Aliens Among Us?

There are two ways to read a mystery novel. You can start on page one and read from start to finish. The reader who reads this way allows the story to unfold in its own time. Some would say in the way the author intended.

Another way to read a mystery novel is to skip to the last page first to find out whodunit before returning to the beginning. This reader — knowing the ending — watches the story unfold but enjoys spotting the literary clues the author has left.

***

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 7.35.26 AMChristians start reading the Bible with Jesus. We read Genesis through his life, death, and resurrection. We read the prophets through his life, death, and resurrection. We read the Psalms ever mindful of Jesus. Even Christians who read the Bible straight through from Genesis to Revelation already know what happens to Jesus. Since we know what happens, we understand the rest of the Bible in a particular way.

Our elder testament — the Old Testament — accounts for approximately 75% of our sacred text. Yet, we spend most of our time reading and preaching the younger testament.

This is a mistake. To understand Jesus and his teachings, we must understand his faith. To understand his faith, we must read and study his Bible.

***

In our scripture reading from Mark’s gospel (Mark 12:28-31), several Jews, of whom Jesus is one, are discussing the Torah. (The Torah is the first five books of our Bible.) 

Like UCCers, many Jews of Jesus’ time did not read the text in a rigid way. They believed, like we do, that the Bible is a living document through which God still speaks. Like us, they believed that the Bible is best understood within community. No one of us has the answer. It is in community that varied perspectives and voices are part of the conversation and more fully enable us to discern God’s will.

And, so, overhearing the discussion a legal expert asks Jesus,

“Which commandment is the most important of all?”

Jesus responds by quoting from Torah. He paraphrases Deuteronomy 6:4 and 5,

Israel, listen! Our God is the one Lord! Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength.(Deuteronomy 6:4-5 CEB)

Jesus doesn’t stop with one commandment, however. He tells the legal expert that there are two commandments that serve as the foundation of our faith. And, so, he paraphrases from Leviticus 19 as well,

You must not take revenge nor hold a grudge against any of your people; instead, you must love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:18 CEB)

Jesus tells the legal expert, “No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:31 CEB) 

If the teachings of Jesus are foundational for Christians, as we claim, I argue that when he tells us what the Greatest Commandment is, we should try to follow it. Says Jesus,

You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” 12:30-31a CEB

This. These words of Jesus quoting Torah can serve as the yardstick by which we measure our actions and relationships in the world.

These words are the sunglasses through which, as followers of Jesus, we view a brighter, a more hopeful possibility for the world. They allow us to see the world in a different way and determine the actions we will take in our personal lives and in our advocacy for others.

***

Many of you have been rightfully upset by the unaccompanied children who have been entering our country at the southernmost border. I’ve had multiple conversations about “What can we do?”

Here is a short video shared by Kate Epperly that I think frames the issue well. Kate is our UCC Minister on the Disciples/UCC Family & Children’s Ministry Team.

So, what do we do? What would Jesus do when faced with a complex political and ethical issue? He might pray; he might look at scripture. I suspect that he’d do both as he considered his actions. 

When he looked at scripture, he’d probably find any number of passages about God’s expectations regarding our response to this Hebrew word variously translated into English as alien, as immigrant, as sojourner, or sometimes traveler.

Contextually in the seventh or eighth century before Christ, when Deuteronomy was written, there are no Hiltons or Motel 6s. There were no McDonald’s or Denny’s. If you were traveling, you depended upon the hospitality of strangers. This serves a dual purpose. For the traveler, it meant a place to stay and food to eat. For the host it was a way to honor God.

To breech this obligation to care for others was to breech your very obligation to God. Writes UCC scholar Walter Brueggemann,

Deuteronomy has in purview a profoundly neighborly ethic that understands the formation and maintenance of a communal infrastructure as a primal mode of obedience to the God of covenant. (Abingdon OT Commentaries: Deuteronomy, loc. 122)

And, so, when Jesus looked at his scripture, he might’ve looked at Deuteronomy 10 in which the writer, speaking as if Moses, says,

Stop being so stubborn, 17 because the Lord your God is the God of all gods and Lord of all lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God who doesn’t play favorites and doesn’t take bribes. He enacts justice for orphans and widows, and he loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing. 19 That means you must also love immigrants because you were immigrants in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:16b-19 CEB)

Jesus’ Bible and our Bible is chockfull of widening the circle of love. Jesus himself widens the circle to include not only the Jewish people but Gentiles as well. Jesus himself spends much of his ministry at the margins of society, among those who are not fully included in society.

We are called to include all peoples within God’s circle because our God is an “awesome God who doesn’t play favorites! (Deut. 10: 18 CEB)

And, so, as followers of Jesus I ask you now, what does God ask of us?

When we view this crisis through the lens of the Greatest Commandment, what position do we take? How do we manifest loving God with all our heart, all our being, all our mind, and all our strength? How do we love our neighbor as ourselves?

What actions do we individually and collectively take? What would Jesus encourage us to say and do? How will we respond to the aliens among us?

Amen.

___

Following this short sermon, preached at the Condon United Church of Christ on July 20, 2014, the congregation had a lengthy discussion regarding ways to respond to the current crisis of unaccompanied children at the United States’ southern border.

SNAP: Ouch, Ouch, Ouch

I came across this blog from Rebecca Barnes, who is also taking the SNAPChallenge this week. She is including her family in the experience. I teared up reading this c

omment from her blog,

Screen Shot 2013-11-22 at 7.27.16 AM“Last night, I actually pretended I couldn’t read my sweet girl’s pantomime of wanting a drink from the snackbar, during her second game of the evening for which she was working hard as a cheerleader. I thought, I should have made her take a water bottle. I should have planned better, even though earlier she said no, she didn’t want to take her water bottle. I can’t afford to go buy her a drink. But, she’s standing there, thirsty, and I’m looking away. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.”

I’m not teary because of this child; we know that the SNAP Challenge her family is taking is a contrived learning and advocacy experience. I cry because too many mothers and fathers and too many children live like this every day in the wealthiest nation on the planet.

“Which father among you would give a snake to your child if the child asked for a fish? If a child asked for an egg, what father would give the child a scorpion?And, that, THAT is a sin for which we are collectively responsible. Luke 11:11-12 CEB

When we place mothers and fathers in the position of giving their children scorpions when they need fish, we sin. We live in the wealthiest country on the earth. When children are hungry, we have failed. All of us. We have all sinned.

Related Articles
Opening Our Hearts to the Hungry, Condon United Church of Christ website
SNAP Challenge, um, Maybe Not Today 11-19-13
SNAP: Getting Serious, Getting Anxious 11-20-13
SNAP: The Veggie-Noodle Balance 11-21-13
SNAP: The Glop That Plops 11-22-13

SNAP: The Glop That Plops

SNAP: The Glop That Plops

I came home last night a little after eight. I was ravenous. I’d intentionally skipped dinner, planning to eat after my 6:30 meeting.

SNAPChallenge_Layer-1

I looked at the ninety-three cent box of macaroni and cheese. It was going to take too long. (I was ravenous, remember.) The instant rice is running low and besides I’d had rice at lunch. I looked at my remaining baby carrots but turned away from them. I’m rationing what fresh vegetables I have. I ended up with a cup of leftover tomato soup poured over a slice of bread. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t great. 

It wasn’t enough.

Wanting more soup, I went back to the fridge and found the leftover condensed mushroom soup. It kinda just plopped into the pot. I warmed it up. It kinda plopped into my bowl. I ate it. It kinda plopped into my stomach.

I was full now but felt like, well, I felt like crap.

***

Reflecting this morning on my mistake — eating that condensed mushroom soup — I am thinking about my mindset at the time. I was hungry. My belly was empty. Without healthy choices available to me, I ate what was available.

I think about how these kind of food choices effect children’s learning and adult performance on the job. Yes, many folks on SNAP are the working poor. I know how I feel this week. I know it is effecting my focus and efficiency.

I am not hungry this week. I have enough food to eat, at least so far. But it is not enough to assure folks have enough to eat. Adults and children alike need to have healthy, nutritious food to learn, grow, and strive. 

***

Related Articles
Opening Our Hearts to the Hungry, Condon United Church of Christ website
SNAP Challenge, um, Maybe Not Today 11-19-13
SNAP: Getting Serious, Getting Anxious 11-20-13
SNAP: The Veggie-Noodle Balance 11-21-13

SNAP: The Noodle-Veggie Balance

SNAP: The Noodle-Veggie Balance

It was more of a noodle dish with some veggies than a veggie dish with some noodles. Still, I was proud of my creation last night. With a little spaghetti sauce, macaroni noodles, carrot pieces, and zucchini I created a tasty dish. True, the noodle-veggie balance was off. It was heavier on the sauce and noodles than it would have been were it not for the SNAP Challenge (eating on the equivalent of a food stamp budget) that I am taking this week.

A vegetarian, I am conscious of the food I eat. While I am tempted by junk food and have several sweet teeth, it is a rare day when I don’t eat more than the recommended daily allowance of  fresh vegetables and fruits. Cheeses, legumes, and the occasional tempeh and tofu are my protein sources.

And, though my meal was tasty last night, I begin day three of the SNAP Challenge (food stamps), I feel weighed down and sluggish. My digestive system does not seem nearly as efficient as is usual. The beige wonderland of noodles, rice, almost-fluffy white wheat bread, which is what I can afford on a daily budget of four dollars and fifty cents, fill my stomach. They also are negatively effecting my sense of general well-being. I’ve begun fantasizing about the veggie bake and fruit tray I will create at the end of this week.

But that’s the rub, isn’t it? I have a choice. This is a one-week experience for me and my body will recover. Next week when I make the same dish, it will be a healthier veggie dish with a few noodles. My overall health will not be damaged by a short detour away from healthy eating. My kindred, people who live in our wealthiest nation, live with poor nutrition because as a people we don’t have the will to deal with economic injustices that favor the wealthy at the expense of the poor.

The wealthy get tax cuts; the poor get food benefit cuts. We find funds to go to war while twenty-five percent of children live in poverty (1). Like the skewed noodle-veggie balance of my meal, we have chosen as a country to skew the wealthy-poor balance in favor of the wealthy.

God have mercy on us for our sins against our poor neighbors.

***

Related Posts

Opening Our Hearts to the Hungry, Condon United Church of Christ website
SNAP Challenge, um, Maybe Not Today 11-19-13
SNAP: Getting Serious, Getting Anxious 11-20-13