Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Jesus Wants to Save Christians - Chapter one - part two. The Cry of the Oppressed.

David’s son Solomon comes to power. Solomon is brilliant and wise and wealthy, and Jerusalem, the capital of the kingdom begins to gain a global reputation. A queen for the land of Sheba comes to visit Solomon. She’s from far away, from a different land, from a different kind of people, with a different religion. And she wants to know more about these people and their king and their God in Jerusalem.

Wasn’t this what Sinai was all about? God was looking for a body, a nation to show the world just who God is and what God is like. And now it’s happening: foreigners from the corners of the earth are coming to ask questions and learn and just who this God is.

After survey the kingdom, Sheba says “Because of the Lord’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king to maintain justice and righteousness.” And what does she mean by “justice and righteousness”? - Freedom, liberation from violence, protection from anything dehumanizing. She understands that God has given all of this wealth and power and influence so that Solomon would use it on behalf of those who are poor, weak, and suffering from injustice. Sheba gets it. Solomon, like us, can use his power and wealth to do something about the cry of the oppressed, or he can turn a deaf ear.

The Bible tells the story: “Here is the account of the forces labor King Solomon conscripted to build the Lord’s temple, his own palace, the terraces, and the wall of Jerusalem.”

Solomon had slaves. Slaves who labored to build his temple, palace, and other buildings. Wait. The Lord’s temple? This is the same Lord who sets slaves free correct? The defining event of Solomon’s ancestors was the exodus right? And now Solomon is building a temple for the God who sets slaves free… using slaves? This is a major moment in the Bible. In just a few generations, the oppressed become the oppressors. In a few generations these wandering former slaves who were newly rescued from an oppressive empire have become empire-builders themselves. Solomon isn’t maintaining justice, he’s now perpetuating the very injustice his people once needed redemption from and, in the process, building a kingdom of comfort.

Solomon uses his massive resources and wealth to build military bases to protect his…massive resources and wealth. His empire-building leads him to place a high priority on preservation. Protecting and maintain all that has been accumulated is taking more and more resources.

Moses said (Duet. 17:16-17) that the king “ must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord had told you, ‘You are not to go back the way again.’ He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.”

Solomon breaks covenant with God. Jerusalem is the new Egypt. Solomon is the new Pharaoh. Sinai has been forgotten. This puts God in an awkward place.

God is searching for a body, a community of people to care for the things God cares about. God gives power and blessing so that justice and righteousness will be upheld for those who are denied them.

At the height of their power, Israel misconstrued God’s blessing as favoritism and entitlement. They became indifferent to God and to their priestly calling to bring liberation to others. There is a word for this. A word for what happens when you still have the power and the wealth and the influence, and yet in some profound way you’ve blown it because you’ve forgotten why you were given it in the first place. The word is exile. Exile is when you forget your story. Exile isn’t just about location; exile is about the state of your soul. Exile is when you fail to convert your blessing into blessings for others. Exile is when you find yourself a stranger to the purposes of God.

And it’s at this time that we meet the prophets, powerful voices who warned of the inevitable consequences of Israel’s infidelity.

God hates their religious gatherings! When God is on a mission, what is God to do with a religion that legitimizes indifference and worship that inspires indulgence?

God doesn’t have a problem with eating and drinking and owning things. It’s when those things come at the expense of others’ having their basic need met – that’s when the passionate rants of the prophets really kick in.

God want to live among the people in the sacred union of the divine and human, but they aren’t interested. “But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets. Amos gets kicked out of the palace. Jeremiah gets beaten up and put in stocks and thrown in a pit, and the people don’t change. They don’t remember Egypt. They’ve forgotten Sinai. They’re too comfortable. The system works for those with the power and influence to change the system. They can’t hear the cry.

Eventually God has enough. Everything falls apart, the temple is destroyed, many are killed, and those who survive are carried off to a foreign land called Babylon. And in Babylon, the survivors become “servants.” And what is a servant who serves against their will? A slave. The Israelites find themselves slaves in a foreign land. Does that sound familiar? Sounds a lot like Egypt, doesn’t it?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Cry of the Oppressed - Chapter One

Egypt, the superpower of its day, was ruled by Pharaoh, who responded to the threat of the growing number of Israelites in his country by forcing them into slavery. They had to work every day without a break, making bricks, building storehouses for Pharaoh.

Egypt is an Empire - built on the backs of Israelite slave labor.

But right away in the book of Exodus, there is a disruption. Things change. And the change begins with God saying:
“I have indeed seen the misery of my people… I have heard them crying out… I have come down to rescue them… I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them…”

A God who sees and hears. A God who hears the cry. The Hebrew word used here for cry is sa’aq, and we find it all throughout the Bible. Sa’aq is the expression of pain, the ouch, the sound we utter when we are wounded.

But sa’aq is also a question, a question that arises out of the pain of the wound. Where is justice? Did anybody see that? Who will come to my rescue? Did anybody hear that? Or am I alone?

The Israelites are oppressed, they’re in misery, they’re suffering – and when they cry out, God hears.

This is central to who God is: God always hears the cry of the oppressed.


What started in a garden is now affecting the globe.

The word for this condition is anti-kingdom.

There is God’s kingdom – the peace, the shalom, the good that God intends for all things. And then there is what happens when entire societies and systems and empires become opposed to God’s desires for the world.

Egypt is an anti-kingdom. Egypt is what happens when sin builds up a head of steam. Egypt is what happens when sin becomes structured and embedded in society. Egypt shows us how easily human nature bends toward using power to preserve privilege at the expense of the weak.

Exodus… is about liberation from occupation.

God sends a shepherd named Moses to lead them out of Egypt. But that’s not the end of the story.

It’s actually a beginning. Their journey takes them to the foot of a mountain – a mountain called Sanai. And what happens at Sinai is revolutionary.


It’s here, at Sinai, that God speaks.

God hasn’t talked to a group of people since Eden.

Sinai is the breaking of the silence. God is near. God is about to speak. It’s believed that this is the only faith tradition in human history that has as its central event a god speaking to a group of people all at one time.

Rescue, redemption, liberation – it’s all received from God. It’s all grace. It’s all a gift.

God invites the people to be priests. It’s an invitation to show the world who this God is and what this God is like.

Sin always gains a head of steam when it goes unchecked. And that always leads to institutions and cultures and structures that are anti-kingdom. This leads to dehumanizing places, like Egypt had become, which these former slaves standing at the base of Sinai know all too well. And God’s response is to form a different kind of nation, a “holy” one shaped not by greed, violence, and abusive power but by compassion, justice, and care for one’s neighbor.

It’s as if God is saying, “The thing that has happened to you – go make it happen for others. The freedom from oppression that you are now experiencing – help others experience that same freedom. The grace that has been extended to you when you were at your lowest – extend it to others. In the same way that I heard your cry, go and hear the cry of others and act on their behalf.

God measures their faith by how they treat the widows, orphans, strangers – the weak – among them. God’s desire is that they would bring exodus to the weak, in the same way that God brought them exodus in their weakness.

Exodus 22

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Jesus Wants to Save the Christians

We're going to be discussing the book Jesus Wants to Save the Christians by Rob Bell each week in our small group. Here is what we will be talking about this week:


As a result of the murder, the text says, “Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.”

East of Eden.

There is a place called Eden, a paradise, a state of being in which everything is in its right place. A realm where the favor and peace of God rest on everything.

And Cain is not there. He’s east of there.

And he’s not only east of Eden, but in chapter 4 of the book of Genesis, the text says that he was “building a city.”

It’s not just that he’s east of where he was created to live, but he’s actually settling there, building a city, putting down roots.

The writer, or writers, of Genesis keeps returning to this eastward metaphor, insisting that something has gone terribly wrong with humanity and that from the very beginning humans are moving in the wrong direction.

God asks Adam, “Where are you?”

And the answer is, of course, “East.”

East of where he’s supposed to be. East of how things are meant to be.


We are east of Eden.

Something is not right.

The Germans have a word for this. They call it ursprache (oor-shprah-kah). Ursprache is the primal, original language of the human family. It’s the language of paradise that still echoes in the deepest recesses of our consciousness, telling us that things are out of whack deep in our bones, deep in the soul of humanity. Something about how we relate to one another has been lost. Something is not right with the world.

The Roman Empire, which put Jesus on an execution stake, insisted that it was bringing peace to the world through its massive military might, and anybody who didn’t see it this way just might be put on a cross. Emperor Caesar, who ruled the Roman Empire, was considered the “Son of God,” the “Prince of Peace,” and one of his propaganda slogans was “peace through victory.”

The insistence of the first Christians was that through the resurrected Jesus Christ, God has made peace with world. Not through weapons of war but through a naked, bleeding man hanging dead on an execution stake. A Roman execution stake. Another of Caesar’s favorite propaganda slogans was “Caesar is Lord.” The first Christians often said “Jesus is Lord.” For them, Jesus was another way, a better way, a way that made the world better through sacrificial love, not coercive violence.

A Christian should get very nervous when the flag and Bible start holding hands. This is not a romance we want to encourage.

And the ursprache continues to echo within each one of us, telling us that things aren’t right, that we’re up against something very old.

And very deep,

And very wide,

And very, very powerful.

For a growing number of people in our world, it appears that many Christians support some of the very things Jesus came to set people free from.