Friday, May 6, 2011

A Day for Prayer

     On this National Day of Prayer (1), we ask God for guidance,strength and wisdom for its leaders and their involvement in the general well-being of the world.  In our country, most of the politico-social and religious leaders affirm some degree of allegiance to the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition; and as we pray for them, we might ask WHAT IS IT THAT THEY  and  OUR WORLD need most?  Should we pray that they be:
                Wise as a Joseph or Daniel,
                 Strong in battle as a David,
                 Determined and steadfast in principle as a Paul?
This question may be brought into better focus by a quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.   "The thrust of the Christian message is not for us to become like one of those biblical figures, but to be like Christ himself."  (2)
      If we, Christians, are supposed to live-out the lifestyle and values of Jesus, what were his practices and principles which might be of value to current national leaders?  Jesus' LOVE was known for its humility, inclusive acceptance of everyone, compassion, care for the sick and hungry and a determination for the reconcilliation of people with each other and God.
     The basis for Jesus' revelation of these particular aspects of divine love is the matter of JUSTICE.  Usually the word "JUSTICE" is attached to a "retributive type" of justice.  People say that when a leader stops a terrorist that "justice had been done" and that the "evil" person got their just reward or punishment.  But I want to emphasize the fact that the love of Christ was generated by God's DISTRIBUTIVE JUSTICE.  How is this type of justice different from the "just desserts" type of justice a convicted criminal might receive?
     God wanted to ensure that EVERYONE is offered divine love and forgiveness ("grace") and that it be "distributed" EQUALLY.  No one is left outside of this divine offer.  That is the characteristic of Jesus' love, acceptance and compassion.  So, if Bonhoeffer is correct and we (incuding our  leaders) are "to be like Christ himself", our lifestyle should be one of DISTRIBUTIVE JUSTICE in which we care about the well-being of all humanity - both those near us and far away.  It is this type of "just" love which will ensure the universal availability of the earth's bounty to all people.  Our prayers for the nation and its leaders should ask that we all "live-into" that Christ lifestyle of God's distributive justice.
     God spoke through the prophetic words of Amos saying, "let  JUSTICE roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."     (Amos 5:24  NRSV)

(1) Congresionally appointed day of special prayers for the well-being of our nation and its people.
(2) Ethik, ed Todt,Reil and Green, 1992, p141.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Messages from Royal Processions

     Holy Week and Easter have now passed.  We have relived those final earthly days in the life of Jesus as told to us in the Gospels.  Many of us have heard these stories so many times that they may have become "hum-drum" and dull.  They may have lost the incredible cutting edge suprise that they actually possess.  An example is Jesus' final entrance into Jerusalem (1) which we celebrated on Palm Sunday.  What happened was not an "usual royal entrance".   Jesus rode into the city on a animal commonly used to carry sacks of grain and bundles of wood...not a king!
     Just a few days ago, we observed another royal procession as England's Prince William was married in a huge ceremony cheered-on by millions of people.  Although in a nod to the 21st century the participants rode to the church in limousines, they returned to the palace in royal coaches.  Her Majesty, the Queen, traveled back in one of the royal coaches with lots of mounted calvary units in attendance.  That's how a queen (or king) travels in ceremonial style!  It's always been that way...even back in Bible times when the Roman political leaders entered Jerusalem at Passover time.  They really "put-on-the-dog" to impress local people with their power and wealth:  and those attending soldiers who marched with the ruler, well, let's simply say...they made it very clear to the people WHO was in charge of things.  They protected and supported the one who had dominant control of the citizen's lives, means of income and the courts of justice.  Kings don't remove sacks of grain from the lowly beasts of burden and ride donkeys into the city!  But here the King of the Universe...the Creator God Incarnate in the human Jesus did just that.  Wow, what a suprise!  But...WHY was it done that way?  Was Jesus telling the people something different that what the Roman leader, Pilate, demonstrated as his magnificent procession entered Jerusalem by a different gate?  Is the message which Jesus "acted-out" that day still relevant to us in our current world?
     The Roman imperial procession into a city celebrated the peace and economic stability produced under its VIOLENT DOMINATION system.  In contrast, the God Incarnate/man Jesus, processed into Jerusalem in support of an inclusive and equalitarian social system made "JUST" (right) by love and compassion for all humankind.  This is the social system initiated by the creator God where in all humans could live in harmony with each other and the earth...bounty enough for all needs with no necessity for any person to hoard-up goods for himself and thereby dominate and reduce the value of another person.
     Jesus demonstrated God's equable way for life in contrast to the social pattern imposed by a violently greedy Roman system.  His entire life gave strong witness to the JUST and RIGHTFUL DISTRIBUTION of God's full bounty to earth.    From the moment of Jesus' birth, the good news of the Messiah's arrival was shared with ALL social classes from the lowly shepherds...inn-keepers and townsmen...visiting royal Magi...faithful Jews and foreigners.  He taught the Jews in their synagogue, preached to the common people on hillsides and ate meals with disenfranchised lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors and Samaritans.  Jesus' life and message revealed God's purpose for humanity and the NON-VIOLENT nature of a compassionate God in love with all humankind.
      But, is the message of Jesus still relevant for us today?  If Jesus were to process into our city today, would there exist a social system in conflict of his vision of a just human society?  Would Jesus have to demonstrate against a society supported by a violent military-industrial which allows children to go hungry...where people are separated into groups by radical and dominating forms of religious fundamentalism...hedonism...political and judicial corruption...sexism and gender-phobia????  Does our world operate under a social system IN CONFLICT with the system God ordained for the creation?
     Although there are various politico-social systems among modern nations, almost always there is a similar underlying acceptance of that Roman pattern which was the object of Jesus' protest...DOMINATION (and therefore subjugation of people) because of INDIVIDUAL GREED.  In such societies, the "few" want "most of the good things of life" at the expense of others not even having the necessities of life.  Modern society has permitted this violence done against others and the earth as "acceptable co-lateral damage" caused by our almost "drug-like" need to satisify individual greed.  Corporate, national and individual greed dominates modern life!  Yes, there are exceptions...individuals and small groups, scattered about, which try to operate a sub-culture more in nature with the harmony desired by Jesus' message.  But, I believe that we all realize that the "big picture" of modern life is "violently greed oriented".
     So, if Jesus were to process into our city today, would we be able to follow the witness of his life and support God's intended plan which JUSTLY (rightly) distributes the world's bounty to supply the needs of every human?  How can one, lonely individual do this?  How can we break-out of a greed dominated system?
     It is reported that Gandhi asked people "to live simply, so that all people could simply live".  He recognized that violent greed finds its origin in the INDIVIDUAL'S HEART.  Therefore, even societal greed can only be changed by the TRANSFORMATION of an individual's spirit and heart's desires.  Such greed can not be legislated-out-of-existence nor stopped by a superior's order.  The individual's heart must change...must become something new...must be redeemed and made right by the "just" love of God.  This was the message of Jesus to the people even as he rode into Jerusalem on that lowly donkey; and it remains the same message to each of us today!
     The Temple and Roman systems violently opposed this non-violent and just message of Jesus which they hoped could be silenced by killing Jesus on that cross.  Yet, God's purpose and message to the creation was not to be silenced by death.  God took death - that one aspect of human experience which seems all-powerful - and demonstrated by the resurrection of Jesus that God's plan for humanity will NOT be stopped by human violence or physical death.  The message of Christianity is that God wants ALL persons to experience a similar transformation of have a "heart-change" in response to Jesus' message of compassionate and inclusive love... to have a "heart resurrection" even now, today, as we live this life.  Such change of the individual's desires will alow that person's lifestyle to rightly reflect the good news and message of Christ.  That person, so transformed, can honor God's plan for humanity by "living simply, so ALL others can simply live".
     Be it ever so in our lives!

(1)  Matthew 21: 1-9,   Mark 11: 1-10,     Luke  19: 29-38.