Easter Justice and a thirst for righteousness

 

One of last things Jesus said before he died on the cross was, “I thirst.”  It is hard to imagine the very Savior who promised a woman by the well (John 4) everlasting water being thirsty, but he was.  Perhaps there is a deeper meaning to this illusive Easter text.

We live in a desolate and parched time.  The government is gridlocked; ISIS is sweeping across Africa and the Middle East; a precarious presidential election has nearly nose-dived into the gutter.  Black lives matter; gay and lesbian youth are committing suicides at an unprecedented rate due to bullying and discrimination.  Income inequality is at its greatest since the Great Depression.  Businesses and churches are surviving against all odds.

I can’t understand why Jesus thirsted, but I know why I thirst.  I thirst because we still have to live in a world in which Jesus’ Kingdom-vision, one of peace, liberation, redemption, and embrace has yet to be realized.

Easter happened.  Jesus arose from the grave.  He promised eternal life to those who believe; but, we are still living in the times between Good Friday and silent Saturday of our own souls.  We haven’t experienced resurrection with our Savior yet.  We stand, instead, between death and Jesus’ Second Coming.

Until Jesus comes with a final trumpet sound to inaugurate once and for all God’s reign on heaven and earth, I thirst.

I guess that when Jesus said “I thirst,” he was referring to Psalm 69.  At least that’s what the notes in my Study Bible say. But what if Jesus had Psalm 42 in mind instead?

As a deer longs for flowing water, so my souls longs for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When shall I come and behold the face of God?  My tears have been my food day and night” (v. 1-3).

What if Jesus said “I thirst” because he wants us to remember his Sermon on the Mount?   While we mourn at the cross, we may recall that Jesus’ Sermon mandated that we still have work to do, even in the midst of our own thirst: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matt. 5:6).

Righteousness is a biblical term that means “to be in right relationship with,” and it is a benchmark of God’s activity on earth.  Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, God’s desire was to reconcile that ruptured relationship, to put things right.

Jesus must have thirsted for righteousness because his death was the next step in this process of reconciliation.

I too thirst for righteousness that includes advocating for justice and mercy and kindness in a world very much in need of repairing.

I thirst for righteousness because I want to fight for what’s right in the world in order to see balanced budgets, terrorism abated, peaceful conclusions to war, and a more equitable tax code and quality of life for all lives.

Before he was crucified, Jesus told parables and healed the sick and ate with tax collectors and sinners.  He said that the reign of God–the very kingdom of God–had come to earth and was in our midst.

This reign was more than a fancy idea or personal wish; the reign drew heaven’s goal and earth’s future closer together so that God’s will would be accomplished “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Although I thirst still, I am thankful that Jesus is indeed the Everlasting Water who gives us a chance to spread God’s righteousness even in the least expected places, like at the local halfway house or in Congress.

I thirst, but it is God who nourishes us with hope that one day even broken legislatures and warring enemies will eventually bow to His lordship.

How to give, where to give: An exercise in Generosity

Picture courtesy of WDD

Picture courtesy of WDD

Over the past few years, I have been solicited by friends who are on the mission field.  These days, denominations do not fully fund missionaries, so many who are called to spread God’s Word rely on individual support.

Although there is a debate about tithing in church, there is no doubt that giving is a religious mandate.  Jesus never saw charity as an option.  He once said, “When you give,” not “If you give” (Matthew 6:3).

Charity is one of the five pillars of Islam, as well as a benchmark in Jewish social ethics.  Giving has actually increased in the last year by over 4%, so we know its important.

I was, however, disheartened to provide my friends with only a one-time gift.  It’s not that I don’t want to give, but my family and I have already met–and in some places, exceeded–the “giving” portion of our budget by providing for other missionaries and institutions.

I’m sure that I am not alone in my charity conundrum.  With so many needs and so many people who ask for our support, choosing where to put our own limited resources can lead to long nights and severe headaches.

The real question is not whether we give, but how to give and to whom.

Over the years, I’ve found that there are three simple rules that can help a person discern where to put resources.

The first rule is to know your own core values.  If you were to list all of the social needs that you are passionate about, what three would top the chart?  If you are like me, you cannot fund every cause for which you care about, but most people can pinpoint about two or three in which they have a deep connection.

Focus your extra donations to those causes, and learn to say “no” to the rest.

Second, do research on the individuals or the organizations you seek to support.  This begins by researching where your church tithe goes.  Sometimes if a church gives to one cause as a result of a tithe, then you have the freedom to use extra money to give to another cause.

In my own context, my church gives 10% to a variety of non-profit organizations and ministries.  I don’t double my giving by giving to those ministries, so I use resources to support ministries that my church does include in its budget.

I have spent time researching the organizations and individuals I support.  In some cases, I know someone in the organization personally, or I have been affected by the ministry in some personal way.

A last rule of thumb is to keep extra money or resources on hand to give something when some missionary, ministry, or organization asks for your help.

Although you may only have $10 or $20 to give, its better than nothing in many cases.  Every dollar counts.

There are some situations in which I cannot help someone with a monetary gift, but I will try to provide for them in some other significant way–like getting them connected to a network or individual who has like-minded goals.

Sure, I may not be able to give something, but I may be able to connect them with someone who can give more than I can ever dream of giving.

In a tight economy in which many people need support and even more people need non-profit organizations and ministries to help them along the way, solicitations will not end any time soon.

We all need to chip in and give to those causes for which we feel passionately, and we all need to make decisions that can make the world a better place, even if its only in our immediate neck of the woods.

Redefining Christian Witness

"Love one another as I have loved you"

“We are against Halloween,” one minister recently told me.  This is a common response I get from folks in the church.  That, and:  “We are against homosexuals, abortion, environmentalists, liberals, social-gospel types, postmodernists, illegal immigrants, people-who-worship-like-that, health-care reform, and redistribution.”  As some Christians follow in the footsteps of partisan politicians, it remains an easy habit to become known for being against something instead of being for something.

A recent Barna poll asked people what contributions they think Christians have made to American society.  The pollster divided the answers between positive and negative contributions.

The results are telling.  Although 34% of people under the age of 25 stated that Christians have contributed something to help the underprivileged in society, a larger percentage of people could not think of a single positive contribution that Christians make to society.

Contrast these figures with what people say are the negative contributions that Christians make, and we get a clearer picture of what kind of message the church is sending in the public sector.   One out of every five respondents say that the most negative contribution that Christians make in society is a “vitriolic attitude.”  That’s followed closely by the fact that Christians are known for being very, very anti-homosexual.  (Only 6% claimed that Christians made a positive contributions to marriage, by the way.)

For the most part, all this survey tells us is that people on television–those who get airtime for being the most sensational in their speech, including Christians–influence how people view Christians.  We are so busy trying to fight culture wars and drawing lines in the sand that we have basically isolated ourselves from becoming culturally relevant whatsoever.  That line in the sand ended up being a circle in which very few can stand.

But becoming relevant for its own sake also misses the mark.  After all, Jesus did point out that, “wide is the gate to destruction, but narrow is the gate that leads to eternal life” (Matthew 7:13-14).  The Gospel is good news for people in need of salvation, but Jesus makes no apologies for calling those same people to live under the lordship of a holy and righteous God.

Yet, Jesus also tells us that he, not us, will be the one to separate the sheep from the goats.  He will judge the “living and the dead.”  Jesus told us not to spend our time judging others “lest” we be judged too.

When we define ourselves by what we are against, we usurp Jesus’ place as ultimate judge and try to separate sheep and goats on our own, without considering the very myopia of our own perspectives.  We assume that we know God so well that we will choose for Him whom we let into the wider fellowship of faith.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells his audience to welcome people that a majority in society doesn’t welcome.  This includes people who have no resources of their own (Luke 6:27-36) and people who are deemed “unworthy” or are ridiculed in society (Luke 14:12-24).

Not only do we welcome people without reservation or preconceived notions of judgment, but we are to define ourselves by our relationship with them too.   Jesus is our example: “And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them'” (Luke 15:2).

My prayer is that we are a people known for being passionate, sold-out, Jesus-freak followers of Christ who spend so much time with sinners and saints alike that no one will fail to recognize the positive contributions we make in society.   Not only will this further the Gospel, but it will harness the energy of people who stand ready to inaugurate God’s agenda for the redemption of all creation.   Go and be the Good News of inclusion, not the bad news of rejection and vitriol.

I’ll leave you with a quote from ethics professor, Dr. David Gushee, in his recent op-ed, “Christian Witness Among the Partisan Fray,” at http://www.abpnews.com.  He writes,

Christians are called to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jer. 29:7). Our American Babylon needs our prayers. And it needs from us not thoughtless participation in partisan combat, but a uniquely Christian moral witness of commitment to the common good and love of every neighbor.