What does the Bible say about violent protest? Thoughts on the Jesus way to protest.

What does the Bible say about violent protest?

It has been my mantra of sorts since I came to be pastor here at JMPC that what we are all called to do is “live the Jesus way”.

In my last two sermons the messages were that part of living the Jesus way means to recognize that racism is a sin and that protesting injustice is appropriate.

If you think about it, that is, in part, kind of how Jesus lived his life.

Jesus stood up for the oppressed and protested against powers that demeaned and discriminated against people.

But I read this week that some folks are arguing that the violence and property destruction; something that has been a small part of the recent protests against racism and police brutality; is somehow justified based on Jesus’ actions when he overturned some tables in the Jerusalem Temple.

That story about Jesus’ Temple “cleansing” appears in all four Gospels.

That made me think.

Do the actions of Jesus in the Temple somehow endorse a violent or destructive response to racism and injustice?

Would living the Jesus way ever include violence?

I don’t think so.

We need to really look at the story.

The story is pretty brief in all the Gospels.

Today we look at Matthew’s account.

Matthew 21: 12-13

12 Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13He said to them, ‘It is written,
“My house shall be called a house of prayer”;
   but you are making it a den of robbers.’

Well, you have to admit, this sounds a bit violent, doesn’t it?

Jesus seems pretty angry, doesn’t he?

Jesus’ protest against the abuse in the Temple seems pretty aggressive, right?

Knock a few tables over.

Knock a few chairs over.

Chase some folks out of the Temple.

So, can we use this vignette as a way to justify violence as part of protest?

To make it part of the Jesus way, even if rarely appropriate?

Again, I don’t read it that way – for a couple of reasons.

First, I challenge the interpretation that Jesus is acting “violently”.

Let’s take a look at the context.

Jesus has just arrived in Jerusalem.

It is unlikely that this is his first time there.

He knows that the commerce around the Temple allows people to exchange Roman currency to Temple currency so the people can buy sacrificial animals and pay the Temple tax with kosher coins.

All that happens in the Court of the Gentiles; the only place non-Jews are allowed to come to pray.

It’s big.

Jesus has likely seen it before, and apparently done nothing.

But this time, Jesus seems a little irritated.

Matthew has him chasing out the buyers and sellers, overturning the money exchange tables, and knocking over the chairs of those who are selling doves.

To be fair, Mark includes Jesus blocking the way of those who jaywalk in the Temple while John says Jesus made a whip to herd the sheep and cattle out.

Luke only has Jesus driving out the “sellers”.

So, what is really going on here?

First, Jesus’ actions are really a pretty small thing.

The Court of the Gentiles was pretty big, and no doubt crowded when Jesus got there.

It was Passover, right?

Lots of folks making the annual pilgrimage.

No doubt plenty of Temple commerce going on.

Jesus’ actions would have been a brief, temporary and minor disturbance.

Looking what Jesus actually did, it was pretty tame.

And almost immediately, he leaves for the day.

No doubt the money changers gathered up their coins and start up the currency exchange.

The dove sellers set up their tables again and start selling sacrificial doves.

The buyers and sellers all likely returned.

The jaywalkers probably resumed their jaywalking.

The sheep and cattle were doubtless herded back in.

That’s a far cry from demolishing police cars on fire, smashing windows of businesses, looting stores and setting buildings on fire, right?

So, what was Jesus’ point?

Jesus got the attention of the chief priests and scribes.

Jesus also got the attention of the crowds that had come from all over Judea for Passover.

Those who saw it undoubtedly got their tongues wagging and word spread.

Today we might think of Jesus “going viral” with this little demonstration in front of those who saw it.

Jesus, in creating this commotion, let the Temple authorities know he was there and had now come to challenge their power.

No more business as usual, folks!

The old way was done.

A new way had come.

The Jesus way.

And make no mistake, Jesus was capable of much more than turning over a few tables, right?

Jesus could have called down “legions of angels”, right?

Jesus could have even destroyed the Temple entirely – and didn’t.

Jesus was restrained.

Jesus made his point and left it at that.

And there’s a lesson for us in that, too.

When you protest, make your point.

Keep it up until things change.

But hurting people or property will not accomplish it.

And that brings me to the second reason I don’t think what Jesus did approves of violent protest.

Simply put, that is not Jesus!

Jesus spent his ministry preaching peace and non-violence.

Love God.

Love neighbor.

And this!

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Why are peacemakers called children of God?

Because they are acting like Jesus!

Let’s be clear here.

Jesus is not saying that people who are peacemakers cannot protest.

Jesus himself was a protester.

He came to protest against our rejection of God.

Jesus wanted us to change and be reconciled to God and to each other.

His message was that we are to love God and love each other.

That’s justice.

That’s righteousness.

That’s peacemaking.

That’s living the Jesus way.

So, when we see injustice, unrighteousness, rejection of God and neighbor, we can protest against it.

And seek to change it – peacefully.

But that’s hard.

That’s really hard.

When we feel disrespected, demeaned, bullied or oppressed, human nature encourages us to react angrily.

And if we are disrespected, demeaned, bullied or oppressed long enough we become more and more angered.

The anger builds until something happens that sends us into a rage, and we lash out.

We often get violent.

We throw things.

Hit things

Destroy things.

It does not make it right, but it is what we do.

That is the way of things in our broken world.

It always has been.

From the beginning.

Cain killed Abel because God rejected Cain’s offering accepted Abel’s.

Cain was humiliated and spurned.

Cain was hurt and so lashed out in anger against his what he believed was the source of his rejection.

His competition.

And we have continued to do the same throughout history.

We think that to strike down our competition, physically, economically, emotionally or verbally will make changes peacefully.

It won’t.

Jesus says that violence and hate beget more violence and hate.

How did Jesus say it?

I will use his words from Matthew 5.

21 ‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

And this:

43 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Martin Luther King understood that.

He said this:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction … The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

Listen to those words again.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

That is grace.

That is what God has given us.

That is what we are called to give others.

It might be hard, but if you can’t help but desire a bit bite to your peacefulness then there is this from Paul’s letter to the Romans.

A quote from Proverbs, which I find… well … delightful.

Proverbs 25: 21-22

21 If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat;
   and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink;
22 for you will heap coals of fire on their heads,
   and the Lord will reward you.

And we need to hear one more thing from Jesus sermon.

6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

This is what binds peacemaking and grace to protest.

Because Jesus does not equate peace with passivism.

We are not called to be doormats for ourselves or for our neighbors.

We are not called to avert our eyes from obvious injustice or oppression or prejudice.

We are called to stand up for righteousness.

We are just supposed to do it in a peaceful way.

The way Jesus did it … for us.

On the cross.

So if we can agree that it is appropriate to protest against racism and police brutality, and I think we can, we need to do it the Jesus way.

What does the Bible say about violent protest?

It’s not the Jesus way.

This week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church, June 21, 2020

On February 11, 2011 the Pittsburgh Penguins played what was supposed to be a hockey game against the New York Islanders. It was anticipated that the game would be “chippy”. A rough game. The Islanders were angry at the Penguins because two Islanders were hurt in the previous meeting of the two teams. One had suffered a concussion. The Islanders loudly protested the actions of the Penguins between games and were ready to respond. Violence erupted almost immediately. A roughing penalty by the Islanders just 3 minutes in. That was followed by 8 penalties in the first period, including one fight. “Chippy” turned out to be 65 penalties including 15 fighting majors and 21 game misconducts, resulting in a total of 346 penalty minutes. Three players received suspensions. An NHL record. No one on the ice ever seemed to care about who won the game. They just wanted to hurt each other. That is what happens with violent protest is the response to injustice. Just more violence. Is violent protest ever appropriate? Some believe it to be. But what does the Bible say about violent protest? Pastor Jeff will talk about that on Sunday, June 21 at 9:30 on John McMillan Presbyterian Churches Facebook page via Facebook Live. Join us,

What does the Bible say about Protest? Thoughts on hitting the streets.

What does the Bible say about Protest?

You might remember form your history lesson that the United States was once the 13 colonies of Britain in the New World.

That status seemed to go on well for around 150 years until the British Parliament began to exercise control over the colonies in ways the colonists found oppressive.

Part of that oppressive control took the form of excessive taxes to pay for the French and Indian War.

The colonists screamed bloody murder and demanded that they have representation in Parliament.

They hit the streets and chanted, “No taxation without representation!”

Parliament said, “No!”

Those protests then expanded to include just about any type of control that Parliament tried to impose.

All of which led in 1776 to the Declaration of Independence which says this:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The Revolutionary War was, of course, the result.

That war lasted until Britain recognized the independence of the colonies in 1783.

Over the course of the next 6 years, the colonies shaped a form of government for all 13 “states”.

The new government was codified by the Constitution of the United States of America.

The First Amendment to that Constitution says this:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The lack of such rights was one of the causes of the revolution and should be no surprise it is a right guaranteed by our Constitution.

Those rights were expanded to cover state and local governments in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

The Declaration of Independence and Constitution clearly say that we as citizens of the U.S. have the right to protest.

And we certainly are seeing a lot of protests these days.

People are protesting the governments’ authority to restrict our lives in the pandemic.

People are protesting systemic racism and police brutality.

As long as these protests are peaceful, the government can’t stop them.

But what does the Bible say about protest?

One of the most common passages on this subject is our scripture reading today.

1 Peter 2:13-17

13For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution,* whether of the emperor as supreme, 14or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. 15For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. 16As servants* of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. 17Honor everyone. Love the family of believers.* Fear God. Honor the emperor.

So Peter says: Honor the emperor.

The Emperor, Nero to Peter, was Rome.

And Rome was the government.

So, Peter is basically saying, “honor the government.”

But the Declaration of Independence says: … it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish [the government], and to institute new Government

And the Constitution says:

Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech … ; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Do you sense a conflict between Peter and our governmental documents?

As disciples of Jesus, can we reconcile these two divergent views?

Are we compelled by Peter to blindly submit to any and all government policies, laws and orders in order to honor the government?

Or can we object, criticize, protest and even revolt, as the Declaration of Independence … well … declares?

To answer that we first need to understand the context of Peter’s letter.

The letter was written to Christians living in Rome.

The Christian community was a small minority, which was marginalized and subjected to violent hostility and distrust and discrimination.

They needed some advice on how to live out their lives as disciples of Jesus in a hostile world.

So, Peter gives them some in this letter.

Fear God.

Honor the emperor.

Peter, good Jew that he was, might have been recalling the stories of the Babylonian captivity of the Jews.

While exiled in Babylon, the Jewish people had two principal goals.

Survive as a people.

And maintain their identity as Jews.

To accomplish these goals, Jews had to be good citizens of Babylon.

They needed to “fit in” so long as “fitting in” did not require them to live contrary to their Jewishness.

So, what did that look like?

Kind of like Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abendigo.

They were Jews captive in Babylon.

Yet they worked as clerks for Nebuchadnezzar, the emperor.

They honored him and obeyed his laws.

Until Nebuchadnezzar told them to violate their Jewish ethics and rituals either by worshiping his statue or eating non-kosher foods.

It was then that all four of them refused.

They protested.

To comply with the new government rules would make them deny their identity as Jews.

You know the stories about what happened next.

Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den and the others were thrown into the fiery furnace.

Peter faced a similar challenge shortly after Pentecost.

Peter was preaching about Jesus in the Jerusalem Temple.

The Temple council commanded him to stop.

Peter refused.

Peter protested.

To comply would have made Peter deny his discipleship to Jesus.

Peter was commissioned to preach by Jesus and so could not obey the orders of these mere men.

The Roman Christians had the same problem.

They were told to worship the emperor and refuse at the peril of execution in the most horrible ways.

Peter’s advice?

Honor the emperor until that requires you to deny Jesus.

If it does, refuse.

Protest.

So, where do we draw the line?

We have some advice from folks who have thought this through.

In an article in Christianity Today, Emilio A. Nunez said:

Within the scope of those human matters that are relative, political systems have their place in society; but the Christian is not called to confer on any of those systems the quality of the absolute, because that which is absolute is found only in God. Furthermore, without pretending to have a false political neutrality, the Christian should always reserve the right to criticize any political system, whether of the left or of the right, in the light of the Word of God.

I also think that Nunez has hit the theological nail on the head.

In secular matters, we give the government the benefit of the doubt.

But when it is a matter of our faith, we obey Jesus.

What does that look like?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived this dilemma in the time of Hitler.

This is how he interpreted how the church and state interact when the church or an individual cannot reconcile what the state is doing:

There are three possible ways in which the church can act toward the state:

In the first place, it can ask the state whether its actions are legitimate and in accordance with its character as state, i.e., it can throw the state back on its responsibilities.

In the United States we would ask: “Is it Constitutional?”

Second, it can aid the victims of state action. The church has an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering of society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community, “Do good to all people.”

The church must provide assistance to those the state has ignored or rejected or mistreated.

The third possibility is not just to bandage the victims under the wheel, but to jam a spoke in the wheel itself. Such action would be direct political action, and is only possible and desirable when the church sees the state fail in its function of creating law and order.

This is open protest.

This is hitting the streets and crying out for justice.

This is proclaiming that the government is failing its obligations.

I think the founders of our country were in complete agreement with Nunez and Bonhoeffer.

I think that is why they did what they did.

But would Peter agree?

I think so.

Let’s look at the current protests and see what that looks like.

People are protesting, loudly and aggressively at times, our various governments’ restrictions on our activities during the pandemic.

Again, let’s look at what Peter says.

As servants* of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. 17Honor everyone. Love the family of believers.* Fear God. Honor the emperor.

See those words?

Honor everyone!

Love your neighbors.

Love the family of believers!

Be faithful to your Christian community.

Fear God.

Maintain your identity as a child of God.

Honor the emperor.

Be a good citizen, in light of the above.

That sounds like what the founders said.

That is what Peter said.

So, these pandemic restrictions might be considered, and are by many, secular matters.

Honor the government might prevail.

But what of the protests against systemic racism and police brutality?

If we stand by and allow such things, are we servants* of God, living as free people, and not using your freedom as a pretext for evil?

Are we honoring everyone?

Including our black brothers and sisters?

Are we loving the family of believers?

Including our black brothers and sisters?

Are we fearing the God who created our black brothers and sisters in God’s own image?

Do we honor a government that does none of these things for our black brothers and sisters?

I think Peter might say no.

I think Peter is saying that, as much as possible, we should seek to cooperate with the government and obey the law; but when it comes to our faith and ethics, we are to compare the government’s actions with the way Jesus teaches us to live.

If the government asks us to live contrary to the Jesus way, we are to choose Jesus.

But when we feel compelled to act in violation of the law in order to uphold our faith, we do so also knowing that we might have to pay a price.

Bonhoeffer, Daniel, his three friends and Peter accepted the consequences of their disobedience.

Daniel went to the lions, his friends to the fiery furnace.

Bonhoeffer died in a German concentration camp.

Peter was crucified.

They each accepted their fate at the hands of the human government knowing that they were being obedient to God.

There are times when the right thing to do is to simply obey, be patient, and work within the system.

Happily, most often we simply work within the system to change the governing party or enact different laws.

But there are other times when we must disobey – protest – so as to remain faithful to Jesus.

That is what many are doing now.

Standing up for the lives of our black brothers and sisters who need justice, just like we all do.

That is living the Jesus way.

That is what the Bible says about protest.

Amen.

What does the Bible say about Racism? Thoughts on the Good Samaritan

What does the Bible say about Racism?

The official title of a Presbyterian pastor is “Minister of Word and Sacrament”.

What I am called to do is teach what the Bible says about God and how we are to live.

I am also called to invite people to participate in the sacraments that remind us of those things.

Today I do both.

And I know that all of you who are listening, and all the members of JMPC, want to be disciples of Jesus.

You want to do the right things.

You want to live the Jesus way.

But we often fail.

In these last several days we have been exposed to a particular failure to live the Jesus way.

It’s called racism.

And racism is a sin.

How do I know it’s a sin?

Jesus says so in out scripture reading.

Luke 10: 25-37

25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 26He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ 27He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ 28And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ 30Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ 37He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

Eighteen years ago, my son got his driver’s license.

Not long after, he asked to take the family car to a concert at some venue in the strip district.

For the parents of a new driver, that was quite a trek.

It included a tunnel and a bridge and the streets of a city.

With great trepidation, we said yes.

But we also spent what my son no doubt thought was an eternity telling him how to be careful.

Don’t fuss with the radio.

Keep your hands on the steering wheel.

Stay within the speed limit.

Be aware of cars around you.

Use your turn signals.

Eyes front.

Wear your seatbelt.

Our concern was that he would get in an accident.

You folks who have had the experience of letting your kids go out on their first solo drive know what I am talking about.

You can’t sleep until they get home.

But for others, there are more, different, fears.

And so more and different instructions.

I wish I could remember the first black person I heard this from, but I heard it most recently from Ralph Lowe, the Director of Justice Ministries at Pittsburgh Presbytery.

Ralph describes the “talk” he has with his sons when they go for a drive.

This is from his recent letter to Pittsburgh Presbyterian pastors.

As a father of four African American young men I have constant conversations with them about living while Black. We talk about how to effectively comply when pulled over or stopped on the street by the police: make sure your hands are always visible, always announce your actions, “I’m reaching for my wallet, I’m opening the glove compartment for my insurance.” This conversation is framed by the false narratives of black men and women whose noncompliance resulted in death. 

This is an illustration of racism.

I never had that conversation with my kids.

We’re white.

And we have seen the reality of this over the last several days.

Unarmed black jogger Ahmaud Arbery was shot to death by two men for no other reason than he was black and jogging through a white area after they and another man hit him with their trucks as he ran.

Next came white Amy Cooper who called the police because a black Christian Cooper asked her to obey a dog leash ordinance and specifically yelled into her phone that an “African American man” was threatening her.

That was the same day George Floyd was detained by police for allegedly using a counterfeit $20-dollar bill to buy something.

Four police officers wrestled him to the ground and handcuffed him while one of them kneeled on Floyd’s neck for over 8 minutes while Floyd could be heard saying he could not breath.

Then he died.

This is racism.

I have not watched the video.

I don’t want to watch George Floyd die.

I don’t want to watch the officer looking around, ignoring George Floyd’s pleas, with the officer’s hand in his pocket, apparently unconcerned.

What I want to do is scream.

To rage.

But I am called today to teach.

And I only have 20 minutes.

What is racism?

Prejudice, discrimination, or hostility directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.

In the United States, the principal targets of racism are African Americans.

It was even written part of our Constitution until the 13th and 14th Amendments were passed.

But it has not gone away.

Despite our best efforts.

What does the Bible say about racism?

I chose what I believe is the most specific and the most powerful and the clearest Biblical passage for today.

Racism is what Jesus was talking about in his parable.

And Jesus condemns it.

It is a sin.

Let’s look at the context.

Jesus is approached by lawyer.

It’s always a lawyer isn’t it?

He has a question for Jesus.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus responds, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?”

The legal expert answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’

The greatest commandments!

This guy must have been following Jesus around.

I love Jesus’ answer.

‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

Do this and you will live.

Love neighbor and live.

Love neighbor and follow the commandments.

Don’t love neighbor and violate the commandments?

Don’t love neighbor and sin.

So, we want to love our neighbor, right?

The lawyer does.

So, he asks a question.

Who is that?

Why does he ask this question?

Because there are people he does not want to love.

Samaritans for instance.

Jews hated Samaritans.

Samaritans were unclean.

Inferior.

A Jew was taught not to have anything to do with a Samaritan.

 Jews would go out of their way to avoid even touching Samaritan land.

And make no mistake, the feeling between the Jews and Samaritans was mutual.

They despised each other.

That is the setting in Jesus’ time.

 Jesus thinks this is wrong.

That is clear in the parable he tells in response to the lawyers question.

Who is his neighbor?

The Samaritan.

If Jesus was here right now and someone asked Jesus that same question, how do you think Jesus would phrase the parable?

Would Samaritan be replaced by African American?

Would the “hero” of the story, the one who epitomized love of neighbor be African American instead of Samaritan.

Maybe.

Jesus is telling this legal expert he must love this despised man because he is his neighbor.

That is the Jesus way.

Otherwise, the legal expert violates the law.

Jesus is telling us the same thing.

We are to love even those we have been taught to treat as inferior because they are our neighbors.

That is the Jesus way.

Otherwise, we violate the law.

What does the Jesus say about racism?

It’s a sin.

But I think it’s a sin not only because it is unneighborly.

I think it’s a sin because it demonstrates we don’t really love God the way we should.

To despise any fellow human being is to despise one who bears God’s image.

This week I read a piece by Rabbi Ron Symons, Director of the Center for Loving Kindness at the Pittsburgh JCC.

He had just attended Monday’s gathering of religious leaders at the Freedom Corner in the Hill District that was called to denounce racism.

He wrote something I find profound.

I realize how much more we have to do together.  I realize how much more I have to do to fight against racism.  I was reminded of the passage from the Talmud Sanhedrin 38a when the Rabbis asked why there was only one first person created in the Genesis narrative:

For the sake of the different families, that they might not argue with one another about whose heritage is better.  Look at today: though originally only one person was created and people argue anyway, how much more would people argue if they came from separate ancestors?

According to Jewish wisdom, all of us come from the same primordial human.  Many faith traditions share a similar foundational concept.  There is no separate White Adam, Black Adam, Brown Adam, Yellow Adam, Jewish Adam, Christian Adam, Moslem Adam, Hindu Adam, Sikh Adam….  There is only ONE Adam: The Adam of all humanity, the model of our connectedness to one another.  Our shared origin story is a story of our shared humanity.  Neighbor is a moral concept… and we have so much more work to do to make that concept a reality.

All of us are made in the image of God.

ALL. OF. US.

To despise another human being because that person doesn’t look like you is to despise one of God’s image bearers.

I think that might be what Jesus is getting at this parable.

Why are Samaritans neighbors to the Jews?

Because they both bear God’s image.

Jesus says that a neighbor does not discriminate when that neighbor sees someone in need.

A neighbor does not walk by and avert their eyes.

A neighbor cares for and about the one in need.

A neighbor helps the one in need until that one can take care of herself.

Even at personal or financial risk.

Even when it’s hard.

So how do we become good neighbors to our black brothers and sisters?

Pittsburgh Presbytery has committed to “dismantling structural racism by advocating and acting to break down the systems, practices and thinking that underlie discrimination, bias, prejudice and oppression of people of color.”

We need to do that, too.

It starts with education and ends with action.

What action?

Whatever God calls us and gives us the gifts to do.

J. Ellsworth Kalas author of “Parables from the Back Side” says this about Jesus’ parable:

It’s easy to see the Point of Jesus’ story. I’m sure the lawyer saw it and was pained by it. Jesus wants us to realize the responsibility we have to our fellow human beings, and he wants us to understand that we are neighbors to the whole human race. It doesn’t matter whether we know the other person, or whether his race or style of life is like our own; it doesn’t even matter whether the person appeals to us or repulses us. Because someone is human and inhabits the planet with us, he or she is our neighbor. That’s the point of the story.

I think that is exactly right.

To do otherwise is to disregard Jesus message.

If you want to live the Jesus way, love everyone.

This week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church: What does the Bible say about Racism?

When I was a kid, I loved the original Star Trek. Over its run, the plots often presented some pretty hot topics. The kinds of plots that made you think. One show I remember was called, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”. The show was about two humanoids from a planet that was in the midst of a war between two cultures. Frank Gorshin played one of these fellows. Gorshin’s character is from one of the cultures who had fled the planet. He has been chased for 50,000 years by another from the planet who was from the other culture. Both are white on one side and black on the other. They are taken aboard the Enterprise and both try to make their case that the other is evil and dangerous and inferior and the cause of great destruction on their home planet. Why do they hate each other? One is white on the left side, black on the right; the other is white on the right side, black on the left. (Not particularly subtle, right?) They ultimately are returned to their planet by Kirk and company only to find that there is no life there. All has been destroyed by the war between these two different “races”. Instead of repenting, they rage against each other for the destruction of their planet. Each steals a shuttle craft. They fly off to the planet continue the war, with only the two of them left. The lesson we are to take from this fictional episode is that racism is bad and mutually destructive. (Not particularly subtle again, right?) We might say that this was just a television show. Fiction. But we see evidence of its truth these days. What does the Bible say about this? Go online Sunday at 9:30am for the Facebook Live worship service of John McMillan Presbyterian Church when Pasto Jeff will preach, “What does the Bible say about Racism?” This will be the first of a 4-part sermon series.

  1. What does the Bible say about Racism?
  2. What does the Bible say about Protest?
  3. What does the Bible say about Violence?
  4. What does the Bible say about Community?

Join us.

A Re-birth of the Church? Thoughts on Pentecost 2020

When we have officer retreats here at JMPC we try to envision what we want JMPC to be in the world today.

I usually start off the conversation by asking this question.

If you were to tell someone that you are a member of John McMillan Presbyterian Church, what do you think they would say?

I usually suggest these two responses.

Who was John McMillan?

And where is that?

The answer to these questions creates an interesting contradiction.

John McMillan was born in 1752 in Chester, Pa.

He grew up to be a prominent Presbyterian minister.

He left Chester for Western Pennsylvania when it was part of the what was then called the American frontier as a missionary to that frontier.

He founded the first school west of the Alleghenies, at least three Presbyterian congregations which still exist and helped found Washington and Jefferson College.

Worth naming a church after.

But here is where the contradiction comes in.

McMillan was a missionary.

Someone who left home and travelled to the frontier to witness to Jesus Christ.

But when we tell people where the church he is named after is located, we say 875 Clifton Road, just down the road from Al’s Café.

We tell people the location of a building.

That is our church.

That is what a church is in 2020.

A building.

Webster’s Dictionary even defines the word “church” as a building.

That is what we teach our kids.

Remember that old hand play game?

Here is the church, here is the steeple, open up the doors and here are the people.

Church is the building.

We are the people.

Two different things.

So, if that is how it works, if a group of Disciples of Jesus have no building, they aren’t a church, right?

Well, there are a lot of churches out there that meet in cafeterias and social halls.

They don’t want buildings.

But they sure are churches!

See, the church is not the building, the people are the church.

So, what if we answered the question of where JMPC is this way?

We are everywhere.

Like John McMillan, we are out among the people.

Where do we go on Sunday morning to worship?

Up until March 8, at 875 Clifton Road.

Since then – online.

At home.

Maybe in our jammies.

Which brings us to our scripture reading.

Here Paul describes a church.

Ephesians 4: 1-7; 11-13

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 11The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

This is Paul’s description of the church.

Paul does talk about a church building in his letter, but this is what he says.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.

Paul makes clear that the church is the people, members of God’s household.

The people are like a building, with Jesus as the cornerstone.

And what does Paul want the people to do?

Lead a life worth of the calling to which they were called.

What were they called to do?

To be humble and gentle and patient and loving and united.

To live the Jesus way.

Paul then mixes his metaphor.

The people, the church, are no longer a building, but are parts of a human body.

Humble and gentle and patient and loving and united.

Living the Jesus way to thrive and survive.

We call it being the Body of Christ.

The church.

And then there is this.

Paul’s continuing mantra about the gifts of the Spirit.

Everyone has one.

Functions in the building.

Functions in the body.

But Paul then lists a particular set of gifts.

Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers.

These folks are all to equip the saints for ministry in Jesus’ name.

Ministry that builds up the Body of Christ.

Seeks to make it grow.

That ministry must be outwardly focused.

To build up the body we need to go.

Out there …

Which brings us to Pentecost.

Let’s remember what Pentecost was all about.

The most familiar Pentecost story appears in Acts.

The resurrected Jesus has been with the disciples.

He has told them to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the promised Spirit.

Then they are to go and be Jesus’ witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and all the world.

Then Jesus leaves.

The disciples wait.

They were waiting for Jesus to send the Holy Spirit.

You might expect that they waited in the Temple.

Nope.

They waited in a rented room off in an undescribed place in Jerusalem.

And the Holy Spirit did come on them.

In that rented room.

And from that rented room, the church was born.

It was not a building.

It was 3,000 people who heard the disciples preach.

Preach in a way they never had before.

In languages they had never spoken before.

They did not stay in Jerusalem, in that upper room.

They went out into the world.

In Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and all the world.

Like McMillan in the Western Pennsylvania frontier.

Paul became one of them and ultimately went to Ephesus.

There he witnessed for Jesus and created a community of disciples.

People who wanted to live the Jesus way.

The Church in Ephesus.

Paul told them to build up the Body of Christ.

Part of that was to go and make disciples.

Get the word out.

I just finished reading a book written by Doris Kearns Goodwin called “Leadership”.

It was about Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson.

It was interesting to read how each progressed up the political ladder.

It was basically the same for each.

You want to get elected?

You have to get out there and tell people why they should vote for you.

How that was done has evolved over the years.

Political communication started out with pamphlets describing the philosophy and policies of someone seeking office.

Later the political poster was used with pictures of the candidate alongside catchy slogans.

Later still there was the whistle stop speaking tour of the country.

Next came the radio.

Then television.

Then social media – you know – Twitter!

Can you imagine what’s next?

I can’t.

But the point is this.

To accomplish our goals, we have to get our message out in the most effective way possible.

We need to adapt to changing circumstances.

The way people will hear the message.

It is no different for the church?

What that looked like has evolved over the centuries.

First the Apostles walked sailed to a place, stayed for a period of time, created relationships with the locals, then stood up in the streets and preached.

Later, there were written Gospels that could be sent around.

There were letters sent ahead.

Much later the Gospels were translated form the original languages to the local languages.

German first, then English.

People were killed for doing that, but in the end, it was the common language scriptures that were the witness to Jesus.

There was also the printing press that could get a Bible into the hands of the working class.

John McMillan rode a horse west to where the people were and preached from people’s front porches.

Much later there was radio.

Then television.

And now … the internet – Twitter!

Each new technology increases the number of people who can be reached geometrically.

But the model remained the same.

A community of disciples gathered to equip others to spread the word.

Using their gifts to do so.

We call them pastors, music directors, administrative assistants, webmasters, camera operators, sound operators, Children’s Church teachers, and pre-school directors and teachers.

And each one of these folks has risen to the occasion of this COVID 19 pandemic that closed the BUILDING (NOT THE CHURCH) with the use of the internet’s myriad of applications.

We have used Facebook Live, YouTube and Zoom to continue and in many ways expand our ministries and missions.

You have equipped us to do it!

With the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

This is nothing new.

See, the Holy Spirit is always on the move, doing new things.

The Holy Spirit has been the catalyst of all those evangelism changes I mentioned before.

And now the Holy Spirit is doing something new again.

Another re-birth of the church.

No longer is it necessary to walk, sail, horseback ride, ride the rails, buy time on the radio or television studio.

Now we can live-stream our message to the entire world, or just the folks who can’t get to church on Sunday morning.

That is a new way.

The old way is still powerful.

It is good to gather together on Sundays to worship together.

To pass the peace, to hug, to talk face to face, to eat, and to sing.

But for those who can’t, for whatever reason, participate in that, we can humbly, gently, patiently, lovingly invite them into our church of people who are everywhere.

To build up the Body of Christ.

We are the church.

Not 875 Clifton Road.

875 Clifton Road is the place where the faithful come to be equipped and to equip others.

It is the place where we can provide hospitality for the community around us.

It is a place where we can gather for fellowship, worship, prayer, and inspiration.

But our target remains out there.

No longer just in the building.

We are reaching more than twice as many people than we did pre-pandemic.

The Spirit has come and alighted on our heads and we now speak in a new way.

Reaching hundreds.

And we need to continue.

So we will.

We will continue to offer our services online even when we can return safely to the sanctuary.

We will need new equipment.

New technology.

New worship order.

New staff members.

And that is what we are going to do.

We are going to go – out there.

Through the new options available to us.

I believe the Holy Spirit is doing something new.

And I want JMPC to be a part of it.

It will cost some money, but it is a small thing when we are witnessing to Jesus.

That is what Jesus called us to do.

That is what the Holy Spirit leads us to.

A new way.

A re-birth.

 A new Pentecost.

Amen.