statue of dog attack
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lalunablanca/1045612155/">Dave Barger</a>

Isaiah 50:4-9

God gave me the smarts to know
How to motivate the exasperated.
And God helps me every day
To listen to what people are really saying.
God opened my ears,
And I didn’t bolt. I didn’t run away.
I didn’t cover my face when they spat at me,
But I gave myself over to their attacks
And let them rip out my beard.

God help me,
They’re not worthy to be considered insults.
They may as well be striking flint,
Because they’re the ones who are shameful.
God will soon prove me right.

You wanna mess with me?
Bring it!
Who’s gonna get in my face?
Bring it!
God’s on my side.
Who are you to say I’m wrong?
They’re all washed up,
Nothing but moth-eaten rags.

Today is not just “holy Wednesday.” It’s also the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination.

Jesus and Dr. King both knew the truth of Isaiah’s words. It’s not the one being abused who has anything to be ashamed of, but the abusers. It’s not the abuser’s insults and cruelty, painful as they are in the moment, that count for anything in the grand scheme of things. Those who watch the old news reels of police turning dogs and fire hoses on unresisting protestors feel shame not for the protestors being attacked, but for the illegitimacy of their attackers.

Nobody (well, nobody worth listening to) remembers Pilate or Jim Clark with respect or admiration.

Song 2

Image credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/xanxhor/3893292136/">Mutasim Billah</a>

Psalm 2

Why do nations plot?
Why do people scheme?
Why do kings and presidents
Connive amongst themselves
Against God’s chosen one,
Saying, “Let’s break them,
And do whatever we please”?

God laughs at them.
God scorns them.
Then, enraged, God speaks,
And God will terrify them,
“I will coronate my king.
I will designate the capitol.”

I announce God’s executive order.
God told me, “You are my child,
Today, you are my child.
The nations are yours for the asking,
The whole world is yours.
Break them with an iron bar!
Smash them like so many old jars!”

So, kings and presidents,
You’ve been warned. Take heed!
Your commission is to serve God’s purpose.
The magnitude of that task should make you tremble,
For if you fail, you will suddenly be thrown down,
And God’s wrath will consume you.

You who take refuge in God, rise up!

Most of us are not kings or presidents. We might be tempted to think that this is not about us. If it weren’t for the last line. For an explanation of the rendition (traditionally, something like, “Happy are those who take refuge in God”), see this explanation.

The point is not just to sit and wait for God to take down those in power who abuse their people. The point is to incite an uprising. The “wrath of God” isn’t a lightning bolt out of the blue. The wrath of God is expressed by the people of God, who refuse to remain enslaved, who rise up. The responsibility of kings and presidents is not to perpetuate their power. It’s to administer justice. This is a theme that is confirmed over and over throughout the Torah and the prophets. Rising up in protest against the abuse of rulers, foreign and domestic, religious and secular, is the whole aim of Jesus’ movement.

To take refuge in God is to rise up, wherever and whenever those who’ve been entrusted with justice betray that trust.

Jesus and Civil Disobedience

Jesus bus
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/swanksalot/585535255/">Seth Anderson</a>

Mark 2:23-28

One Sunday, as Jesus crossed a field where grain was growing, his students picked some of the grain. The legalists confronted him, saying, “Look! What they’re doing is breaking the blue laws.”

He told them, “Haven’t you ever read the story of King David? How he and his friends were hungry and got the food they needed by taking the bread out of the Temple, from the special holy stash kept only for the priests. David ate it and gave it to his friends.” Jesus continued, “The day of rest was made for people, not people for the day of rest. So, if you’re human, you get to decide about your day of rest.”

Yes, technically, historically, it would have been Saturday. Well, it could have been Friday after sundown. But our Blue Laws in the US were about Sunday. Go to a historically Muslim country and it will be Friday. Many Pastors take Monday as their “Sabbath” and are just as legalistic about it as any Pharisee.

The point is not which day. The point is what the day is about. We need a rest that is truly restful and re-creative. On a personal level no amount of legislation can enact it. Legislation is to protect against business and commerce precluding the opportunity. The 40 hour work week. The requirement that employees get a day off. These are safeguards against abuse. What you do with your time off is up to you.

More broadly, there is another issue. It’s what happens when laws enacted as safeguards are re-interpreted in ways that become abusive. Laws originally meant to provide shelters that will increase opportunity (say that corporations are given some legal protections afforded individuals), are misinterpreted in ways that institutionalize unfair advantages and preclude opportunity (corporations become de facto legal persons).

In other words, what Jesus means is: the law is supposed to serve people; people are not slaves to the law. Even Augustine realized that “an unjust law is no law at all.” (On Free Choice Of The Will, Book 1, § 5)

It’s the foundation on which Christian civil disobedience and non-violent protest is based.

Don’t Be Afraid Just Because They Say So

Photo credit: ShandiLee

2 Peter 1:12-21

My intention is to keep reminding you of all this, even though you already know it and are convinced of its truth. So long as I’m alive, it’s the right thing for me to keep it fresh in your minds. And, since Jesus has told me that I won’t be around much longer, I’m doing my best to make sure you’ll keep remembering it after I’m gone.

When we told you about Jesus’ return to power we weren’t just perpetuate clever myths. We’d seen his majesty with our own eyes. He received honor and glory from God when the voice came to him from great glory saying, “This is my son, and I’m proud of him.” We heard the voice ourselves on the sacred mountain. Our word is truly reliable, and you’d best pay attention to it. It’s your light in a dark place, until daylight dawns and your hearts discern the morning star.

So first, get this: no truth of scripture is open to individual interpretation because no truth ever came from human effort. Rather, men and women spoke what God’s spirit moved them to speak.

From God’s lips to our ears. Simple as Ross Perot. Either you believe it or you don’t. Black or white, darkness or light. And there’s no room for any shades of gray. And certainly no minority report.

Except that the whole Bible is full of minority reports. Really, the whole Bible is a minority report.

But the best evidence that this particular passage is not what it claims to be is that it’s whole premise is fear. Do as we say, or you’ll be sorry. And it’s appeal to guilt. I’m going to die soon, so listen to a pathetic old man. Either Peter toward the end of his life still didn’t get the “fear not, you are forgiven” message Jesus was talking about, or (which is the most likely case) it’s not Peter writing. But it is among the origins of Christian fundamentalism.

Today insecure guilt-ridden people with no tolerance for dissent still co-opt the memory of Jesus to build their own empires. Sad, that they dupe so many people. But, always just as recognizable. Just look for fear and guilt.

I wish I could find something positive to say about it. I can’t. But I do have some advice. If you’re living in a community that holds Jesus and God over you to make you afraid and prohibits your consideration of any opinion other than it’s own, you don’t have to live that way. It’s not Jesus. It’s abuse.