Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Was Jesus in the Mafia?

Mark 9:38-50
Chatfield UMC
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
September 27, 2015

In case you didn’t know, Pope Francis has been ‘in town’. I was able to listen to his speech to congress while I drove to a clergy seminar on Thursday. First I have to say that I was surprised by his accent. When he became Pope, a lot was made of the fact that he was born in Buenos Aries, so I expected him to sound like he came from Argentina. You know like, Antonio Banderas, but no...he sounds very Italian. Turns out his parents are both Italian immigrants who moved to Argentina to escape fascism. Shows how much this protestant girl knows about RC Popes.

Obviously, I am not a lover nor follower of the Pope. I mean I didn’t even know he was Italian. And, until he makes changes in that whole female priest, male celibacy thing, I  will have a hard time with him. BUT, as I listened to his speech to congress and the other quotes that have lit up my social and new feeds, he does sound a lot like the UM Women I know and love.  He does sound like he is preaching directly from the UMC’s social principles. And, more importantly, he does sound like he takes Jesus’ teachings pretty seriously.
The teachings like we read in the scriptures today.

42 “As for whoever causes these little ones who believe in me to trip and fall into sin, it would be better for them to have a huge stone hung around their necks and to be thrown into the lake. 43  If your hand causes you to fall into sin, chop it off. It’s better for you to enter into life crippled than to go away with two hands into the fire of hell, which can’t be put out.[a] 45  If your foot causes you to fall into sin, chop it off. It’s better for you to enter life lame than to be thrown into hell with two feet.[b] 47  If your eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out. It’s better for you to enter God’s kingdom with one eye than to be thrown into hell with two.

Speaking of Antonio Banderas, what does this remind you of. These words of Jesus: which movie character? Who talks like this: better to drown them, cut off their hand and feet...put out their eyes...Do visions of Marlon Brando, Al Pacino come to mind? Mafia bosses?
I think Jesus is pretty serious here. To use such harsh language.
As a side note to help you understand the text a little better: this eternal fire where the worms don’t die and the flames never go out, Jesus is talking about is not the hell of Dante’s inferno.
This is an actual place just outside of Jerusalem called Hades, if was the garage dump where, literally, the flames never died out and criminals’ bodies were disposed of; hence worms never die. Yikes, he sounds more and more like a mafia boss...better you be dumped in the dump than given a proper burial. Better the worms eat out your eye sockets than you live your life with two good eyes.
When Jesus uses this kind of hyperbole to get his message across it is good for us to sit up straight and listen.
To examine our lives to see where we are in danger of losing a hand, foot, eye, our very life.

Now, I am going to tell you a current parable, story to help us sit up straight and listen. Listen to how we are in danger of leading little ones astray, living with our eyes shut and our hands clenched and our feet pointed in the wrong direction.

This story involves a particular political candidate. Only because it is necessary to the story. Not because I am advocating for or against any particular candidate. It could be any number of prominent people in the world. But in order for this story to make its point I will need to name names. I hope you listen with an open heart to the POINT of the story.
As Jesus would say: those who have ears let them hear.
This story comes from a teacher who teaches children and young people who are English Language Learners. It is a story about a boy whose family is from Honduras.
One of my students was pretty disruptive today, so I had a meeting with him. An hour long meeting. And at first we talked about what he was doing wrong, what I was doing wrong, and how we could work better together. But then, as we peeled away layers, the student brought up another--much larger concern--one that had been eating away at him. Worrying him. Making him act out.
His concern? That he and his family would be sent back to Honduras because Trump would become President. That he was seen as a rapist and criminal and a drug dealer because Trump (and people like him) believe that this is what he is destined to become. And because he is seen as a criminal-in-the-making and because he will be sent back to Honduras, there is no reason for him to try or to learn here in America.
So here's the problem: Trump's views (and people like him) are affecting people. We need to remember that his words have power. That there are people who are panicked and scared, because they are being targeted.
So just imagine being with me today, listening to my frightened student as he cries over leaving America, as he shares his frustration at being accused of being foreign, of being alien, even though he is a natural-born citizen. Imagine being a middle schooler, someone already questioning their identity, and being told that you do not belong in your own country.
And because my student is from Honduras, and he knows of dictators that rise to power and do unspeakable things.
So just know that there are people and families and little middle schoolers that are scared for their lives.
If anyone causes a little one to go astray, it would better for a millstone to be put around his neck and he be thrown into the lake. Imagine Jesus saying that to us with all the gentleness of a Savior, all the love of a man who will die for us and our blindness, all the pleading in his tone because he knows that we have not yet learned how to love as he taught us to love. Love God and love neighbor. That is all Jesus asked of us. And we don’t yet, know how to do that.

We still allow people to say horrible, hate filled things that frighten middle schoolers and mothers and fathers.
We still allow people to say horrible hate filled things without us, the followers of Jesus the Savior, standing up and saying: turn off your microphone. You may not scare or lead astray any of God’s children.

Of course, we won’t actually be heard from here in Chatfield if we say that to the national leaders, but we can be heard right here in Chatfield. We can be the ones who say, I don’t believe Jesus would agree with that. I don’t believe Jesus would want us to scare our children that way. I don’t believe Jesus would want us to be this way. I really want to keep my hands, feet and eyes so that I can continue to do the work of Jesus in the world. I would prefer not to have a mill stone placed around my neck. And of course, we know that Jesus is not really a mafia boss. Jesus died so that none of us would have to lose hands, feet, eyes or our life.

Jesus did pay it all. But that doesn’t mean we should go around with our hands behind our back, our eyes closed, and our feet going in the wrong direction. What it means is that out of gratefulness, out of holiness, out of having our eyes wide open, our hands outstretched to our neighbors, our feet guiding us into the way of holiness, we live and speak in the public spaces with the heart and words of Jesus.

If you harm one of my little ones, if you lead one of my little ones astray you have forgotten Jesus’ way of being in the world. As Shep Smith on Fox News said when questioning why people think the Pope’s message is political “These were the teachings in the Bible of Jesus,” Smith said. “People who find themselves on the other side of that message should consult a mirror, it seems like. Because I think that’s what we’re supposed to do as a people, whatever your religion, this is how we roll.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

It's the Neighborhood

“Day of Confession, Repentance, Prayer, and Commitment to End Racism.”
September 6, 2015
Chatfield UMC
Rev. Debra Jene Collum

The Bishops of The African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Bishop of the UMC in MN have asked all Christians to make a day to preach about racism and call for acts leading to its eradication in the United States.

It’s a bold call. And it’s one we, United Methodists are already committed to, both in our baptismal covenant and in our official resolutions. In baptism, we pledge to, “accept the freedom and power Christ gives us, to … resist evil, injustice and oppression in every form in which they present themselves.
In our resolutions we say:
 “The UMC is committed to the eradication of racism”, and we call for “every annual conference, district and local congregation within the US have a strategy and a program which educates and supports systemic and personal changes to end racism.

And we even have a general agency, the General Commission on Religion and Race, to lead the way in helping us all acknowledge and dismantle racism wherever and however it manifests itself.

On paper then, at least, and in our baptismal commitments, we are “on this.”

We are talking this Sunday about getting this stuff we have on paper into action. We are confronting and repenting of our own racism. Which always feels so harsh. Our first reaction is always, “I’m not racist.” “I’m not”. Truly.

Well, that might very well be the case. I do not know anyone’s heart. However, what I do know is that racism isn’t just about how each one of us treats our neighbor who is of a different race.
Racism is a system that maintains the privilege of those already privileged and to ensure those who are not in the privileged caste, can never have access to the full benefits of the privileged that racist systems protect. It’s about how we treat the neighborhood that is of a different race. The neighborhood.

The recent movement called Black Lives Matter might have some of you up in arms. All Lives Matter you want to shout. And I will say a hearty AMEN to that except that, except that, Black Lives Matter is the message we must be hearing right now. Right now. Because it is the message of a neighborhood crying out for justice.

Saying that Black Lives Matter is NOT saying that other lives don’t matter, and certainly not that other lives are inferior.

Saying that Black Lives Matter does say that we are standing with our black brothers and sisters and saying very clearly, Your life as my neighbor and your neighborhood matters to me right here right now.

As a matter of fact I want to say to you that if your immediate reaction to the phrase: Black Lives Matter is “all lives matter’ then I will challenge you in your fulfillment of God’s greatest commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.
For when white people say ‘all lives matter’ as a reaction against ‘black lives matter ‘ we are speaking out of self-centeredness rather than care for neighbor. Which is why God, in the scriptures, over and over and over again reminds the people of God: love your neighbor, love your neighbor.

What do you when a neighbor asks you for help? You say, of course, what can I do, let me help you. You don’t say: “well I need help too, you know.  My life is important, too.”
When a neighborhood asks for help neither should we say: Yours isn’t the only neighborhood with potholes.

I mean wouldn’t that sound ridiculous? If a neighbor came to you and said: I need help and your reaction was: well so do I, my life is important too you know.

This is what the Black Lives Matter movement is about, and what this Sunday is about, it isn’t to call us bad people but to call us to be better neighbors.
It is to call us to the privilege of fulfilling our baptismal vows and To resist evil and injustice that oppress our neighbor and our neighbor’s neighborhood. It is a call to help fulfill our determination as a denomination to dismantle racism.

To pay attention when our neighbors are struggling.
To do something when a neighbor is hurting, or being murdered, or being beaten, or stuck in a system that won’t give them a way out.
To speak out when our neighbor’s life is threatened. Especially when the neighbor is asking you for help.

Even Jesus learned this.

We know this story: A Gentile woman comes to Jesus to ask help for her daughter who is possessed by a demon. This woman was not only gentile, a non-Jew, she was a Syro-Phoenecian, an ancient enemy state of Israel.

Jesus struggles with this, it seems. He puts her off with the typical separatist answer, that his own people deserve his attention before he deals with the needs of the Gentiles (Mark 7:27).

It is as if the Syro-Phoenecian woman came to Jesus saying: Syro-Phoenecian Lives Matter and Jesus said, No, only Jewish Matter, leave me alone.

But she does not let him get away with that. She rejects the separatist excuse. She gives Jesus the opportunity to fulfill all the law and prophets: Love neighbor as yourself. It is breathtaking really. Jesus is given the opportunity to fulfill the very law he is coming to show us: loving neighbor without thinking of ourselves first. Loving neighborhoods that we ourselves think are not ours to care about.

(Here is told the story about the young, black man who was murdered in Rochester who had ties to a gang. I told about how his neighborhood was unsafe for him, about how he got a chance to leave the neighborhood but wouldn’t/couldn’t. About how this neighborhood is destructive and enticing. About how this neighborhood needs to be cared about so that we can help others who are tempted to dwell in this neighborhood leave.)

As disciples of Jesus, we have no choice but to confess, repent, resist and seek to dismantle racism wherever and however it appears. We have the privilege even to be the neighbor Jesus taught us to be, breathtaking in our desire to fulfill the entire law and prophets to love our neighbor as ourselves.