Powerful Love and Progressive Christianity

The Royal Wedding was eye-opening for many people.

The Right Rev. Michael Curry, leader of the Episcopal Church in the USA, preached for 13 minutes about God’s love. (A transcript of his sermon is below.)

This is what Progressive Christianity looks like. This is the message of Jesus.

Love God. Love others.

There are some who complain that his message of God’s love is incomplete — that Curry didn’t mention God’s judgement, or repentance. These complaints say more about the complainer than they do Curry’s sermon. Jesus mentions love much more  than he talks about repentance.

The love of God supersedes everything else. Scripture says God is love, not God is judgement.

Another complaint is that the Royal Wedding wasn’t the place for a sermon… a sermon about love. Perhaps these people forget that a common wedding scripture reflects on love:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Some are unhappy that Curry supports LGBT rights. But what’s the alternative? Opposing the civil rights of some people? That’s not the message of Jesus.

Jesus is on the side of the poor, the forgotten, the minorities and the oppressed.

Always.

Jesus opposes the oppressors – the occupying Roman government, the military, the hypocritical religious and political leaders.

When religious leaders try to tell women how to live their lives, Jesus sides with the women.

The Royal Wedding sermon focused the world’s attention on a Progressive Christian voice. Curry is one of many preaching the Love of God.

There are a lot of us in the world preaching this message. This list includes many major Progressive Christians.

Here are three posts I’ve written.

We are ALL loved

Love

The Gospel is about God’s saving love

 

Jesus offers liberation and freedom, a gift from God. Unconditional love.

Accepting the idea that God loves us exactly as we are is daunting for many people. That’s why they cling to the idea of an angry, judgemental God. It’s impossible for some people to understand a faith that’s more complex than their own. And God’s love is complex, and incredibly simple.

The mainstream media are filled with right-wing, conservative Christians who don’t reflect the message of Jesus. So it comes as a surprise to many when the authentic message of Jesus is preached.

But the message of Jesus is alive in the world and alive in the hearts of millions of Jesus followers. God’s love is alive.

This was the message of Bishop Curry and remains the eternal message of Jesus. God loves us and wants the best for us. Amen.

The transcript of Bishop Curry’s sermon:

“Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.” ~ Song of Songs 8:6-7

The late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, and I quote:

“We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we discover that, we will be able to make of this old world a new world. Love is the only way.”

There’s power in love. Do not underestimate it. Don’t even over-sentimentalize it. There’s power in love. If you don’t believe me, think about a time when you first fell in love. The whole world seemed to center around you and your beloved. Oh, there’s power, there’s power in love.

Not just in its romantic forms, but any form, any shape of love. There’s a certain sense in which when you are loved and you know it, when someone cares for you and you know it, when you love and you show it, it actually feels right. There’s something right about it. And there’s a reason for it. The reason has to do with the source. We were made by a power of love. Our lives were and are meant to be lived in that love. That is why we are here.

Ultimately the source of love is God himself. The source of all of our lives. An old medieval poem says it: “Where true love is found, God himself is there.”

The Bible, 1 John 4 says it this way: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; Everyone who loves is born of God.”Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:4-8)

There’s power in love. Love can help and heal when nothing else can. Love can lift up and liberate for living when nothing else will. There’s power in love to show us the way to live. Set me as a seal on your heart, for love is as strong as death. And the love that brings two people together is the same love that can bind them together, Whether on mountaintops of happiness and through valleys of hardship. Love is strong as death It’s flashes are flashes of fire.

Many waters cannot quench love. Love can see you through! There’s power in love.

But the love of which we speak is not only for couples getting married or just for interpersonal relationships.

Jesus of Nazareth taught us that the way of love is the way to a real relationship with the God who created all of us, and the way to true relationship with each other as children of that one God, as brothers and sisters in God’s human family.

One scholar said it this way: “Jesus had founded the most revolutionary movement in human history: a movement built on the unconditional love of God for the world and the mandate to live that love.” (Charles Marsh’s The Beloved Community)

I’m talking about power. Real power — power to change the world. If you don’t believe me, well, there were some old slaves in America’s antebellum South who explained the dynamic power of love and why it has the power to transform.

They explained it this way — they sang a spiritual, even in the midst of their captivity, it’s one that says: “There is a balm in Gilead,
To make the wounded whole,
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.
If you cannot preach like Peter,
And you cannot pray like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus,
How he died to save us all.
That’s the balm in Gilead.”

This way of love is the way of life. They got it — he died to save us all.

He didn’t die for anything he could get out of it. Jesus did not get an honorary doctorate out of it. He wasn’t getting anything out of it — He did it for others, for the other, for the good and well being of others.

That’s what love is. Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial. And in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love can change lives and it can change this world. If you don’t believe me, just stop and think and imagine a world where love is the way.

Imagine our homes and families when this way of love is the way. Imagine our neighborhoods and communities when love is the way. Imagine our governments and nations when love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when this love is the way. Imagine this third old world when love is the way. No child would go to bed hungry in such a world as that. When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a might stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing book. When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary. When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields down by the riverside to study war no more.

When love is the way, there’s plenty good room — plenty good room — for all of God’s children. When love is the way, we actually treat each other like we are actually family. When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all. We are brothers and sisters, children of God. Brothers and sisters: that’s a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family. Let me tell you something: Old Solomon was right in the Old Testament — that’s fire. And with this, I will sit down: we got to get you all married.

The late French Jesuit, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, was at once a scientist, a Roman Catholic priest, a theologian, a true mystic. His was one of the great minds and spirits of the 20th century. He suggested that the discovery and harnessing of fire was one of the great scientific and technological discoveries of human history. Fire, to a great extent, made human civilization possible. Fire made it possible to cook food, thereby reducing the spread of disease. Fire made it possible to stay warm in cold climates, thereby marking human migration around the world a possibility. Fire made the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the Industrial Revolution possible. The advances of science and technology are greatly dependent on the human capacity to take fire and use it for human good. Anybody get here in a car today? Nod your heads if you did.

I know there were some carriages. If you drove here this morning, you did so in part because of harnessed fire. I know that the Bible says I believe that Jesus walked on water, but I have to tell you, I didn’t walk across the Atlantic Ocean to get here. Controlled fire in that plane got me here. Fire makes it possible for us to text, tweet, email, Instagram and Facebook and socially be dysfunctional with each other. Fire makes all of that possible.

de Chardin said that fire is one of the greatest discoveries in all of human histories. He then went on to say that if humanity ever harnesses the energy of fire again, if humanity ever captures the energy of love, then for the second time in the history of the world, we will have discovered fire. Love is the very fire and energy of real life! Dr. King was right: We must discover love. The redemptive power of love. When we do that, we will make of this old world a new world. My brother, my sister, God love you, God bless you. My brothers, my sisters, God love you, God bless you. And may God hold us all In those almighty hands of love. Amen.

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Toxic Christianity

I saw these bumper stickers on a truck recently.

There’s so much going on here, I didn’t bother to look at the other side of the vehicle.

It’s a toxic mix of nationalism, violence, racism, ignorance, gun fetishism and bad theology. For example, armed resistance to tyrants is not obedience to God. Christ calls us to put away our machine guns, and follow him peacefully. Sherman and Grant didn’t own slaves, Lee and Jackson did.

Other stickers portrayed the owner as a serious church attender, including, this one:

In a recent article on HuffPost, Robert Jones, CEO of The Public Religion Research Institute, and author of The End of White Christian America, was quoted as saying:

“evangelicals have recently grown anxious about the declining dominance of white Christianity in America, both demographically and on such culture war issues as same-sex marriage.
“The idea of a Christian nation in American history has always been wrapped up with protecting the power of whiteness and Protestantism,” Jones said. “The KKK, for example, targeted not just African-Americans but also Catholics and Jews as threats to their ideal of American society.”

Millions of Americans are in Christian churches every week, and they have no idea of the message of Jesus, they have no understanding of the lessons of the New Testament, of the Jewish prophets, or of the traditions of the first generation of Christians.

With racist, frightened eyes, they look past God’s message to do justice and to love kindness and instead they focus on violence.

The greatest commandments — to love God and love others — become an afterthought as they focus on a handful of verses to justify their own bigotry and biases.

We who follow the teachings of the Prince of Peace, who strive to live the lessons of Jesus, must do more to help the misguided Christians who think violence is an answer.

Let me make it plain.

Guns are of the world, not of God.

God’s plan to redeem the world does not include guns.

You can not love others with a gun in your hand.

Hands filled with bullets can’t receive blessings from God.

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Matt. 25:35-36 New Hypocritical Version

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C.S. Lewis

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A father’s love

In a question and answer session with children this week, Pope Francis was addressed by a little boy overcome with emotion.

Francis beckoned the child forward, and on camera and in public, listened to the child’s story privately.

Follow the link to see the video: https://youtu.be/cwREgr43_x0

Here’s a translation of the Pope’s words:

If only all of us could cry as Emanuele does when we have pain in our hearts. He was crying for his father, which he had the courage to do in front of us, because in his heart there is the love of his father. I asked permission of Emanuele to speak in public about his question and he said yes. “A little while ago I lost my father. He was atheist but had all four of his children baptized. He was a good man. Is he in Heaven?”

How beautiful that a child says of his father, “He was good.” A beautiful testimony for that man to give to his children that they can say, “He was good.” And a beautiful testimony from that child who inherited the strength from his father that he had the courage to cry in front of all of us. If that man was able to make children like this one, then it’s true, he was a good man, a good man.

That man didn’t have a day of faith, he wasn’t a believer, but he had his children baptized. He had a good heart. And he [Emanuele] has the doubt that his father, for not being a believer, could not go to Heaven. He who decides who gets to Heaven is God. But how is the heart of God in front of a father like that? What does it seem to you, the heart of a father? God has the heart of a father and in front of a father who is a non-believer, who was able to baptize his children, who gave his goodness to his children, you think that God would be able to leave him far away from Himself? Answer loudly, with courage! [Crowd cheers “no!] Does God abandon His children? [Crowd shouts “no!”] Does God abandon His children when they are good? [Crowd shouts “no!”]

Here you go, Emanuele, there is your answer. God surely was proud of your father, because it is easier, being a believer, to baptize your children, than it is to baptize them if you are not a believer. Surely this pleased God very much. Speak to your father, pray for him. Thank you Emanuele, for your courage.

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Slipping through the time-stream

When I was in high school, I went into my girlfriend’s house to find her dad standing in the kitchen, looking at the stove.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Waiting for the kettle to boil.”

“Well,” I said, “it’s not going to boil, if you keep watching it.”

I don’t remember his response, but I do know that time is relative.

Eight seconds in a warm shower goes by much quicker than eight seconds on the back of a bull.

Eight seconds spent watching a child under water is much longer than eight seconds hearing a child laugh.

We experience time differently, based on what we’re doing while time passes.

Some people question how God can do the infinite, in infinite time, while still responding to prayers.

Because our own interpretation of time can shift, it may be easier to understand C. S. Lewis’ theory of how God makes time for each of us.

“God is not hurried about the time-stream of this universe anymore than an author is hurried along in the imaginary time of his own novel. He has infinite attention to spare for each one of us. He does not have to deal with us in the mass. You are as much alone with Him as if you were the only being he had created. When Christ died, He died for you individually just as much as if you had been the only man in the world.” ~ C. S. Lewis

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Facing the Unimaginable

No one in the lynch mob that murdered Walter Johnson was ever convicted.

Government officials tried to save his life by hiding him in the woods when the armed crowd attacked the Princeton City Jail in Mercer County, West Virginia.

Led by railroad foreman Gordon White, on Sept. 5, 1912, more than three hundred people stole a train, cut the telephone lines and set out to avenge an alleged assault of White’s daughter.

The bloodthirsty mob ignored the assertions of Judge J. Frank Maynard and an assistant prosecutor that Johnson was innocent as it dragged him into the dark, autumn night.

Before his bullet-riddled body was cut down from the telephone pole, White’s 16 year-old daughter recanted her accusations against Johnson.

Four or five thousand black Americans were lynched in the United States between the end of the Civil War in 1865 and 1952, the first year on record without a lynching.

According to Wikipedia, “…nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in Congress, and three passed the House. Seven presidents between 1890 and 1952 asked Congress to pass a federal law.” Southern senators successfully stopped the passage of legislation. Local courts seldom convicted white murderers and without federal law in place, federal prosecutors couldn’t bring charges.

White nationalists used public violence and terror to befoul the American dream of tens of thousands of forgotten people. An entire race was terrorized, and nothing was done about it.

Until now.

The Equal Justice Initiative, of Montgomery, Ala., is working to ensure the victims are forgotten no more.

EJI has built the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

A part of the memorial includes the Soil Collection Project, hundreds of glass jars containing soil from the sites of lynchings, each jar labeled with the name of a victim.

Forgotten no more.

EJI has documented 36 African Americans lynched in West Virginia, including Walter Johnson.

We collected soil to remember Johnson’s forgotten life and horrific death.

We traveled the small road out of town, a few miles from where the police department stood, and found a telephone pole that might have replaced the pole that replaced the improvised gallows.

In its place, we left a painted marker and a stone of African malachite, a stone of transformation.

It was a powerful moment, imagining the terrorists who murdered an innocent man in cold blood, their children and grand children living nearby. The fear in the mind of the man who was about the die. The helplessness of the men who risked their lives to save his.

The ghosts of Johnson and his murders blew across the mountainside.

The governor called for a special grand jury to investigate the crime. Between 50 and 75 arrests might have been made, include White, the leader of the mob. But when he was arraigned, 500 people marched on the office of the justice of the peace demanding his release.

A local paper described feelings at a high pitch, predicting “a bloody race war or the lynching of officials may come at any time.”

No one was convicted of the murder.

But Walter Johnson is no longer forgotten.

We remember him.

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Hope – finding abundance in lacking

First Mennonite Church, Richmond, Va., has conducted a bread service the Sunday after Easter for 20 years. Five breads representing five themes are paired with five hymns. I shared this message.

Tumeric Bread: Hope

Mark 6:34-43

34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. 35 When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish.”

Feeding the hungry is the only miracle in all four Gospels.

What does this mean?

It means helping the hungry, helping those without, is important. This miracle may be more important than any other miracle in the ministry of Jesus. Feeding the hungry. Helping those in need. Helping others.

In the scripture, the disciples approach Jesus believing they were lacking.

But then Jesus provides abundance.

He gives them hope.

The hope of the Israelites.

The hope of Dr. King for a better tomorrow.

The hope of our neighbors to be treated respectfully and with dignity.

Hope as our bodies weaken, and our spirits grow stronger. Hope when we are sick, on our backs, staring at the sky. Broken.

Broken like the body of Christ.

Broken like the bread.

Turmeric Bread: representing Hope.

Hope follows Jesus into a deserted place, without food for the journey. Hope is going on that journey with 12 empty baskets, and returning with the baskets filled.

Lacking and abundance.

There are times where we feel like there isn’t enough to go around. Not enough to make ends meet. Times when we are lacking. We aren’t good enough. We fall short. We lack what we need. We lack the energy, the faith, the character. We are empty.

Like the disciples we focus on what’s missing.

Like the disciples, we don’t realize there is abundance in God’s blessings.

Where we think there is lacking, God provides abundance.

Where there is doubt, God gives us a way forward.

Where there is fear, God provides strength.

Where there is guilt, God gives grace.

Where there is opposition, God offers optimism.

Where there is regret, God gives redemption.

Where there is fear, God gives us hope.

Christ gives us hope.

My hope is built on nothing less.

On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.

On Christ the solid rock I stand.

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March for Our Lives – Williamsburg, Virginia, Part 2

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March for Our Lives – Williamsburg, Virginia

Through the heart of Colonial Williamsburg. Literally in the footsteps of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.

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March for Our Lives – Richmond, Va.

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Moderate Nazis are called Nazis

The Nazi Christian flag.

Germany’s authoritarian Nazi Party had members who were moderates.

Moderate Nazis were called Nazis.

There is no ‘moderate,’ middle ground when a portion of the population supports bigotry, racism, and discrimination, and a larger portion accepts it by not rejecting it.

Vitriol and lies pour out of the Trump White House – stoking the flames of hatred and encouraging the mainstreaming of previously extremist bigotry.

For example, because the president agrees with their racism, the former leader of the Ku Klux Klan is crawling his way into acceptable, mainstream society alongside a quasi-American Nazi masquerading as a pseudo-intellectual.

As a result of the White House making bigotry acceptable, people are suffering. Real people are really being victimized, because the bigots in the White House, their co-conspirators across Washington, and Russian agents on Twitter continue to spread bigotry and fan the flames of hatred.

It’s been said, all that is necessary for evil to triumph, is for good men to do nothing.

Good women and men are doing nothing, perhaps because they are stunned into silence, appalled by the racism and bigotry sweeping across the United States. Perhaps they are overwhelmed by the volume and depth of the damage being inflicted on the poor and elderly, on children and immigrants, on women and people of color, on the environment and on our Democratic government.

Injustice is being inflicted on every segment of society that isn’t white, male, Republican or millionaires.

Perhaps good people are sickened by the sight of so-call Christian leaders supporting what is clearly evil. So-called religious leaders are as culpable and as guilty as the autocratic plutocrats they support and defend.

Evil in the United States is triumphing, and more good people must step forward and demand a change.

This isn’t the time for moderates.

When a Nazi sits down with three moderate Republicans, they because four Nazis.

Racist, bigoted, discriminatory, unjust or violent policies must be opposed.

The Biblical example is clear. It is a moral imperative and a Biblical challenge to support the poor and oppose injustice.

Moses and the prophets opposed governments and leaders who victimized the people.

Jesus opposed the government, the religious establishment, bigots, and bullying crowds.

Followers of Jesus are called to do the same.

In the name of Christ, we must stand up to the bigots and bullies, oppose unjust laws and evil systems that place profits over people.

In God’s name, good people must do better.

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