Easter

Yo pastor is so poor… reflections on Lent, poverty and justice

By Sandhya Jha

[Note: This article originally appeared on Sandhya's blog.  Sandhya has graciously allowed us to reprint it here.]

Lent is a season of sacrifice or spiritual renewal in the Christian tradition, 40 days (plus Sundays) leading up to Easter to deeply consider one’s life.

Or Lent is a way of providing a little dignity to really poor people.

That’s how it started out, according to my mother. And this brings me some solace as I find myself completely with an empty bank account, no credit and thousands of dollars of taxes due.

I think my mother told me this story as she explained Shrove Tuesday (better known to many of us as Mardi Gras or Carnival). Pancake suppers are really big at churches the day before Ash Wednesday, the kickoff to Lent, and it’s the last day to binge on whatever it is we’re giving up for the season. (I’ve given up chocolate, cheese, meat, sugar, caffeine and eating out alone on various years; one year I took up the practice of blogging twice a week instead.)

My mother explained that the reason people traditionally ate pancakes on Shrove Tuesday was that all reserves were running low by this time of year for the vast majority of people (the serfs, the peasants, the tenant farmers, anyone who wasn’t part of the aristocracy). By creating a season of fasting for religious reasons, poor people struggling to put a substantive meal on the table didn’t feel shame about it. On Shrove Tuesday, you used up your butter or fat and milk and eggs. You had your last big hurrah. The church gave you a little bit of dignity for a season. And then came Easter and (hopefully) some of the early spring crops to incorporate back into your meal, and the hens would begin to lay again, and the fast would be over.

I’m taking cover behind that spiritual framework for Lent this year. Because I’m broke. I’m so broke I suspect Chris Rock could do a whole routine on how broke I am. And a chunk of it’s my fault. See, I followed a dream, but not a lucrative dream. And I didn’t stop living a middle class life when I stopped earning a middle class salary. You may have noticed over the past two years I’ve posted LESS about coffee shops and good restaurants, but I haven’t stopped completely. When I was working four jobs, I was making ends meet with enough left over to go out for meals. When I was working three, it was tighter, but I had credit. I’m down to two (plus consulting work), one of which does not pay. And the credit just ran out. And the car needed major repairs. I made my home payment this month but I bounced my church pension check. And my dog ran away and my wife left me. (Not really, but since I was already singing a country western song…)

I like to approach social media as a grand experiment in clergy transparency. Don’t bleed on folks, but don’t pretend your life is perfect when it’s not.

That’s been harder to do with my current financial mess. I’ve always known there’s a lot of shame wrapped up with poverty. I know there’s a lot of judgment wrapped up in it. (Don’t tell me there’s not—I’ve seen some of y’all judging.) But wow—it was really hard to practice that clergy transparency when it came to not being able to pay my own bills.

I work with a housing organization, and at my current salary, I qualify for heavily subsidized housing. I’m in between the “low” and “very low income” brackets. (There’s another level below mine: “Extremely low.”) I could qualify to buy a house in northeast Ohio, but here I’m teetering on poverty for now. In fact, it is so hard to survive around here if you earn under $50k a year that our local NPR station is doing a show focused specifically on how on earth do people actually survive on $33,000 or less in the Bay Area? No, really, write in and tell us! We can’t imagine it ourselves!

It’s why I’ve been advocating for a campaign to provide a 12.25/hr minimum wage in Oakland. (That still only comes out to about $25,000 a year. And that means people working full time with no sick days are supporting families on that. No, really. I’ve met them.)

So my political awareness is real and is a little sharper right now, that I chose a life that put me in this place, and it is terrifying, but I know so many people who had no choice in the matter and who work harder than me and care for more people than I do on less money than I do, and we have to do something about that, because if they could take care of their family well on their salary, imagine how liberated they would be to contribute even more to our community than they already do.

 

But this has also been about deep spiritual reflection for me. Like the serfs who precede me, I’m finding opportunities to reflect and meditate on how much unnecessary clutter my middle class life let in. I’m finding that I want to spend more time reflecting on the life of Jesus and maybe imitating it a bit better.

I’ve been reminded of how incredibly blessed I am by phenomenal friends of every culture and ideology and faith tradition who have stepped up. Just today, I have been given or offered: meals out, meals brought to my home, connections to community meals, cash for transportation, a deposit to my PayPal account, the offer of a loan to get me through this period, a fruit basket, the offer to bring me fresh produce, the offer to take me grocery shopping. And prayer and solidarity. I try to build the beloved community, but at moments like this I remember that the beloved community already exists all around me. It’s you.

I’ve been hanging out with some young Gen Y folks lately, activist types—cut from the same cloth, fantastic and kind and giving people. And a lot of them are really committed to working for justice. They are really clear on something, many of them: my twenty-something colleagues will not make the mistake of my generation and the generation above mine of selling themselves cheap. They want to be paid what they deserve. They want to be paid what is just. They will not be used by the nonprofit industrial complex any more than they will be used by the Man.

And I respect that immensely. I don’t usually value myself that much. (And I was shaped by cultures that discourage you from valuing yourself too highly.)

But I wouldn’t have launched the Oakland Peace Center, which does not yet pay me a salary, if I were committed to wage justice.

Last week the Oakland Peace Center had a mixer. About fifteen of our partners came, and they were greeted by 14 people from the youth group of First Christian Church of Albany, Oregon. I watched the OPC partners connect with each other about their work, and I watched them share eye-opening and inspiring stories about their work with the youth.

And I find myself aware that it’s my fault that I’m not just poor, but I’m broke. And I also recognize that to some extent it’s my choice to be earning so little. But I’m picturing an older peace activist explaining to those rapt youth why she’s dedicated to justice for Alan Blueford. I’m thinking about the fact that they would never have met each other if I hadn’t followed a real calling from God to connect peacemakers. And despite the challenges I face and the fear related to it, I am not sorry to have sold myself a little cheap. Moments like that are worth some sacrifice.

And that’s the difference that shows up in the bible over and over, which confuses so many people. Giving sacrificially, gladly, by choice, is something to celebrate and honor. Being forced by others to give sacrificially and to sacrifice the wellbeing of your family for no one’s glory except the wealthy—that is a sin, a sin that destroys community after community throughout the Bible. That’s why I think conversations about wage justice and self-sacrifice are not contradictory for people of faith.

So I am grateful for the dignity of poverty that the church provides still today in this season. And I am grateful to be part of the movement to create a world where all of us can rest assured of today’s daily bread and none of us is hoarding tomorrow’s while others go hungry today. (Although for the next couple of weeks, in my house it will be daily lentils and rice. It’s what’s still in the cupboard.)

From "Blecky" to Resurrection

Rev. Charlsi Lewis Lee

Some days I don’t feel so good about other people.   There are days when I rehearse the mean things, or the stupid things, or the ridiculous things that people have said or done to me and as a result, I just feel blecky—for those who don’t speak the language of Charlsi, that’s a combo between yucky and bleh.  I recognize that when I stew on all of the errors and the mistakes that others make, then it is becomes much easier to ignore my own stuff.  Sunday was a reminder of that for me.

Yep.  I confess that on Easter Sunday I had less than magnanimous thoughts about someone.  I was judgmental and irritated.  I even ranted about it a little bit.  And you know what happened?  Nothing.  Not one thing.  No one’s life was altered by my indignation but my own.  I was the only one who felt the wrath of Charlsi and I didn’t feel very good about it.  And then, something amazing happened.  Something beyond what I could control.  Something more powerful than even, well, me.  What was it you are undoubtedly wondering?  The Resurrection.  

I know, it sounds simple.  It is simple.  There I was all in a tizzy before worship, stressing about something ridiculous when worship started and I was reminded that it was Easter morning.  I sat down in the pew and lost myself in the story of life, death and resurrection.  I washed myself in the newness of life that only comes in the presence of God.  I remembered the graciousness of the one who breathes us all into being and the joy of the one who washes our ugliness away.  

And it wasn’t the magnificent wording of the Call to Worship, or the fabulous Iona music, or the experience of storytelling; instead, it was all of that.  It was the experience of singing and praying and celebrating an unbelievable story that only my faith can explain.   Sometimes I feel like Mary Magdalene running to tell Jesus’s friends about the resurrection:  I’ve got amazing news.  But who will believe m?   

Even writing this I think, so what?  So, I was grumpy and judgmental on Easter Sunday morning.  Who cares?  And maybe no one does except me.  I care because I was reminded that I am human.  Human, human, human.  Even on the holy of holies Easter Sunday, I was human.  And as a human I mess up, and get petty, and arrogant and then I walk into Easter Sunday worship and I experience the resurrection.  I hear songs and prayers that bring about amazing changes.  I tell stories about new hope and new faith.  I experience the very presence of God.

I get freaking excited about this stuff because I am changed.  I know, isn’t it great?  I am changed by the act of worship.  I am changed by engaging with others on Easter morning.  I am changed by telling the story of resurrection because I know what it can do to a life.  I have witnessed life restored, life renewed, life resurrected from the tombs.  I have witness not just my life restored, but individuals who have known the dark, dank experience of being entombed by sorrow, grief, addiction, pain, loss, heartache, anger, desperation and even, just plain ole pettiness.  

I have witnessed lives changed in huge, earth shattering, temple shaking ways.  I have witnessed lives changed in small, little, what may at first seem to be inconsequential ways.  I have witnessed big resurrections and little resurrections—all of them have changed lives.  All of them renew my hope in a grace that is bigger than I am and a love that bigger than all of us.  

That’s what happened to me on Easter Sunday.  I went feeling from blecky and less than, well, Christian to restored, reminded, renewed.   I can’t wait to see what Pentecost brings.

RECLAIMING THE FAMILY OF GOD

Us, not ThemHere, not There Now, not Later

A Sermon by Doug Sloan, Elder Terre Haute Central Christian Church Sunday, May 6, 2012

I want to begin by thanking Dianne Mansfield and Phil Ewoldsen for their participation in a very important and successful meeting that took place yesterday, Saturday, May 5, 2012 at Central Christian Church in Indianapolis. This congregation [Terre Haute Central Christian Church], through its board and elders, is one of four congregations [now five] sponsoring a resolution to change the ordination policy of the Indiana Region. Elders and representatives of those four congregations met with the pastor and an elder of the Oaktown congregation, which has deep reservations and sincere concerns about the resolution. The meeting was serious – most of the time, we are talking about a gathering of Disciples – and spiritual. I came away from the meeting feeling hopeful. New ground was broken and a path was cleared for similar conversations elsewhere in the region that involve congregations with the same reservations and concerns as Oaktown.

Also, I want to thank my wife, Carol, for “encouraging” me to stop and think and – in this case – step back ten yards and punt. I can’t help wondering how much better off the history of the church and how much easier Christian theology would be if Paul had been married. Imagine the difference there would be in all of Christianity if Paul had been married to a woman who had looked at him with equal amounts of disdain and concern and said, “Paul, honey – KISS.*”

Being family is not always easy.

My father was quiet and laid back. My mother was gregarious and active. My younger brother, Dennis, was a jock. I was not. In high school, I was in choir, plays, and on the speech team. Dennis ran cross country and played trombone in the band – with band, especially marching band, being more for social enjoyment than satisfying any musical ambition.

Dennis also liked to ride his 12-speed bicycle. Dennis and his riding buddies thought nothing about jumping on their bikes and pedaling from New Castle to Muncie and back between lunch and supper. Muncie is approximately 25 miles north of New Castle – a round trip of a good 50 miles. You have to understand, they would return from these little jaunts with no signs of having exerted themselves.

One day, a trip was planned to our Uncle’s house on the southwest edge of Muncie – and I decided to join them. How hard could it be? The trip to my Uncle’s house was a great ride – we took county roads and stayed off the state highways. We had a nice visit with our Aunt Marjorie and Uncle Kenneth and our cousin Joy Ann and her boyfriend, Phil – and the girl who lived next door to Phil.

Well, the time came to return home. We jumped on our bikes and started pedaling home. A few miles south of Muncie, it happened – my lack of experience with long-distance bicycle rides caught up with me and hammered me with the great-granddaddy of all leg cramps. Every muscle in both legs, above and below the knees, tightened into an unbreakable searing knot. Whatever fantasies I ever had about being “the man of steel” – this wasn’t it. The ride came to a screeching stop in front of someone’s house – to this day, I don’t know who those poor people were. Dennis knocked on the door to ask to use the phone to call our parents. Meanwhile, I had hobbled to the porch to get out of the sun where I promptly collapsed in excruciating pain which I expressed without restraint at the top of my lungs. Eventually, my father arrived and took me and my bicycle home. I never took another bicycle trip with my brother – and my brother has never harassed me about it or held it against me.

Being family is not always easy.

I hear that it has been this way for a long time.

When King David died, the crown went to his son, Solomon. When Solomon died, the crown went to his son, Rehoboam.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is the author of an encyclopedic book titled, “Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History.”

Rabbi Telushkin has this to say about King David’s grandson: "Rehoboam has three bad traits; he is greedy arrogant, and a fool." (p. 84)

From I Kings 12, here is a summary of what happened after the death of King Solomon. King Solomon had imposed high taxes and forced labor to build the temple. After the death of Solomon, the people approached Rehoboam and asked, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now, therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.” Rehoboam told them he would have an answer for them in three days. His father’s advisors, who are older, suggest kindness and moderation and thus gain the eternal allegiance of the people. The younger advisors, who had grown up with Rehoboam, suggest a ruthless denial of the request. Rehoboam listens to his younger advisors. When the people return in three days, Rehoboam informs them that he will be even tougher than his father. And the people said, “We’re outta here.” [Hoosier translation of the original Hebrew] Ten of the twelve tribes form their own kingdom and Rehoboam is left with the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The ten tribes name their kingdom, “Israel.”

208 years later, Israel is destroyed by Assyria. 136 years after the destruction of Israel, most of Judah is exiled to Babylon.

Here is the rest of the story. When the Assyrians destroyed Israel, some of the people escaped to Judah, formed their own province in the north of Judah and called it Samaria.

Take a breath and change gears – we are jumping to the United States in the 1860s. Think about the animosity between the North and South just before the Civil War. Now, think about that animosity between the North and South and no Civil War. Instead of Civil War, there is only the constant animosity. That is the relationship between Judah and Samaria in the first century during the ministry of Jesus. Back to the United States; what kind of stories do people in the north like to tell about southerners? What kind of stories do people in the south like to tell about those damn yankees? It was the same way between Judah and Samaria. Remember the animosity and the stereotyped jokes that had to have existed the next time you hear the story of the Good Samaritan or the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.

NRSV John 4:7-21 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, .....and Jesus said to her, ..........Give me a drink. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, ..........How is it that you, a Jew, ...............ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria? (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, ..........If you knew the gift of God, and ...............who it is that is saying to you, ....................‘Give me a drink,’ ...............you would have asked him, ...............and he would have given you living water.

The woman said to him, ..........Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. ..........Where do you get that living water? ..........Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, ...............who gave us the well, ...............and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?

Jesus said to her, ..........Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, ...............but those who drink of the water that I will give them ...............will never be thirsty. ..........The water that I will give ...............will become in them a spring of water ...............gushing up to eternal life.

The woman said to him, ..........Sir, give me this water, ...............so that I may never be thirsty or ...............have to keep coming here to draw water.

Jesus said to her, ..........Go, call your husband, and come back.

The woman answered him, ..........I have no husband.

Jesus said to her, ..........You are right in saying, ....................‘I have no husband’; ...............for you have had five husbands, ...............and the one you have now is not your husband. ..........What you have said is true!

The woman said to him, ..........Sir, I see that you are a prophet. ..........Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, ...............but you say that the place where people must worship ...............is in Jerusalem.

Jesus said to her, ..........Woman, believe me, ...............the hour is coming when you will worship the Father ...............neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. [END OF SCRIPTURE]

Two interesting observations about this story.

The first observation is this: Jesus would go the synagogue of whatever village he was visiting. The custom of the day was to invite such a visitor to participate in the worship service. This gave Jesus the opportunity to share his message. Yet, only a couple of stories exist about his synagogue visits. All of the other stories about his ministry – about the teachings and interactions of Jesus – take place outside the synagogue.

The second observation is a question and a challenge: With whom did Jesus interact? Go home and explore the four Gospels; start with Mark, then Matthew and Luke, and finally John. With whom did Jesus interact? Here is a hint: anyone. The early church heard this message and followed it.

NRSV Acts of the Apostles 8:26-40 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ..........Get up and go toward the south ...............to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went.

Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, .....a court official of the Candace, .....queen of the Ethiopians, .....in charge of her entire treasury.

He had come to Jerusalem to worship .....and was returning home; .....seated in his chariot, .....he was reading the prophet Isaiah.

Then the Spirit said to Philip, ..........Go over to this chariot and join it. So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ..........Do you understand what you are reading? He replied, ..........How can I, unless someone guides me? And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.

Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.

The eunuch asked Philip, ..........About whom, may I ask you, ..........does the prophet say this, ..........about himself or about someone else?

Then Philip began to speak, and .....starting with this scripture, .....he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.

As they were going along the road, .....they came to some water; .....and the eunuch said, ..........Look, here is water! ..........What is to prevent me from being baptized?

He commanded the chariot to stop, .....and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, .....went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

When they came up out of the water, .....the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; .....the eunuch saw him no more, .....and went on his way rejoicing.

But Philip found himself at Azotus, .....and as he was passing through the region, .....he proclaimed the good news to all the towns .....until he came to Caesarea. [END OF SCRIPTURE]

The eunuch, because of his incompleteness, would not have been allowed to participate in certain acts of worship at the temple in Jerusalem and there were parts of the temple where he would not have been allowed to enter.

Both of these stories were clear messages of inclusiveness to and by the early church. Additionally, a very clear attribute of the ministry and message of Jesus and the conduct of the early church was that ministry and message occur out there, not in the synagogue. While ministry and message are public, they are not to be overtly offensive, not in-your-face abuse, and they do not demand change as a requirement to hear the message or to receive ministry. Change can occur and it happens through the resurrection and transformation that is experienced when the ministry and message of Jesus is embraced and internalized.

We speak of being children of God, of being in the family of God. We speak of how this includes everyone, that it is a global perspective. We gladly talk about having an open table where all are invited. Really?

We are open and affirming – we welcome anyone regardless of sexual orientation. What about the homophobic? They, too, are children of God.

We happily talk about welcoming all regardless of race, color, or ethnicity. What about the racist, the Neo-Nazi, the KKK? They, too, are children of God.

We would welcome attorneys, judges, police officers, prison guards – anyone involved with law enforcement. What about the car thief, the burglar, the robber, the home invader, the child molester, the rapist, the murderer? They, too, are children of God.

Would we welcome the invisible people? The illegal immigrant, the homeless, the people who have chronic mental illness and are receiving little or no mental health service? They, too, are children of God.

Being family is not easy. There are 4 terrible prices to be paid if we truly accept and embrace this radical ridiculous notion that there are over 7 billion of God’s children on this planet.

1) If we accept each other as real brothers and sisters, then we are going to have to overlook a lot – and that includes stupid disastrous bicycle rides. For example, just in this room, it means affirming that in our worship service, there are no mistakes. [I have lost count of how many times this act of grace in worship has saved my butt.] When applied globally, the price to be paid is: There is no “them”, only us.

2) If we accept that we have 7 billion brothers and sisters, then we lose “there.” The Republic of Congo is not there, it is here. Syria and Iran and Pakistan are not there, they are here. Mexico and Venezuela are not there, they are here. They are as much here as we are in this room.

3) If we accept that we have 7 billion sisters and brothers, then we lose “later.” If Dennis phones from his home in Churubusco saying that he has an emergency that requires me to be there, I’m outta here. I know – We know – that the same is true between many of us in this room. It should be true for all of us who are here – all 7 billion of us. How do we respond “now” [?] – because “later” doesn’t exist.

4) The most terrible price to be paid is that in the presence of evil, we cannot be silent and still. In the presence of evil, we are called to shout, “This is wrong!” and we called to move against it. Evil exists. Evil is when a person is murdered, abandoned, or excluded from their rightful place in life because of prejudice or ignorance. Evil is when people are treated as “them” “there” and we decide that their need for justice or compassion can be dealt with “later.”

Consequently, if we accept that we have 7 billion siblings – and if we accept that “we” are “here” “now” – then we are going to settle our differences in vastly different ways. We are going to settle our differences as family. We are not going to settle our differences as winner-take-all antagonists and not as an act of conquest. We are going to change the way we intervene in conflicts and feuds – and we are going to intervene. We are going to change the way we intervene in harmful practices such as genocide and slavery and exclusion based on prejudice and ignorance – and we are going to intervene. We are going to change the way we intervene in the oppressive practice of living in empire instead of community – and we are going to intervene.

Being family is not easy.

My apologies to those who have already heard this story. I am telling it again because it is the only one I have to end this message.

At one point during his short troubled life, my son, Chad, was arrested and incarcerated in the Greene County jail. Having neither the emotional nor financial resources to pay his bail, I rationalized it as an example of “tough love.”

At 4 o’clock in the morning there was a knock on the front door. There stood my brother, Dennis, with Chad. Chad had phoned Dennis, who at the time lived in Muncie. Dennis had made the 3-hour drive in the middle of the night, from Muncie to Bloomfield, and bailed Chad out of jail and brought Chad home, and then Dennis made the 3-hour drive back to Muncie.

My question to Dennis was something along the line of “What were you thinking?” My brother’s response to me was “What else was I to do? He’s family.”

Being family is not easy. The Good News is that there is no other way than – all of us here and now – be the family of God living in the Kingdom of God – and respond to each other one-to-one with generosity and hospitality and healthy service – and as a community provide justice and compassion – and that we be and live and share the Kingdom of God by embracing and exuding the unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God.

Amen. _________________________________

* In this case, KISS = Keep It Short and Simple

RECLAIMING EASTER

Easter is about resurrection and transformation - today. Easter is not about the torture and execution and resurrection of Jesus. Easter is not about an event that happened one time to one person a long time ago. Easter is not about an 11th-century feudal theology .....of "penal substitution" or "substitutionary sacrifice." Easter is not about a 4th-century theology of "original sin." Easter is not about a sadistic abusive murderous blood-thirsty God. Easter is not about a narcissistic mercenary God .....whose love and grace are so shallow and tenuous and inadequate .....that the favor or forgiveness of God can only be earned or purchased. Easter is not about useless promises of an eternal post-mortal utopian etherial existence. Easter is not about using the sharing the Good News as a form of conquest. Easter is not about hate.

Easter is about the life and message and path of Jesus. Easter is about us living the life and message and path of Jesus. Easter is about the resurrection of the disciples - all of us who follow Jesus. Easter is about disciples living and being - here and now - the Kingdom of God. Easter is about disciples working together as the living body of Christ. Easter is about the Good News.

What difference would it make if an ossuary was found that undeniably contained the bones of Jesus?

To the message of Jesus – that God is personal and present and immediate and available and is characterized by love and grace, whose passion for us is to provide justice and compassion and generosity and hospitality and service, and who invites us and welcomes us and includes us and embraces us without exception or conditions – that message would not in any way be changed or diminished.

Something happened on Easter morning. Until that morning, the disciples still saw the message of Jesus as an unassembled upside-down puzzle with no idea as to what image would be revealed by the completed puzzle.

What happened on Easter was a transformative epiphany. The women had it first - a profound comprehensive epiphany. It was the best of epiphanies. When the women shared their insight with the others, the others had the same epiphany, the same transformation.

It was as if every piece of the puzzle had been turned upside-right and sufficiently assembled that the picture could be easily discerned. After all the questions that had only received Jesus’ annoying and unsatisfying answers and after repeatedly hearing the puzzling parables and confounding aphorisms of Jesus, compounded by the grief and depression and repressive fear of the preceding weekend, the impact of this epiphany had to have been earth shaking. It was such a powerful experience that it felt like an earthquake strong enough to roll away massive tombstones. It was so revealing, it was as if the curtain covering the Holy of Holies had been ripped asunder and the presence of God could be plainly seen by anyone who had the courage to look. It was so personal that it was as if Jesus was alive - speaking to them and sharing meals with them - a tangible presence. The life and message and path of Jesus did not die on the cross. The life and message and path of Jesus lives like a fire that hovers over us and smolders within us and breathes as powerfully and disturbingly as a noisy rampaging wind storm. The life and message and path of Jesus can be heard by anyone at any time and regardless of where they were born or what language they speak.

In those first few years, this same epiphany happened to Paul and hundreds of others. Repeatedly, it was such a powerful experience that people were transformed. The isolation and desperation and fatalism of day-to-day living in an oppressive empire supported and legitimized by imperial dominionist theology was replaced by the dual realization that the character of the one true God is: .....* unrestrained love and unconditional grace - .....* always present and immediately available to anyone anywhere anytime, and .....* that life does not require participation in the empire - .....* not its political activities, not its cultural domination practices, .....* not its imperial civic theology, not its military conquests, and .....* not its greedy and isolating economics.

This same profound epiphany, this same earth-shaking resurrection, this same life-as-if-from-death transformation is still happening today.

The Good News has 3 inseparable messages: 1) The universal accessibility of the personal and persistent 1) unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God; and 2) The feeding quenching clothing healing visiting welcoming compassion and 2) the reparative rehabilitating restorative justice of the Community; and 3) The inclusive hospitality and joyous generosity and healthy service of the Individual ............................................................RECLAIMING CHURCH - REDUX

This is resurrection and transformation! This is the Good News! This is Easter! Alleluia!

RECLAIMING the GOOD NEWS - an epistle

Dear Friends,.....Greetings in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ. .....Regardless of where you are in time or place, body or spirit, mind or heart, ..........may the Peace and Grace and Loving Presence of God be with you always.

In previous writings, .....we have examined church, God, miracles and .....what is not the Good News.

So, what is the Good News?

The most concise answer and the best illustration is the entire chapter of Luke 15.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ..........This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.

So he told them this parable:

Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, .....does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and .....go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, .....he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, .....he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ..........Rejoice with me, ...............for I have found my sheep that was lost. Just so, I tell you, .....there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents .....than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.

The Parable of the Lost Coin Or what woman having ten silver coins, .....if she loses one of them, .....does not light a lamp, .....sweep the house, and .....search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, .....she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ..........Rejoice with me, ....................for I have found the coin that I had lost. Just so, I tell you, .....there is joy in the presence of the angels of God .....over one sinner who repents.

The Parable of the Prodigal and His Brother Then Jesus said,

There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ..........Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me. So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had .....and travelled to a distant country, .....and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.

When he had spent everything, .....a severe famine took place throughout that country, .....and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out .....to one of the citizens of that country, .....who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself .....with the pods that the pigs were eating; .....and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ..........How many of my father’s hired hands ...............have bread enough and to spare, ...............but here I am dying of hunger! ..........I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ....................Father, .........................I have sinned against heaven and before you; .........................I am no longer worthy to be called your son; ..............................treat me like one of your hired hands. So he set off and went to his father.

But while he was still far off, .....his father saw him and was filled with compassion; .....he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ....................Father, .........................I have sinned against heaven and before you; .........................I am no longer worthy to be called your son. But the father said to his slaves, ..........Quickly, ...............bring out a robe – the best one – and put it on him; ...............put a ring on his finger ...............and sandals on his feet. ..........And get the fatted calf and kill it, ...............and let us eat and celebrate; ...............for this son of mine ...............was dead and is alive again; ...............he was lost and is found! And they began to celebrate.

Now his elder son was in the field; .....and when he came and approached the house, .....he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves .....and asked what was going on. He replied, ..........Your brother has come, ...............and your father has killed the fatted calf, ...............because he has got him back safe and sound.

Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ..........Listen! ..........For all these years ...............I have been working like a slave for you, ...............and I have never disobeyed your command; ...............yet you have never given me even a young goat ...............so that I might celebrate with my friends. ..........But when this son of yours came back, ...............who has devoured your property ...............with prostitutes, ...............you killed the fatted calf for him!

Then the father said to him, ..........Son, ...............you are always with me, ...............and all that is mine is yours. ..........But we had to celebrate and rejoice, ...............because this brother of yours was dead ...............and has come to life; ...............he was lost and has been found. ............................................................................................(NRSV Luke 15)

The lamb was lost. It was the shepherd who searched, found, retrieved, and celebrated the recovery of the lost lamb.

The coin was lost. It was the woman who searched, found, retrieved, and celebrated the recovery of the lost coin.

Before considering the third parable, remember the requirements of The Law.

If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son .....who will not obey his father and mother, .....who does not heed them when they discipline him, .....then his father and his mother shall take hold of him .....and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. They shall say to the elders of his town, ..........This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. ..........He will not obey us. ..........He is a glutton and a drunkard. Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death. So you shall purge the evil from your midst; ..........and all Israel will hear, and be afraid. ............................................................................................(NRSV Deuteronomy 21:18-21)

The younger child, the disobedient child, is lost - even before leaving home. The lost child rejects the Parent as though the Parent were dead. Even in rejection, the Parent is exceedingly accommodating and generous. Then, this wandering aimless child lives a selfish and self-directed life and, as the child desires, a life without the Parent. Finally, the life of the child reaches a place on the path where there are no options and there is no direction forward or out. There is no chance of rescue, no charity, no hope, no family, no meaningful life and no life with meaning. There is complete separation from love and kindness and family and friendship and companionship, it is an abomination of an existence – this is death and this is hell. At such a time under such circumstances, what happens next is natural and unavoidable – the child goes home. It is not a choice. It is an inevitable continuation of the path and journey that is traveled by every lost child. The Parent has been waiting and watching because the Parent knows that some day that lost child will reach the inevitable conclusion of the unavoidable journey, the last mile of which always brings the child home. When the Parent, who has been waiting and watching, catches that first distant glimpse of the returning child; the Parent rushes out to retrieve the child, once lost and now found, to shower the returning child, again, with generous hospitality and generous accommodation and a generous re-inclusion in the family and to begin a totally maxed-out celebration. In this parable, the child never even gets to finish a well-rehearsed speech of contrition and humility. All that matters is that the wayward child is home – for the child was never lost to the Parent, the son was only lost to himself, the daughter was only lost to herself.

The older sibling, the obedient child, is not happy. (Tangential Question: Is the obedient child like the nine coins safely gathered in a known location or like the ninety-nine sheep left in the wilderness?) The obedient child wants to know: why is there a celebration for the lost when there has never been a celebration for that which was never lost? Why is there no harsh judgment? Why are there no punitive consequences for destructive decisions and a selfish unproductive wasteful life? Why is there a Parent’s happiness for a bad child – a disobedient child who never lived in accordance with the lessons and wisdom and will of the Parent? How could there possibly be room in the family for a stubborn and rebellious child who lived wastefully in rejection of the Parent’s abundance and generosity and hospitality and love? Why is there no final conclusive inescapable justice?

The Parent warmly affirms the unbroken love that the Parent has and will always have for the obedient child and gratefully acknowledges the value and sacredness of the accomplishments and stewardship of this steadfast sibling. The faithful life of the obedient child has immeasurable worth and divine appreciation. The life of the obedient child has not been in vain.

The Parent also rejects rejection. There has been enough separation. There will be no more separation – separation is finished. There will be a judgment. There will be justice that is final and conclusive and inescapable. Instead of an eternal punishment of bitter harshness, the judgment will be the repair and repatriation of the lost child. Instead of punitive isolation and abandonment, there will be acceptance and inclusion and accommodation - and a great party to which all are invited.

What should have been the behavior and response of the obedient child? How does one live the Good News?

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ..........Teacher, he said, ...............what must I do to inherit eternal life?

He said to him, ..........What is written in the law? What do you read there?

He answered, ..........You shall love the Lord your God ...............with all your heart, and ...............with all your soul, and ...............with all your strength, and ...............with all your mind; and ...............your neighbor as yourself.

And he said to him, ..........You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ..........And who is my neighbor?

Jesus replied, ..........A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, ...............and fell into the hands of robbers, who ...............stripped him, ...............beat him, and ...............went away, ...............leaving him half dead.

..........Now by chance a priest was going down that road; ...............and when he saw him, ...............he passed by on the other side.

..........So likewise a Levite, ...............when he came to the place and saw him, ...............passed by on the other side.

..........But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; ...............and when he saw him, ...............he was moved with pity. ..........He went to him and bandaged his wounds, ...............having poured oil and wine on them. ..........Then he put him on his own animal, ...............brought him to an inn, and took care of him. ..........The next day ...............he took out two denarii, ...............gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ....................Take care of him; and when I come back, .........................I will repay you whatever more you spend.

..........Which of these three, ...............do you think, ...............was a neighbor ...............to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?

He said, ..........The one who showed him mercy.

Jesus said to him, ..........Go and do likewise. ............................................................................................(NRSV Luke 10:25-37)

Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; .....do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; .....do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, .....but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; .....for it is written, ...............Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. No, .....if your enemies are hungry, feed them; .....if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; .....for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. ............................................................................................(NRSV Romans 12:13-21)

Being a disciple of the Good News is practicing generosity and hospitality; living non-violently without vengeance; living here and now as one family where all are invited, welcomed, and included without exception or qualification; living in constant relationship with God; and living here and now – not later and not someplace else – living here and now a life transformed by resurrection. The Good News – without application here and now, without making a positive and practical difference in the life of the disciple and especially in the involvement of the disciple in the lives of others – is useless and meaningless and is not the message lived and delivered by Jesus and is not of God.

I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. ............................................................................................(NRSV Matthew 25:35-36)

Then Peter came and said to him, ..........Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, ...............how often should I forgive? ..........As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, ..........Not seven times, ...............but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. ............................................................................................(NRSV Matthew 18:21-22)

From its beginning, the Good News has been apolitical and non-national. When pushed to choose between faith and empire, the way of the Good News has been to respond with non-violent defiance and refusal. Our faith life is not measured by how materially abundant or wealthy is our life and not by how much political or cultural influence we have. Our faith life in no way embodies, is connected to, or dependent upon or subservient to patriotic fervor or national loyalty or good citizenship. Our faith life is measured by how we attend to and improve the lives of others – by feeding them, quenching their thirst, clothing them, visiting them in prison, healing them, and welcoming them. Keep in mind that this is a deliberately incomplete list. It works in much the same way as when Jesus tells Peter to forgive, not 7 times, but 77 times – the point being that by the time you forgive someone 77 times, it has become, not an act that has been repeated 77 times, it has become a habit, a path, a journey, a way of life. The point is that by the time you develop the habit of feeding, quenching, clothing, healing, welcoming, and visiting prisons, you have created a new life complete with new values and new goals and new vision. Once you get to this point, you have discovered and claimed (not earned) and embodied your grace-given membership in the family of God, a membership exemplified by faith, love, and service.

Something did happen on Easter morning – and just to put a label on it, we will call it the resurrection of Jesus. However, the resurrection of Jesus is of lesser importance. What is of critical and major importance is the resurrection of the disciples. If a burial box is found that undeniably contains the bones of Jesus, what is the ramification for the Good News? Nothing – it changes nothing. The message stays the same. The Good News remains vibrant and relevant and complete. The validity of our faith is built on the rock of the personal relationship that God has with each of us, not just on the relationship God had with Jesus or only on that relationship God had with the first disciples. The relationship God had with Jesus and the first disciples is instructional, not controlling.

Whatever happened on Easter morning is inferior and insufficient compared to the miracle of the resurrected lives of the disciples. As faithful followers of Jesus, they too had become, because of the crucifixion, as though dead and buried. Crucifixion was more than an execution; it was the obliteration of an entire life. In the culture of the Roman Empire, it was as if the crucified person had not just disappeared, it was as if the crucified person had never existed – that life would never again be discussed, that name would never again be mentioned. The disciples were more than grief-stricken, more than pathologically depressed, more than dangerously fatalistic; they felt obliterated – within the context of the Roman Empire, their life with Jesus was meaningless because it no longer existed. Within the context of the Roman Empire, their life with Jesus did not even rise to the level of wastefulness because it never did exist. Because of the crucifixion, throughout the entire Roman Empire, their entire experience with Jesus – the love and fellowship, the teaching and learning, the discussions and arguments and bickering, the travels and the resting and the meals together, the prayers and the worship – all their incredible experiences with Jesus had never happened. In the context of the culture of the Roman Empire, Jesus is not just dead, Jesus is non-existent - there is no Jesus, there never was a Jesus. Starting the moment when Jesus breathed his last, this was the awful and oppressive and devastating reality that blanketed and suffocated and consumed the disciples.

On Easter morning, something happened. On Easter morning, something happened that resurrected for the disciples the life and teaching of Jesus and reinvigorated their experience with Jesus. In a very real sense, Jesus was resurrected - from hell, from oblivion, from death. Within 40 days, not only were the disciples resurrected, they were transformed. The Good News that resurrected and transformed their lives (and the thousands of other first-century lives transformed by that same Good News) had nothing to do with sacrificial death, empty tombs, ascensions, virgin births, or miracles. The Good News is neither concerned with nor does it require a direct and overt act of divine intervention. In any biblical story that involves such a divine action; to focus on the miraculous event is to miss completely the purpose and message of the story. To depend on or expect or require miracles is to worship at the altar of the false god of spiritual certainty.

The Good News did not and does not succeed because of miracles. The initial success of the Good News was in how it demonstrated that anyone - even someone oppressed into complete oblivion by an empire - could live a resurrected and transformed life even in a world where death, cruelty, corruption, crime, war, systemic injustice, slavery, and extreme poverty were so rampant as to be the norm. Their success in living a resurrected and transformed life even in such a world is completely relevant to our time and for all time. The Good News is that a life of resurrection and transformation does not have to be preceded by death. The Good News is that the kingdom of God is not a future event or a distant place or a strictly post-mortal existence. An "anticipated" kingdom of God is meaningless and useless. The Good News is that the kingdom of God has arrived, it is here and it is now and it is available to anyone – without exception and without qualification and without sacrifice.

To have a loving intimate relationship with God; to serve others by practicing generosity and hospitality; to seek justice, mercy, healing, reconciliation, rehabilitation, inclusion, and participation; and then to live non-violently without vengeance and with a cheerful fearlessness of death and worldly powers – that is the radical and the defiant message and the transformational spirit of the universal and timeless Good News.

Whatever we do – Whatever we are – Wherever we are – –...can never separate us from the love and grace and –...the surrounding and inviting and welcoming and inclusive presence of God.

In Christian Love, Doug

( With great love and gratitude and appreciation, this article is dedicated to Rev. Verity Jones, Rev. Dianne Mansfield, and Rev. Jay Marshall )

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Doug is a member of Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Terre Haute, Indiana. Central Christian is an open and affirming congregation where he has served as Elder and Treasurer and enjoys his continuing membership in the choir. He graduated in 2009 with a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Indiana State University and a BS in Management Information Systems from Ball State University in 1997. Since August 2005, he has been a member of the CIS Adjunct Faculty at the Terre Haute campus of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. He has been published in DisciplesWorld and Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice. Doug is married to Carol, a First Grade teacher, and is the father of two sons.

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previous posts by Doug Sloan: RECLAIMING CHURCH........the #1 most-viewed article at [D]mergent. GOD IS......................................the #6 most-viewed article at [D]mergent. RECLAIMING GOD................a continuation of and response to GOD IS... RECLAIMING MIRACLES ...Miracles are prohibitively expensive. RECLAIMING NOT................the #8 most-viewed article at [D]mergent RECLAIMING MIRACLES.......and the controversial list of RECLAIMING MIRACLES.......what is not the Good News.