Love Tough


Today’s readings:
Psalms 96; 148, Daniel 12:1-4, 13, Acts 4:1-12, John 16:1-15

Kindness is revolutionary, especially when it seems “undeserved.” Respond with kindness to someone who has wronged you, and people will think you are foolish, saintly, or up to something. Does it seem like we seek more excuses for unkindness than for reasons to be kind?

When Peter and John followed in Christ’s footsteps and (through God) healed a lame man, this kindness helped get them arrested.  The religious leaders feared Roman authorities might consider the enthusiastic response of the crowd to be rebellious and so threaten the relative autonomy of the occupied Jews. Peter, understanding the motivation of the religious leaders’ response, asked whether “we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed” – practically daring them to voice their opposition to mercy. People were excited over the miracle, but they were also excited over what it said about mercy.

In the United States, more than 70 cities have outlawed giving food to homeless people in public. In these cities you can hand a sandwich to your well-fed friend, but not to a hungry stranger. These laws are controversial and opposed by charities and churches who try to meet the needy where they are instead of where we’d prefer they be. Cities present various defenses for these laws, from food safety to not enabling the cycle of homelessness. Could it be we buy into these reasons because such laws help drive homeless people out of public spaces and out of sight to where we can forget they exist?

The problem of homelessness is not the homeless. It is a broken society, and that is more than we can comfortably wrap our brains around.

We find excuses to withhold kindness to the “undeserving” and give them names like “enablement” and “tough love” and “rule of law” because actual Christ-like kindness costs us, and we don’t want to admit how much kindness we have left undone. That line between charitable love and enablement is not a clearly drawn one. God has offered us all the unearned (and unearnable) kindness of forgiveness, yet even our churches can teach us to withhold it.

Jesus told the disciples, “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God.”

Our capacity for kindness terrifies authorities who would rather intimidate or pacify us.

Be revolutionary.

Comfort: Kindness is a sign of strength.

Challenge: Read this insightful article by a man who was homeless and addicted and broke the cycle.

Prayer: God of mercy, give me the courage to be kind. Amen.

Discussion: Do you ever make excuses to be unkind?

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Everything new is old again.


Today’s readings:
Psalms 84; 150, Jeremiah 9:23-24, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Mark 2:18-22

Today’s readings are about a faith-driven revolution in thought and attitude. The prophet Jeremiah spoke of love, justice, and righteousness working in opposition to wisdom, might, and wealth. He said those who boast about wringing success and power from the lives of those who suffer defy God. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote about God in Christ working through the foolish, the weak, and the despised to bring low those who “might boast in the presence of God.”

Who are these boasters? People who insist their power and wealth demonstrate how God has chosen them above others. They work to conserve the status quo not because it is just, but because it benefits them. After all, it’s easy to convince oneself the present order is just when examining that order too closely might undermine our comfortable position.

When Jesus reminded the Pharisees we can’t put unshrunk patches on old cloth, or new wine in old wineskins, he was telling them the old ways of doing and being couldn’t survive the new things God would do. The salvation story is not one of preservation; it is an epic of assumptions broken open to let in new truths and people. Salvation has a forward momentum.

So why does Christianity work so hard to stay in the past?

Tension has always existed between Christians who – like the Pharisees – are convinced the faith has nothing new to learn, and those who embrace the momentum. As a result, we have an uneven record of being on the right side of history regarding justice and inclusion. The Bible (or our current understanding of it) is not an excuse for closing our ears and minds to new and challenging things God might have to say and the people who say them.

Every revolution – industrial, political, theological – eventually becomes the calcified establishment and the corrupted empire. We forget that even conservative modern churches have evolved beyond what the earliest Christians would have accepted. The people suffering under the present circumstances are the foolish, weak, and despised whom God will use to bring the mighty low. If we use the past to justify their oppression and exploitation –particularly oppression and exploitation at the hands of the church – we ignore the future God reveals at our own peril.

Comfort: God is working in the world right now.

Challenge: Meditate on whether you cling to ideas because they are right, or because they are comfortable.

Prayer: Loving God, I will listen for your voice. Amen.

Discussion: Where do you find it challenging to balance tradition and justice?

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Chaotic Peace


Today’s readings:
Psalms 51; 148, Isaiah 42:(1-9) 10-17, Ephesians 3:1-13, Mark 2:13-22


To twenty-first century, Western sensibility, that word implies a certain type of order: punishment for wrongdoing, restitution for injury, recovery of one’s property. We use it in an almost exclusively legal sense. Phrases like “economic justice” spark debate and raise complaints about wealth redistribution, entitlements, and merit. We want justice to be blind, orderly, and swift.

God doesn’t always do “orderly.” When Isaiah describes the arrival of God’s justice, the scene he paints is chaotic. God’s justice lays waste to mountains, cries out like a woman in labor, and turns rivers into islands. Yet his servant doesn’t raise his voice, break a bruised reed, or even snuff a faint wick.

As the embodiment of God’s justice, Christ upends the Pharisees’ expectations about the messiah. He tells crazy stories about patched-up wineskins. He dines with tax collectors and other “undesirables.” He eats and drinks more than they think a messiah should. When challenged about the company he keeps, Christ tells them straight up he is here for the sinners, not the righteous.

If we broaden our definition of justice to include building a world where the most vulnerable are taken care of, do we see justice reflected in our modern world? Do we spend our collective energies and resources primarily on punishing the guilty, or on helping transform desperate communities to foster hope and alleviate the poverty that leads to crime?

The latter often requires acts of civil disobedience outside the realm of the strictly legal. Susan B. Anthony, Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Gandhi each participated in non-violent protest in the name of justice. Each nudged their corner of the world into slightly better alignment with the kingdom of God, where the last are first and no opportunities denied because of gender, social status, or ethnicity.

We tend to think of blessed lives as quiet and orderly, but God’s justice scrambles our carefully crafted plans and lives. Followers of Christ spend time on the margins of society, living with and working on behalf of the disenfranchised. According to each of our means and talents, we work for the type of justice that seeks to include rather than exclude, to practice mercy rather than revenge, and to raise to messy life systems that are orderly but soulless. Justice does not lock things down; it cracks them open.

Comfort: We don’t have to crack skulls to open hearts.

Challenge: Read some biographical material about people who have engaged in non-violent resistance.

Prayer: God of peace, teach me to serve with love. Amen.

Discussion: Many Christians have differing perspectives on pacifism and non-violence. What’s yours?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll  have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!