Yes, You Can Party with the Heathen

kids together on beach
Photo credit: <a href="">Riza Nugraha</a>

Romans 15:7-13

Welcome each other, just as Jesus did right by God when he welcomed you. As I say, Jesus came helping to those who cut their foreskins off in order to prove their faithfulness to ancestral laws, so that the heathen wouldn’t have to do that to be considered faithful, so even the heathen can do right by God. The sacred writings say:

So I will thank you among the heathen,
And sing your name out loud.


Join the celebration with God’s people.


Extol God, all you heathen,
And everyone everywhere extol God.

And Isaiah says,

The root of Jesse’s family tree will come up
And will lead the heathen,
And shall renew their hope.

May the God of hope make your hope abound with joy and peace, and may God’s spirit empower you.

Even the heathen can do right by God!

That’s saying quite a bit, given that the heathen, by definition, don’t believe in God. Still they can do right. By God! And this coming from Paul, no less!

If Paul could recognize that those outside the faith can do right by God, why is it that so many who claim that these words are their words to live by, can’t?

If Paul can recognize that what Jesus did was aimed at welcoming those whose faith was different than his own, why can’t the church?

Going to extremes like cutting your foreskin off to show how faithful you are is no longer necessary. So you’d think that Christians could do as the sacred writings say. Party with the heathen. Invite the heathen to celebrate with the believers. Everyone is welcome. Hope is not limited to a narrow sect.

And regardless of your religious persuasion, may your hope abound with joy and peace.
And may you be empowered.

Divine Economics 101

sheep on mountainside
Photo credit: <a href="">Jule Berlin</a>

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

Here is what God says:

“I will search for my people. I’ll go looking for them myself. As shepherds go looking for their flocks when they have been scattered among the rest of the sheep, I will go looking for my own. I’ll rescue them from all the places they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. I will retrieve them from the distant lands and nations and bring them back to their own home. I will feed them on Israel’s highlands, by the rivers and in the settlements. I will feed them in rich pastures, and on high ground I’ll stable them and they will eat their fill. I’ll feed them myself, and make sure they’re rested.”

Here is what God says:

“I will look for the lost, bring the strays back, treat their injuries, and strengthen the weak. But the fat and the strong I will butcher. I’ll do what’s right for my sheep.”

So then, here is what God says to them:

“I will be the judge between the fat sheep and the emaciated sheep. And because you pushed the others around, and abused the weak ones and drove them until they were scattered here, there, and everywhere, I will do what I need to to save the flock from further abuse. I will be the judge between one sheep and another. I will arrange for the flock to have a single shepherd to feed them and tend them: David, who is accountable to me. I will be their God and he will be their ruler. So say I.”

The beloved shepherd and sheep metaphor is a beautiful image until you get to the part about what the whole point of raising sheep is. Butchery. And a few shearings of wool along the way.

That small caveat aside, the wisdom of Ezekiel’s oracle is in the observation that God’s concern is for the health of the flock as a whole, and how individuals within that whole are treated from the divine view is in relation to the health of the community.

The modern view would treat the fat sheep as the prize possessions to be pampered and fattened even more. The weak and injured, and the runts would be treated as failures, holding the flock back, and would be marked for culling out.

But Ezekiel’s logic is exactly the opposite: it’s the fat ones, who hog all the flock’s resources and drive the others out into danger that are the problem, and the rest now need extra care because of them. The easier way to achieve a healthy flock is to send the fat ones to the butcher so that the rest can regain their health in peace.

Or to bring the metaphor back home: Ezekiel is saying trickle-down Reaganomics doesn’t work. There are plenty of resources and wealth, but you have to get rid of the fat cats for people to thrive.

The Grace of Jesus Be with You

dog catching bubbles
Photo credit: Bill Blevins

1 Thessalonians 5:23-28

May the God of peace personally make you 100% dedicated to the cause.
May you remain whole, body, soul, and spirit.
And may you be blameless in the end.

Indeed, God who calls you will do this.

And, friends, pray for us. Greet one another with the kiss of righteousness. I order you, by God, to read this letter out loud to everyone there. The grace of Jesus be with you.

Paul’s letter ends with blessing. And, as harsh and as wrong as Paul’s words have been at times, he is right to make the last word a word of peace.

And, we might note that this blessing’s concern is for wholeness in at least four different aspects:

  1. Wholeness of purpose and dedication. May you be 100% dedicated to the cause. And not just any cause but a great and good one. May you not be second-guessing your purpose, or that you have the capacity to achieve it.
  2. Wholeness of the individual. Body, soul, and spirit. Functioning together, each complete and healthy in itself, but also implying that they are working in concert with each other. It takes the balance of each of these areas of one’s life to really be healthy and complete, and to be able to live well and to work effectively.
  3. Wholeness of character over time. In other words, when you get to the end, you can look back without regret. May the patterns of your life, even when things have come up unexpectedly, or have taken turns for the worse, reflect the kind of resilience and fortitude of character that make you a blessing to others, even when it seems there are no immediate blessings for you.
  4. Wholeness of the community. Greet each other with the kiss of righteousness is not just an ancient custom. But may every interaction with your neighbor, your family, your co-workers, or your church members be one in which you have done your best by them. Regardless of their actions, may yours be the right ones.

Do this, and the grace of Jesus will be with you. Not some magical pixie dust grace of Jesus from the outside. The grace, the goodness, the peace, that Jesus demonstrated in his life – that grace will be with you, lived out in you.

Miracle Misinterpreted

Crossing Jordan
Painting by S. Bowman via Wicker Park Grace

Joshua 3:7-17

God said to Josh, “Today I’ll see to it that the Israelites give you high approval ratings. I’ll let them know that you have the same seal of approval from me as Moses had. You’ll be the one to command the sacred carriers of the contract box. Tell them when they get to the edge of River Jordan to stand still in the Jordan.

So Josh said to the Israelites, he said, “Come and hear what God says. Here’s how you’ll know that God is real, and that God’s fail-safe plan is to expel the Canaanites, Hittities, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites. The contract box of God (who is God of everything) will go first into River Jordan. So each of the twelve Israelite tribes select one man, and when the when the soles of the feet of the contract box carriers hit the water, the water coming downstream will be dammed up. They’ll stand up in a big pile of water.

So off they all went from their camp to cross River Jordan, the sacred contract box carriers out in front. As it happened, this was the harvest time when the Jordan overflows its banks. And when the box carriers came to the Jordan, and as soon as their feet touched the water, the water coming downstream stood still, rising as if behind a great dam a great distance away, at Adam (the city next to Zarethan), and the waters below kept on flowing out to the Dead Sea. So the people crossed opposite Jericho. The whole while they were crossing on dry ground the sacred box carriers stood in the middle of the dry Jordan riverbed. They stayed there until the whole nation had made the Jordan River crossing.

The first crossing at the Red Sea was about liberation. The second crossing at the Jordan River is about conquest.

It’s a classic example of how violence begets violence. Those who are abused as children are the most likely to be abusive when they grow up and have families of their own. Their excuse: that’s life. That’s the way the world is. And if God made it that way, God must be lending legitimacy to the continuing cycle of violence.

Never mind that God, in the truer picture given in Deuteronomy (5:12-15), said that there would be resident aliens in their towns and that they were to allow those foreigners to rest, because, “Remember, you were slaves in Egypt.” Never mind that God, in a truer picture given in Exodus (12:49) commands that “there shall be one law for the native and for the foreigner that resides among you.” Never mind that it’s repeated in Leviticus (24:22): “You shall have one law for the foreigner and the citizen, because I am God.” And why? Because the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is also the God of the Canaanites, Hittities, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites. Even if they don’t recognize it. Yet.

The problem with miracles as the basis for theology is that any given event, even an extraordinary one, can be interpreted more than one way. If the parting of the water was a sign from God, then what was it a sign of? Perhaps because, having come out of an abusive situation, this next generation of Israelites could only see their arrival as a license commit the same racist genocide they had endured. Perhaps, having never possessed anything of their own before, they could only see possession as something an exclusive. An all-or-nothing proposition. But God’s giving a gift to some people doesn’t have to imply God’s taking it away from others. One of the healthy signs of growing up is, after all, learning to share. And that would have been a miraculous crossing.