If the people of God were to transform the world through fascination, these amazing teachings had to work at the center of these peculiar people. Then we can look into the eyes of a centurion and see not a beast but a child of God, and then walk with that child a couple of miles. Look into the eys of tax collectors as they sue you in court; see their poverty and give them your coat. Look in to the eys of the ones who are hardest for you to like, and see the One you love. For God loves good and bad people.
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Christianity can be built around isolating ourselves from evildoers and sinners, creating a community of religious piety and moral purity. That's the Christianity I grew up with. Christianity can also be built around joining with the broken sinners and evildoers of our world crying out to God, groaning for grace. That's the Christianity I have fallen in love with.
I always tell our community that we should attract the people Jesus attracted and frustrate the people Jesus frustrated. It's certainly never our goal to frustrate, but it is worth noting that the people who were constantly agitated were the self-righteous, religious elite, the rich, and the powerful. But the people who were fascinated by him, by his love and grace, were folks who were already wounded and ostracized "" folks who didn't have much to lose, who already knew full well that they were broken and needed a Savior.
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So even as we see the horror of death, may we be reminded that in the end, love wins. Mercy triumphs. Life is more powerful than death. And even those who have committed great violence can have the image of God come to life again within them as they hear the whisper of love. May the whisper of love grow louder than the thunder of violence. May we love loudly.
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Charity wins awards and applause, but joining the poor gets you killed. People do not get crucified for charity. People are crucified for living out a love that disrupts the social order, that calls forth a new world. People are not crucified for helping poor people. People are crucified for joining them.
In closing, to those who have closed the door on religion - I was recently asked by a non-Christian friend if I thought he was going to hell. I said, 'I hope not. It will be hard to enjoy heaven without you.' If those of us who believe in God do not believe God's grace is big enough to save the whole world... well, we should at least pray that it is.
Today the logic goes something like this: 'Calling a ruler Son of God is out of style. No one really does that nowadays. We can support a president while also worshiping Jesus as the Son of God.' But how is this possible? For one says that we must love our enemies, and the other says we must kill them; one promotes the economics of competition, while the other admonishes the forgiveness of debts. To which do we pledge allegiance?
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Only Jesus would be crazy enough to suggest that if you want to become the greatest, you should become the least. Only Jesus would declare God's blessing on the po0r rather than on the rich and would insist that it's not enough to just love your friends. I just began to wonder if anybody still believed Jesus meant those things he said.
We are not a voice for the voiceless. The truth is that there is a lot of noise out there drowning out quiet voices, and many people have stopped listening to the cries of their neighbors. Lots of folks have put their hands over their ears to drown out the suffering. Institutions have distanced themselves from the disturbing cries.. It is a beautiful thing when folks in poverty are no longer just a missions project but become genuine friends and family with whom we laugh, cry, dream, and struggle. One of the verses I have grown to love is the one where Jesus is preparing to leave the disciples and says, "I no longer call you servants... Instead, I have called you friends" (John 15:15). Servanthood is a fine place to begin, but gradually we move toward mutual love, genuine relationships. Someday, perhaps we can even say those words that Ruth said to Naomi after years of partnership: "Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried" (Ruth 1:16-17).
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I saw a banner hanging next to city hall in downtown Philadelphia that read, "Kill them all, and let God sort them out." A bumper sticker read, "God will judge evildoers; we just have to get them to him." I saw a T-shirt on a soldier that said, "US Air Force... we don't die; we just go to hell to regroup." Others were less dramatic- red, white, and blue billboards saying, "God bless our troops." "God Bless America" became a marketing strategy. One store hung an ad in their window that said, "God bless America-$1 burgers." Patriotism was everywhere, including in our altars and church buildings. In the aftermath of September 11th, most Christian bookstores had a section with books on the event, calendars, devotionals, buttons, all decorated in the colors of America, draped in stars and stripes, and sprinkled with golden eagles. This burst of nationalism reveals the deep longing we all have for community, a natural thirst for intimacy... September 11th shattered the self-sufficient, autonomous individual, and we saw a country of broken fragile people who longed for community- for people to cry with, be angry with, to suffer with. People did not want to be alone in their sorrow, rage, and fear. But what happened after September 11th broke my heart. Conservative Christians rallies around the drums of war. Liberal Christian took to the streets. The cross was smothered by the flag and trampled under the feet of angry protesters. The church community was lost, so the many hungry seekers found community in the civic religion of American patriotism. People were hurting and crying out for healing, for salvation in the best sense of the word, as in the salve with which you dress a wound. A people longing for a savior placed their faith in the fragile hands of human logic and military strength, which have always let us down. They have always fallen short of the glory of God... The tragedy of the church's reaction to September 11th is not that we rallied around the families in New York and D.C. but that our love simply reflected the borders and allegiances of the world. We mourned the deaths of each soldier, as we should, but we did not feel the same anger and pain for each Iraqi death, or for the folks abused in the Abu Ghraib prison incident. We got farther and farther from Jesus' vision, which extends beyond our rational love and the boundaries we have established. There is no doubt that we must mourn those lives on September 11th. We must mourn the lives of the soldiers. But with the same passion and outrage, we must mourn the lives of every Iraqi who is lost. They are just as precious, no more, no less. In our rebirth, every life lost in Iraq is just as tragic as a life lost in New York or D.C. And the lives of the thirty thousand children who die of starvation each day is like six September 11ths every single day, a silent tsunami that happens every week.
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For even if the whole world believed in resurrection, little would change until we began to practice it. We can believe in CPR, but people will remain dead until someone breathes new life into them. And we can tell the world that there is life after death, but the world really seems to be wondering if there is life before death.
Maybe we are a little crazy. After all, we believe in things we don't see. The Scriptures say that faith is "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (Heb. 11:1). We believe poverty can end even though it is all around us. We believe in peace even though we hear only rumours of wars. And since we are people of expectation, we are so convinced that another world is coming that we start living as if it were already here.
And that's when things get messy. When people begin moving beyond charity and toward justice and solidarity with the poor and oppressed, as Jesus did, they get in trouble. Once we are actually friends with the folks in struggle, we start to ask why people are poor, which is never as popular as giving to charity. One of my friends has a shirt marked with the words of late Catholic bishop Dom Helder Camara: 'When I fed the hungry, they called me a saint. When I asked why people are hungry, they called me a communist.' Charity wins awards and applause but joining the poor gets you killed. People do not get crucified for living out of love that disrupts the social order that calls forth a new world. People are not crucified for helping poor people. People are crucified for joining them.
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I had come to see that the great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor... I truly believe that when the rich meet the poor, riches will have no meaning. And when the rich meet the poor, we will see poverty come to an end.
There are congregations on nearly every corner. I'm not sure we need more churches. What we need is a church. I say one church is better than fifty. I have tried to remove the plural form churches from my vocabulary, training myself to think of the church as Christ did, and as the early Christians did. The metaphors for her are always singular - a body, a bride. I heard one gospel preacher say it like this, as he really wound up and broke a sweat: "We've got to unite ourselves as one body. Because Jesus is coming back, and he's coming back for a bride not a harem.
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What if evangelical mega churches became known around the world for things like providing water access for entire countries or fighting to end the AIDS pandemic? Imagine what integrity that would give to the good news we preach, especially the gospel that Jesus declares is good news to the poor.
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But what had lasting significance were not the miracles themselves but Jesus' love. Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead, and a few years later, Lazarus died again. Jesus healed the sick, but eventually caught some other disease. He fed the ten thousands, and the next day they were hungry again. But we remember his love. It wasn't that Jesus healed a leper but that he touched a leper, because no one touched lepers.
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MOST of the ugliness in the human narrative comes from a distorted quest to possess beauty. COVETING begins with appreciating blessings: MURDER begins with a hunger for justice. LUST begins with a recognition of beauty. GLUTTONY begins when our enjoyment of the delectable gifts of GOD starts to consume us. IDOLATRY begins when our seeing a reflection of God in something beautiful leads to our thinking that the beautiful image bearer is worthy of WORSHIP.
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I am convinced that if we lose kids to the culture of drugs and materialism, of violence and war, it's because we don't dare them, not because we don't entertain them. It's because we make the gospel too easy, not because we make it too difficult. Kids want to do something heroic with their lives, which is why they play video games and join the army. But what do they do with a church that teaches them to tiptoe through life so they can arrive safely at death?
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We do need to be born again, since Jesus said that to a guy named Nicodemus. But if you tell me I have to be born again to enter the Kingdom of God, I can tell you that you have to sell everything you have and give it to the poor, because Jesus said that to one guy, too. But I guess that's why God invented highlighers, so we can highlight the parts we like and ignore the rest.
I had come to see that the great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor...I truly believe that when the rich meet the poor, riches will have no meaning. And when the rich meet the poor, we will see poverty come to an end.