May 112005

I’m not talking here about the "bully pulpit" the politicians have. I’m talking about the pulpit of the church, and the less than righteous pride I see developing within the Christian right. Much has been written about the hate and vitriol directed at Democrats/Liberals/Progressives and non-evangelicals Christians by the wing nuts of the Christian Right on Justice Sunday. I have lots to say about that, but plenty of other’s have said plenty. Suffice it to say, I see it as the height of arrogance.

A great deal has also has been written recently about the conservative dogma advanced by the recently deceased Pope John Paul, and the newly elected Pope Benedict. It has become quite clear that Benedict (then Cardinal Ratzinger), interfered in the U.S. Presidential elections.

And now comes a truly sad story from the state I’ve so often been proud to call home, North Carolina. It seems some wing nut Baptist preacher in Waynesville somehow got so arrogant he confused his church services with a Republican Caucus. When I was very small we actually lived in a small town near Waynesville called Canton. I love those mountains, and remember the people from there to this day with great fondness…and that was a long time ago. It’s hard to believe some punk decided to excommunicate church members based on their voting for a Democrat. In the face of a possible IRS investigation, he’s taken the coward’s way out and resigned. However, not before claiming it was all a big misunderstanding…forgetting, I guess, that his sermons had all been taped.

I’ve written before about the importance of maintaining the separation of church and state. Despite wing nut claims to the contrary, the founders were clear and adamant about maintain this separation. Thomas Jefferson wrote not only about keeping politics out of religion, but religion out of politics. In 1815, Jefferson writes in a letter to P. H. Wendover, "Whenever… preachers, instead of a lesson in religion, put [their congregation] off with a discourse on the Copernican system, on chemical affinities, on the construction of government, or the characters or conduct of those administering it, it is a breach of contract, depriving their audience of the kind of service for which they are salaried, and giving them, instead of it, what they did not want, or, if wanted, would rather seek from better sources in that particular art of science."

Forgive me for speaking my mind. Those who know me personally know it won’t be the first time, but I must point out something that I see as a flaw that might well be becoming an epidemic in the church. Seems to me that there is a lot of pride among the ranks of Christendom these days. And I don’t believe there’s room for both arrogance and blessedness within the kingdom. The first of the Lord’s teachings on blessedness — better known as the beatitudes — speaks to this point.

Speaking to the mass of people gathered at "the Mount," Jesus described the first character of one who would be a citizen of the kingdom of God. He said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit."

Because of its position at the head of the list, this must certainly be understood as the first rung on the ladder of true blessedness. It is the place where we all must begin the journey of faith — that realization that we suffer an innate poverty of the Spirit. It is this realization that underlies the rest of what the prophet from Nazareth would teach about that day. It is the soil in which our faith is nurtured.

Without the knowledge that we begin our journey in a state of spiritual bankruptcy, we would not feel the need to mourn before God. We would not become meek toward others. We would never hunger and thirst for righteousness. Without an awareness of our own spiritual poverty we would never know to show mercy to those who offend us. This being "poor in spirit" is the very threshold of blessedness; the foundation upon which our house of faith must stand.

Why is it, then, that many believers walk with their heads in the clouds? To my mind, the narrow gate of heaven is not high enough or wide enough to let enter one who carries an inflated estimation of his own importance or greatness. When I listen to some of "krazy kristian kooks", it brings to mind an old Mac Davis song that stated how very hard it is to be humble "when you’re perfect in every way."

To folks who idolize themselves and, yes, their own perceived righteousness, worship is no more than a ritual or ceremony. I wonder if God even hears their praises when they ignore their own spiritual destitution. Does He count it as folly? Does He even notice?

To try to reach the rung of righteousness before stepping on the lowly step of spiritual poverty — without stripping ourselves of what we are or what we think we are — is foolishness.

Spurgeon once wrote, "The poor in spirit are lifted from the dunghill and set, not among hired servants in the field, but among princes in the kingdom."

Indeed. For a man to become a fool that he may gain true wisdom; to save his life by giving it away; and to gain great riches by becoming poor may seem hard to grasp in this age of extravagance and greed. But that’s how it is in the kingdom of God.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God." Matthew 5:3

In another time the heathens wanted to make fun of the Torah, and of the rabbis. They asked one another:

"Are all rabbis as kind as, Hillel? Are all Jewish teachers as good as Hillel? Are all rabbis as patient as Hillel?"

So one of them said:

"I shall go and find out." He came to Shammai, also a famous rabbi, and cried:

"Your Torah, your wonderful Torah–I can learn it while I stand on one foot. Rabbi Shammai, you teach it to me while I stand on one foot." You see, he was just making fun of the Torah.

Now what do you suppose Shammai did? Do you think he had patience with a man who was making fun of the Torah? Who ever heard of learning the whole Torah while standing on one foot? The rabbis had spent all their lives in studying the Torah and even then they were not sure that they knew all of it.

Rabbi Shammai took a stick and shouted angrily:

"Get out of here, you scoffer I Do you think I have time to waste on people who mock our holy Torah?" The heathen ran away. He thought he would go to Hillel and see what Hillel would do.

All out of breath, he came to Hillel’s home. Hillel thought the man had come for something very important. So Hillel said:

"What is the matter, my good man?" And the heathen answered:

"Teach me the Torah while I stand on one foot."

Of course Hillel, too, saw that the heathen was scoffing, but calmly and patiently he said:

"You want to learn a great deal quickly, don’t you? Very well, I shall teach you the Torah while you stand on one foot. This is our Holy Torah: ‘What is hateful to you, do not do unto others.’"

The heathen forgot that he had come only to jeer.

"Does it mean that the heathens and the Jews and all of us are brothers? Does it mean that we must be kind to one another like brothers?" asked the heathen, wonderingly.

"That’s it, my son. That’s the meaning of the whole Torah. All the rest is only an explanation of that. Go, go, my son. Go and study it," said Hillel kindly.

"When may I come for another lesson?" asked the heathen humbly.

What a great lesson to learn. There is an old saying, "Pride goeth before the fall."

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