The 10 commandments are deep in our history. They are deep in our shared history, both from the Jewish origins to our current history. And for some people, they have assumed a supreme status, supreme even over everything else. In fact, you will find them in some places on courtroom walls or on signs out front, or people will attest that the 10 commandments is all we need to guide us through this life.
But are these 10 commandments sufficient to guide us in this life? I have to tell you, from a Jewish tradition, who were given the 10 commandments this proved not to be. And so, they made a lot of other laws and commandments. In fact, 613 of them. They had laws that guided every phase of life from how clothes are made, or to how they eat, and what to even cook.
Perhaps 613 laws tend to overwhelm. So, it’s understandable, that in various passages of the Gospel, people would come up to Jesus and say, which is the most important? Which one should I really pay attention? Which one is most important to follow that I might live? And they were not talking just about the 10 laws, they were talking about the 613 different rules to live by.
Jesus would respond it’s simple, you know. Love God, with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. And ultimately, in the Gospel of john, Jesus boils it down to just one. He says, love one another, as I have loved you.
We’ve been covering, in my “Intersections” series, cornerstones of what should form the boundaries of a faith that’s relevant to this modern life, what are the attributes that we want to sink as cornerstones that establish the boundaries of our faith going forward, or the church going forward, and I offered some ideas.
The four cornerstones I’ve established over the past month included “repentance”. And remember that repentance in the Bible simply means to change directions. So, if you find that your life is going in a direction that God does not want, then repent and change back to a path that God would want. And then the second Cornerstone that I established was “respect”. In fact, respecting God’s good creation as holy. Consequently, we don’t consume it, we don’t destroy it, we don’t stomp all over it. We treat creation with respect. The third Cornerstone that I talked about thinking that we should have was “humility”. If we regard that life is a journey, and faith informs our walk on that journey, then to fully embrace all that God would have us to become requires humility. We have to be humble enough to learn along the way, how God would have us engage new thoughts, new understandings, new wisdom. And the cornerstone that I introduced is “sacrifice”. There is no way to answer the call from God on how to live that that does not involve sacrifice, particularly in regard to how we live in the modern world.
Those are the four cornerstones: repentance, respect, humility and sacrifice. Together, they form a boundary in which we are going to construct our foundation going forward. At least it is what I will suggest you think about constructing as a foundation for your faith walk going forward in this life.
What are we going to pour into this foundation? On what will we base a walk-through life, this modern life filled with crisis is everywhere we look? My suggestion as to what is a necessary foundation for our faith life and for the Church is justice. Justice in many different forms.
As I’ve aged, I’ve become ever fonder of laws and regulations and rules, responsibilities and rights. You know when you are young you rebel against rules and restrictions. But hopefully that changes as you mature. In fact, it has been more than 50 years since I’ve had a speeding ticket. Yeah, I am the guy that everybody passes along the way and honks their horn at or waves that one finger at. I do not know what they’re trying to say to me, but you know, I still try to follow the rules. I really appreciate traffic rules. Yeah, because without traffic lights, we’re all going to get in accidents. I appreciate rules on building standards, and food quality and health standards. And I appreciate laws and rules that are promulgated to help us live a safer life, a healthier life, a better life.
But at the same time, I must confess to you that despite growing increasingly fond of laws, as I’ve aged, I’ve also gone to jail three times breaking the law.
Yeah. I have gone to jail, protesting what I consider to be unjust laws. Those laws that violate that our kids have a right to a future. Those laws that permit the very rich to produce a product, which destroys the potential for kids or grandkids to have a livable future. And so I’ve gotten arrested three times. And the first time I did it, I was just barely 60. It was in Washington, DC in front of the White House. And I was there with 100 other people. On the eighth day of a 10 day protest where everyone participating gets arrested. On my one side was a climate scientist from Ohio State University, who is a glaciologist. Right now, as I read his blog, he’s up in Greenland, charting how fast the ice is melting, which means how fast the seas are rising. He was on my left side, on my right side there was a Methodist pastor. In front of me, there were Native Americans who were protesting because this crude oil pipeline was going to endanger the very water that they drink the water that they rely on for health. So that was my first arrest.
To be honest, it embarrassed the heck out of my adult kids. They were all wondering, you know, what’s with the old man? I just don’t get it. Why would he be doing this? Why isn’t he just satisfied with what he’s got? Why does he have to be arrested in DC? And so, while this was going on, my wife was recording it on video so that we could potentially use it as an educational experience.
And so after the arrest, my adult kids are talking among themselves, what’s with dad? And the grandkids with their big ears overheard their parents talking about Grandpa, what did grandpa do? And so the next day in school, I have a six year old grandson who entertained his class while he was waiting for the school bus to pick them up. He began by shouting out loud, as loud as he could: “My grandpa got arrested while my grandma watched”. “My grandpa got arrested while my grandma watched”. The kids all got excited and cheered about that, you know, which caused his teacher to come up and say “Now, Dixon, Hush. Hush, Hush. We don’t talk about such things in public.” Which of course made Dixon more excited and yeah, shouted all the more: “My grandpa got arrested while my grandma watched”. The teacher finally got Dixon quiet and the kids on the school bus.
But later on, she had the opportunity to talk to my daughter Becky, Dixon’s mom say: “Must have been rather embarrassing for you that things have gotten so bad between your dad and your mother that she had to call the cops and to get him arrested. Becky horrified said: “ No, no, no, no, you don’t understand. It was in front of the White House. He was with a group of people. They were protesting the crude oil pipelines and the relationship of my parents have nothing to do with the arrest. If anything, she was there to support his act of protest.” So that was a bit of embarrassment.
The second time I was arrested was in front of the State department in downtown Chicago doing the same thing. And the third time was at the big Whiting refinery just over the Indiana border, once again protesting the laws that permitted corporations to destroy my grandkid’s future.
There are special times my ministry, when I have conducted ministry, that I have felt I was absolutely doing in that moment of time, what God would have me do. And I felt those times when I have pastored people who were on their deathbed, or with the families recovering the loss of a loved one. But I also felt it in those moments, in the back of those jail transport vehicles. Arrested sitting in there, in uncomfortable binding handcuffs and I’m surrounded by other men who have also been arrested (because they separated us by gender). And these men were looking for me to provide them comfort, to provide them some degree of assurance in a time of stress, time of not knowing just what the outcomes are going to be.
So I have great respect for the laws and rules and regulations that protect us, to make us a better people, that guide us along those right paths. But I have strong disagreement with those laws that do exactly the opposite. Those laws that destroy rather than preserve life.
The question really comes down to what guides the formation of these rules. What is the foundation that we base our laws on? And it cannot simply be the 10 commandments, because we know in our history that people who have firmly embraced the 10 commandments also firmly embrace slavery. Just like they also firmly embraced war and genocide.
So is it necessary to have 10 or 613 or the two or is it even just one? I think it is a both/and type of requirement. I do not think it’s either one or another. I think you need to have the ten commandments. I also think you need some form of 613 rules to guide your everyday movements. But you also need two (love God & love neighbor) and the ultimately the one great commandment to “love one another as I have loved you”.
What is necessary is that we firmly establish the bottom-line guidance to all our lawmaking. This must be now and forevermore rooted in justice. And that’s why I suggest that justice is the foundation for our path forward.
There are many forms of justice. And the reason there are many forms of justice is because, well, we need to give special focus to each one. And so yes, there is a need to embrace racial justice, because we are still living through that original sin of our civilization of slavery.
And there is a need to embrace environmental justice, because it should not matter whether a kid lives in one zip code, or another zip code when it comes to being able to breathe clean air and drink clean water. There is a critical reason for environmental justice. There is also a reason for climate justice, so that our kids going forward have a climate that you can actually live in.
There is a reason for all kinds of other justices to focus on but I want to specifically talk about one or two that you might not often encounter.
The first is really rooted, some 3000 years ago, when we got the book of Leviticus. In the book of Leviticus, there is several commands by God concerning the Sabbath. Now you already know the Sabbath, right? This is the seventh day for us Christians and we consider this the Sabbath. This is our day of rest. This is our day to hold it as Holy. Although we do a pretty lousy job of doing that lately in midst of our modern life, right? But God decrees that we should observe the Sabbath, so that we understand the need for balance in our lives. And that we also realize we’re the creatures not the Creator. So, there’s a time and a need to rest, reflect, renew.
But in the book of Leviticus, we don’t just have the Sabbath for ourselves, we have the Sabbath for the land. And so you have the Sabbath of the week, but you have the Sabbath year, which means every seventh year you allow the land that you’re farming, to rest, to recover, to renew. This is done, so the land can replenish going forward. So, it doesn’t get starved of it’s nutrients.
But the Sabbath year goes far beyond just farming. In the Sabbath year, Leviticus says all debts are canceled. In the seventh year, all debts are canceled. So, if you hold somebody’s debt, you must forgive it. Just like we say in the words of the Lord’s prayer: “forgive us our debts as we forgive the debts of others”. In Leviticus, in the seventh year, all debt is canceled. But in our modern society there’s 25% interest rates piled on top of 25% interest rates piled on top 25 of interest rates. We used to call this practice illegal usury, but it’s now perfectly legal according to whoever messed up that law. So, people are forever indebted and can’t break loose. The commandment in Leviticus is to prevent this practice by on the seventh year, you let debt go free.
Okay, so we have the Sabbath day, the Sabbath year but in Leviticus we also have the Sabbath of the Sabbath years. It is called the year the Lord’s favor or the Jubilee year. It is every 50 years. So, the 50th year, God takes it up even another notch in God’s instruction to society. In this year of the Lord’s favor, everyone returns to their original status.
Wherever you started out 50 years ago, no matter whether you made great fortune or great debt, you and everyone else returns to their original status. God never planned that there would be wholesale separation of society from the very top to the very bottom. So, every 50 years, all were to be made equal. If somebody had sold themselves into slavery to cover their debt, in the 50th year, that family was set free, and Leviticus has specific instructions on how to do this.
I must be honest with you, we have no evidence that anybody ever practiced the year of the Lord’s favor. 3000 years ago, we were given this guideline for how to live. And we do not have any evidence outside of a few monastic centers that have embraced this kind of economics. The Jubilee year is being discussed now regarding the lessening the extreme debt burden of the developing world. You’ll hear about that occasionally now, but it hasn’t developed into reality. The thought is if we believed in economic justice then developing nations that are burdened by debt, would be freed from that historical debt, so that they might prosper and grow.
But we don’t have a 3000-year history of distributive justice outside of a few small clusters of people. This probably happens, because by the time 50 years comes around, some people have accumulated great wealth and great power. And these rich powerful people say, you know, those scripture rules really aren’t rules for everyday life. They are ideals, they are something to aspire to perhaps someday, but not here, and certainly not now. We are not going to do that. Those are spiritualistic guidelines, not practical laws.
And yet, Jesus embraces those rules. In the Gospels, he just says what good is it if you have two cloaks and your neighbor has none. Radical distributive economics we also have in the book of Acts. Which describes that the very first Christian community held all things in common, and everyone shared as they had need.
These practices that just I’m describing to you is called distributive justice, where everyone has an equal share of God’s good creation. Not a couple of thousand billionaires that hold all the world’s wealth, and seven and a half billion people who live in different levels of economic harm. That was never God’s plan.
Distributive justice is something that we really ought to consider. If for no other reason than our current economic system is obviously not working. We see that even in the pandemic crisis, the rich got richer, and the poor are still hanging on by their fingernails. That is not how God would have us live. Yeah, I know, it is disturbing to hear that. But you must understand that some people can never be satisfied no matter how many billions they have accrued. And so, what they do is they use their power to then distort what laws are created, which then gives them more wealth, more greed. So distributive justice is one of those justice stones that we need to set in our foundation going forward and see if we can develop an economy that has justice in it. So, people aren’t hurt by the economic system they are born into.
There is another element of justice, I want to raise up to you, which is restorative justice. We had an example of that when South Africa came away from its system of cruel apartheid. When South Africa minority people were finally able to be treated as equal, instead of seeking punishment for the people who inflicted the sins of apartheid upon them, instead of seeking retribution, they sought restoration.
What is restorative justice means is that there has been harm done, but we need to work out what it takes to restore everyone to be whole. Currently we are all focused on retribution, punishing those that have caused us harm. And in doing so we’re forgetting about the very necessarily need to heal, of becoming whole, of restoring us to the godly community, that God would have us become.
if we are honest, our current penal system is not working either. Right now, the United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other democracy in the world, by multiple times, and a huge chunk of our federal spending. and state level spending is on prisons. And our prisons no longer rehabilitate if they ever did. They simply make people into greater criminals.
These are the justice issues to think about, to ponder about, to ask God’s guidance going forward, restorative and distributed.
Another justice issue to think about is compassionate justice. Our justice system should demonstrate compassion. Theoretically, that’s why we have different penalties and rules for minors, than we do for adults because it’s compassionate. But compassion means more than simply the jail sentence. Compassion means that we’re going to care enough about all of God’s children, that we’re going to create opportunities where they can learn and grow and flourish no matter what their zip code is. We are going to rein in those that are too powerful, that are distorting the laws instead writing laws based in what God would have us do.
Matthew 12:38 “beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the market spaces, and have the best seats in synagogues and like the places of honor of feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense, make long prayers”.
The Old Testament prophet Micah 6;8: “what does the Lord require of you did but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court justice who served us so long and so well and just died, had a plaque on her office wall which said, from Deuteronomy, “Justice and only justice you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God has given you”.
So, what will form our laws? What will be the ground for our justice? What will be the substance that holds us together? Luke 10:25 “behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test and said good teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said to him, what is written into law? How do you read it? He answered, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind your neighbor as yourself. He said to him, you have answered correctly, do this, and you show live”. So, the mortar that we will use to bind our justice foundational stones together is compassionate love for our neighbor.
What is the final measure of how well we do justice? “Love one another as I have loved you”. Jesus came to show us the truth about the way we are live. May we accept God’s guidance for our lives this day and all the rest of our days. Amen.
Sacrifice is necessary
SUMMARY KEYWORDS: sacrifice, Abraham, life, God, boundaries, people, white male privilege, ancient wisdom, cornerstone, creation, path, faith, facemask, Isaiah, challenge, faith traditions, source, hear, privilege, wisdom
Welcome back to intersections where we explore the intersection of ancient wisdom, scripture and modern life. And in doing so, we ask, what can ancient wisdom do to inform our path in our modern life?
If you remember, we’ve been doing a mini- series on what should be the foundation for the church going forward? In fact, what should our faith look like such that it would influence modern culture in the 21st century. We’ve been brainstorming a new foundation for path forward, a new foundation for our personal faith and for the church, such that it’s going to be effective in the 21st century, helping society face all the crisis’s that are coming about.
In this effort, we have been establishing cornerstones, and we’ve got three of them so far. The first of them is repentance. Obviously, that was the first one we said, because repentance in the Bible simply means to change direction. So if the direction we’re going in is not working, and in fact destructive, then change directions, repent, find a path forward, that would be how God would have us live and would also provide a future for our kids.
The second the second Cornerstone that we established, was to treat creation as holy. All of creation, everything that God has created, we’re going to treat it as holy. We’re going to take off our shoes, we’re going to show respect. Instead of destroying nature, instead of consuming creation. And the third Cornerstone that we established last time, is that humility is required for the journey. If we’re going to fully engage life as a journey, then we have to do it with humility. We have to be humble about it. I know all those cornerstones are hard to accept, to put in place in our life.
The fourth one that we’re going to set in place today is no easier for us to accept and cement into place. The fourth Cornerstone is to accept that sacrifice is necessary. I know, in our American way of life, we don’t want to hear about sacrifice. But if you look at our faith, if you look at our faith traditions in the intersection of ancient wisdom, sacrifice is integral to the journey.
To explore sacrifice, we’re going to wrestle with a text from Genesis that has to do with Abraham, being ordered to sacrifice his firstborn son. And I have to tell you, right up front, I’ve been long in distress about this passage, I’ve long held it as not right. And so we’ll get into that uncomfortable topic.
But first, a side note, Abraham is a key figure in three major faith traditions that are across the globe, Jewish obviously, and Christian, have embraced Abraham, but also Islam. That’s why they’re called the Abrahamic faith. They start with Abraham as a central core figure, and then take a somewhat different life path after that.
Bringing us back to this passage today, of sacrifice. And God ordering Abraham to sacrifice his first-born son is just stunning reversal of what any one of us as parents would do. It’s absolutely goes counter to what we would accept in this life. And so why did scripture go there? Why did scripture embrace this controversial story?
If we go to my favorite reference source, for all things biblical in terms of definitions, and if you look up sacrifice, you’re going to find four or five pages, and very dense text dealing with sacrifice. The paragraph that applies to this order, from God to Abraham to sacrifice his firstborn son. A son, which by the way, he didn’t get until way late in his life, decades after God had promised him a son. Abraham is now ordered to sacrifice his son. Fortunately, at the last moment before Abraham slays his son and puts them on a fire to be emulated. God says no not your son but sacrifice something else. So why did scripture go there?
Well, the New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible tells us, it’s all centered in the fact of Abraham not questioning what he perceived as a command from God to sacrifice his son. Abraham never once objected, never once mounted an argument, never once debated God about the requirement to sacrifice his son. If you read the Scripture, then you know that Abraham has often engaged in arguments with God. So why wouldn’t he engage in an argument with God about this supreme sacrifice? That the New Interpreter’s Bible tells us is why this story is critical. Because it indicates that Abraham was familiar with the practice of child sacrifice. And that the people leading up to this point in time had been practicing child sacrifice. Otherwise, Abraham would never have not mounted an argument with God. And this story is necessary so that we might understand that God abhors this kind of sacrifice. That God wants no part of a sacrificing other human beings to appease what we think God wants.
So, what sacrifice does God want? It’s very clear. In the prophet Isaiah, in the very first words in the book of Isaiah, he describes what God wants. God says, what are these blood sacrifices that you offer to me? I never asked for these. The elaborate ceremonies that you put on. I turn my face away. It has got nothing to do with what I want. What do I want? Your hands are full of blood, go away, cleanse yourself, act with love and compassion to those who are in need. And once you do that, come back and let us argue it out to help you find a path of life, I would have you live.
If we look at some modern wisdom sources to go with our ancient wisdom, what do we hear? There’s an elder in a Cherokee tradition, by the name of Stan Rushworth. And he gives us the native people’s understanding of privilege. He says, instead of thinking that I am born with rights, I choose to think that I am born with obligations to serve past, present and future generations, and the planet herself.
In the Jewish tradition, the wisdom source I always go to is the former head Rabbi for London, the rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, and he offers a wisdom that he’s going to say is particularly applicable to what Jewish people are required to do. And I’m going to argue it applies to us all. What does he say? “The simplest explanation is that to be a Jew is to be asked to give, to contribute, to make a difference, to help in a monumental task that has engaged us since the dawn of history, to make the world a home for the Divine Presence, a place of justice, compassion, human dignity and the sanctity of life. Though our ancestors cherish their relationship with God, they never saw it as a privilege. They knew it was a responsibility. God asks great things of the Jewish people and in so doing made them great”.
I would argue that his understanding of our obligations is for all people have faith. God has called all of us to take on those roles.
Let us get into what that might mean. In terms of sacrifice, what must we sacrifice? Let’s start with the big one right up front. We must sacrifice our unwillingness to change.
We have this reluctance to change particularly as we age, but it is there all along the path. We do not like change. We do not want to change, we argue against change, we get up the hairs on the back of our neck when somebody says we have to change. You can see that today in something as simple as requirement to wear a facemask so that we do not cause someone’s health to be at risk, such as simple change. When you are in close proximity to other people wear a facemask. How can that be something we object to? If it keeps somebody out of the hospital, if it keeps somebody away from a deathbed and yet we object?
In my lifespan, I have seen the refusal to change cost people their jobs, cause companies to shut down, cause churches to fold up and to cause people to harm each other because we refuse to change.
What else do we need to sacrifice? We have to sacrifice our self-righteousness. We must sacrifice that we are automatically imbued with an opinion that matters more than science or facts. We must sacrifice this concept of “I am not even going to bother considering that because that’s beneath me”. We must sacrifice or self-righteousness, we have to, as we said in the last episode, be humble enough to learn, to listen, to explore.
What else do we have to sacrifice. We must sacrifice our comfort levels. If we are to do this faith filled journey, then we need to accept that it is not a comfortable path to follow. It means we must stretch and bend. It means that we must reach out further than we wish and to risk being uncomfortable. We have to be willing to do things that at first glance resist because we might be uncomfortable undertaking new actions. And we have to sacrifice that resistance. That historic defense of ours, just because I’m going out of my comfort zone, I don’t need to do it.
What else do we have to sacrifice? We must sacrifice our sense of privilege. Now that is an assertion bound to get people’s hackles up. I know it used to get mine. When I went into Seminary in my 50s, and I first heard that I had white privilege, white male privilege. I got mad, I got angry, my defenses went up. But if you examine it, I know that my walk through this life, doors were open to me that would not be open to somebody that wasn’t a white male. I also know that I just automatically presumed that I had a right to speak. And I had that right simply by my presence. Having white male privilege does not mean I did not have a tough life. Because I raised myself up out of poverty, there were hard burdens to go along that way. But privilege means that I did not have it quite as hard to do that as somebody who was not a white male in that same era. It does not mean that my life was not difficult. It just means, I must be open to understanding that the old adage of “just pull myself up by the bootstraps” is drastically different depending on who you are, and where you’re coming from.
What else do we have to sacrifice? We must sacrifice our sense of entitlement. That assertion that because I have reached a certain age or a certain status or a certain wealth, that there’s an entitlement that I deserve and somebody else does it.
What else do we have to sacrifice? We must sacrifice our bias. Every human being has bias. Part of the stretching of my comfort level is confronting my biases. So, all that inherent bias that would put blinders on me or put stuff in my ears, I challenge. Because if I truly accept that God is a God of love then all of God’s creation is worthy of love, not just those who I claim as my tribe. And all those prejudices that I have picked up along the way I need to challenge. The difficult aspect is it’s not a “one and done”. I find I have been working on this for over 20 years and it still is a daily challenge for me to confront my biases.
What else do we need to sacrifice? We need to sacrifice our historical boundaries. Instead of building walls, we need to understand that God never drew that line but we did. But it is not just geographic boundaries, we must sacrifice. It is the boundaries on who I am willing to consider as a neighbor. We have that uncomfortable passage in the gospel of Luke, where Jesus is asked who is my neighbor? And he answers with the story of the “Good Samaritan” which shocking expands our understanding of just who is our neighbor. We have to sacrifice those boundaries that we draw to make us comfortable. We might even have to sacrifice some personal boundaries over what we’re willing to consider, what we’re willing to do and what we’re willing to sacrifice, to care for those who need to be cared for.
What else will we need to sacrifice? We have the classic ones, we are going to need to sacrifice time, we will need to sacrifice our energy, we are going to need to sacrifice some of our resources. That is the path forward. The willingness to sacrifice to do what God is calling us to do rather than substitute something that God does not even want any part of.
If you are looking for other ideas on what you might do to make for a better future. Well, if you go to my website Sustaining Creation.org or the Facebook page, or any one of the other links, you’ll find 48 action steps. Yeah, 48 actions things. Take one, look at one that’s a little bit of a stretch and take it on. And see if you do not find a way to make the future a little bit better. Not just for yourself, or your family. But for all God’s good creation. 48 steps yeah, some of them you are not going to like, some you are going to say I am already doing it. But some will be a challenge. And all require some level of sacrifice as it is all about being willing to do something that takes me beyond my comfort level, my privilege, my boundaries.
That wraps up the pondering of our fourth Cornerstone -Sacrifice. And with that, we’ve now full formed the outlines of our boundaries. Next time, we will talk about this foundational stone that we’re going to put in place to hold our Watchtower on, to hold our beacon of light to the rest of the world. Until then, take care, ponder these intersections, and ask how God is calling you to live this day and all our days.
SUMMARY KEYWORDS: humility, humble, wisdom, life, god, journey, source, humbleness, motorhome, explore, cornerstone, planting, live, creation, retired, describes, future, error, humbling, admit
Welcome back to intersections where we explore the intersection between ancient faith, ancient knowledge, scripture, and modern life. And we ask, does the one inform the other?
And that’s what we’ve been exploring if you remember, we started a miniseries with a focus on what should ground our future? What should ground a faith that affects modern society, a church that affects modern society. We started planting cornerstones realizing that what we’ve done so far isn’t working.
So the first Cornerstone that we talked about planting was repentance. And if you remember, in the Bible, repentance simply means to turn and go a different way. We’re to do this because if the way you’ve been traveling, isn’t accomplishing, isn’t honoring God, isn’t living the way we’re supposed to change then repent.
And the second Cornerstone that we set is the critical concept of honoring God’s creation as holy. So honoring nature and all of God’s creatures as holy and caring for them rather than consuming them, rather than destroying them, rather than trampling on what God has created. So that was the second one.
Today, we are going to explore the next one, which is humility for the journey. That is building on the concept that life is a journey. But it introduces the understanding that if you’re going to fully explore the journey, you have to have humility, you have to have humbleness, and it arises out of the Scripture story in the Old Testament in the book of Exodus, that describes Israelites fleeing from Egypt, fleeing from the slavery in Egypt, and taking 40 years to complete a journey to the promise land.
Now, if you remember in the Bible, 40 means more than just simply a number bigger than 39. 40 indicates, look out, life is changing. So, in this case in the story of Exodus, focused on 40 years to transform their lives. It was a humbling journey.
They left without any preparation in the middle of the night to escape from Pharaoh. The story describes how when they got into the wilderness, when they got out into the desert, and they were starting to be really, really, really hungry, God provided manna. Which they first treated as a welcome respite from their hunger. But they soon grew to resent it, because it wasn’t of significant substance. It didn’t have great taste. All it was, was to provide what is necessary to live. This journey was indeed a humbling experience.
You know, journeys are not always what we plan. In fact, they rarely are. I’ll give you an example. I’m one of the last generations that had the opportunity that could retire early with benefits. So, after my 32-year career in industry, as an engineer and as a plant manager, I retired at a young age. Nowadays I consider 55 to be quite young.
And the whole planning that I had done in the decade before I retired is that I would travel. I would be like my brothers who have these huge, huge motorhomes 40 foot, 44-foot-long with four slide outs and all the luxuries built right in. The plan was that I would just spend my retirement years going from hither to thon and enjoying the experience.
But the way my retirement actually turned what out is no motorhome. Rather a collar and a cross as instead of travel, I accepted the call of ministry. So instead of relaxing simply traveling from place to place, I tried to answer God’s call to be a sign for people of faith. That’s where we’re at today, humbly living out the call.
If you were to dig into our favorite reference source, which is The New Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible, and you look up humility, you’ll find it’s got several pages of very dense wording, describing the different phases of how the Bible explores humility. The thing that really stands out, is that in the New Testament, Jesus turns a concept of humility on its head. It just flips it right over because Jesus says, God’s favor does not legitimize the status quo, but instead reverses it. Jesus says, the self-exalting will be humbled and the self-humbling will be exalted.
Let’s turn to a more modern sources of wisdom. Wendell Berry is one of my favorite sources. He’s a poet, a farmer, a writer, and environmentalist. He offers some great words of wisdom. And I’m going to ask your indulgence because it’ll take a few minutes to really receive this wisdom.
We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. And this has been based on the even flimsier assumption that we could know with any certainty what was good even for us. We have fulfilled the danger of this by making our personal pride and greed, the standard of our behavior towards the world, to the incalculable disadvantage of the world and every living thing in it.
And now perhaps very close to it being too late. Our great error has become clear. It is not only our own creativity, our own capacity for life that is stifled by our arrogant assumption, the creation itself is stifled.
Wendell goes on to say:
We have been wrong, we must change our lives so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and to learn what is good for it. We must learn to cooperate in its processes and need to yield to its limits. But even more importantly, we must learn to acknowledge that creation is full of mystery, we will never entirely understand. We must abandon our arrogance and stand in awe. We must recover the sense of the majesty of creation and the ability to be worshipful in its presence. For I do not doubt that it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain. –Wendell Berry
So, Wendell see’s size humility and the ability to change how we’re destroying earth as the critical item that will depend on whether we’re going to have a future as humankind.
Those are hard words to hear but hear we must.
Albert Einstein adds to this concept with his quote:
The important thing is not to stop questioning.
So, wherever we’re at on the life journey, we need to continue to question are we doing it right? And what wisdom is there that we do not yet understand and embrace?
So, what does it means to have humility for the journey? Well, it means that we must be humble enough to listen.
Who are we willing to listen to? Do we have limits on who those people can be and what those sources of wisdom might be? What sources do we intentionally block which prevents us from understanding a truth, a wisdom that we do not yet understand.
We have to be humble enough to learn, we have to let go of our arrogance. I have to admit, this arrogance is hard for me. To accept that we do not yet know all that is necessary to know in order to live right.
We have to have humility enough not to judge others just because somebody lives a different path than I live. It’s not my place to judge. We leave that to God.
We need to have humility enough to admit our errors. This again, has been a problem for me in my life. In fact, I’m so afraid of making an error. Sometimes I hesitate to act out of fear of making an error. When I’m humble enough to admit that I’ve made a mistake, I can not only heal a division, I can change my direction and go in a direction that’s more positive. Humility for a journey.
Here’s one for us guys. We have to be humble enough to ask for help. I know that’s a huge stumbling block. The classic story of a wife’s frustrations traveling with her husband is the man won’t stop to ask for directions. He’ll wander around, lost and confused rather than admit and ask for help. And I found as my body ages, I have to ask for help. I just can’t do physically what I used to be able to do.
We have to be humble enough to yet again, try again. Even if it means that we’re doing it at a less aggressive pace, as we have in the past or with less strength and with less endurance. We have to be humble enough to try again.
We have to be humble enough to yield our place. I can not assume that because of who I am and what position, I hold, that I should stay in place and block others for being in the lead now.
We have to be humble enough to sacrifice for others. We have to be humble enough to be satisfied with less. So there’s no 40 foot RV is in my future. Only a means of transportation that will not affect my grandkids future. Something for all of us to consider.
I’m going to go now to another modern wisdom source. And again, it’s a long quote so I ask you to bear with me. This wisdom source is Joan Chittister. She is an abbess. She is the head of a monastery of contemplative nuns.
Joan Chittister writes:
Humble people walk comfortably in every group. No one is either to beneath them or to above them for their own sense of wellbeing They are who they are people with as much to give as to get, and they know it. And because they are in ease with themselves, they can afford to be open with others. Having discovered who we are and having opened ourselves to life and having learned to be comfortable with it, we know that God is working in us. We know most of all, that whatever happens we have nothing to fear. We are free of the false hopes, and the false faces and the false needs that once held us down. We can fly now.
We can fly now.
Humbleness for the journey implies that we are forever open to learning new things, to living new ways to gaining wisdom and knowledge from sources that might even surprise us.
On all of the emergent experiences I’ve had in my life, every single one of them has brought me wisdom from someone I had never met before. From somebody I had never even considered as a source of wisdom.
It’s only when I was humble enough to accept that I was going to hear wisdom from women, people of color, people of poverty, people challenged everyday by violence that I could learn far beyond what I accomplished on my own.
Our closing scripture really brings it home. It’s from the prophet Micah, chapter six, verse eight: He has told you all mortal what is good and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with you guy.
Ancient Wisdom that has been guiding us for 3000 years. It’s about time we listened and actually followed. To develop the humbleness to change. To embrace new ways this day, and all the rest of our days.
I’ll see you next time on intersections where we’ll explore yet another Cornerstone to set a foundation for a faith that matters to our modern society. Take care.
-Rev. Dr. Terry Gallagher (9/10/2020)
Let’s spend some time together exploring the intersection of ancient wisdom and modern life and ask if the former can inform the latter particularly this day as we ponder how we treat God’s Good Creation.
Lately I’ve started a mini- series on what might the future Church look like. This concept arises out of some pondering I did over summer. I struggled over the question of just how we got into this mess and the crisis upon crises that we’re currently experiencing in our modern society.
I concluded that the greatest failure of the Christian Church in the modern era is we have not been able to change our society’s path, we’ve not been able to even affect how our society lives or what our society values.
Why? Well, because we have built our church and our faith on shifting sand. Consequently, I introduced the idea of, that as we go forward, we need a firmer foundation. I asked the question- What cornerstone? What anchor points should we establish to build our faith on and to build the church on so that it can effectively interact and guide our society going forward in this land of crisis’s to better have a future for our kids.
So, the first anchor point last week was the one I told you nobody was going to like and that was repentance. Because if you look at the condition that we’re in, we have to repent. What does repent mean? Well, in the Bible, repent means to change direction, to turn away from worshipping idols, the golden calf that we our modern society. And so to get back to the path of God we have to repent.
Today I want to establish the second Cornerstone or the next anchor point going forward to form the foundation on which we build our faith and our church upon. This cornerstone is the fundamental requirement that we will embrace the value of God’s creation as holy.
What God has created is holy, how could we say otherwise? It’s not a new concept as ancient wisdom brings us to that point. Holding creation ss holy is brought to us in the story of the burning bush.
Remember that story?
Moses is attracted to a bush that is burning and does not get consumed. And as he draws close, a voice comes out and tells him stop, take off your sandals, for you are on holy ground.
So, God in that story is establishing the ground as holy. And what I want to build upon is that understanding of the ground bring holy, actually applies to all of creation.
Because creation is of God and what is of God is holy. It’s not God. Don’t be confused by that. There is more to God than just what God has created for us, but it’s of God. So, it demands respect, it demands that we take off our shoes and we should stop stomping God’s creation into destruction.
Everywhere we look, our modern life is destroying the good creation that God created. This destruction includes the mass extinction of animal species and plant species and all the life systems of this one earth that we share.
Now, normally when I give a talk on the critical condition that the planet is in, I need several hours, if not a whole weekend for workshops. But for this reflection moment, I’m just going to take one slice of the crisis we’re in and simply look at where we are in terms of land. I would like us to focus on how we’ve been treating God’s holy creation of land in our modern world.
We’ve displaced farming with corporate endeavors that are far cry from historical farming. The family farm which used to be where 90% of human beings were employed in farming just a century ago, is now simply run by corporations. And the way they do it is by mono cropping. Mono cropping is where you grow a single product, a single vegetable, a single produce, and you just grow thousands of acres of it.
I have to tell you, the only way that’s possible is these farms are no longer farms but rather chemical plants. The only way that you can grow monoculture products year after year after year where you grow the same product on the same acreage every year is through chemistry.
Essentially, our farms are chemical plants. Monocropping relies heavily on large doses of chemistry, both in the fertilizer and in the pesticides. What are the results?
We have agricultural runoff, which poisons our water streams and kills to vegetables. It kills the insects that pollinate plants. It kills us.
We have large animal waste ponds for those land operations where we grow hundreds of thousands of pigs, or cows, or chickens. All of that waste sits in open air waste ponds, which destroys the land at the same time as it pollutes the air.
Our corporate way of farming brings bacteria and disease spread throughout our food chains. How many times over the past year have you heard of product recalls because they contain bacteria which results in serious infections affecting the health of the people who consume these food products.
In addition, the food that is grown, on these large chemical plants that we call farms, is so lacking in nutrition that they must augment it with corn syrup. And that’s how we got into our whole obesity crisis. Because the food that we eat is not nutritious, they up the calories with syrup.
What else is affected by the way we’re farming through the corporate farms? The thousands of acres that are tilled by machines run by computers, results in soil erosion. The soil erosion from tilling so that they can continue to harvest the same crop, they can continue to use their chemical sprays and their chemical additions to the soil that has a five to 10 times higher soil erosion than no till farm operations.
Tilling also has 100 times faster rate of destroying the soil, than new soil can be created. So, we are destroying soil 100 times faster than God’s creation makes new soil.
One of the things I’ve discovered in my journey through this life is that the web of creation is all interrelated. It’s amazingly interconnected. On the most my minute level, we’re interrelated.
What we do in one segment affects something else. When we disrupt one segment, we disrupt whole chains of life systems. How we treat creation, how we treat God holy land is destroying our kids future.
On top of it, our decision 100 years ago to fuel our modern society by burning ancient fossil fuels and throwing the waste pollution into the air has disastrous effects on the land.
This destruction is happening right now. It’s escalating in catastrophic damage well into our kid’s future.
It’s causing floods. And so, farms can’t be farmed, when there’s a flood.
It’s causing desertification. It’s causing land to become deserts. Because we’re changing the climate patterns.
It’s causing severe storms that damage crops that are already present. It’s causing fire storms, hailstorms and windstorms.
We’re losing soil landmass to the influx of the sea. As the seas rise, we are also losing farmland due to salt. As the seas rise, they invade the land. And so you have salt deposits from the water in the sub streams that are being brought up into the soil. You can’t grow anything, when the soil is destroyed by salt.
How do we know how to take care of God’s good creation? How do we take care of holy land?
We’ve had that guidance for thousands of years. If we go back to the ancient wisdom of the Sabbath year. God proclaimed in ancient scripture, that every seventh year the land should be allowed to rest. It should be allowed to recover. You can farm for six years, you can harvest for six years but on the seventh year, the land is allowed to rest.
There’s a strong biological science behind allowing land to rest. Allowing land to recover, to allow the land to recover the biochemistry of the microorganisms, the bugs in the bacteria and the earthworms that are in the soil that’s necessary for soil to be rich.
If the soil is rich then you don’t need to use so many chemicals. We can learn the benefits farming with biodiversity rather than monocropping. We can rotate crops. We can plant crops together using wisdom that one type of plant can support the healthy growth of another plant. That’s organic farming.
We can find plants that work in synchronicity with each other. So that one plant protects another plant from the invasive bugs that might destroy the plant and we use God’s good creation rather than chemicals.
We can change our farming methods to “no till” or “very low till” to save the soil from erosion because that top six inches to a foot of soil is critical. The nutrients abound in such farming methods.
We can use cover crops rather than leave the land bare. We can grow a cover crop after the harvest that holds the soil in so it doesn’t get swept up in dust storms. This then holds a fruitful environment for the bugs and the bacteria and the carbon that’s in the soil. We can rotate crops. So that one crop, nurtures the crop to come after it.
The International Panel on Climate Change reports in its study on land use, that agricultural and food systems are a key element if we’re going to have an effective response to the global climate crisis.
Let’s go back to Scripture for a moment.
Let’s return to the passage of the Moses and the burning bush. There’s an ancient story about rabbis debating the burning bush phenomena.
If you know anything about how rabbis come to an understanding of the truth in Scripture is that they gather in groups and argue about it.
And so the story says there was a group of rabbis who are arguing about why was it necessary for that bush to burn and yet not be consumed? And they argued for days and days. Debating what did that one particular fact mean? Why was it necessary that the bush burn and not be consumed?
And the conclusion that the rabbis came to is the scripture doesn’t tell us how many times Moses walked past that bush before he noticed it. Consequently, the bush had to burn and not be consumed until Moses awakened to the fact that there was an important message in that bush. Thereby he encountered the voice of God.
We are called as a people of faith, as a church to be the burning bushes of our time.
We are called to be a light in a dark world of chaos, that allows people to see a direction forward. A direction that is based on the values that God would have to live according to. That’s our role as people of faith.
That our role is to anchor the future of our society in the values of the gospel might sound a little crazy, but it’s not. It’s what we’re called to do.
I’ll give you one example how you can be a burning bush. Grow a vegetable garden. Every church should have a vegetable garden. Have one in your own backyard, and by all means, get the kids involved.
That’s how you teach an appreciation for the holiness of creation by you participating in its care.
That’s how we take off our sandals in the 21st century to show respect to this Holy Land. We grow things and we teach land preservation.
You know, the last few years, my wife and I have been participating in a community garden. And the garden is on the abandoned sites of houses that were torn down.
It’s a lot of work to grow vegetables where there were houses before because you go down a few inches and you hit demolition debris.
We’ve been working hard on restoring the soil. But this year, we had to bring in some raised beds in order to have rooted vegetables that go deep into the soil. There just wasn’t enough good soil remaining on this land.
But also this year, our daughter’s family moved to a house that used to have a garden. We replanted it and the bounty of the land that was not destroyed is many times more than the bounty of what we’re harvesting in a community garden.
How much better it is to not destroy God’s Good Creation in the first place.
But even if we have caused destruction, we have the responsibility and the capability to restore it so that our kids have a future.
So be a burning bush. Do something that very visibly proclaims a way to a sustainable future.
Do something today and again tomorrow, and all the tomorrows that are to come. Help to help guide our society into accepting this anchor stone, that creation is holy.
If we are to live, if our kids are to live then God’s Good Creation needs to live. We need to take off our sandals and respect creation every day of our life, in every way we produce and consume.
Blessings on your journey.
(transcript of Intersections -episode 5)
Welcome back to our series where we explore the intersection of ancient wisdom arising out of the Scriptures and our modern life and ask if the former can inform the latter so that we might live a more ethical life a better life.
Today we are going to tackle the uncomfortable question for current society. For a few minutes, we are going to ponder the question, must there be conflict? Right up front, I must confess that I try my best to avoid conflict which might be a surprise given my background. In my industrial career, I was a plant manager for a number of years so conflict was an integral element of my job. In fact, there were times where my actions amidst the conflict resulted in unflattering pictures of me on the bathroom wall as a particular employee response to how they perceived my handling of conflict.
But conflict also arises when we must face ethical questions and then we have to decide whether we just turn aside, because of our discomfort or are we going to actively engaged in resolving conflicts? In all honesty, conflict always gets me in the pit of my stomach. And consequently, my first initial reaction will be to attempt to avoid conflict.
And yet scripture jumps right into conflict, particularly in the gospel such as from Matthew 10. In this verse from Matthew, Jesus says: “Do not think that I’ve come to bring peace to the earth, I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Makes us wonder whatever happened to the Prince of Peace? How does that message of conflict fit with this image in our mind that Jesus is so warm and cuddly and loving and no matter how often we sin welcomes to his loving embrace yet again? Yet there is this very dynamic side of Jesus, where again and again and again, he will engage in conflict with the institutions of his society at that time, particularly as it relates to the economic injustice of the times.
Lately our streets have been filled with protesters, many of them shouting: “No justice, No peace”. Implying that you cannot have peace, if there is no justice.
Let’s pause a moment and get a bit of background of information on biblical terms before we plunge further into this uncomfortable subject of conflict. Let’s use as a resource “The New Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible. If we look up the word “peace”, it tells us that peace is wholeness and wellbeing, especially through restoring relations between God and humans, and among humans, both individually and corporately.
If we would look up this particular citation and switch from Matthew’s Gospel to Luke’s Gospel then we will find that Luke removes the stunning word of “sword” and instead substitutes the word “division”. In Luke, Jesus says: “Do not think that it come to bring peace but rather division”. And once again we wonder, what happened to our image of a peaceful, loving, happy-happy, joy-joy Jesus bringing us all into Kumbaya moments?
“I have not come to bring peace, but division”. Why would Jesus tell us that?
Let’s go back to our resource of the New Interpreter’s Bible (NIB) to find the biblical meaning of “justice”. We learn that “Justice”, as used in the Bible particularly in the context of ethical character, is conduct that’s expected of human beings by God.
(NIB) Distributive Justice:
- involves the appropriate assignment of such social goods as honor, money, property, and all other goods shared among members of a society.
- God is the powerful patron who will hear the cry of the lowly and overthrow their human oppressors.
Economic injustice underscores all other issues of justice. Jesus was not original in Scripture, on this issue of distributive justice, on this issue of economic and justice. In fact, he’s building on the prophets that came before.
And Leviticus has the most stunning, stunning understanding of how God would have our economic systems. Leviticus 25 describes the year of the Jubilee. And building up to it, he talks about the Sabbath year, which is every seven years. So there’s a cycle every seven years, you restore the land, but you also restored the economy. And so for every seven years, you forgive all debt, you forget the economic debt that anybody owes you every seven years. Stunning. We can’t possibly picture that happening in our society.
But building on that theme is the Sabbath of the Sabbath year, which is seven times seven, the 50th year. A year which is called the year of the Lord’s favor or the Jubilee Year. And in that year, Leviticus proclaims that God wants us all to return to our original state. So we go back to the land that we originally owned, all debt is forgiven, all economic slaves are set free. In fact, everyone goes back to having an equal share of God’s good creation. So no longer is there the great wealth disparity between the Uber wealthy and the incredibly poor. That is God’s picture of how we should live in society. That’s God’s plan for how fair ethical economic systems arise.
It’s shockingly obvious that we’ll never get into this discussion. We’re never going to engage in this very difficult talk about economic injustice about distributive justice, without conflict. Why? Because the people who have the wealth are not going to willingly give it up. They’re going to want to continue to support the existing systems of injustice, particularly if they’re favored by. They might not realize it’s what they’re doing. But they’re going to say, for a whole host of reasons that what they have, they deserve no matter how ridiculous the resulting wealth gap is.
In fact, if you go on a macro scale, there’s eight men that have half the total wealth of the world right now. Just eight men, billions are starving. eight men have to all the wealth. So, there will be conflict if we raise this issue. The only way to engage in difficult subjects is expose yourself to the divisions that exist and to name those divisions and to acknowledge those divisions and to confess that we have willfully participated in the maintenance of those divisions.
So, the people who are marching in the streets right now saying: “no justice, no peace” are communicating that to us as well, not just to the uber wealthy.
At the start of the prophet Isaiah ministry in the very first chapter of the book of Isaiah. He proclaims this troubling word from God where God is terribly upset with the behavior of human beings.
Isaiah 1:15- When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.
But then he moves on. God isn’t just announcing this conflict. God moves on. For if we understand this desperate truth, the question arises can there be reconciliation, can there be resolution of the conflict? And the very next verses from Isaiah says: Come now, let us reason together. says the word though your sins are like Scarlet there shall be as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, they shall be become like wool.
Must there be conflict? Martin Luther King Jr. said, human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Every step towards the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle. The tireless exertions and passionate concerns of dedicated individuals requires that there must be conflict.
Jesus says, “Do not think that I’ve come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword”. Jesus is telling us we can’t avoid these difficult conversations. We have to engage and it’s only by engaging that we can hope to move to reconciliation, to resolution.
Must there always be conflict? Ancient wisdom says yes, there must be conflict. But it also says if conflict is done well, we can ultimately then move to knowing justice. And from that basis, then know peace.
Must there be conflict? I believe that Jesus came to show us the truth about the way we are to live. We’re still a far cry from that. When there is huge economic disparity, when economics is the clearest indicator of your health, of your well being physically and mentally. That in our current economics, wealth is the clearest indicator of whether children will grow up in crime and in pollution. That economics is the strongest indicator of who gets to live a long life.
Yes, we must engage with, we must acknowledge the gap between what we proclaim that we are a just society and where we actually are which is grievously unjust. Then we must work to narrow the differences.
Must there be conflict? Yeah, there must.
So even if you are like me and your initial reaction is to avoid conflict, we must hear this ancient wisdom and allow it to inform our life. The wisdom that tells us that before we get to justice there will be conflict. We must work through our divisions in a nonviolent, peaceable way to seek resolution, and grow into a just society for all God’s children.
We will see you next time on intersections. Take care.
Jonah R US transcript
Welcome back to intersections, I have to apologize. It’s been a couple of months since my last video segment. But with everything going on from pandemic, the economic collapse as well as the wide spread violence, I needed a couple of months to just sit by myself and ponder how we got into this mess. And to ponder the question: what’s a way forward for people of faith? So that’s what I’ve come to discuss with you this day.
In looking back over my ponderings of the past couple of months, I’ve come to the conclusion that our greatest failure as a church is that we haven’t affected society. We really haven’t affected how modern society lives. In fact, our modern society still worships the golden calf. What do I mean by that? I mean, if our society creates God, a small “g” god to justify their purpose, their power, their race, their whatever. That’s a Golden Calf.
If you create a God in your mind that justifies you being better off than someone else, that’s a Golden Calf. And the universal thing about golden calves is they’re too small to be a god. They’re just too small. So where do we go? Well, we got 60 days left before the, what I would suggest is the greatest decision in my lifetime, about the future of our society and I would argue about the future of the world. Don’t get your hackles up. I’m not going to tell you which way to make that decision. What I’m going to suggest is some things you bear in mind as we face the 60 days ahead.
First of all, if we’re going to use scriptures to refer too during our coming to grips with these crises. Then you got to understand that in the Bible, some numbers mean a lot more than just the number, right?
And so seven, seven is obviously often used in Scripture to mean, perfect and six means evil because it’s less than seven, so you’re less than perfect. And three, of course, has special meaning all in of itself.
And then there’s 40. When you see “40” in Scripture, it’s this big flaming sign that life is changing, life is being transformed. Go back and look at scripture at all times 40, 40, 40 is mentioned and you see that common theme of change.
And then there’s “50”. There are huge occasions for 50 in a couple of different places. But the big one that I’m thinking about is “50” is the year of the Jubilee where everyone is made equal. Now that’s something that we’ve never been willing to do.
But the number “60”, if you look up 60 in Scripture, you don’t see a bunch of references. But there is one that we might be able to use as a metaphor for this reflection. “60” happens to be the largest dimension of the temple, that Solomon was ordered to construct for God.
And so, let’s use that idea of constructing a temple just as a metaphor. Because I got to tell you that the temples we’ve built so far, are houses of cards. They are tumbling down. Why? Because we build them on shifting sands.
So, let’s go forward and think about how do you build something so it doesn’t fall apart under stress. I’m going to suggest that what you do is you establish really, really, really solid cornerstones not using shifting sand. Cornerstones that anchor, the foundation on which you’re going to build your life in here. We’re talking metaphorically, of course, but I’m talking about what is your faith going to rely on?
On what is going to be the grounding of your faith. And so over the next few weeks, I am going to suggest different cornerstones that we plant as a foundation that we’re going to build our way forward. And the first Cornerstone the one for today, you are not going to like or appreciate, none of us Americans like this concept. But that first Cornerstone is repentance. Yeah, repentance. You might immediately think about street corner prophets shouting: “Repent for the end is at hand”. But that is not what repentance means in the Bible.
Repent in scripture means to change directions. If the way you’ve been going through life has corrupted the image of God then you need to change directions and so there is a great biblical story I want to talk about. You already know the story as it is about Jonah. In fact, I titled this video segment is “Jonah R Us” because we are Jonah more often than not.
Remember the story of Jonah? Jonah was a little known prophet that God spoke to and said: Jonah, I want you to go to Nineveh and tell them to repent. And what did Jonah do? Well, Jonah went the other way. He absolutely went the other way to avoid doing as God commanded because he hated the people in Nineveh. How could God possibly suggest that he should go to Napa? So he went the other way. He was so eager not to do a God was calling him to do that he found himself on a ship. The ship got in trouble in a dangerous storm. He even offered himself up for a sacrifice to appease the storm. Little “gods” again, right? Jonah got thrown into the water but then, you know, instead of drowning, this big whale swallows him up. Scripture actually refers to it as a beast but our folklore always says “whale”. Any way, eventually the beast pucks him up on the land. There’s Jonah, covered in whale vomit on the land and then finally, Jonah accepts God’s call to go to Nineveh and tell them to repent. So, he shakes off their whale vomit, and he gets up and goes, and then what happens? As soon as he gets the Nineveh to the people he hates, to the people he despises, the people he couldn’t possibly talk to, and says, God wants us to change. God wants us to repent. They do.
Just walking around saying, you know, God wants us to change how we’re living is enough to cause the people to repent. What does Jonah do when the people repent? Instead of rejoicing in the power of an amazing God to transform lives, Jonah goes out on a hillside and pouts. He pouts because it was so easy to do this task that he never wanted to do for God.
My favorite biblical theologian, historical theologian, John Dominic Crossan and he reflected once about a favorite Gospel story of mine which is the story about two travelers meeting Jesus on road to Emmaus without recognizing him until they stop and share a meal. His perhaps startling conclusion is that Emmaus never happened. But then perhaps even more startling is his conclusion is Emmaus always happens.
And so, my take on this story of Jonah which was offered up as a metaphor for us. Is that Jonah never ever happened. And yet this story happens every day.
Every day, God is calling us to bring this message to our society of repenting to change our ways. Every day, God tells us to go become a people that God is calling us to become. And what do we do in response? We turn and go the other way for a whole host of reasons. Perhaps we think it’s simply too hard, or we can’t possibly imagine that the people God is calling us to go to are worthy of being people of God.
What I suggest we need to do is we need to get up off of that beach, shake off the whale vomit that we’re covered in and go to our friends and neighbors and the people of Nineveh, (that city we all live in), and say we need to repent, we need to become a people that instead of trying to remake God into our image, remake ourselves into who God would have us be. And I would further suggest that the first person we go to, is that one that stares us back in the mirror we look in and start there with the first act of repentance.
Repentance is to actually change your life’s direction. It’s not to be confused with confession and absolution which are the easy practices we often engage in where we confess the sin and then automatically we get blessed for it and we don’t have to worry about it again. No. Repentance is the life journey of daily struggling to become the person that God is calling us to be. That’s the call from God to repent, to come and be my people. So, we need to do that today. But not just today.
We need to do it again tomorrow and all the tomorrows that are to come.
Hey, perhaps just perhaps, by building our faith on our new Cornerstone and the ones that follow, we might actually transform the society we’re living in.
That’s it for today. I’ll be back to you in a week. And then we’ll talk about the next corner stone. In the meantime, blessings on your journey on your pondering of how to have a faith that is worthy of the God you love. Take care.
The question of “why doesn’t God act?” has been in existence since people were scared enough to ask rather than act.
That’s the difficult question we will be pondering in this Podcast. But before we dive in, let’s set some ground rules for this discussion:
- This discussion is not for everyone. So, if you are rigidly fixed in your personal religious beliefs then you might want to skip this episode as it contains a few of my ponderings on God which some people might find to be offensively wrong.
- My thoughts expressed on this subject are obviously incomplete and will continue to evolve as we experience the human societal response to the breadth & depth of the Climate Crisis.
- Spoiler alert going into this podcast is: God expects more mature behavior from us than what we’ve exhibited so far.
- The takeaway question from this podcast will be: At what price comes our path to maturity? How much pain must be experienced before we act?
OK, with all of those ground rules established, lets get started.
From lightning strikes to lava flows, from periods of floods and droughts; plagues and war; overwhelming tragedies that strike us both large and small; people have been staring at the skies and asking: “why God did you allow this?”
For some people on the religious right, their bottom line on the climate crisis is that it doesn’t require human intervention because God won’t let it happen.
God simply won’t let us destroy God’s Good creation. This they claim is evident by God’s promise to Noah (Genesis 9) that “never again shall there be a flood to destroy the Earth”.
But it’s not just people on the “Religious Right” is it? No, we don’t get off that easy.
Some of us occasionally dip into the dubious theology of thanking God for traffic lights turning green, open parking spots being convenient or even avoiding the flu.
Many of us were raised with the promise of “TRUST IN GOD”. In fact, since the 1950’s, it’s printed on our money.
But what if “trust in God to act” is not God’s intention for how her Good Creation should work?
What if God’s grand design for his Good creation is that we would be the ones to act and God’s role was to guide, to inspire, to awaken, to CALL?
Now-that’s a disturbing understanding isn’t it?
The question of “why doesn’t God act?” has been in existence probably as long as humans have wondered about God. For a biblical example, we don’t have to look any further than the Book of Job. Some biblical scholars believe that Job is the very first book of the Bible and written to seek an answer to the age-old question: why does evil exist and why doesn’t God just stop it?
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
That passage from Job is a familiar approach which suggests that bad things happen because God is “testing us”. This understanding is frequently followed with the admonition that God doesn’t give us more than what we can bear.
In more modern Times, this question of “why does God permit evil to exist” is raised in the context of huge tragedy and incomprehensible suffering such as the Holocaust of WWII.
There is a play that explores this to a disturbing level. It was called “GOD ON TRIAL” and its setting was a crowded prisoner hut in a NAZI concentration camp. The Jewish prisoners could not comprehend the great evil that they were experiencing and so they conducted a trial with charging God with violating their understanding of God’s particular covenant with the Jewish people.
After all, in their understanding, God had a special relationship with Jews then how could God possibly allow annihilation of his people through the unspeakable horror of the death camps?
Some historians have argued that many Jews went peacefully into the camps under the belief that God would protect them.
So why didn’t God act?
Why didn’t God strike the concentration camp guards dead at very first instance of the slaughtering of innocents? Or at the thousandth instance?
Why didn’t God plug up the Gas Chambers?
Why didn’t God crush the incinerators? Why didn’t God stop the medical experiments or the slaughtering of babies? Why didn’t God act?
Ultimately the play ends with the jury of prisoners finding God guilty of violating God’s covenant with the Jews.
One could expand this haunting question to include the multitude of human destruction that we blithely name simply as the consequences of war.
If not under these circumstances, just when or how will God act to stop human destructiveness?
Let’s fast forward this question of “Why doesn’t God stop evil” to the context of today.
We currently are facing the devastating human destruction potential of:
- Never ending wars & constant threats of further wars
- Forest Fires beyond all understanding
- Pollution that kills us fast and pollution that kills us slowly
- Hurricanes and storms of a ferocity never witnessed before
- Floods and Droughts that are so severe the weather people had to come up with additional colors because nothing in our history measures up to the current situations
- Diseases that quickly spread around the world
- Mass Starvation
- Violence everywhere we look
- Refugees fleeing this destruction and finding walls to keep them out
- Mass extinctions of species
- Hate & Fear throughout our societies
- Political corruption on a global scale
and now, on top of that extensive list and making every one of these problems worse, we have the Global Climate Crisis.
So why doesn’t God act to stop our destruction?
Why doesn’t God just stop us before we destroy all of God’s Good Creation on this Earth, our common home?
It should be simple enough task for God to do, right?
That’s our hope isn’t it?
Many of us in our modern western societies, who really ought to know better, are avoiding responding to the Climate Crisis.
Some of us are counting on God to step in before it’s too late.
We’re hoping without concrete basis that God will choose to act before our loved ones are hurt.
I know that this is a deeply uncomfortable topic, but it is a very necessary topic to explore. So why doesn’t God stop us?
After lots of reflection, my understanding of the answer to this troubling question lies in the gift of “FREE WILL”.
FREE WILL is the backbone of our ability to make life choices.
I would argue it is the greatest gift that God could bestow on any of God’s creatures & she decided to give it to human beings.
That’s a gift with many problems as human beings also possess the capability as well as the inclination to do great good but also to do great evil.
God gave Free will to the very creatures who can destroy all of creation just by making the wrong life choices.
I can’t fathom why God would risk this. But yet God did.
That might be true for you also.
We just can’t imagine that God would idly stand by and let us puny creatures destroy what God has wrought.
The problem Is we simply don’t know, do we? Hundreds of millions of lives were destroyed in the 20th century due to war and other human caused tragedies and it’s really hard for me to point to an event where it is obvious that God said “ENOUGH!” and stopped WWII.
Returning to the Book of Job, which was written to understand evil in this world. If you read it entirely, you will not be satisfied with it as God never answers the question of why God allows evil to exist.
Instead we’re left with unsettling response of “who are you to question me?”
It’s been my experience, that there are two vastly different perspectives that people bring with them as they read scripture:
- They read to learn “What God will do” or
- They read to learn “What God expects us to do”.
I tend to read scripture as well as ponder the existential questions of life from the perspective of #2.
What does God expect of us? Or stated another way: How does God call us to live?
Let’s turn for a moment to the wisdom of John 16:12
“I still have many things to say to you, but you can not bear them now. When the Sprint of Truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…”
In my faith traditions, that passage is what we mean when we say:
“God is still speaking”.
The essential truth of the Gospel to me is that first and foremost it is a Call to Action (in the gospel we hear messages of: come follow me; go and tell; be fishers of men; tend my sheep; clothe the naked; free the captives; you feed them…) My approach to faith is that arising from the journey along the Gospel pathway, belief in God will be found and enriched.
Robin R. Meyers expresses it this way: “Jesus never says “Go and believe likewise.”” The measure of an authentic spiritual life is the way a follower acts in the world.
A better question for this time is “why don’t we stop our destruction?”
But then how do we know what to do?
Elijah, the old testament prophet pondered the same question as he sought God’s answer.
“a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Elijah’s experience of unexpectedly hearing God in the whisper is similar to what I’ve experienced in my faith journey. I have best understood God’s guidance for my life path in the stillness of nature, in the disturbed voices of the poor and oppressed as well as in music that penetrates the barriers I’ve erected.
Mother Teresa said it this way:
“I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that he will guide me to do whatever I’m supposed to do, what I can do. I used to pray for answers, but now I’m praying for strength.”
My favorite theologian, John Dominic Crossan says it this way:
“You have been waiting for God, Jesus said, while God has been waiting for you. No wonder nothing is happening. You want God’s intervention, he said, while God wants your collaboration. God’s kingdom is here, but only insofar as you accept it, enter it, live it & thereby establish it.”
We are facing the greatest crisis ever encountered by human civilization and it’s rooted in our behavior. We are causing the devastation of the life systems of our earth and it’s already reached the point of immense suffering. We just have to be willing to open our eyes to see and our ears to hear.
God’s direction on how we should live is often quiet as a whisper but stunningly clear just the same: if our actions are rooted in sacrifice, compassion and justice then we’re on the right path.
That’s what the Gospel means when it says the greatest commandment is to “love one another.”
Where do we start?
You might find it beneficial to spend some alone time with God. Asking God what you are being called to do.
For some, this may best be found in contemplation of scripture.
For others a quiet time in nature or with music or with poetry or in the sounds of children discovering the wonders of life.
Perhaps like me, you might need to undertake immersion experiences to hear voices of truth that you normally don’t hear and see suffering that you’ve too often turned away from.
Whatever is necessary to move you to take action in response to this crisis, please do it.
When you’re ready to act, if you want some suggestions, check out the 48 action steps towards a sustainable life found on my website.