Scaring People to Christianity

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Apr 072010

Easter Sunday afternoon me and Lay went to his parent’s farm down in Ruskin to hide Easter eggs and eat. At one point, I was running to a nearby Walgreens to pickup a couple of items. I was stopped at the traffic waiting to turn in and noticed a young man on the corner holding a large sign and his Bible.

He had a nice PVC frame and the sign must have been about five feet wide by four feet high. On it was a gruesome picture of a person in tattered and burned clothing standing in a pool of blood dripping from all over him. Sitting in the foreground of the picture on a raised seat was an image of Jesus, a stern look on his face with an outstretched finger pointed accusingly at the other figure.

There were, as you can imagine, some words about hell and damnation, but I can’t remember them specifically. Having grown up in the funeral business (and having been a funeral director in the past), I spent my fair share of time in churches of every description, and I’ve certainly heard hell-fire and brimstone sermons. I even remember some “revivals” in my day with some pretty strong and damning language.

For some reason I was really struck on this day by this man’s sign. I realized I felt sorry for him. Sorry that his experience was one where one becomes a Christian (is saved) out of fear…where Jesus is the Grand Inquisitor. Unfortunately, that is the experience of so many people, especially those on the extreme Christian right. If you listen to their theology and their sermons, and get them to admit their real reasons for professing Christianity, it’s not because they want to live a better life. It’s not because they believe it’s a way to help them be better more caring people. It’s because they have been scared into believing that not believing sends one to a hellish afterlife, sentenced by an angry God.

The Prophet MicahThey have this apocalyptic theology based primarily in the book of Revelation, but it is also in that book we find in Chapter 3 Verse 20 these words, “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” (New Living Translation) My personal favorite verse is Micah 6:8, “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” And this from a book in which the prophet warms of the wrath of God on the Jewish people.

Where was God’s anger directed in Micah? The prophet sums it up for us in chapter 3, verse 11: “Its heads [its rulers] give judgment for a bribe, its priests teach for hire, its prophets divine for money; {Mic 3:11a RSV}..” Throughout the Bible, God’s anger was directed at leaders who fail to care for their people, and see to their well-being. And his condemnation for the rest of us is directed at those of us who turn a blind eye to “the least of us.”

Read the two verses above. The angry God of the Old Testament invites us to walk with him, and the Jesus of the New Testament gently knocks, and asks to share a meal as a friend. This is not the God of the ultra-conservative right-wing Christians. They live in fear of God and possible condemnation, and soothe themselves not by caring and sharing, but by trying to make everyone else appear even less worthy than they.

What a sad state of affairs for those people, and what a sad state they create in our world with that view. Me, I prefer the idea of a Jesus who is a friend. Someone who cares about others, and calls us, as he did, to take care of one another. It is the piousness that usually brought about the wrath of God.

Who Stole Jesus?

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Apr 162006

It is Easter. Last year I wrote a reflection on Holy Week, and decided I wanted to write something this week. The thoughts for this reflection come from the topics that will be discussed today in the Sunday School class I’m leading on the Social Principles of the Methodist Church.

John 20: 10-15 — Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

“Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

You see He died day before yesterday. We placed him in a snug comfortable tomb. We put him where we could find him.

Mary was in deep grief and loss. Her future hopes were dashed. Her emotions were raw. Like the other follower’s of Jesus, she was scared and uncertain about the future.

She went to find the remains of her Lord to care for Him as He had cared for her. She knew it was over when He had been pulled from the garden and taken from judge to judge, handled by hateful hands and discarded as just another expendable religious fanatic.

And on this morning of all mornings Mary needed Him to be where He was supposed to be. Where was He? Who took Him, and how could she get him back? Could it be that her need to find Jesus where she left Him hindered her from seeing where He was?

Can our need to keep Jesus where we need him blind us to where Jesus is moving today? Can our need to confine Jesus keep us from participating in the real power of his resurrection? Do we waste our time by looking in a graveyard for a living, dancing, glorified Jesus?

Now let’s not think little of Mary. She represents many that are loyal, vigilant, and faithful to attending a graveyard where Jesus used to be and asking, “Where have they taken him?”

Someone said, “We’ve got Him. He’s over here behind stained glass and in the vaulted ceilings of mighty Gothic cathedrals. He flies in buttresses. He resides in shrines and holy places, in relics and shrouds. He whispers a lot.

“No, we’ve got him!”

Jesus is walking among things political and national. Jesus is the man. Proposition J. He is a plank on our platform. We put him back on the Supreme Court! He is on the banner that goes before us in war…He supports preemptive strikes! He is here with us on the right. We sealed Him up in our positions, our rallies and our mass mailings. We’ve got him, we’ve dressed Him up in prejudice. Made Him hate the poor, the immigrant, and Mickey Mouse. He speaks very little…we talk for Him.?

And I hear a voice from the left, “We really do have Jesus, but we’ve stripped Him of most of His power, His glory and His mystery. We made Jesus another great teacher, you know like Ghandi, or Martin, or Nelson. We made Jesus more manageable. We’ve got Him under control.

It did not dawn on Mary that nobody took Jesus. She did not realize Jesus got up and got out of there Himself. The living Christ does not dwell long where death is the lifestyle. She didn’t know that Jesus had come forth to usher in a new and living way.

Mary couldn’t imagine the full scope of his power and influence, that He could steal victory from his own death-that death had been turned into life.

There are those of us who would prefer a dead Christ in His place to a living one outside of our control. There are those who can only recognize Christ in certain forms and under certain circumstances.

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