The gospel account of the transfiguration of Jesus comes at a time when we desperately need its powerful message of encouragement. Our nation is in the midst of an epidemic of what I call “a degenerative discouragement syndrome”. The news cycle enumerates a list of issues and concerns which seem to resist remediation or repair.
There is so much arguing over boundaries. Should we welcome refugees from Syria, a nation torn by civil war and terrorism? How should our society respond to others who have immigrated here without government approval? Although immigration from our southern border has declined over the past decade, some public leaders applaud the contributions of undocumented Americans while others spell out the risks they bring. Do we consider immigrants likely contributors or potential criminals? When activists proclaim “Black Lives Matter,” the counter-point “All Lives Matter” looks like an attempt to hush a legitimate complaint about policing and criminal justice. I catch myself needing some of those noise-canceling headphones.
After hours of deciphering the directions and gathering together the countless tiny parts, inevitably you discover that a piece is missing. Somewhere in the unpacking of the zillion elements, you have dropped a small part under the refrigerator or behind the radiator. And it’s never just a missing piece, it’s usually the missing piece: the key part that transforms the pile of random plastic into the one-of-a-kind, fabulous piece it was meant to be.
This is not the talk of charity and giving Christmas toys and turkeys to the less fortunate. The language of Mary is the narrative of revolution and redistribution, two words that the powers that be just hate. And while the revolution that Christ brings is not violent, it is nonetheless completely transformational. Mary got it.
Herod did too. The nearest political ruler to the birth of Christ immediately saw the possible implications for him.
It was a Sunday that started off like most — a mad rush to get breakfast on the table, get the kids dressed, and head to our mosque. Dec. 13 was supposed to be a special day to honor the San Bernardino massacre victims at Baitul Hameed Mosque in Chino, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s Los Angeles center since 1987.
In America, baby showers are times for women to come together and celebrate new life; presents are exchanged, advice given, and games played. Mary and Elizabeth celebrated the new life within them by exchanging presents of joy, encouragement, song, and prophecy. Both women were carrying children of promise. Neither woman had a convenient pregnancy. Mary and Elizabeth’s celebration shows the importance of women coming together for prayer, praise, and prophecy.
In a land where Christ himself walked, war is pushing millions of people from their homes. Twelve million Syrians have been forced out in the worst refugee crisis since World War II. They are trekking across oceans and deserts to not just seek a better life, but to try to save their lives from a war that has destroyed their homes and taken away their livelihoods. With little hope of returning home anytime in the near future, they are seeking the safety and protection of foreign lands.
This journey that millions of refugees endure today is not unfamiliar to our Savior, Jesus Christ.
In matters of racism and sexism, even the revolutionaries come with their own biases. The narrative of Jesus and the Canaanite woman shows us the importance of intersectionality, and careful attention that must be paid to highly marginalized people. Jesus wore the glasses of justice, but found that even he came to a situation where he needed a stronger prescription.
When I bought eyeglasses for the first time, I suddenly and dramatically discovered the clarity I had been missing. But I also had to be careful walking down stairs, as I had a hard time judging depth. I got headaches from the intensity of my newfound vision. I had to adjust to a new way of seeing.
Recently, I invited Albert Rizzi to co-preach a sermon with me. He had unexpectedly lost his sight in 2006 at the age of 41. In 2009, he launched a non-profit company advocating that all blind persons be entitled to acceptance and freedom from discrimination. He works to develop accessible computer accounting software to help reduce the national 60 percent unemployment rate among the blind.
Rizzi’s blindness became a national news story in 2013 when he and his guide dog, Doxy (short for doxology), were ejected from an airplane because he could not get Doxy to crawl under the seat for takeoff. They had been on the tarmac for nearly two hours, and the dog had become restless. In protest of Albert and Doxy’s eviction, the 45 other passengers joined Rizzi and Doxy in departing the plane and the flight was cancelled.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”
Pope Francis paraded through Washington D.C., on Sept. 23, and took Jesus’ words literally.
After Francis’ security detachment turned away a young girl who had gotten over the barricade fence to greet him, he quickly called her over for a blessing.
As evangelical preachers in the American South, we’re excited to welcome our brother, Pope Francis, to the U.S.
We want to be explicit in our evangelical welcome because so many who claim to be evangelical are criticizing the pope for being political and not preaching orthodox theology.
It is after the resurrection that Jesus’ mission to the Gentile community begins in earnest, but here in this passage Jesus is challenged on this assumption of being sent to the Jews first and foremost. And after he is challenged, he answers in a positive manner. He affirms the Syrophoenician woman and heals her daughter. Her faith got her what she wanted.
But it would not have happened had she not interrupted him in his attempt to find a quiet moment. It would not have occurred without her persistence. She probably knew “her place” since she was a first century woman in a culture where women had little to no voice or power. But she did not stay there. She acknowledged “her place,” but she asked for mercy and had the faith that her request could/would be granted.
And her faith paid off. Her daughter was healed.
So what about these women who took to the stage for #BlackLivesMatter?
Even on a local scale, problems like poverty and hunger can overwhelm our imaginations. My own city of Lancaster, Pa., is like countless others. Pockets of true poverty cluster in the old city and dot the countryside. Affluent developments surround the city, while hip new housing is popping up in the center of the city. An impressive urban revitalization campaign has transformed the city’s image, making downtown an attractive place to eat, shop, and play.
Recently, however, a study by Franklin and Marshall College has shown that Lancaster’s resurgence has not helped its poorest residents. Just the opposite has occurred. Between 2000 and 2013, per capita income has grown by 20 percent in the city’s center while it has declined in every other section. What looks like progress from the outside contradicts the harsh reality that thousands experience.
It’s a typical scenario, in which outcomes such as life expectancy and high school completion rates vary dramatically, even in adjacent zip codes and school districts. Faced with such stubborn realities, many individuals feel at a loss concerning how to make a difference.
Christians do a disservice to the gospel message by removing the cultural context from Jesus’s ministry and watering down his message to one of religious platitudes. We like to generalize the words of Jesus and transform his life into a one-size-fits-all model that can apply to all of humanity.
Throughout the New Testament Jesus was more complex than we give him credit for.
He intentionally, purposefully, and passionately addressed very specific causes. He radically addressed the diverse and complicated conflicts of the time and shattered the status quo.
Jesus wasn’t just preaching a universal salvation message for the world, but he was also addressing specific political, social, and racial issues. He was helping those who were being abused, violated, and oppressed.
An independent report commissioned by the American Psychological Association (APA) has found that the association secretly colluded with the Department of Defense and the CIA to weaken the APA’s ethical guidelines and allow psychologists to take part in government torture programs under the Bush administration post-9/11.
"Would you give an addict a clean needle, so they could stay alive until they found freedom from their addiction? Would you give a prostituted woman condoms, so she could protect herself until she found freedom from prostitution?"
Clearly, the famous evangelical leader I was speaking with in Cambodia didn't think we should be helping people in this way. He was adamant that Jesus would never give out condoms or clean needles. He insisted that the little clinic we were running in a Phnom Penh brothel was a waste of time and inconsistent with the gospel.
I'm afraid Christians too often have overemphasized Jesus’ commandment, "Go and sin no more!" at the expense of his earlier phrase, "...Neither do I condemn you." Could it be that Jesus' admonition to "sin no more" is a jab directed instead at the religious leaders? That Jesus is telling them if they don't quit their sinning, the sin police will have them killed? And Jesus might not be there next time to save them?
During a broad conversation on how to overcome poverty at Georgetown University last week, President Barack Obama made a few comments about how Fox News talks about poor people. Here’s what he said:
“ … over the last 40 years, sadly, I think there’s been an effort to either make folks mad at folks at the top, or to be mad at folks at the bottom. And I think the effort to suggest that the poor are sponges, leeches, don’t want to work, are lazy, are undeserving, got traction. … I have to say that if you watch Fox News on a regular basis, it is a constant menu — they will find folks who make me mad … They’re like, I don’t want to work, I just want a free Obama phone — or whatever. And that becomes an entire narrative … very rarely do you hear an interview of a waitress — which is much more typical — who’s raising a couple of kids and is doing everything right but still can’t pay the bills.
Jesus not only knew how to pray; he knew what it was like to be arrested. When he had finished his table prayer, Jesus and his disciples went out across the Kidron valley to a garden. Judas knew about that garden because he and the other disciples often met there with Jesus. This time, Judas didn’t come to pray, but brought a detachment of soldiers and religious police. They arrested Jesus, bound him and took him away to be tried.
Jesus escaped prison only because he was executed by the state the next day. This crucified, risen, and wounded Jesus has returned to the heart of God. He continues to pray for us. Why wouldn’t Jesus be praying also for those who are in prison? Why wouldn’t we?