The Lesson of King Abimelech

I don’t have the greatest memory when it comes to the Christian Bible.

Which is why I have to read it many times over in order to grasp the lessons of its many stories and parables throughout its 66 books dubbed scriptural canon.

So this morning in my private time of daily devotions, as I still call them, I’m reading the story of Judge Gideon and his son, King Abimelech of Israel. And I find in my mind this little hole or blank spot where I had long ago forgotten that Israel had a King before Saul. Yep. Abimelech was successor to his father, Gideon, yet not as Judge but rather by assent of the governed he was named King. King Abimelech. Long before King Saul ever assumed such power.

How could I have forgotten that?

Well, therein lies a lesson perhaps not just for me today but for you upon reading this, or upon re-reading Judges 8-9 if you are so inclined.

I wonder, dear friends, if there are not two types of power in this world that we humans are capable of drawing from.

First is the power of fear, which leads us to take control over other people or situations by either “fight,” the choice made by such biblical heroes as Judge Gideon and his son, King Abimelech, or by “flight.” The Hebrew parable tellers and later biblical writers remembered the ones who chose to “fight” for control. They were called heroes. Those who used “flight” were forgotten and not remembered at all. They probably outlived the heroes and died a peaceful, natural death for all they knew or we can ever know.

The lesson of King Abimelech is that the power of fear that leads one to choose “fighting” for control over others is a power lasting all the way to the grave. But beyond the grave is most easily forgotten. Among those who chose mostly to fight out of fear, we find Judge Gideon who, despite his life of heroism before the grave, left Israel to live on as a nation that worshiped Baal-berith as their god (see Judges 8:33). Men like Gideon and his son, Abimelech, achieved a fair amount of control during their earthly lives. But they bore no lasting influence. They become forgotten figures in the long run. Meaning I am probably not the only one to have forgotten King Abimelech.

The power of fear to help us gain control over other people and situations, whether by means of fighting or fleeing, is short-lived. It is easily forgotten. It has little lasting influence.

But there is a second power we humans are capable of drawing from.

In my mind this power comes not from the body but from the soul.

This power bears lasting influence well beyond the grave and is never to be forgotten, unlike King Abimelech. It is the power of love.

Unlike fear, love always seeks influence and never control. If you doubt me on this, think of two different people you have known in your own life, one who sought always to control you and speak for you or decide for you or manage your life from morning to night, and one who sought never to control you but always to influence you by first understanding and then informing you in ways that added to your own understanding. Now you choose: which of those different people loved you most?

Love is what Jesus is remembered for. Fear is what King Abimelech, who lived and then died by the sword, is forgotten for. Love carries lasting influence forever, well beyond the grave.

Each of us has this important choice to make in this life. Do we want to be remembered or forgotten beyond the grave? At the risk of over-simplification, there is from scripture this critical lesson about power that is later forgotten because it came from fear and led to “taking control.” This was the consequence of King Abimelech’s own choice, but a noteworthy lesson for ourselves as we still live on to make new choices for ourselves.

Love was, and still is, the lesson of Jesus’s own choice and one we can still learn from if we prefer the consequence of lasting influence beyond our own grave. His is the lesson of power that is never forgotten because it used love that led to giving influence, in total opposition to the forgotten power of fearful control.

Each day………….yes, even today……….each of us will have a choice to make. Which source of power should we use to get through this day and the night to follow? The power of fear that will lead us to take control in the short run, whether by fight or flight? Or the power of love that will lead us to give influence for the long run, by helping someone out even today in their own time of hurt?

Today will we choose to be more like King Abimelech? Or more like Jesus?

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Where’s the Christian Social Gospel when we need it?

WWJD?   What would Jesus do?

My first exposure to that question came back in the mid 1990’s when I was teaching an adult Sunday School class using Charles Shelton’s 1890’s classic, “In His Steps.” Back then I had some concern that coming out of the 1980’s we American’s were now in the throws of what political scientists call a new “corporatist oligarchy” replacing our former social democracy.   Likewise, in the throws of what historians call a new “gilded age”   —  much like the one Shelton lived through when writing his book 100 years earlier. For those unfamiliar with such terms, America’s original “gilded age” featured the emergence of industrial corporations that brought severe disparities in class, wealth, and living standards.

My main idea in offering up that centennial reading and discussion of the Shelton book back then was to seek a mini-renewal, at least at our local level in United Methodism, of the American “social Gospel” that had emerged in response to our 19th century “gilded age” of class disparity. The 1890’s gave witness to a kind of tall-steeple churchism, if I may coin that term, within American Christianity, losing touch with the basic teachings and behavioral examples of Jesus himself. Hence, Shelton’s fictional book that posed the question, “what would Jesus do?” Or WWJD as his preferred acronym.

The 1990’s, it now turns out, came and went without much of a social Gospel influence. Some, such as my evangelism mentor, Steve Sjogren, worked out of a “servant evangelism” model at a kind of micro level. Yet, nothing on a macro or systemic level really came to occur, and perhaps for that reason our gilded age of corporate rule in government and society has spawned a time in our history of unparalleled inequality between the haves and have nots. Three decades later, our lack of a coherent social Gospel in American Christianity is mostly conspicuous by its own absence.

Today’s best example of such a gilded age on steroids may well be the new American Health Care Act (AHCA) now winding its way through our U.S. Congress. Its unwritten and unspoken goal is to shift the financial risk of illness from the community to the individual. Individuals with good health and great wealth will be taken care of. Those with poor health or great poverty (the two strongly intertwined in virtually every social research study ever conducted) are left, basically, to die or file bankruptcy. Or both. It’s the new gilded age absent any coherent social Gospel response at the larger, national level.  It’s runaway hedonic greed and narcissism without any pushback from the church.

So what would Jesus do about healthcare in the United States today? WWJD?

Most of my fellow pastors and priests would seek to bear influence at the local or more micro level of community. Hire a parish nurse perhaps. Offer some CPR training or conduct weekly free blood pressure screenings. Pay for an occasional medical prescription. Visit the sick in hospitals and nursing homes. Or, if feasible, these local churches might throw open their doors for a free clinic in their own neighborhood.

I won’t disparage such reactions to the healthcare needs of today’s and tomorrow’s have nots in America.

But I have to wonder.

Would Jesus be so small as to do something no bigger than this? Nothing beyond the micro level of care?   Is Jesus really that limited in caring-capacity?

Or would Jesus act on a larger, more systemic level to influence and impact healthcare for those marginalized by poor health and intermingling poverty?

Given the thrust of Jesus’s original teachings, centered around the Kingdom of God as a systemic solution to human social and spiritual problems, my faith is 100% invested in Jesus doing something at a systems-level where healthcare is concerned for the masses of our marginalized Americans today. He would not neglect the local village, but as before he would merely use such villages and villagers as a microcosm for the Kingdom work necessary for the greater common good.

I wonder if Jesus would not today support universal healthcare aimed at comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. I wonder if he would not inspire a new social Gospel movement in our nation today.   Just as Jesus did in his own nation two millennia ago. A new social Gospel that included healthcare for everyone, not just the privileged classes.

I wonder if, given the relative success of America’s own public Medicare insurance for the elderly and permanently disabled, Jesus would not affirm a Medicare-For-All plan covering our residents of all ages, classes, villages and states. I wonder if he would not attach some personal risk and responsibility for everyone in that system by imposing a sliding fee scale premium plus co-pay plus deductible, tied to whatever income source one has. Perhaps down to $5.00 per month per person in the three areas of premium, co-pay, and deductible. Given Medicare’s comparatively low administrative costs as a non-profit insurance provider, I wonder if he would not advocate for such a system of universal care, then using the for profit sector only in the area of Medicare supplemental insurance for those wanting more and longer covered benefits. And I wonder if Jesus would not advocate for a non-profit supplemental insurance such as state Medicaid with means tested premiums for those needing more and longer covered benefits. Perhaps also lowered to $5 per month per person for the poorest in our land, no co-pay or deductible charges for service.

The reason my mind wonders if Jesus would not act in this larger, systemic direction is that, by all indications from our biblical Gospel records, Jesus believed healthcare was a right and not a privilege. This was so as regarded mental as well as bodily afflictions. And certainly without regard to wealth or material status. If after reading through the Gospels you can cite indications about Jesus to the contrary, feel free to leave a comment below. I’m willing to wonder in a new or different direction with you given strong biblical evidence.

The gilded age of modern medicine is once again upon us. I will likely never stop imagining that Jesus would offer up a social Gospel response and responsibility for all of his followers. In fact, my own mind has settled into a long held belief that religion itself is our human gift to God while science, especially medical science, is God’s gift to humanity. God’s gift is far more useful for us than our gift is for God, yet if any of us should hoard God’s gift or deny or refuse it whatsoever, we may well find ourselves on the afflicted, not comforted, end of God’s timeless equation made known through Jesus.

WWJD today in America?

 

 

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God’s round-abouts

Several years ago I began to notice a trend in local highway construction. Our familiar green, yellow and red traffic lights were being replaced ever so gradually by round-about traffic circles.

And I hated it.

I was in the habit of using the old traffic light signals when making my journeys through town and country. What’s with all these new traffic circles? Whoever thought these were a good idea? These went out of style years ago for some presumably good reason. Why bring them back and cause everyone to be honking at the car cutting into their lane all of a sudden, only to then exit to perhaps the wrong lane ahead? Which is precisely what I did myself by mistake a time or two while getting used to these new intersections. I viewed the removal of my customary straight intersections and traffic lights as some unsettled science somewhere. Maybe even a hoax created by the Chinese to steal our jobs; just kidding!!!

It took me awhile to wise up.

Sometime later on I came to the happy realization that I was spending less time getting places by car. Specifically, I was spending less time sitting still at red lights, or backed up behind a line of other cars waiting for the light to change. I was even burning less fuel by not having so many starts and stops as I learned to slow and yield instead of having to stop and wait or choosing to floor it through the yellow lights, as was also my custom. Nowadays I’m wishing every intersection was a round-about. These straight intersections and red lights are starting to get on my nerves.

Whether any of this resonates with you or not, I share it to simply illustrate how my faith journey has worked over the years. The faith I grew up with was, for points of comparison, a stop and go faith. To get where I wanted to go in life, I had come to believe in a God of straight intersections with red, green and yellow lights. God was for me a kind of hidden camera waiting for me to enter on yellow, oops, now red.

Gotcha!

God’s laws were like traffic signals that stopped traffic in one direction even if there was no one coming from the other direction.  Just because God said so, that’s why.

Traffic back ups at those red lights were, well, just part of the way God designed life to be. Hurry up and wait. Stop and go. Go and stop. And, worst case scenario, honk and go around. Tempers flaring. What’s the matter, Buster; you can’t see God’s laws of red, green, yellow?

That’s the faith I grew up with.

But it’s not the faith I have now.

Don’t think it was God that did the changing. Pretty sure it was me finally getting wise to a new reality. God posts a continuous yield sign where there used to be a half-the-time red light tying up traffic in front and behind. That change came with Jesus. And the world is still trying to get used to it. Some of the world really hates it this way.

The Bible has a way, if we read it with open minds, of helping us see the difference between law and grace, between old straight intersections and new round-abouts, old stop and go traffic lights and new yield signs. In the New Testament, Jesus comes along and issues a simple yield sign of Matthew 7:12, “So then, in everything treat others the same way you want them to treat you, for this is [the essence of] the Law and the [writings of the] Prophets.” You see, Jesus had no intention of doing away with the intersections or the provision of safety for those entering life’s intersections. Jesus came to make the journey safe but without all the traffic tie-ups in both directions. The abundant life Jesus promised is the efficiency we gain for our life’s journey when, by yielding for one who’s already in the circle, we can learn to get where we’re going just as safely but faster and while using less energy. It’s as if Jesus, according to the new faith I grew into eventually, is saying that grace will get us where we need to go much better than if we stopped every time the law’s red light told us to stop. Grace that yields like the Golden Rule is actually a perpetual yellow light that says proceed with caution.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.   Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  —  Matthew 11:28-30

This is the grace difference; the Jesus difference. And it’s made all the difference in my own faith journey. I’m not stalled in traffic anymore, like I used to be.

Oh, I realize there are many others who don’t like this faith round-about. To them these reconstructed intersections may seem dangerous and confusing. Or old-fashioned, like how traffic used to be before folks got wise and invented traffic lights. These folks miss the familiar old structures, the easy choices of when to stop and wait or else go ahead. They might say this Jesus stuff with all the grace feels like a free-for-all. Which it is, of course.

The grace to yield and simply obey the yellow sign (Golden Rule) along life’s journey to abundant living does, indeed, take some getting used to. It involves a change, a repentance, a transformation. And building the new traffic circle creates some early construction and congestion that feels like a real hassle for awhile.

Our churches, like our counties and municipalities, have a choice to make in how they want to facilitate the journeys of their people. Leave the old law in place at every intersection? Or switch to the new Jesus gift of grace that always yields yet so efficiently gets us to that abundant life we’re all trying for in the first place.   Using God’s round-about.   

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In Today’s Remembrance

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
— John 15:13

Today being Memorial Day 2017, I have to confess that my mind is always a bit conflicted when it comes to honoring our own country’s fallen soldiers. It’s a conflict brought on by my belief that war itself is rarely if ever “just”; yet, those soldiers who lay down their lives for their friends, neighbors, and unseen others are justified in receiving honor for their heroic sacrifice.

It is in remembrance of these fallen soldiers that I begin this day.

For me Memorial Day is one for waving ribbons on behalf of soldiers and not flags on behalf of nations. It is set aside to honor those individuals who sacrificed their lives for others, who lovingly laid down their lives for their friends. It is not about the nation that declares or conducts war, but about the citizen who chooses love above fear and enters war’s battlefields, skies, and seas in obedience to love’s immortality rather than fear’s mortality.

Personally, I came of age during the Vietnam War. Upon graduating from college in 1968, I was subject to the Selective Service draft used to conscript men of my age into this, in my then newly educated opinion, highly unjust, immoral, and even illegal war against the newly sovereign nation of Vietnam. It was based strictly upon an American lie involving an attack in the Tonkin Gulf.  So I joined in protest against that war.

The sin of our anti-war movement of the 1960’s was this, however: we failed to differentiate between the war and the warrior. We wrongly condemned those who served as soldiers and tarred them with the same brush used to condemn our nation’s war policy. Our collective sin as a peace movement was to deny the greater love of those who laid down their lives for their friends, as Jesus had so described it in John 15:13.

So what would Jesus do today?

I wonder if he wouldn’t walk among the families of those who lost loved and loving soldiers of war. Any war. Not to justify the wars themselves, nor even the nations that declared them. But instead to justify those who, when faced with fearful control as driven from within their own mortal bodies, refused to obey that fear and instead chose their own loving influence (never to be in vain) as drawn from their immortal soul. I wonder if Jesus would not take a knee at the grave-site or otherwise pause to honor the loving sacrifice of those who laid down their lives for their friends and unseen others also known as “neighbor.”

And I wonder if Jesus would not call us into remembrance that he, too, was a soldier of war. That upon the hillside of Calvary he, too, was driven by bodily fear of losing control but drawn by the spiritual love of gaining influence (never to be in vain) in this world God so loves. Jesus chose to obey his soul over his body.  To place his own faith in influence instead of control.  To lay down his own life. To love God and neighbor sacrificially, which is the greatest love in keeping with the greatest commandments.

Yes, my mind will always be conflicted to think that warriors may be moral even when their warring nations are not, or to think that love’s influence will outlive fear’s control even to the point of resurrecting that which was once buried. This is the ultimate conflict between life and death itself. And it is the very essence of what Christian faith is all about. The ultimate resolution that places love above fear, the immortal soul above the mortal body, and the fallen soldier above the nation itself.

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Regarding Solomon’s sword

Back in the 1970’s when I was a newly minted Clinical Social Worker, I went to work as a clinician for a private family counseling and child welfare agency. This meant the occasional case of an Adoptive Study for couples who, often due to infertility issues, were applying to adopt a newborn infant. Each of these couples came with some sense of calling and purpose, and most did deserve to receive a child. Taking into account the best practices and actual policies of that era, I did the best I knew at the time to assess the loving capacity of these couples both while in my office and in their home. My vetting process included a review of other professional opinions, which seemed to invariably include a nice letter of recommendation from some priest, minister, or rabbi. Yet, as I had to clarify in every initial session of the study, I was not there to find these nice parents some special baby. I was there to find some special baby the most loving parents. My actual client whom I worked for was the baby, who without any exception deserved to receive healthy, loving parents. Already in that decade, the tide of public social policy in Washington was shifting, and there were more available parents than babies for us to work with. I couldn’t get every loving couple a baby, even if I’d wanted to. But I could, purportedly, get every baby a secure and loving set of parents who would be flexible enough to meet a full range of that child’s needs growing up.

I bring this up because, now that I’m in my own 70’s and looking back on a couple of careers including ordained Christian ministry, I feel a sense of empathy toward a group within my own church denomination of United Methodism. This group is called the Commission On A Way Forward. See http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/commission-on-a-way-forward-about-us if you would like to know more about them. Phrased less eloquently, they have the job of keeping the United Methodist Church United. This group of commissioners is being asked to represent the family of United Methodists. Keep that family together, prevent a divorce, serve the best interests of our family going forward.

Lotsa luck with that one, I cynically say to my retired and relieved self. Having acquired a few of my own battle scars from conflicts past, I could probably offer up a bit of advice if ever asked to do so for this Commission On A Way Forward.

I won’t be asked.

But if I was to toss out an opinion of sorts in any direction these days, it might go something like this. Commissioners: be quick to clarify who your client is. And isn’t. Hint: it isn’t the family of United Methodists. It is the baby Jesus. The church is his body. Not anyone else’s. Belongs to him. So he alone is the client. Just because the United Methodists are paying you and the baby Jesus isn’t, don’t be fooled into taking on the family as your clients.

The Hebrew Bible tells of a time when King Solomon was to decide for the best interests of a particular baby. See I Kings 3 when you get a chance. Two different mothers. Used to be two different babies but now there was only one. Each mother claimed to be the rightful Mom. Solomon’s job? Find a way forward. Not for the sake of the mothers but rather for the best interest of that one living baby moving forward.

Now I have no idea how I’d have handled that case if I were Solomon. But I can pretty much guarantee I’d have not been wise enough to do what he did. As the story goes, he commissioned, of all things, a sword for the purpose of cutting this one living baby in half. Each mother would receive half. Both would then be satisfied.

You remember what happened next, don’t you?

One mother openly consented to Solomon’s plan. The other mother openly protested, preferring to give her baby away to that other mother than to have him killed by Solomon’s sword. At which point Solomon knew who the rightful mother was and with whom he would place the infant. Case solved.

Lots of great theology in that story, of course. Jesus himself would go on to teach his disciples about how the ones who would lose their lives for his sake would be saved, and those who would save them would then be lost. Same principle. And Jesus himself would bring forth the sword (Matthew 10:34) commissioned by the all-wise God whose Kingdom he served.

So maybe it is time for the Commission On A Way Forward in the United Methodist Church to call forth the competing parties in conflict, place the sword atop the baby Jesus come Epiphany Sunday of 2018, and invite that party which has the perfect Scriptural hermeneutic and perfect Spiritual discernment to strike the first blow to cut Jesus in half, to make the first cut of incision, to draw the first blood, to sever his body in two.

If Jesus is truly our client, we will give him the loving support he deserves moving forward. It may be time once again for Solomon’s sword.   It won’t be the first time Christ’s blood was shed for our iniquity.

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Hold on or let go?

Isn’t that one of the toughest questions to answer in our various life situations?

Especially these days? When so much of our society seems divided between those who would desperately hold on and those who just as desperately would let go?

If you are reading this, you probably are already aware there was in the United Methodist Church within which I’m an ordained Elder a recent ruling of its Judicial Council on a case involving an ordained Bishop in what is called our Western Jurisdictional Conference. That Bishop, for those of you living somewhere beneath a rock and don’t already know this, had previously come out as a married homosexual. Things may simmer down somewhat this week in commentary, but many of us realize this pot will boil over eventually as the UMC flame has a tendency to shoot upward from time to time. How that flame has kept from igniting and destroying the nearby cross itself is a mystery for the ages.

It is a short stretch of the imagination to say that today’s western society is painfully divided between those who would hold on and those who would let go concerning a range of social issues. We typically label those who would hold on as conservatives and those who would let go as liberals. Even then we are divided between those who would hold on to such labels and those who wish to let them go while in search of new (improved?) ones.    Hence, we have today’s evangelicals and progressives.

Regardless, humankind may be incurably divided around this general question: hold on or let go?

If I’m to be an authentic Jesus-follower in today’s world, I had better work at understanding how Jesus behaved with respect to this general question. To be sure, Jesus was surrounded by those in his day who wanted to hold on vs. those who wanted to let go. His own people, the palestinian Jews under Roman occupation, had at least as much religious and political polarity as we do today. There were those in his own society who desperately wanted to hold on while others just as desperately wanted to let go. Jesus was more than aware of his contemporary conservatives and liberals.   Herodian reactionaries vs. Zealot revolutionaries were no less “divided” than today’s American Republicans vs. Democrats on the political spectrum. And the religious divide between conservative Pharisees vs. liberal Sadducees was no less severe than today’s evangelical conservative vs. mainline liberals.

As best I can discern from my own reading of the Gospels, his own divided people sought to do with Jesus what people in conflict commonly do: triangulate. By this I mean each side wanted him on their own side against the other. They sought to triangulate Jesus.

Think United Methodist Judiciary Council when you think of triangulation today. But let’s not stop there. Let’s also be thinking about Jesus. He who was in his own time often triangulated between those who wanted to hold on and those who wanted to let go.

Let’s take the Jewish Laws of Moses, for instance. Actually there were several instances sprinkled throughout the biblical Gospels. In every instance I can trace within my own memory, Jesus gave a patterned response to the question of whether to hold on or let go when it came to the Mosaic Laws, whether dealing with adultery, murder, divorce, Sabbath, tithing, or cleanliness. His answer was a resounding “yes” to both sides of the question. As in, “Yes, hold on to the Law” and “Yes, let go of the old interpretations of that Law.” Jesus had a patterned way of saying to his own liberals and conservatives alike that, yes, do hold on to the conservative words but do let go of the conservative meanings for those words. He was both conservative in his regard for the Law and liberal in his interpretation of the Law.

If you’ll remember Solomon’s ruling when it came to the dualing mothers of the single child, the mother who won that case turned out to be the one willing to let go of her baby. I’m not so sure that represented the wisdom of Solomon so much as it does the lengthier pattern of human history itself. Those who hold on to both the old law and the old interpretation are routinely on the wrong side of history over the course of time. Those who hold on to the old law but let go of its old interpretation generally prevail in the long run. That last act of letting go has its own way of keeping the baby well into the future.

Jesus, as we surely must agree now two millennia after his death and resurrection, was on the right side of history. He has prevailed. He has said, “yes” to both holding onto the old words and to letting go of their old meanings. Where the Mosaic Law was concerned, he introduced the new meaning: Love God, and love neighbor as self. The old Law and Prophets taken together? He introduced this new meaning: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” — Matthew 7:12. To the important old word of adultery he introduced the important new meaning of lust. To the important old word of murder he introduced the important new meaning of anger.

Jesus refused to be triangulated between the holders on and the letters go of his day. And if we United Methodists would follow him in our day, I wonder if we would not end up saying “yes” to today’s questions of whether to hold on or to let go. I wonder if we, too, would not say “yes, hold on to the words of scripture and let go of the old interpretations of them.” Or, should we sanctify the United Methodist Book of Discipline as if it were our own Torah, say “yes, hold on to the words about homosexuality and let go of the old interpretation of them.”

Herein lies our UMC challenge today, as I perceive it. No. Let me rephrase that and say the entire Christian Church today. We may choose to hold on to the baby and have it cut in half, or we may let go of it and thus keep it alive. We may part company with Jesus and hold onto the old interpretations of those words we have cast as being sacred, or we may follow Jesus into the heavenly Kingdom he is still establishing here on earth. Which means both holding on to the old words and letting go of their old meanings.

“Behold, I am making all things new” — Revelation 21:5.

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What Easter means to me

There are two kinds of human beings in this world. Those who have a fear problem, and those who are afraid to say or even think they have a fear problem.

Which is another way of saying that there is only one kind of human being.

We’re all in this together.

We all have a fear problem. Some of us are just more afraid of our fear problem than others.

That being said, I believe Jesus had a fear problem in the days prior to Easter we Christians often label as Holy Week. And I also believe Jesus had no fear of his fear. Therefore, he could face it head on and solve it.

Fear is what happens to all of us throughout our lives as human beings. It is our core human emotion. We all feel it in our bodies before we know it in our minds. Our bodies often express it as symptoms of dis-ease.  Fear may cause us to get sick.  It also causes us to avoid something.  Fear causes us to feel guilty, or angry.  Causes us to flee, or to fight.  Causes us to seek control over that object we fear.    And to at other times pray for God to take control.   Without fear there would be no desire for control, no anger, no violence, no avoidance, no escaping.  Those would be unnecessary without human fear.

I’ve been around this place we call earth for over 70 years. I’ve seen a lot of fear in my time. As a therapist and then as a pastor, I’ve seen what fear does to people. Myself included, of course. Fear causes every argument, every act of aggression, starts every war. It drives our spending habits and our saving habits. It causes us to over-react. Yet, our fear of fear can cause us to under-react, even to practically paralyze us.

The 2016 Presidential election in the United States was a classic illustration of how fear affects people. Some folks were afraid to vote, so they avoided doing so. Others were afraid of one candidate, which caused them to vote for another candidate instead.

Many in America’s minorities fear those in the majority; many in the majority fear those in the minority. Some of our police fear some of our citizens, and vice versa. All police violence is triggered (an apt pun) by fear.    Unresolved fear kills people; even innocent people.   Unresolved fear stems from our fear of being afraid.

We humans fear the future. We fear death. We fear loss. We fear pain. We fear our emotions in various ways at various times. We fear people “other” than ourselves. We fear ourselves. We fear judgment and criticism and rejection and failure. We fear loneliness and isolation. We fear God. We fear hell.

We’re a mess! Especially nowadays. We have a fear problem so large we are afraid to even face it or acknowledge it.   It remains largely unresolved.   And people really are dying from it every day.    

Which is perhaps the best reason in this world to follow Jesus.

Because Jesus leads us to the solution. He demonstrates the solution. He shows us the way, the truth, the life. He does so when he’s alone in his own wilderness journey for 40 days. He does so when dealing with people during his reported years of ministry. And he does so, perhaps most of all, during the days before Easter. The days we call Holy Week.

In the garden of Gethsemane is the scene in the Bible’s synoptic Gospels (see Matthew 26, Mark 14, and Luke 22) where several disciples reported seeing Jesus dealing with his own fear problem. It was a giant fear problem. Jesus named the problem his “cup,” perhaps in reference to his own blood that would soon pour from his body onto the cross of unparalleled torture, and into the ground beneath. He fearfully prayed for a way of avoiding this “cup.” He was, after all, fully human just like you and me.

Want to know what I picture when reading this powerful Holy Week story from scripture? I picture a body trying to tell the mind what to do, what to decide. Has your body ever tried telling your mind what to do? It’s a common way of self-talk. The body goes first. And then the mind has the final word, makes the decision……..whether to obey the body or overrule it.   Either way, it then tells the body what to do. Both the body and the mind have a will, but they’re not always in agreement. And when they are not, as when Jesus and the Father………God’s body and mind…….are in conflict, we see what happens next.  A third party intervenes and breaks the tie.  We call this third party the soul.   God’s Holy Spirit. The one who has the final authority to inform the mind’s decision, which then tells the body what to do. And so I picture God’s soul engaging in the self-talk of Jesus as if to say, “I know you are about to walk through the Kidron valley with its burial grounds called the shadow of death, and I know all about the table where your enemies were present, and about the one who anointed your head with oil from her alabaster jar. I’m your soul. I’m always with you. My love for you is greater than your fear for yourself. Your fear will end, you will fear not, but your love will last forever. I will live in your body for a little bit longer, but you will live in my soul forever.”

Then I picture Jesus saying, “that’s the solution.” That’s the solution to every fear problem on earth. It’s the Spiritual solution to our somatic problem, our mental problem, our fear problem, our death problem. It is God’s permanent solution to our temporary problem.

Which brings me back to our own humanity. Our own fears. Our fear problem at its very worst, which finally comes to an end when we take up our own cross and follow Jesus. Which is when Easter comes along and proves to us, once and for all, that love outlasts and outcasts fear.    Which can only happen when, like Jesus, we are not afraid to be afraid.   When we instead face our fear out loud in our own garden of Gethsemane.

That’s what Easter means to me.

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