know where the balance was lost in terms of holding Scripture in high authority and, simultaneously, loving with reckless abandon?
In Christian confession, Good Friday is the day of loss and defeat; Sunday is the day of recovery and victory. Friday and Sunday summarize the drama of the gospel that continues to be re-performed, always again, in the life of faith. In the long gospel reading of the lectionary for this week (Matthew 27:11-54), we hear the Friday element of that drama: the moment when Jesus cries out to God in abandonment (Matthew 27: 46). This reading does not carry us, for this day, toward the Sunday victory, except for the anticipatory assertion of the Roman soldier who recognized that Jesus is the power of God for new life in the world (verse 54). Given that anticipation, the reading invites the church to walk into the deep loss in hope of walking into the new life that will come at the end of the drama.
Last week a friend who knows my dogs sent me a link to Wendy Francisco's wildly popular new song, "God and Dog" (more than half a million views at time of writing). G-o-d and d-o-G--two words, one kind of love. "They would stay with me all day; / I'm the one who walks away.