Friday, January 19, 2018

My Favorite Post: "Why I'm Still Loving Jesus"

I used this interesting photo when I first posted this piece in 2011.
Jesus hung with hookers, hung with hustlers, not with cops
    and he made wine from water, so the party wouldn’t stop,
    and Jesus, he loved everyone, just like his Mom and Dad
    ‘cause Jesus knew the difference between broken and plain bad...

    Jesus on the hillside had a message for the crowd
    he said, “blessed are the brokenhearted, but woe unto the proud,”
    and when they all got hungry, he took a couple loaves of bread
    and he passed himself around till everybody had been fed...

    Jesus in the temple yard trashed every loan shark’s booth,
    but Jesus said to Judas, “let those little children through,
    ‘cause Jesus hung with losers and with posers and with narcs,
    and he got what was coming to him somewhere in the dark…
                    - from my son Brad Yoder’s WWJD? 1998 all rights reserved  

In case anyone wonders why I remain passionate about following Jesus, here are just a few of my reasons:

1. Jesus never hated people or committed acts of violence against them. Rather, he taught his followers to practice prayer and good deeds even toward enemies, not harm or kill them. 

2. Jesus demonstrated a life of simplicity and generosity. He never advocated amassing wealth or becoming financially well to do. He not only stressed compassion for the poor, but chose to become one of them.

3. Jesus consistently preached and practiced care for the marginalized and disenfranchised. Even in a strictly patriarchal society he had women as close followers, and regularly enjoyed meals with people regarded as outcasts and misfits. He makes a hated and heretical Samaritan the hero in one of his best known parables, a story he uses as part of his answer to the question, “How does one gain eternal life?”

4. Jesus avoided dogmatic sermonizing and theologizing in favor of telling simple stories and teaching easy-to-understand (but hard to practice) truths like “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” “Blessed are the peacemakers,” “Do not hoard/store up treasures on earth,” and “Let your ‘yes’ be a simple ‘yes,’ and your ‘no,’ a ‘no.’

5. Jesus rejected expressions of worship that require elaborate temples, complex liturgies, and professional clergy. Private prayer is encouraged, and “two or three” are sufficient when it comes to communal prayer and worship.

6. Jesus demonstrates that God loves everyone, and that his “Father,” far from condemning the world, is heaven-bent on saving it.

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” 

                                                                                          - Matthew 9:9-13 (NIV)

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Royal Case Of Corruption, Scandal, Lies And Cover-ups

Prophet Nathan to David: "You are the guilty one."

Voyeurism. Perversion. Chauvinism. Adultery. Conspiracy. Murder.

These are all a part of the sordid affair of the biblical King David, who sought to cover up his sin with Bathsheba by having her husband killed in battle.

The story reminds me of some of the growing darkness we see in high places today, accompanied by similar attempts to deny, minimize, excuse and cover-up.

A primary difference between many of today's transgressors and of David, however, is how he comes to a place of thorough repentance for his misdeeds. Psalm 51, written in the form of an anguished lament, is an example of his willingness to maximize, rather than to minimize, his wrongdoing.

That's the missing piece in many of today's tales of sexual transgressions. And to make matters worse, the church may add to the problem by wanting to keep things as quiet as possible in order to protect its reputation.

We should be all about repair and redemption, but never as in "let's just forgive, forget and pretend this never happened." Rather than applying bandaids and quick fixes, the church's work of restoration needs to involve all of the following:

1. Full acknowledgment and remorse. "Have pity on me and take away the awful stain of my transgressions... I admit my shameful haunts me day and night."

2. Restitution in whatever ways possible"Make me willing to obey you. Then will I teach your ways to others..."

3. Ongoing transparency and accountability. "You deserve honesty from the heart; yes, utter sincerity and truthfulness." 

The church, like its founder, is about holding a high standard of both truth and grace, of toughness and tenderness, of uncompromising standards of right and gracious offers of healing. If we are not about restoring and repairing people guilty of all manner of sin we are not truly followers of Jesus, who never saw anyone as beyond the reach of God's redemption--unless maybe those who self-righteously deny their own need for it.

Meanwhile, let's make sure we get this redemption thing right.

(above quotations from Psalm 51 are from the Living Bible)

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Mr. Swedish, Can You Spare My Sister A Dime?

My sister meeting with her grown
adopted daughter Nina, now 
in adult foster care.
"Woe to you who are rich, for you have had your fill of happiness."
- Jesus (Luke 6:24)

My 85-year-old sister Fannie Mae in Augusta County was recently notified that all of her health providers who are a part of the Augusta Health system are no longer accepting Anthem insurance, which administers Medicare and Medicaid funds. This means she will need to find other providers or find other insurance coverage. Neither option is realistic or available. Fortunately, her family and church family are able and willing to help as needed.

Augusta Health's position is that they should be reimbursed at the same level Anthem is paying for the same procedures at nearby University of Virginia and elsewhere. Anthem is refusing to do so, and so far the two sides haven't been able to come to an agreement, which leaves people like my sister in a quandary, and the rest of us in a state of confusion.

Fannie Mae, a retired registered nurse and certified midwife, has worked hard all of her adult life providing quality health care for others, both in the states and in two terms of service abroad, first
Fannie Mae as a nurse
(1972 family photo)
in Belize and then in Paraguay. She is single and the mother of a special needs individual 
she adopted years ago from a home for unwanted children in Asuncion.

Meanwhile, my sister needs ongoing and sometimes expensive treatment for her heart condition and for her macular degeneration.

What makes this situation maddening is that Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield earned $2.5 billion in net income in 2016, resulting in Chairman and CEO Joseph Swedish being awarded a 21 percent pay hike, upping the value of his compensation package to an annual $16.5 million.

You and I both know no one needs that kind of income. No one.

I hope we also agree that people like my sister deserve the same kind of affordable health care available to other aging adults in our society.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Your SOS Contributions Put Relief Sale Proceeds Over The Top

Knowing that millions have to live like this should break our
hearts--and open our wallets.
Special thanks to all of you who helped contribute a total of $40,989.04 to the first cash giving campaign at the Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale this year.

Sharing our Surplus was an effort to encourage more of the 10,000 who attend the sale, but who don't take part in the annual auction, to make a donation to Mennonite Central Committee for relief needs via cash, check or credit card.

The result this year was a largest ever net sale income of $350,606.04, compared to last year's near record of $322,505.57.

Let's pray that next year, in light of desperate and growing world relief needs, we can double that amount. Or maybe reach a $1 million.

Meanwhile, we can each contribute directly to Mennonite Central Committee online or send a much needed check today to MCC, 21 South 12th Street, P.O. Box 500, Akron, PA 17501-0500.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

"Many Antichrists Have Already Appeared"

What kind of lifestyle would Jesus approve?
"You were told that Antichrist was to come, and now many antichrists have appeared, which proves to us that this is indeed the last hour."
- I John 2:18 (NEB )

In these troubling times, as always, the test of whether someone is faithful to God is not whether or how often they say "Lord, Lord", but whether they truly follow Jesus in their daily life.

So let's apply Jesus's Beatitudes test, starting with ourselves. Are we living in the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount or by such "Me-attitudes" as the following anti-Christian beliefs?

Blessed are the haughty and the wealthy, for theirs is the promise of heaven on earth.

Blessed are those who maintain an "I'm-always-right", arrogant spirit, for they will enjoy universal acclaim.

Blessed are the proud and powerful, for they shall be lauded as the greatest winners on earth.

Blessed are the greedy, the grabbers, the graspers, for they shall experience the abundant rewards of success.

Blessed are the merciless and the militarily mighty, for they shall be feared and revered as the greatest.

Blessed are men who are pleasure-seeking and sexually aggressive, for they shall be admired as Alpha males. 

Blessed are the warmongers, for they shall be seen as maintaining law and order through military might.

Blessed are those who are admired and praised by the masses, for theirs is the power to rule over them.

Blessed are you when millions revere you, show deference to you, and who flatter you, falsely or otherwise. Rejoice and be very glad! Great are your rewards!

"No one can know Christ truly unless they follow him daily in life." - Hans Denck

Monday, January 8, 2018

Somebody Touched Me: An Epiphany Message

Monreale Cathedral mosaic of Jesus
healing a leper.
This is a meditation I gave at the Strite Auditorium at the Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community yesterday, Epiphany Sunday:

Two of the three gifts the Maji brought to Jesus, frankincense and myrrh, are widely known for their healing qualities. One can’t read the gospels without noting how much of Jesus’ ministry is about healing the sick, and about offering hope to the sick of heart, and how often Jesus, as the Divine Healer and Great Physician, touches people as he heals them. 

In some of those miracle accounts Jesus touches those who were considered untouchable. For example, Jesus touched an unclean leper in healing him, and touched the shroud of a widow’s son whom he raised to life, which would have made him ceremonially unclean. He likewise took a woman’s hand who was sick with fever and raised her from her bed, not something a Jewish male would typically do. 

And Jesus took children in his arms and blessed them, little ones who were at the bottom of the social ladder, often overlooked and neglected. And he took on the role of servant/slave and washed his disciples’ feet, one by one, and dried them with a towel. 

Jesus also allowed himself to be touched by others, by a woman who was considered unclean both because she was bleeding and because she was a Syrophoenician, a Gentile outsider. And Jesus allowed a woman, in more than one instance, to anoint his feet with perfumed oil, perhaps frankincense or myrrh, and/or with her tears, and to wipe his feet with her hair. Jesus understood the power of touching and being touched in restoring people to wholeness.

Touch is one of the first of the senses that an infant is aware of, and the last to leave when a person is dying. God gave us only two eyes for seeing, two ears for hearing, two nostrils for smelling, one tongue for tasting (with multiple taste buds), but hundreds of receptors all over our body for experiencing touch. It's vital to what make us feel alive to the world around us. 

When it came to showing affection, we weren’t a very demonstrative family growing up. It felt awkward to hug, until later in life some of us started giving our parents a warm embrace whenever we met. It wasn't long before they looked forward to it, and hugged us back.
I remember once holding my mother’s hand when she was in bed and suffering from cancer, and when I got up to leave, I spontaneously leaned over and gave her a kiss on her forehead. It was a special moment for both of us, and later she exclaimed to one of my siblings, “Harvey gave me a kiss!” As though that were something very special. It shouldn't have been, but for or us it was. It still is.
Years ago I was at Wellspring Retreat Center just outside of Washington, for a week, and Gordon Cosby, a pastor of the Church of the Savior and a writer I always admired, came and spoke to us. And then he had to leave while we were to continue on in our session. And as he was leaving he came by the aisle where I was sitting, and he turned around to add to something he wanted to say to us, and he happened to be right where I was sitting and he put his hands on my shoulder as he spoke a few more words. He hadn’t picked me out and I don’t think he had any idea how powerful that felt, to have this man of God touch me, as if to bless me, even though he wasn’t really conscious of doing that. 

We all need that kind of blessing, of people touching us, giving us benediction, laying hands on us and praying for us, or giving us an affectionate greeting. 

Have you ever thought of how many of our Christian practices have to do with touch? In the Mennonite church we used to speak of seven ordinances, somewhat like the Catholic Seven Sacraments. One was about greeting one another warmly, with a holy kiss, a kind of holy embrace, a command given repeatedly in the NT.  And then there is a laying on of hands at ordination, or at a commissioning, or in praying for someone in special need. Washing one another’s feet and drying them with a towel has been commonly practiced in many of our churches, a beautiful form of tender touch, especially important in Jesus’ time when people walked for miles every day on dusty roads.     

And at baptism, of course, we touch the head of the person on whom we pour the baptismal water. Or if we baptize by immersion we assist the person in their symbolic burial and resurrection to new life. We then take them by the hand and warmly welcome them into the family of faith.

When we anoint with oil for healing, we touch the forehead of the person being prayed for, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. In the marriage ceremony, the officiants lay their hand on the joined hands of the couple as they declare them husband and wife, until death do them part. At the Lord’s Supper, we touch as we break bread and share with each other with the words of Jesus, "This is my body." "This is my life-giving blood," the bread and the cup of communion. 

Years ago I was at another retreat where a woman there, in her 50’s, poured out her heart over all of the pain she was going through because her husband had left her for a younger woman after their children were grown. She described her pain as being like being “cut in two with a saw”. And what made it harder was it seemed the people in her church didn’t know how to respond. “My phone didn’t ring as much anymore. People didn’t know what to say. And hardly anyone touched me anymore. I began to feel my body wasn’t OK, that I had become untouchable, at a time when I especially needed the assurance that I was still an OK lovable person."

But in a time that there is so much publicity being given to inappropriate touching, how do show the right kind of Christ-like love in ways that are absolutely safe and healthy? 

Here’s where we need to think of touching in the family of faith in the same way as we do in a healthy biological family. We instinctively know the difference between incestuous touch and appropriate touch. In the context of a healthy family, we show our affection in ways that are always in public, never secretive or in private, and in ways we all agree are appropriate for sisters and brothers and parents and children, uncles and aunts. We never favor certain people over others on the basis of any physical attraction or their gender or their youthfulness, but regard everyone in our family and in the family of faith, as beautiful and special and wonderful—not as sexual objects, but as loved and respected fellow siblings in the family of God, where there is total transparency and accountability, where we always ask, “Who, when and how, would Jesus touch? 

And then to follow his good example.

Here's the benediction used every Sunday in the church in which I grew up:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, shalom. Maintain good order. Listen to my appeal, encourage one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another affectionately. All the believers greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Amen
- II Corinthians 13:11-4, paraphrased

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Two Nuclear Buttons--A Modern Day Parable

This 1945 blast should have resulted in an end to
nuclear warmongering.
The John and Jane Doe family and the Ilsa and Ivan Doesky family lived at opposite ends of a fine apartment building in Solarville. Being quite well to do, they were the envy of many of their neighbors in the same complex, many of whom were sick, hungry and living in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.

Unfortunately, over time the Doe's and the Doesky's developed a strong mistrust of each other. "The Doe's act like they want to control and run everything," complained the Doesky's. The Doe's feared their estranged neighbors had the same intentions.

As the feud between them worsened, each household tried to get as many families on their side as possible. They also began keeping firearms and ammunition on hand just in case there was any trouble--handguns at first, then automatic rifles, then whole rooms full of powerful weapons.

Finally, to gain even greater advantage, the Doe's began to develop and test the ultimate weapon, napalm. It wasn't long, of course, before the Doesky's produced large stockpiles of their own.

The Does were appalled. "Now we need even more WMD's" they insisted, "in order to protect our freedoms and to maintain peace and security in the apartment."

It wasn't long before the Doe's and Doesky's had enough death-dealing napalm to completely annihilate each other. But since they still didn't feel safe, they kept producing even more, enough to destroy their enemy twice, then three times, and then multiple more times. A sophisticated wiring device made it possible for either family to blast and burn each other to oblivion in an instant, all at the touch of a button. Costs mounted, creating terrible strains on each of their family budgets.

All along some residents in the building questioned the sanity of all this. "Is this really a show of strength or is it a sign of fear and stupidity? How can this possibly make us safer?"

"What''s more," some worried, "what about the apartment's Builder and Owner? After all, we're only renters here. Surely the Landlord will evict us if we can't find a way to get along as neighbors and fellow-tenants."