True greatness

[At The District Church, we’ve just started a new series about identity and relationships — “To Love & Be Loved.” The first sermon, which Aaron gave yesterday, is about being children of God.]

In Matthew 18, Jesus is asked by his disciples, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” His response:

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Wanting to know the order of things, wanting to know the hierarchy and who’s on top — these are inclinations that are normative to us; it’s how society operates. We pay attention to those at the top — politicians, celebrities, athletes — and those at the bottom — the poor, the vulnerable, those who have a “smaller voice” — are passed by.

It’s not surprising that the disciples asked such a question, is it? We ask the same thing — “Who is the greatest?” — every day in our own ways, often by what we pay attention to, by what we strive for, and by what we’re willing to do to get there.

Children, The Greatest in the Kingdom 2And yet Jesus’ response is to flip the script and say that we are to become like children, to become humble like children. In Jewish culture in Jesus’ time, children had no social status or authority — they were loved, but had “no status apart from that love, and no power or privileges apart from what they received as total dependents on their parents” (IVP NT Commentary). Jesus’ point is not a new one, but one he restates again and again — “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35).

In Matthew 3:17, when Jesus comes up out of the water after being baptized by John, the Spirit of God descends on him and the Father says, in the Message paraphrase:

“This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.”

We are called to be defined not by the power or privilege or status or authority that we may claim for ourselves but by humility and by the love we receive from our Father.

[Image from our “Greatest in the Kingdom” sermon at The District Church, a couple years ago. Photo credit: Heather Wilson]

Van Jones on social justice and plastic pollution

I love Van Jones. He has a way of drawing people in to a biblical worldview (especially of caring for creation) without necessarily using biblical language. He makes things make sense. Here he talks about the poor and the planet and plastic pollution.

A Pledge to the Next Generation

In light of the oil spill and the resultant devastation, we at Sojourners felt led to examine ourselves, our lifestyles and our habits. I helped to write the following pledge, originally posted on God’s Politics:

We are witnessing a massive despoiling of God’s creation that will impact ecosystems for generations. Our response must think that far ahead as well — to our children and our children’s children. Fortunately, if we lead by example, others, including future generations, will follow.

As people of faith, we know that true transformation requires sacrifice. To change our energy consumption as a nation, we’ll need more than symbolic gestures — we’ll need to learn to embody the scriptural practice of stewardship.

As part of Sojourners’ ongoing efforts to learn and discern lessons from the Gulf Coast Oil Spill, we’ve created “A Pledge to the Next Generation”. The pledge outlines some of our Christian beliefs found in scripture with a corresponding commitment statement. It reads in a similar fashion to a responsive reading. You can join us in the pledge by signing a short version on our website. Then, share with us what you would add to the pledge and what you have decided to do in your life as a result of the oil spill.

A Pledge to the Next Generation

As a person of faith called to be a steward of God’s creation, I take responsibility for the ways in which my lifestyle and my choices are partly responsible for the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I acknowledge that a new future will require conversion — a fundamental change in the ways we live in our communities, our nation, and our world.

Therefore, as a person of faith I believe and I pledge:

I believe we are called to be good stewards of the resources and gifts that God has given us in creation, and to share in God’s appreciation for the world which God called “good” (Genesis 1: 28-31).

  • I pledge to transform my life, through sacrifice, worship, action, and prayer, into one of stewardship of God’s creation.

I believe that children are a gift from God and that the kingdom of God belongs to such as these (Mark 10:13-16). I recognize that those who come after us are left with what we pass on to them.

  • I pledge to model, with my words, my attitudes, and my actions, a lifestyle that demonstrates a commitment to God’s creation and to the next generation.

I believe we are created for relationship, community, and shalom — not only with people (Mark 12:28-31) but with the world around us (Genesis 1:26-31).

  • I pledge to love my neighbor through the ways in which I treat the creation which we share, and to love God through the ways in which I treat God’s handiwork.

I believe the poor are often the most vulnerable to the consequences of our energy consumption through unsafe working conditions, polluted neighborhoods, and exploitation, and that “those who oppress the poor insult their Maker” (Proverbs 14:31).

  • I pledge to be generous with my resources toward those in need, aware of and responsible for my energy consumption, and committed to protect vulnerable communities from environmental exploitation.

I believe that God is a God of justice (Deuteronomy 10:17-19) and that we are called to reflect and represent this same God in doing justice ourselves (Micah 6:8).

  • I pledge to ensure the safety of all God’s children from the environmental excesses of the few and to advocate for policies and practices that forge a more sustainable and creation-aware path into the future.

I believe that knowing God should lead to just and righteous actions (Is. 1:16-17; Jer. 22:15-16). I believe that  since, in a democratic society, government is accountable to its citizens, and government is intended to be God’s servant for good (Rom.12- 13, Col. 2), I have a role in advocating with my government accordingly.

  • I pledge to share this commitment with my family, friends, and elected officials so that together we might seek both personal transformation and legislative outcomes that help us steward God’s creation for generations to come.

The lessons we have learned from this catastrophe impact all aspects of our society.  Any hope for a different future will only come when individuals, churches, elected officials, and corporate executives join hands and vow to change.  Today, I make this pledge.

A Boy is Shot and I Wonder Why I Do What I Do

Last night I walked down 14th Street NW, past Columbia Ave where a police car was parked, blocking entry to the street; and I watched people milling about, heading home after work. A wave of emotion hit me like a sucker-punch as I wondered how many of them knew that they were walking past the place where, two nights previously, nine year-old Oscar Fuentes was shot and killed.

I whispered a prayer for Oscar’s grieving family, and as I did so, I was reminded with startling clarity of a few of the reasons I do what I do:

Because I believe that the God I serve weeps over every life that is lost—including a nine year-old boy named Oscar Fuentes—I live and work for a world where every person is valued and honored for the image of God within him or her, regardless of how smudged and tainted this image has become (Genesis 1-3).

Because I believe that when Jesus told us to pray that God’s kingdom would come on earth—of which the evidence would be God’s will done on earth as in heaven (Matthew 6:10)—he wanted us to envision a world where there are no more tears, where mourning and crying and pain are no more (Revelation 21), I seek to live and work with the Spirit who is already at work in our world to see this come to pass, as elusive and impossible as this may be this side of Christ’s return.

Because I believe that day of the Lord—when nations shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks (Isaiah 2:4)—was inaugurated by the coming of Jesus, I live and work for a world characterized by a peace that is not simply an absence of violence and war but a wholeness of relationships with God, with others, with oneself, and with creation.

Because I believe that the redemption and salvation that came with Jesus Christ are not just a personal gift but a calling to a life that places others before ourselves (Philippians 2), I live and work for a world in which those who have not and cannot experience the many freedoms that I have may know those same freedoms.

“How long, O Lord?” the psalmists lament on many, many, many occasions. And for good reason: we live in the interim between Christ’s resurrection and his return, in the painful in-between. There remains much that is broken and sin-stained, and often we groan with creation as we hope for the promises to come (Romans 8).

But when I start feeling paralyzed by the sheer size of the challenges facing those of us who seek to live out the kingdom of God on earth, when I start wondering why I’m doing what I’m doing, when I get a little overwhelmed by the sheer number of things that are in need of repair and redemption, I look at the picture of Oscar Fuentes, newly stuck up on my wall next to pictures of my nieces and nephews, aged between 18 months and 13 years.

I remember that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son to save us all (John 3:16-17), that we might have life abundantly (John 10:10), and in this blessing we might carry out the ancient commission to be a blessing to others (Genesis 12:1-3). And I remember why I do what I do.

“From everyone to whom much is given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” (Luke 12:48)