Friday, February 28, 2014

Turn Your Cheek, Change Your Perspective (Sermon from February 23, 2014)

“Turn Your Cheek, Change Your Perspective”
Sermon, Year A, Epiphany 7, February 23, 2014
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: Matthew 5:38-48 with a bit of Leviticus 19:1-2,9-18

These are some difficult words that Jesus offers here. And so I want to say at the outset two things. The first is that I think our enemies, what we consider our enemies (however you might conceive of the term, as this is rather a strong word for our personal enemies versus our national enemies) are constructs of our minds. The relationship exists more in our mind than in reality, and exist because we failed to take a faith step to try to reconcile that relationship. To try to make that relationship something other than a me-enemy relationship. Or, at least, to try to change it, even if you discover that it simply cannot. But our vocation as Christians is to say to a world that likes to divide, that likes to have enemies and friends, that likes to have us vs. them, “We are not so easily satisfied with making such easy distinctions. We will go the extra mile to try to fix those relationships.”
But, that said, the second thing I want to say before I go on is that there are real enemies. Enemies who don’t deserve our other cheek, our cloak, or an extra mile. They DO deserve our care, compassion, our love, even our attempt to understand or help. But necessarily that we have to be in relationship with them. I’m thinking especially of those who abuse others. Whether it be a husband or wife, a parent abusing a child, a child abusing a parent, a babysitter, teacher, bullies at school or at work, bullies in the church, a boss, even a pastor.
No one deserves to be abused.
No on deserves to be abused, and no one ought to be forced to suffer continued abuse. That’s a kind of enemy that Jesus is talking about when he says that you have to turn the other cheek. There are, unfortunately, those out there whose stories I’ve read and heard, that some literalists and fundamentalists who will counsel people who are being abused – especially wives – that they have to stay in their situation. That they just need to keep enduring the abuse and eventually through their suffering they will change the heart of the man who is abusing them. I think that’s ludicrous. I don’t think that is what Jesus means here at all. Some of those counselors will quote this scripture, or what Jesus said in last week’s reading about divorce, or other parts of scripture to say to an abused person that it is their duty to stay in an abusive situation and not care of their own needs. I think that’s ridiculous. It is an abuse of scripture, and a further abuse of the person being counseled who is already being abused by someone else. That is one of the dangers of Jesus’ words here. Especially if one is in a position of power and uses these words against someone who less power, or is in a situation in which they have the lesser amount of power.
The literalists, the fundamentalists, are – I don’t want to demean or pigeonhole them – but it seems they are often coming at scripture more from an ideology of trying to support power than trying to find what God is saying to us. It is easy to abuse scripture like this.
I think Jesus is offering in these words a very different kind of picture. Not one that says you have to be a doormat or just continue to suffer abuse, or that power is good. Jesus offers an alternative worldview that there is power is weakness. That real power, Godly power, Christian power, is in weakness. That’s the power of the cross. God becoming weak to die on the cross. To go to the cross, and while on that journey to offer nothing but forgiveness to those around him. God becoming weak to show us, as I said in last Sunday’s sermon, the power of choosing the way of life over the power of choosing the ways of death: violence, power, vengeance.
The power of weakness, the power of love. The power that says that I am not going to use evil’s tools, even to fight evil. I will use the tools of love.
So there are enemies that can be won over. There are enemies that could be won over. There are enemies to be defeated through non-violence, through love. Gandhi took on the British Empire through non-violence and helped liberate India. Martin Luther King, Jr. used non-violence. Those are big and dramatic examples. We are not Gandhis or MLKs. But there is something to be learned there of the power of using love and not using the tools of evil. The power of recognizing God’s image in the people we’re up against.
What if we heard the cries of our enemies and listened as though they, too, are people on whom God sends the sun and the rain and whom God also loves? What is we saw them as people who also love their families, who greet their sisters and brothers. Jesus’ way respects the God-image of the people around us. It respects the God-image of the enemy and suggests that maybe we’re not 100% pure and they’re not 100% evil or wrong, just because we oppose one another at some level. What if our enemies have a legitimate complaint against us? Maybe there is something in that relationship that can be redeemed. What if, as the great Pogo once said, Walt Kelly’s Pogo, who said, “We have seen the enemy, and he is us”? What if?
It’s not always black and white as to who is the enemy and who is the hero in any pair or in any conflict. That’s one of the beauties of diplomacy, trying to find a way to come together. So there is danger in this passage and these words that Jesus said if we take them too literally. The danger of using them as a weapon. Using them as a weapon against other people. Telling the abused person they have to stay in the abusive relationship. That they have no path out except to pray their way out. And it can be used to abuse in other ways. In some sense, and I would hope no one would do this, why not go up to someone and take their coat and say, “Hey, Jesus said you have to give me your cloak, too. That’s what Jesus said. That’s the rule.” Or walk up to someone and punch them and say, “Hey, Jesus said I get to hit you again. You have to let me. And while you’re at it why don’t you give your iPad and your wallet and write a report for me, and if I don’t get a promotion because of it I’ll be back.”
There is nothing Godly in giving up dignity, or demanding that someone else give up their dignity. That’s a danger in this passage.
But there is another danger in these words of Jesus. A wonderful, incredible and good kind of danger in Jesus’ words because they have the capacity to change the world. They have the capacity to fight evil. To change the world into the way that God imagines it. That can put us on the path to defeat evil by not buying into evil’s agenda, but by stepping around it by using a different method. By saying, “You don’t have power over me. I am not going to let you have power over me. I will meet you with love. I will meet you with grace.” And that has always been the danger of Christianity. The danger of the Gospel to change the world and to liberate people. This is one of the reasons that Christianity is often made in oppressive countries and dictatorships, because the message of liberation is so strong. It is one of the things that slaveholders feared here in the U.S. That if the salves heard too much of the story of liberation they might get ideas and want to be a free people. There is danger in Jesus’ words: the danger to liberate. To change the world.
“You have heard it said, ‘Stand your ground’, but I say to you, ‘Change the systems that lead to situations in which you need to stand your ground.’”
Or, “You have heard it said, ‘Lock your car doors when you drive through that area’, but I say, ‘Go be with the people and make it not ‘that area’ but ‘our area’, and work on those relationships.”
Or, “You have heard it said, ‘Illegal immigrants’ but I say to you that a person cannot be illegal. They are all mine. I made them, and they are in my image. I entrust them, in fact, to your care. Don’t harvest all of your crops, but leave some for them to have so that they don’t go hungry.”
There is power in allowing our faces to be slapped. The power of resistance that may shame someone who is trying to hurt us. A way of saying that you don’t have that power over us. Though again, don’t take that too literally – I don’t want you to stand there and be abused. The power of turning the other cheek to not let others control you. There is something, as we turn the other cheek from right to left, or left to right, but as we turn the cheek maybe one thing Jesus is saying to us as we turn the cheek is that by turning it we get a different perspective. We see the world from a different angle. Jesus saying, “Maybe sometimes you need to change your perspective as well.”
And I think that the Church, and religion in general, for the past few decades we have been getting slapped in a sense by the outside culture. Getting critiqued. And we’ve not been real good at turning the cheek. Not always been good at turning the cheek to the slaps we have received but have continued with business as usual, shuttering ourselves in and standing our ground and not listening like we should have to the people on the outside that do critique us. That do want us to live more fully into the words that we say, and the words of Jesus, the person that we say we follow. We have often brought old answers that aren’t as relevant any more to a world that has changed and is different. It is an exciting time for the church, though a very difficult time. Change is most often difficult. But perhaps time to turn the other cheek and seek more human affirming and life-giving ways, being active and present, speaking to the real anxieties of today’s world. I think the UCC has been good at that, and we here at Plymouth have been good at going out into the community and doing things, serving the people we live with. But there is much more that could be done.
The words that Jesus uses here are a lot of action words. LOVE your neighbor. PRAY for your enemies. GIVE your cloak. TURN the other cheek. GO the second mile. He’s talking about a ministry of presence. A ministry that is lived in the world. Not holed up at home or kept within the walls of the church. A faith lived. A ministry of doing. A ministry of being present in the world. A move away from violence or apathy and into peace. Loving action. Compassionate action. Jesus’ relentless unwillingness to let evil win. Gandhi has a quote I put on the altar: “An eye for an eye makes the world blind.” How can your neighbor see Christ’s light if you take his eye, or how can your neighbor feed on the bread of Christ if you take her tooth?
Loving action. Love your enemy. And one might say, “Then if I love my enemy, what is the difference between an enemy and a friend, Jesus?” Ohhhhhhh. I see what you did there, clever Jesus.
Love your enemies. Love your friends. And Jesus ends by saying “Be perfect.”
Be perfect as your God is perfect. Which I don’t think means don’t ever do anything wrong. I don’t think Jesus is telling us that we need to be something that we cannot be. I don’t know any human being that can be perfect. I think Jesus knows that. He is not giving us an impossible task that we can never live up to. Maybe “be perfect” as a state of being. Be faithful. Perfection as a way of being. We’re made in God’s image, and if God is perfect, then there is something indwelling in us of God’s perfectness as well. So this call to be perfect, not a command – “Be perfect or else!” – but an invitation from Jesus to live into it, to be who we are. Be like your Father in heaven. Be like me. Be perfect like God is perfect. An invitation to be who we are in God’s image. To be the people who love our enemies. To be the people who pray for them. To be the people who meet evil with unconditional love. And to be the people who live these dangerous words that can change the world.
Let us be those people. Let us live like that.

Jesus' invitation not to worry.

I'm thinking of the Eucharist now because this Sunday we have Communion and will be reading Jesus' words "Don't worry about tomorrow, look at how God clothes the lilies and feeds the birds" (from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew; I'm not doing Transfiguration this Sunday). I see the Eucharist as a ritual of divine self-sharing and in which we feed/serve one another, and radical equality in which all have a place of equal prestige (or equal non-prestige, which ever you prefer). It is a sacrament to nourish us for our spiritual journey, yes; but also, maybe more so, a model of how Jesus imagines we ought to be living together: everyone invited, everyone fed.

What if Jesus was not talking here in the Sermon the Mount about God magically providing bread and clothing (one only needs to open a newspaper or go downtown to know that is not the reality, though most sermons I've heard/read on this seem to go this route)? What if he is saying, "I invite you into this new Way that I am imagining. A Way in which your brothers and sisters (neighbors/community/fellowship/we) will so embody my message of love that they will make sure you don't go without. And that you, too, will provide for those in need when you have an abundance. Stop fighting each other for resources. There is enough for everyone." God provides by making plants and animals grow. That we cannot duplicate. But then it is up to us as God's hands and feet. God provides through our generosity.

So Jesus' words also very much, "Don't worry so much that you hoard your abundance."

It's an unformed thought... but why not?

God HAS provided an abundance. More than enough food grows every year to feed the world. The problem is that too few hold too much.

What if Jesus' words aren't just feel-good platitudes to say and then go home to a nice family dinner knowing that we really don't worry about whether we will eat tomorrow, but gosh it's nice to know that God is taking care of us and good to be reminded not to worry so much about whether we will eat but if we should have the T-Bone or the turkey or go back to that new restaurant with the amazing wine list and brilliant sea bass with chanterelles, but an invitation to let go of the worry of needing to hoard and join him in creating a world in which "Give us this day our daily bread" is never again prayed as a desperate plea born of painful hunger but only as a reminder to self that "daily" is a godly quantity.

At Communion we come as equals in God's eyes to enjoy a table laden with bread and wine sufficient for all, equally available to all. Imagine that table encompassing the planet.

Don't worry (about tomorrow so much that your neighbor goes hungry). Be happy (with enough).

Though there is still that nagging question, How does one say these words to people who are hungry and in very real positions of worry? Well, perhaps these words aren't for them. Or not to be used by you against them. Maybe, if you are in a position to have to wonder how you can say those words, the issue isn't how you can say them but that you feel the need to say them. Food beats platitudes, even if they are the words of Jesus.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

If your Christianity requires discriminating against people, you're doing it wrong

You've likely heard the news that Arizona would like to pass a law that makes it okay to discriminate against anyone so long as one's reason for it begins with the seemingly innocent and perfectly sensible "my religion says those people are bad."

The manufactured bete noir of today is gay people. In past years, it was racial minorities (particularly African-Americans), recent immigrants (the Irish had it particularly bad) and of course, history's long-standing punching bag, women. But the times have changed. It has become more difficult to be openly anti-minority (secretly, of course, much still happens), so those who have an apparently hard-wired need to have an enemy had to find a new one, and the LGBT community's rising popularity and public presence made them the obvious target. But now they are targeted in the name of "religious freedom", and Arizona wants to institutionalize such bigotry with legal protection.

The law is a mess and a travesty. It is a terrible precedent of more far-reaching legalized discrimination: why not include Muslims, women who wear pants or don't have their head covered, people with tattoos, skateboarders, or evolutionary biologists and their evil minions?

But it's not the legality that bothers me as much as that this life-denying law is being wrapped up in the swaddling clothes of religious freedom. And let's be honest, "religious" in t his case means "Right Wing American-style Dominionist Christianity". The framers of this law would be, I am quite sure, appalled if a Muslim store owner refused to serve a straight Christian. It is being falsely touted as a non-discrimination law - because it *protects* the faithful from being forced by the state to serve people that one finds to be living a sinful lifestyle. Thinking that if you are not allowed to discriminate because of your faith, then the REAL victim is you is nothing more than puerile tantrum throwing, and a theology that is lacking both theo and -logy.

Sadly, this is not limited to the legislators of Arizona. I see it on facebook when a news outlet posts a story about another state legalizing gay marriage. Always this news is met with stomach-churningly numerous posts from the faithful wondering why THEY (the faithful warriors protecting God from everything) are now forced to be discriminated against because their prejudice is no longer the law. I get being upset if a law is passed that one disagrees with. I really do. But granting to someone a right that you already enjoy is not, in any way, a discrimination against you. To be told that you cannot discriminate is not discriminatory, and to claim that it is - in the name of Jesus - is an abuse of scripture.

Legalizing the discrimination of people - people who are citizens, taxpayers, voters, who work in the community, who own homes and spend money and love their families - is an abuse of God's sons and daughters, all of us who are made in God's image.

When I was born, many states in this country still had laws prohibiting interracial marriage or even interracial dating. A black woman holding hands with a white man could lead to police involvement. To say nothing of the abuse that could be heaped on a black man who would dare to hold hands with a white woman. I'm in an interracial relationship, one which is also international. It is so hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that early in my lifetime there were people who would have claimed my relationship an abomination against the Christian God. People who might very well have beaten me up or had me arrested in the name of the God of love to make sure I learned some kind of valuable lesson about, I don't know, Jesus' grace. Or maybe God's white-hot anger that can be assuaged only by the discrimination and abuse of people you don't like. I'm not really sure what their point is, because it is difficult for me, as a Jesus follower, to inhabit that mindset.

Our Gospel lesson on February 23 was from Jesus' sermon on the mount. The segment about loving your enemies, praying for them, turning the other cheek. Read it here: Matthew 5:38-48.

Some might say that, hey, the LGBT community should just turn the other cheek and live with this discrimination. It's not up to us not to hit you, it's up to you to let us hit you twice. It's not like there aren't plenty of other stores and restaurants and places that will happily accept their lifestyle and serve them.

But saying that is to say it from a position of power. As I said in my sermon this morning, that is an abuse of what Jesus said. One cannot tell the person one is abusing, "Turn the other cheek, Jesus said you have to, that's the rule." At least, one can't say that while remaining faithful to the Christ who walked to the cross offering only forgiveness to his tormentors.

It's the lie, the blatant lie, that bugs me that is being espoused by the self-professed uber-religious in enacting this law, that their concern is merely to to protect their ability to remain "pure" by not serving people they think are sinners. The only obvious telos to that thinking, though, is to serve no one. Good luck finding a customer base under that rubric. The concern also has nothing to do with faith, as though being gay is the only thing that is against the faith at this point in time. It simply has to do with a desire to hurt, to inflict pain, to deny basic human dignity to someone - anyone, please! - in order to feel superior and self-righteous. I wonder if those merchants who want to deny the LGBT community would also deny service to embezzlers, adulterers, spouse abusers, sexual harassers, thieves, people who don't feed the poor, or those who hear the cries of the oppressed and respond by making laws against audible lament.

7 things to know about Arizona's SB1062
Text of the bill, from Arizona's .gov website

addendum: I saw someone else post on Facebook on 2/25 wondering if the merchants/business that would discriminate against LGBT community realize that they are being protected by gay soldiers. That is a wonderful insight. And I add, they are likely being protected by at least some gay policemen/women and firefighters as well. They're certainly watching a lot of gay entertainers on TV. And I wonder, if they are willing to deny service to LGBT (or whatever group), are they willing to deny that service to military personnel that fit in that group? Are they willing to refuse the protection of gay soldiers, police, firefighters? Hmmmm.....

Monday, February 17, 2014

Choose the Way of Life! (Sermon from Feb 16, 2014)

“Choose the Way of Life”
Sermon, Year A, Epiphany 6, February 16, 2014
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: Matthew 5:21-37 (also Dt 30:15-20)

Imagine. Use your imaginations for a moment here for a moment. Imagine that you are who you are. Ok, that doesn’t need a lot of imagination to be who you are, but imagine you’re you in the year 25 or whatever year this is that Jesus is delivering this sermon on the mount. Imagine you are there among the group of people. You are there, but with your life situation – your human anxieties, struggles, suffering, your joys – you have brought with you. All that you are in that sense, imagine being there at Jesus’ feet listening to this sermon on the mount. Now imagine also the situation of these people economically, religiously, politically. Politically especially the situation is very different. You aren’t in the United States any more, you are in ancient Israel. And in this are you are surrounded by the signs of violence. Signs of violence as a proper political tool. Your country is not your country. It is occupied by the Roman Empire. Your governor is a pawn of that empire, even though he is one of you. Some of your religious leaders, political leaders, and merchants are in collusion with the empire as well. Roman soldiers walk the streets of your towns armed and ready to deliver justice, Rome’s sense of justice which is justice through violence. They are ready to deal swift and deadly justice of their kind to anyone that they deem a threat or a danger. And they do so without much recourse for legal defense against it.

Your people, your fellow Jews (since if you are there listening to Jesus, you are probably Jewish, but there were probably some gentiles there as well), have been occupied for hundreds of years. You have dreams of being a free people again. You have dreams of getting rid of Roman occupation. Maybe you even have some dreams of revenge on the people who have taken over your sacred lands and interfered with your religion. Rome did not interfere a lot with your religion, but it did interfere some. But there was also the fact that this land was given to you by God to be yours and now Rome has it. That’s an injustice. You might be angry about that. How do you feel about that?

To come back to today, I think of the level of anger that I see in letters to the editor, or TV pundits, or the comments section on news websites. The anger I see from who are absolutely convinced that because the president is not of their party that their country has been taken away from them. I see the anger and the lament feeling that their country has been taken away from them even though it hasn’t. I can understand it, but at the same time I will say that to claim it does an incredible disservice to the people around the world who truly have had their countries taken away from them.

To see the level of anger going on here in the U.S., what must the level of anger have been for the Jewish people who truly have had their country taken away?

We know the zealots were very angry against Rome and they eventually did rise up, which ended in the year 70 with Rome destroying the temple and much of Jerusalem and killing tens of thousands of Jewish people.

Or maybe if you weren’t angry, you just didn’t care. You had such little power that whether it was your country or whether it was Rome in charge, you lose anyway. Maybe the anger isn’t about who is ruling you, but that whoever is in charge always abuses you or doesn’t lift you up or try to make things better for you. You’re at the bottom of the power structure living day by day being taken advantage of by those who ought to be protecting you. The rich get richer while you get nothing. Or maybe you are a woman in this culture that is very male-centric. Being a woman who also feels the insecurity of being a female, subject to harassment at any time with little that you can do about it or penalty to the person who might harass you. Or the anxiety of being a wife knowing that you can, at any moment, end up divorced. Your husband can simply decide not to be married to you any more and divorce you. There’s no alimony, no support after that. You’re cut off and sent off to fend for yourself. Hopefully your father or a brother will take mercy on you and take you in. But even so you are still a tainted woman in a lot of ways. That’s a kind of death sentence. Always niggling away in the back of your mind, “Is it going to happen today?”

Then this man shows up. This man Jesus shows up and he says, “YOU are the blessed one! YOU are the God-favored ones. You who are meek, mourning, who are peacemakers, you who are poor, hungry, thirsty for righteousness, you are the spiritually prosperous, you are the God-favored.”

How does that make you feel?

He goes on to say that you are the salt of the earth and you are the light of the world. Not the emperor, or the governor, or the merchants, or the Pharisees or Sadducees or Scribes, or the rich or the powerful. You! You who are the underclass. You who have come to hear me. You who bring your brokenness. You who bring anxieties and worries. You who have been oppressed, left behind, or left outside on the margins. You who have always been told that you’re not special enough for God or government to care about unless you go through the hoops we put before you and live like we tell you to.

YOU are the salt and the light. Imagine that! You’ve probably never heard that before from anyone. Perhaps a few teachers who have come through before and said that, but probably not with such authority or compassion that Jesus brings.

Then Jesus goes on to say, “You have heard it said that ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not...’” You have heard that. You’re a faithful Jew so you have heard the Ten Commandments many times in synagogue or Temple. You’ve heard it from the religious leaders, some of whom are maybe on the edge of the crowd listening in to check the orthodoxy of this man’s words. You have heard them say these words while they take advantage of you. They say “Don’t murder” but they sit by while you go hungry. They say “Don’t murder” but they stand by while people are sick, cast outside the city walls, buried in debt (and possibly in debt to the people saying these words), and make you pay to have access to God. You know these ten commandments, you know the stories, and now Jesus is talking about them in a new way. Taking them to their fullest implication. He goes on, “They say ‘Don’t murder’, but I say ‘Don’t be angry with your brothers or sisters.’” Because anger can lead to murder, to vengeance, to seeking justice through violence. Justice through violence is never justice, it’s just more violence. Anger can also kill the one who holds on to it and doesn’t let it go. Anger can tear you up inside and become fatal on its own. To be angry, and not turn that anger into healthy action, is dangerous. It’s not the anger so much that is bad. Anger can inspire us to do good things. Think of Rosa Parks on the bus, angry enough to not take the seat she was supposed to take. Anger can lead us to right wrongs and fix broken systems. That’s anger being turned into healthy action. But anger that we just live with and don’t move beyond is not healthy for us. It is also a denial of the God-Spirit in the person you are angry with. It is a denial of their humanity in a way. And it is a denial of the God-Spirit in you as well. You can’t be in right relationship with God if you are not in right relationship with your neighbor or your enemy.

Jesus is talking about relationships. What the Ten Commandments mean for us in terms of our relationship with one another. They are laid out as personal rules: “As long I don’t do this, I’m okay.” But Jesus is saying, “Even if you don’t do that, but you might be doing actions that leads to the same effect to your neighbors.” And so “Do not murder” becomes “Don’t be angry”. It can also become “Don’t let people go hungry or starve to death. Don’t let them be executed. Don’t let them die from lack of healthcare.” And Jesus mentions lust, which is an act that objectifies and dehumanizes, which is a kind of murder. Divorce, as I mentioned, could be a catastrophic event for a woman. “These things might be legal,” Jesus says, “But they aren’t right. They can harm relationships, they can hurt people.”

And maybe while you are sitting there listening to Jesus you are thinking back to Moses, whose story you know very well. You remember that Moses went up the mountain to receive the law, and now Jesus is on the mountain offering a new way of living into the fullness of that law. And as a faithful Jewish person you know well the story of Exodus from slavery in Egypt and forty years in the wilderness. How it was at the beginning of that journey that Moses went up the mountain and got the law and brought it down. And then at the end of the forty years as your people were ready to enter the Promised Land and Moses offers this final speech in which he says that as you enter this land which God has promised (and which is now the land that Rome occupies) you have two choices: you can choose the way of death, or you can choose God’s way, the way of life.

I think this is, in part, what Jesus is saying or offering here in this part of the Sermon on the Mount. He’s saying, “Choose the way of life. Give up anger. Give up vengeance. Give up dehumanizing acts like insults and apathy. Choose what builds up people. Choose what builds of relationships.”

To a people who might have been very well bent on vengeance on Rome – not just wanting Rome out of their country, but also punished, for a sense of justice. Or the people listening to Jesus might have wanted vengeance on some of their own people, the ones who had mistreated them, abused them economically, politically, religiously. Maybe thoughts of vengeance. Jesus is saying, “I know you’re angry. That’s why I am saying this. I know you’re angry. God knows you’re angry. And God knows you have every right to be angry. This is worth being angry about. But don’t give in to that anger. No more eye for an eye. From now on, we don’t even do harsh words for an eye. Choose the way of life.”

I imagine that Jesus could very well have added here, “I want you to watch me over the next couple years as I go to the cross and do so offering only forgiveness. I will choose life by going to the cross that way.”

You are God-favored. You are salt and light. Choose the way of life.

Now I have a task for you. Two tasks, actually. My first task is to you as pastor: choose life! I want you to choose the way of life. Make that decision. The other task is to write on your notecards “Today I choose the way of life”, and then sign it, and then list some specific things you can do that are ways of life. Could be generic, like “Be kinder” or “Be more patient”, “Let go of anger”. Something for yourself, like “Exercise more” or “Be more gentle with myself.” Or a faith choice: “Attempt to reconcile with so and so” or “help the street ministry” or “Pray more” or “Be more careful about what entertainment I spend my money and time on”. You have your own lives, your own issues, your own needs. It’s up to you.

[then we allowed some time for people to write their lists, with an invitation to then tear off the part of the card with the “Today I choose the way of life” and signature, and bring it forward and place it on the altar table as an offering to God. Our altar table has also been building over the past couple weeks with placards “You are blessed”, slips of paper with the beatitude words (like “peacemakers”, “mourners”, “meek”), many varieties of candles representing “You are the light”, dishes of varieties of salt representing “you are the salt of the earth”. We sang a hymn, and then after the hymn I offered a prayer:]

Holy God, God of life, you have seen the commitments made here this morning by us choosing life. You have seen our plans to do more life-giving acts. We lift these up to you, holy One. Hold them in your heart and bless us with your Spirit that all of us may be able to live out the choice that we have made today and be faithful to what we have written or thought of here. May your Spirit make us be the disciples that you want us to be to build the world you have imagined for us. Amen.  

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Nye versus Ham: good science is good theology

Article Leader Telegram
February 6, 2014
In preparation for Evolution Weekend
Rev. David J. Huber

Tuesday saw the big debate between Bill Nye The Science Guy and Ken Ham, founder of Answers In Genesis and the Creation Museum. They debated the merits of the science of evolution, geology, and astrophysics as accepted by the scientific community worldwide (Nye) versus the merits of Creation Science espoused by Ham and other Young Earth Creationists who dis-believe evolution and believe in Biblical literalism, which in their reading of the first creation story in Genesis allows the earth to be no more than roughly 6,000 years old.

The first chapter of Genesis holds the familiar “In the beginning...” creation story that progresses through six days as God creates everything, ending with human beings on the sixth day. Ham’s scientific theories are based mostly on this story. But chapter 2 of Genesis begins a different creation story. This is the Adam and Eve one, in which God creates Adam on the same day as creating the earth and the heavens, then creates plants, then animals, then Eve. The order of creation in these stories is very different, and the second one offers no sense of time.

As a professing Biblical literalist, Ham’s apathy toward these disparate stories is significant. Perhaps he realizes they cannot be reconciled. These two different creation stories are certainly a good proof for not taking the Bible literally, because one is forced into numerous impossible contradictions. The Bible offers two contradictory stories of creation right off the bat as though to warn us, “Don’t look for simplistic answers to God’s complexity in this book.” Which makes the name “Answers in Genesis” seems even more vacuous. The Bible is not concerned at all with scientific truth. Physics, biology, and mathematics were of no concern for those who wrote our scripture. Ham and his camp abuse scripture by forcing its square hole of theological concern to adjust to their square peg of scientific inquiry, a role that scripture was never intended to fill.

This weekend is the ninth annual Evolution Weekend during which Christian, Musim, Jewish, Buddhist and other religious leaders and communities speak in favor of science and against the idea that we must reject any scientific finding that “disagrees” with scripture. If God is the Creator (and I think God is) then exploration of that creation is another method of divine self-revealing. That seems a more faithful approach, and shows a more loving God, than any creed that believes God to be a trickster or liar that would plant false information for us to find and test our faith. God is not malicious. The creation stories are poetry. They speak of God as the creator, but without regard to modern homo sapien’s desire for a scientifically detailed account. The stories contradict in details, but cohere in meaning: God is the creator and source of life. God then gave us reason and imagination to explore that creation and discover more about God.

Thousands of religious leaders, including me, have signed on to the Clergy Letter Project out of which Evolution Weekend comes. That letter includes this paragraph: “We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as ‘one theory among others’ is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator.”

Some faith expressions are a threat to science, but science does not threaten faith. Every week, new scientific findings expand our knowledge. For me, these continue to reveal new layers of a God who grows more majestic and awe-some. We are created beings, we are evolved beings. Thanks be to the Maker. When freed from the shackles of literalism, our holy scriptures – whatever religion they come from – paired with our rational minds and imagination are able to soar into the heavens of science and philosophy and scripture, embracing the questions born of our theological yearning.  

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Prayer of Invocation I delivered at the State Capitol Assembly Jan 14, 2014

Prayer of Invocation
Wisconsin State Capitol
January 14, 2014

Almighty one, Architect of creation,
    you who are known by so many names and forms
    to so many different people
       through the epochs of evolution and civilization,
   your creation is larger than human imagination;
     we are so small in the universe,
     and yet still you are mindful of us –
         in that we find [joy?] and amazement,
           that you are present in us, and with us;
           we who you made from the dust of this planet
           and then gathered to be your people,
             gathered under your loving arms 
               to be your body for one another.

You are mindful of us, and you hear our cries,
   and so we pray to you this afternoon, Holder of Life,
    to be mindful of this body as it gathers this day
      to be about the business of the people of Wisconsin,
      making decisions on behalf of the people they represent;
  we pray to you as this body gathers in solemn duty to clear the path
    for the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness 
          for all citizens, for all life,
          the land and waters of this beautiful state
           you have entrusted to them, and all of us, for safekeeping.

In hope, we pray 
    to ask for health, wisdom, and compassion for this body;
   and we pray for the health, wisdom, and compassion
      for each of these members.
   It is an awesome and sacred and often thankless task
       we ask of these men and women,
       with long and many days away from their families,
       to so often suffer the slings and arrows
          cast by their peers and pundits and polis,
       with the daunting knowledge that they will never please everyone.
    Grace them with the balm of your unconditional love
      in the face of the very conditional appreciation of their constituents;
    The wounds made by our stinging words,
       bind with your word of limitless hope.
    Bless their families and their homes 
      to be loving and nurturing refuges
        where they can shake off the dust of capitol conflict 
        and re-center themselves [and something else...].
     Tend their spirits to meet the challenges set before them
        with the courage of their convictions,
        integrity to their station and vision,
        trusting in their own creativity and resourcefulness
           which you have endowed them with;
       tended also with the courage to change when needed;
         and with compassionate hearts willing to be broken
            by the suffering of their people,
         and spirits of preference for human need
            over partisan, political, or personal creed.

I pray for these servants, Compassionate One,
    in thanks for their service,
     and ask that their hearts be buoyed by joy in service,
      and that as they are about their sacred duty
        to the people and ecology of Wisconsin,
        that they remain mindful of the least, 
            as you are mindful of the least,
        to remember the poor, our children,
           our brothers and sisters who live on the streets,
           who do not have [affordable or any] healthcare,
           who are mentally ill, who labor,
           our veterans who have been left behind,
           our elderly and our first nations citizens,
           [our LGBT brothers and sisters],
           and those who are caught in human trafficking.
    May they always be attentive to the cries of the suffering
      who so often go unheard,
        [as you are attentive to our cries].

May the work done here today, and all days, be blessings,
    and may these servants be always gentle with one another,
    generous in kindness and trust,
      in unity of purpose to the health and welfare 
        of this beautiful home
        that we all call Wisconsin.