I asked another Christian yesterday in a forthright manner “What is more important to you — to be right or to be in relationship?” If the answer were “relationship”, I would not be writing this post. Scriptural substantiation for the answer followed. Now mind you, the object of the questions was another Christian, a gay one, my friend and his brother.
If I were Queen of the World, I would henceforth ban all Bible verse quoting except by mutual consent for one year. I would allow only personal and intra-church usage of the Bible in meeting places. Only uplifting verses about the greatness of God would be allowed on Facebook and Twitter. Christian videos on youtube would be limited the ones with worship music. If I were Queen of the World.
If I were Queen of the World, I would take away Bibles from people until they put in time to serve someone outside their church, outside the church. You would earn one hour with your Bible for every two hours you gave away to someone you do not love. You would only be allowed to attend a Bible study if you attended to someone on the “yucky” list. If I were Queen of the World.
But, I am not. Be ye glad. If Jesus were sitting on an earthly throne today, He would requesting standards beyond those that I could dictate and He would be ticking people off like crazy. “Hey, Jesus, I read all the rules and I am doing so good. But, you know Jesus, I have got this friend/brother/fellow church member/spouse . . . what a loser. Jesus, buddy, they are just not like us. (Thank God, if You know what I mean.)” But, Buddy Jesus would not be exchanging the high-fives. Jesus would begin, as He actually did in Matthew, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago”, and He would enumerate the list of rules that had been said long ago, maybe even reciting the 613 laws of the Jewish Halakhah. With checklist printout in one hand and Bible in the other, Mr. Law Abider would nod his head, pump his arms in success after each recitation. Cheering Jesus on. “Yeah, I got this thing down. I don’t kill, steal, cheat on my wife, I love my neighbor, hate my enemy. I love those that love me and I even tithe. I am nothing like those murderers, immigrants, Muslims, gay people, drug addicts, homeless bums, neighbors with noisy dogs/cars/kids/messy yards. You tell ’em Jesus!”
Then the King of the Universe continues, “But I tell you that anyone who calls another person stupid, worthless or vile is in danger of the fires of hell. And, if you want hang out with Me, go make it good with the one you have offended first and then you can follow Me.” Whoa. Did He really say that? Leave my gifts, all the good stuff I do at the altar, because they don’t count until I make it right with that person. Those murderers, immigrants, Muslims, gay people, drug addicts, homeless bums, neighbors with noisy dogs/cars/kids/messy yards.?! Yes, it is right there. The appeals in Matthew 5-7 are deep, but these are the words of a God I can live and die for.
One of the most significant challenges I face as a follower of Jesus is liking some of the other followers of Jesus. They think people don’t like them because they are being persecuted for “righteousness sake.” No . . . you are being a jerk, you are interfering in the lives of people you have no relationship with, you are going where you have not been invited and pointing to Mascot Jesus in your team jersey while you meddle, taunt, denigrate and judge. I stretch to love the ones who know the rules, those who were lucky enough to be born in the United States, color white or a light variation of it, have gone through school, they’ve never been caught for the things they should have been arrested for and they were born straight. They can hold up a report card of moral behavior, do pretty well on it and even get an A for citizenship. Problem is, it is their checklist and while it may well create ethical good citizens, the Jesus contract goes further.
King Jesus took the words and the dictates to a whole new level when He shifted the focus off the rules and onto intentions. Jesus said that calling someone “raca”, a vile, insignificant, idiotic, stupid, unworthy-of- love person had consequence equal to murder. That is so harsh. Equal to murder? In the eyes of Jesus, yes. Jesus places value on the person, not what they have done or can do or should do. He does not strip off gold stars of personhood because you cannot speak English, or if you read the Koran or identify as gay or transgender. Everyone is of value because they are His and created in His image. It is we who deem them unworthy of love; He saw that they were so worthy of love, He died for them, too.
I know when I first became a Christian over twenty-five years ago, I would say things like “He would have died for me had it only been me.” Truth is, everyone of His creation is of so much value that He would and did die for them, too. Up-the-ante Jesus takes the Law to a new level. “It is not good enough that you don’t murder.” Jesus says calling someone a name, labeling them as worthless or less than you is so bad that you should be sent to the Governing Board of Judgment and then be thrown into hell. “Jesus, a bit rough there. They deserve it. Just talking a little truth in love here, you know, telling ’em what they need to hear so that they get on the straight and narrow. Come on, I am doing Your work here. Look, we got the same team jersey.” The ‘good work” we do may be a justification that will earn us “Man/ Woman of God Awards” from a Facebook fan page, BUT Jesus judges attitudes and intention. Everyone has value and not because they do good or are good or behave the way you know they should, but because they possess an image of God. Period. Dot.
I can understand groups outside the Jesus Club not comprehending this. They did not sign up for membership nor did they consent to the list of agreements. I can even understand new members in the Club struggling through this. I get frustrated (yes, frustrated because I see the ensuing damage) over Clubmembers who can quote tomes of Scripture, yet they miss this basic, basic, basic point. We are ALL valuable to Him because of Him, not because of us. Words of division, hate and assessment imposed on others are dishonoring, disrespectful and intended to strip a person of equal standing before God. If I don’t like you or what you do, I get to take away your human rights and discredit you? And, just because I do acceptably well on the Laws, I get to tell you where you fall short? Yes, there is a time for talking to those we are in relationship with about their behavior and sin. Key words: in relationship with. Mutual trust, mutual respect and mutual love. Then you can use the “truth in love” line that was stated by Paul by the way, not Jesus. Jesus trumps. Otherwise, what is the intention of your words?
To the person who continually beats down on any other as if that person did not hear you time one and time two and time three—-what is your intention? Is it really to love? Or is it to help maintain your position on the “Hey Jesus Look at Me and How Good I Am” list”? (Psst, there is no such list.) The person you are berating with your tongue, your written word and your scornful looks is your neighbor, your equal and a God-image. Someone told me that the reason he tells his gay brother often about how disappointed he is in his “lifestyle choice” because it “offends him to the core”. Well then, get a new core. Your core should be love. Then etch I Corinthians 13:4 upon it before you go to the altar with your gifts.
I have a friend who looks like Jesus. He has worked tirelessly, and I do mean tirelessly, for the homeless for over eight years. He serves hundreds each week inside the church walls of a Methodist Church in Austin, Texas for no earthly pay. The other things he does outside the church walls, almost no one sees, except the recipient. He spends hundreds of dollars of his own money each month to buy groceries, gas, tents, bus passes, glasses, socks, water, snacks and flashlights (he loves to buy people flashlights). He give the last belt off his pants, the shoes and socks off his feet, he mentors, helps, serves and loves people that others see as useless, worthless bums. He has little time to study the Scriptures; he can’t quote very many verses word for word and he embodies The Good News. Somehow, he has heard Jesus say “But I tell you this . . . ” and has elevated the Law to love day upon day. I was drawn to him for the heart of Jesus I see in him. Hundreds have been drawn to him for the heart of Jesus they see in him. That is the way The Good News works.
Yes, if I were Queen of the World, I would sit the Dishonoring Ones in a room with the outcasts, the scorned, the hated, the feared and I would make you change, not them. I would force you sit in the corner and strip you of your casting crowns until you understood that you are no better than anyone else. Until you were so poor in spirit that you saw the value of every person and learned how to respect them and honor them and show them love. Do you struggle with the homeless? The Muslims? The immigrants? The gays? The straight Christians? No Bible for you till you start to weep for your misuse of the Book of Love. Then I would give you back your Bible and stack a bunch of jewels on its cover for your new crowns.
But, I am not Queen of the World and I realize that the King of the World has already said this and He has said more. And many of us still have not heard Him. Do I fail? Oh boy, do I fail! Is this hard for me to do? No, actually, it is impossible. And that is the challenge. We need to move beyond the rules, beyond the words we see on a page, beyond .the words we throw as death bombs into the lives of others. Our words are to be words of LIFE, written on our hearts.
To have a conversation with a Jesus person that has Scriptures committed to memory in their brains is not the same as having an exchange with people of the heart-word. I can most times comply with a list; I love lists! Check. Check. Check. As we mature in our relationship with God however, the requests become more profound and more personal. What God asks me to do, may not be what He calls you to do. My friend goes down to the homeless encampments along the rivers of Austin and loves on people that others find worthless. God is not asking that of me. He is asking me to stand between two groups to help repair the breach in the gap and call for engagement and understanding. I get plenty of practice in not calling people “raca”. It would be easy to substantiate it and I could justify my reactions if the plumb line were of my making. Can’t validate that though. Just this week, I heard there is a few little groups of people in my town, who have known me for years that are discounting the ministry work that I do. They have heard it “on good authority” that I am a lesbian and at least bisexual. Given that “truth”, they can then discount what I say because then I have an “agenda”. But, I do have one, Isaiah 58.
“Raca” would not have been good enough a few years ago; I would have liked to imagine a bent straight hook to your nose for gossiping about me, accusations towards me and discounting of me. Instead, I just let it go and blessed them. Whoever they are; I don’t even want to know. I got off the throne and prison where I could mete out justice to swim in His freedom of grace.
Maybe you are doing wonderfully well on your checklist, the one you can clearly see. How about the one He has for you? The s c a r y one. The one that tells you to serve the Arab down the street? (see my post on this when I challenged myself to visit a local mosque “My Visit to a Mosque: A Christian Perspctive on My Muslim Neighbor”)The one that tells you to love on and smile at the transgender barista in your neighborhood? The one that says to go in the Laundromat in the hood and pay for an immigrant mothers loads of laundry?
This is the message of the Gospel. To serve, love, respect, honor and see worth in all humanity. And especially in fellow believers and in family members. Do you really think Jesus is okay with using His Book to tell other people how repulsive and worthless they are? How can that actually settle well in the spirit of any believer? The words of the Bible are to motivate you to emulate the King of the World. What some fellow Christians do with those words makes me so sad. Why would anyone want to look at Him when they see the really defective copies? Some days, I am that defective copy and some days, I don’t even want to be near them and that is my ” job”. That kind of behavior makes my heart hurt for the pain caused to the “others” of His creation.
“King of the World, let us reflect You in our intentions, our hearts, our actions and our service to the ones that You created. And King, please let us see that it is Your love that writes the rules and that every word is written in blood and grace. Give us eyes of the Spirit to see the part that begins “But I tell you . . .” And then get us to shut our mouths.”
How is the Christian church responding the the GLBT community in their quest for equality? Looking back at in our involvement in abolition, the suffrage movement and the Civil Right Act of 1964, have we learned lessons that we can now apply to gay/trans people as they struggle for equality?
(Of this I am quite serious. If you have any “quick and easy tips” to looking Princely, please let me know. The only way I have seen to understanding the issues beyond the law come from the rough road of humility, surrender and usually personal crisis. I may be the pauper now, but the few jewels I have are from finally getting a glimpse of what “in His Name” means. And if you want my abdicated King/Queen of the World seat that I vacated about a decade ago, you might want to check out the job description in this memorable video.)
Peace on you
Wisdom to you and in you
Holy Spirit guarding of you tongue
God etchings on your heart
Go serve the one you do not like, Kathy