life

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Jesus didn’t involve Himself in politics when He lived among us and that’s one of the things I love about Him.

His people wanted and expected their Messiah to be their champion, to render powerless any political authority over them.  And since Jesus had no interest in politics, He was disqualified and rejected.

And so with the intention of entangling Jesus in His words – a political strategy still in use today – those who rejected Him sent a delegation to ask: “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

Jesus answered, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.”

So they brought him a denarius.

“Whose likeness and inscription is this?” He asked.

“Caesar’s,”  they answered.

“So render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.  (Matthew 22)

Let’s marvel at the little phrase, “and you do not care about anyone’s opinion,” because it’s one of the things I love about Him.  He didn’t care about being politically correct or about being popular. He knew who He was, He knew His mission and He knew the truth.

His mission had nothing to do with politics and power.

Case in point: James and John. They wanted to sit at Jesus’ right and left in glory, so they asked if they could.

When the other ten heard about their bid for power, they became indignant with James and John.

So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

It’s not about power and prestige, it’s about heaven.

Jesus sent a bunch of guys (72) out ahead of Him to every town to which He was about to go. “I’m sending you out like lambs among wolves,” He said. He sent them with the authority to bring peace and healing to households.

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

Jesus replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.  I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

That’s His mission – not to defeat political, or even spiritual, enemies – but to write names in heaven.

So I cringed a little, one recent Sunday, when I passed this sign on my way in to worship:

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Not because I disagree with it but because it’s political.  And Jesus wasn’t.

I want people of all nationalities to feel welcome everywhere.

But the sign, in typical political fashion, oversimplifies the issue.

It’s not about where a person is from, it’s about how a person behaves.

I decided to ignore the political implications and embrace the sign at face value. I began to hum along with Mr. Rogers each week as I approached it.

“Would you be mine, could you be mine, won’t you be my neighbor?”

And then last Sunday our pastor announced that the sign was found tossed in the bushes.

And a message had been spray painted on the back of the church.

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And I wondered two things:

1. What does the sign have to do with worshiping devils?

2. Are we glad our paint-can-wielding neighbor is our neighbor?

I wondered whether we should put up another sign, spray painted in the parlance of the perp, “No matter how you express yourself – as long as you do so legally, peacefully and respectfully – we’re glad you’re our neighbor.

Because the issue is, after all, behavior.

As the pastor set the Eucharist table he said all are welcome – even our graffiti spraying neighbor.

That’s what I like about him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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