Kim Davis is Not a Tax Collector

Of course he met with her! Jesus meets with everybody. The guy even met with sinners and tax collectors. Jesus is tolerant and inclusive of everyone! So what if he met with Kim Davis?

Todd VanDerWefff, writing for Vox, made a similar argument his article Of course Pope Francis met with Kim Davis. Jesus would have, writing,

“But Christianity, at its core, is about the idea of Jesus being willing to meet with anybody in his society and about the idea of anybody being worthy of love, both from us and from God. Jesus broke bread with anybody who would have him. He took disciples from all walks of life. He was pals with a former prostitute.”

VanDerWerff makes the same mistakes so many of us do whenever we speak about Jesus, or really any historical figure that we hold dear. We confuse “the right thing to do” with “what Jesus did”. They’re easily confused. Being willing to meet everyone may be “the right thing to do”. Jesus may have even always done “the right thing”. But it does not follow that Jesus was always willing to meet with everyone. Our modern value of inclusiveness may be right, but it holds no bearing on a world 2,000 years ago, under different conditions, with different problems and different assumptions. And there’s that little problem that:

Jesus didn’t meet with everybody. He didn’t invite everybody. He wasn’t inclusive of everybody.

And Kim Davis is not a tax collector.

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What Would Jesus Bake?

The Sinful Jesus and The Right to Discriminate

If Jesus was a baker in Indiana, would he bake a cake for the celebration of a same sex wedding?

The “What Would Jesus Do?” scenario is currently playing out in the left/right debate over the government’s proper role in protecting both religious liberty and preventing unnecessary or illegal discrimination. Religious liberty traditionalists have argued that requiring an individual or a business to provide a service in celebration of an event that is against of one’s genuinely held religious beliefs is a violation of their freedom of religion. They have also argued that Jesus would not participate in something sinful and doing so would be itself a sinful act. Progressives have argued non-discrimination laws should, in all areas, protect those who do not identify as heterosexual and that accommodation laws should be equally applied to them as they are applied to other protected classes. They claim that Jesus would not discriminate and would encourage love and forgiveness among neighbors and enemies.

For the traditionalist, Jesus would be non-cooperative and would encourage holiness.

For the progressive, Jesus would be non-discriminatory and encourage love.

What would the Hoosier Jesus bake?

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Jesus And The Malthusian Economy: Part 1

Jesus: A Nazarene Jew who preached “The Kingdom of God” in Roman Palestine in the 1st Century CE. Crucified by the Romans as an enemy of the state. Worshiped by Christians as the second person of the Trinity. Inspires a lot of really repetitive, really bad contemporary worship music.

And: A conjunction used to connect grammatically coordinate words, phrases or clauses.

The Malthusian Economy: The economic reality of the world before 1800 CE, characterized by astonishingly slow technological advance, slow or non-existent economic growth, static or declining wealth/consumption per person, high birth rates, high death rates, and other really fun factors that make it virtually unimaginable to much of the modern world.

Jesus and the Malthusian Economy

“He was the best abused man of his age. Bonaparte himself was not a greater enemy of his species. Here was a man who defended small-pox, slavery, and child-murder—a man who denounced soup kitchens, early marriages and parish allowances—a man who ‘had the impudence to marry after preaching against the evils of a family.’” – James Bonar, via Robert Heilbroner, The Worldly Philosophers

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To Pastor Is To Be Alone

“I’ll be fine.”

“I want to do this”

“Don’t worry. Besides, I’ll see everyone on December 26th.”

The basement of Straughn Hall was a lonely place to live. A handful of unlucky students were placed down there every year to live out the rest of the academic year in social isolation while the rest of the students resided on the top floor. No one ever ventured to the basement. It was dark. It smelled weird. And since it was male only, the socially aware spent most of their time on the co-ed second floor with everyone else or moved up there after year one. I don’t think I walked upstairs until at least my second year at Wesley Theological Seminary.

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Jesus Doesn’t Love Everyone

Not according to the Gospel of Mark, anyway. Mark’s Jesus isn’t kind or gentle. He’s angry, judgmental and unashamedly partisan. He has nothing but contempt for the rich. He pronounces fiery judgment upon the Romans and the Temple leadership. He despises empire, urban life, economic development, and an economy built on trade. He often displays distrust for foreigners or attempts to incorporate them into his own traditions over and against their own. He grows increasingly cynical with regards to his followers, particularly his disciples, and Mark goes so far as to proclaim the disciples guilty of abandoning Jesus’s ministry before and after his death. He condemns his enemies and his disciples. He dies alone.

In short, he’s not your buddy. And, he wouldn’t like you very much.

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Who Among You Will Listen?

Isaiah 42: 22-25

But this is a people robbed and plundered, all of them are trapped in holes and hidden in prisons; they have become a prey with no one to rescue, a spoil with no one to say, ‘Restore!’ Who among you will give heed to this, who will attend and listen for the time to come?

Judges 19

In those days, when there was no king in Israel, a certain Levite, residing in the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, took to himself a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. But his concubine became angry with him, and she went away from him to her father’s house at Bethlehem in Judah, and was there for some four months. Then her husband set out after her, to speak tenderly to her and bring her back. He had with him his servant and a couple of donkeys. When he reached her father’s house, the girl’s father saw him and came with joy to meet him. His father-in-law, the girl’s father, made him stay, and he remained with him for three days; so they ate and drank, and he stayed there.

He got up and departed, and arrived opposite Jebus (that is, Jerusalem).

Then at evening there was an old man coming from his work in the field. The man was from the hill country of Ephraim, and he was residing in Gibeah. (The people of the place were Benjaminites.) When the old man looked up and saw the wayfarer in the open square of the city, he said, ‘Where are you going and where do you come from?’ He answered him, ‘We are passing from Bethlehem in Judah to the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, from which I come. I went to Bethlehem in Judah; and I am going to my home. Nobody has offered to take me in. We your servants have straw and fodder for our donkeys, with bread and wine for me and the woman and the young man along with us. We need nothing more.’ The old man said, ‘Peace be to you. I will care for all your wants; only do not spend the night in the square.’ So he brought him into his house, and fed the donkeys; they washed their feet, and ate and drank.

While they were enjoying themselves, the men of the city, a depraved lot, surrounded the house, and started pounding on the door. They said to the old man, the master of the house, ‘Bring out the man who came into your house, so that we may have intercourse with him.’ And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, ‘No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Since this man is my guest, do not do this vile thing. Here are my virgin daughter and his concubine; let me bring them out now. Ravish them and do whatever you want to them; but against this man do not do such a vile thing.’ But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine, and put her out to them. They wantonly raped her, and abused her all through the night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. As morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light.

In the morning her master got up, opened the doors of the house, and when he went out to go on his way, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. ‘Get up,’ he said to her, ‘we are going.’ But there was no answer. Then he put her on the donkey; and the man set out for his home. When he had entered his house, he took a knife, and grasping his concubine he cut her into twelve pieces, limb by limb, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. Then he commanded the men whom he sent, saying, ‘Thus shall you say to all the Israelites, “Has such a thing ever happened since the day that the Israelites came up from the land of Egypt until this day? Consider it, take counsel, and speak out.” ’

The story from Judges is not in the lectionary, the cycle of scriptural texts that the church uses on Sundays that repeats every three years. If you haven’t heard it, it’s because the church hasn’t told it. It’s easy to see why. This is a brutal story. A sad story. A story whose conclusion will not end on a high note. Those who hear a sermon on this passage won’t walk away feeling better about themselves, and pastors fear that they may end up going to some other church, some other congregation or watching some television preacher on Sunday morning because they preach a happier, more politically correct gospel. I feel bad for these preachers sometimes, ignoring all the parts of the bible that make you feel uncomfortable leaves a lot of the bible unread and much of its power ignored. This is a story of a woman who is given no name, and like Isaiah, we have to ask, “Who among you will give heed to this, who will attend and listen for the time to come?”

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It’s About Shame

Matthew 22:34-46

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

He wasn’t a great preacher because he was brilliant, although he was.  He wasn’t a great preacher because he could turn a phrase, although he could  He wasn’t a great preacher because he excelled at biblical interpretation, but it turns out, he was pretty damn good at that too.  But the first time I heard him preach, I knew it.  He was the best preacher I had ever heard.

He would finish writing sermon notes 15 minutes before the start of the service, and often didn’t finish until halfway into preaching it.  He told jokes every week, but they failed to elicit laughter a good 95% of the time, except, of course, from himself.  He laughed every single time.  Every preacher has had a sermon where they struggle to figure out where they are going and end up going nowhere. For him, these sermons weren’t just an accident, they were a feature of his preaching style.  Great preachers aren’t disqualified by bad sermons.  They’re made by preaching great ones.  He had some misses and, honestly, more misses than most, but he had more great sermons, more unbelievably great sermons, than any preacher I ever knew, including preachers from the dozens of churches I’d been to before, any that I ever listened to online, or any professor from my seminary.  For a long time, I couldn’t figure out what made him better than any one else.   All I knew was that Pastor JP Hong towered above all of them. 

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Jesus, Justice and Monetary Policy

Matthew 22: 15-22

“Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.”

An apolitical Jesus is a Jesus robbed of his humanity.

An apolitical gospel is a gospel devoid of good news.

An apolitical church is a dispensary of harmless untruths so that its members can have peace of mind and lead a good life – aka: Bokononism.

A currency manipulated according to the interests of the powerful inevitably plunders what little wealth the poor possess.

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Why Did I Run?

An odd thing would happen, back when I was Reverend Moore, while preparing for Sunday services each week. I enjoyed sermon and adult education prep more than anything else. Just the text, endless commentaries, dreams of how the gospel would get me in trouble this week, and me alone in a chair. Reading, dreaming and running out of my office to bother our daily church volunteer and administrative assistant with an idea was the best part of the week. Hours later they would remind me they had work to do and that they had stopped pretending to listen to me at about “Ched Myers’s socio-literary multidisciplinary approach to biblical hermeneutics.” I loved it. I don’t believe they enjoyed it as much as I did. An idea turned into excitement, into a story, and sometimes, oddly enough, even into something that mattered to someone in the pews. Those days were great. I miss them.

But an idea didn’t always come. Much of the time, I would read the weekly text with great anticipation only left to wonder, “Just what am I supposed to do with that?” More often it would be, “Boring!” And the most common refrain was “The Gospel of John? Again? Gospel of John Jesus sure does love to talk.” I would read the text repeatedly. Read commentaries and lectionary reflections that pretended to be excited but struggled to come to a real point. I would wait for inspiration to come. It often never did. But the crowds would come on Sunday anyway. And like those whose job it was to write lectionary reflections, I had to say something. The need to say something, turned into desperation and into a story, and sometimes, oddly enough, even into something that mattered to someone in the pews. Even worse, the stories that I would tell often became the stories I believed. I would ask myself after the service was over, “What did I just say?” Those days were terrifying. I don’t miss them.

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