Not Too Late for Changes

RCL – Fourth Sunday in Lent – March 18, 2012

Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

I keep hearing about bullying and the need to put an end to it. But I turn on the news and I hear such hateful words coming out of the mouths of politicians. I listen as people around me talk about what is going on in the world and I hear disparaging remarks about people of other countries. And then there are more news stories about abuse, neglect, and blatant disrespect for human life. It is no wonder to me that children victimize those among them who are somehow “different” and that very often adults look the other way. It seems to me that disrespect, if not straight out bullying, has become normative in our society.

Maybe my perception is skewed because this has been a week of frustration and disappointment for me. Like many people these days, I work in a place that is understaffed and filled with stress. What emerges more often than not is not pretty. There is a culture of disrespect toward co-workers and, sometimes, toward the people we are there to serve. In an effort to balance this, I made the topic of my group work this week “The Golden Rule.” Participants had much to say about why this isn’t typical today even though all major world religions and philosophies (from Christianity to Confucianism) have a version of treat others as you wish to be treated. For those who attended the groups, it came down to respect – for self and others. One or the other is lacking was the general consensus.

While “The Golden Rule” is not the scripture for this week, I think that this week’s readings highlight the reasons for treating one another as we wish to be treated. Both the passage from Numbers and the Psalm indicate quite clearly that it is God who saves. The ancient Israelites were lost in their sin and suffering and God redeemed them; they did not redeem themselves. But this is only the beginning.

The writer of Ephesians so nicely reminds us that “by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” So the people like Santorum who condemns people who believe differently while bragging about what he has done in his life, need to take a step back and think again. And the people who say that Obama is not a Christian because he supports women’s rights (among other things) or judge against Romney because he is a Mormon, also ought to re-evaluate. I am so tired of politics getting tangled up in religion for no reason other than fear and ignorance. These people are not treating each other the way they would want to be treated. (And if they are, I can recommend some therapy to address their extreme lack of self-esteem.)

More than this emphasis on being saved from ourselves by the grace of God, is the point of the oft-quoted John 3:16 and the lesser known verse that follows it:  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Everyone who believes. How simple is that? Not just the people who look like me, think like me, believe like me, live like me. Everyone who believes. And then there is the next part. God sent Jesus into the world not to condemn it but save it. THE WORLD. Not just right-wing or left-wing or moderates or liberals or progressives or Americans or Catholics or Protestants. God’s desire is to save everyone. And save everyone not by condemnation but by love.

That means we are back to where I started. If you call yourself a Christian, then bullying anyone is not an option. It should be unacceptable in our politicians, our parents, our teachers, our children, our churches – everywhere. The soldiers who return from service with symptoms of PTSD ought to receive appropriate treatment not be denied and turned away. The person with major mental illness ought to be shown respect not ignored or given substandard treatment. The “rogue soldier” who killed the civilians in Afghanistan should be prayed for right along with the victims. The immigrant who is trying to make a new life in this country ought to be welcomed and invited in rather than judged and resented. Hatred and resentment shouldn’t be focused on all  Syrians and Iranians. Who appreciates being judged negatively just because of the country they live in and some of the foolishness of their politicians?

We are half way through Lent. It isn’t too late to give up something. Maybe if we all gave up harsh words of judgment… If we tried harder to find compassion and empathy for those we experience as “other”… then more people could see that our faith is in a God who loves fully and deeply. God saw human beings as worth the life of Christ; God did not call us worthless, despicable creatures, but gave us Christ to save us from ourselves and show us our immeasurable value. It’s time we do the same.

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