Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: sermon on the mount

Guest Post: The Grasshoppers of Life

by Rev. Mark Winter

washing_3262c-2Read Joel 2:1-2; 12-17

My dad grew up in a Texas sharecropper’s shack during the Great Depression. He was barely a teenager when the “Grasshopper Wars” began. The winged insects darkened the sky like storm clouds, swooping down on crops and stripping them to stubble. Driving turned dangerous as the roads became slick with grasshoppers. Women grumbled because the pests chewed holes in their fresh-hung laundry.

Some 2700 years before this Dust Bowl plague, a battalion of grasshoppers invaded a country far from Texas. These “locusts,” as the prophet Joel called them, were any number of insects that resembled grasshoppers, but were usually larger and even more destructive: “What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten. What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten, and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten” (Joel 1:4, NRSV).

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Captain Phillips (2013)

Captain Phillips received nominations for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor: Barkhad Abdi, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Sound Editing.

If you have ever wanted to know what it would be like to be held hostage by sea pirates, Captain Phillips gives you that chance. Paul Greengrass gets you close enough to the action that it feels like you are right there with Phillips (Tom Hanks). The film is based on the memoir by Richard Phillips, who lived through the real events. And Greengrass is the best man for this job. From Bloody Sunday to United 93, Greengrass has not only made films based on real-life events but intense real-life events.

Captain Phillips boards his cargo ship and prepares his crew. It is the first time this captain and this crew are working together. Phillips makes a list and checks it twice, to make sure everything (including his crew) is as it should. On his list is running drills for emergencies. The drills pay off because as they turn the corner of the horn of Africa, Somali pirates glide closer to the cargo ship. With no weapons on board, the captain and the crew have to defend themselves with water hoses and wit until help comes.

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The Ten: Don’t Hurt People

Do not kill. (Exodus 20:13, Common English Bible)

There is a story in Genesis of two brothers, the world’s first two brothers: Cain and Abel. They both brought sacrifices to God. Able brought the first and best of his sheep, while Cain brought scraps from his harvest. Their tithing was their worship. God looked favorably on Abel’s offering, and not so favorably on Cain’s offering.

In a fit of jealousy and anger, Cain kills his brother Abel.

The world’s first murder.

Perhaps this story from the Hebrew tradition is what came to mind for the Hebrews when Moses announced this commandment. Life is a precious gift given by God. The responsibility for giving and taking life belonged to God. But the commandment to not kill may have a broader stroke.

Terence Fretheim writes about this commandment:

….any act of violence against an individual out of hatred, anger, malice, deceit, or for personal gain, in whatever circumstances and by whatever method, that might result in death.

“Any act of violence” with the intention of death.

Recently our community had bomb threats at a number of area schools, elementary through high school. A fire drill blared, and the students, in orderly lines, went outside. Some of the students were funneled into school buses. The next day there were children who did not want to go to school. They were filled with anxiety and fear. And I can’t blame them. If I was in the first grade and had that experience, I most likely would fight my parents to not go to school.

The person or persons who called in these bomb threats are attempting to act in God’s stead. This act of violence goes against God’s loving creation. The effects of this act will last longer than that moment, which can be wildly dangerous. God beckons us to place value on the lives of others.

Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, goes a bit farther. Jesus, always one to turn the world upside down, tells the crowd that the commandment goes beyond physical violence. Verbal abuse and other expressions of anger, hatred, malice, and so on. Jesus extends the commandment to include anything that we might do to hurt others. Name-calling, gossiping, back-stabbing, (all the stuff you see happening on House of Cards), is damaging to the person you do that to. It kills a part of them. And frankly, it kills a part of us as well.

When we hurt others – in physical, emotional, or verbal ways – we are hurting God’s plans for a safe and loving world. When we call in bomb threats that leave first graders huddled on a cold school bus, we are disrupting God’s plan for a safe and loving world. When we choose vile and selfish ways to keep people out (even in the name of God), we rattle God’s plan for a safe and loving world.

In the beginning, God created and it was good. When we hurt others, we disturb the goodness of God’s creation. And that is not good.

Jesus Said: To Die For

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. “Not only that – count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. (Matthew 5:10-11, The Message)

Jesus Said - jasoncstanley.comMartin Luther King, Jr., in a speech in 1965, said, “If you haven’t discovered something that is worth dying for, you haven’t found anything worth living for.”  As 21st century Americans we live for our careers, we live for our educations, we live for our families, we live for our nation, but do we live for our God?

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3) willingly went into the fiery furnace, not with a certainty that God would save them, but because of their zeal to live their lives for their God.  They refused to bow to the idol made of gold, and they were persecuted for it.  They were tied up and thrown into the fiery furnace. We are taught—maybe even expected—to bow at the altar of the media, the altar of the shopping mall, the altar of the self.

Fiery FurnaceWe might call Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego countercultural. While the rest of society was bowing before the golden statue of the King, these three men did not. King would reference this Hebrew story often during the Civil Rights Movement, perhaps because they represented so well what was happening to African-Americans across the South. If you have seen the film The Butler (and other films like it), you see graphic images of what persecution looked like during that era.

In his famed “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, King writes in response to a letter written by other clergy men that appeared in the Birmingham newspaper. King and his non-violent movement was countercultural. These clergy men who wrote in were asking King and his movement to slow down. In essence to bow before the golden statue to society’s norms. The Church can be a greenhouse of countercultural thinking. Instead of bowing before the idols of fill-in-the-blank, we bow before the One True God.

Being countercultural, however, has become a kind of buzz word. Christians like to use it to justify their standing up on a particular moral or even political issue. Unfortunately, in the midst of being countercultural, there is a very delicate line between being countercultural and being mean. Yep, mean. It is possible for someone to stand up for their morals and stand up for their beliefs without being mean. Without being a bully. Without persecuting others. Jesus’ blessing to those who are persecuted does not give the rest of us a license to persecute.

Jesus is up front and clear. If we follow Him, we will be persecuted. Following Jesus is not a Country Club Membership. It is not going to be easy. And when you are persecuted – when are treated poorly because you are countercultural – you are blessed.

By climbing the ladder of the beatitudes, we can live a committed life to God.  A life filled with persecution because our lives are filled with bowing down to the one true God.   This life brings with it joy and gladness.  Isaiah and Jeremiah knew this joy and gladness.  Peter and Paul knew this joy and gladness.   When we live our lives for Christ, we live in a joy and gladness that the world cannot give us.  And we live as Easter people, filled with a hope that can only come through the Risen Christ.

Are you in a place in your spiritual life where you can rejoice in the midst of your suffering?  

 Pray:  Lord, may your Holy Spirit dwell within us so that we can live each day for you.  Help us to put aside our selfish needs and desires and to stop putting them first.  You are first in our lives.  Amen.

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