Our scriptures are profound. These might be as sweet as honey for some, but bitter to another.
Ezekiel highlights that we are responsible for our own thoughts, words, and deeds, as well as the consequences of such. Thus, we are responsible for our sin; how we respond to the perceived sin of another; and how we allow sin (our own, those of another, or our human systems) to influence our thoughts, words, and deeds.
Although it seems bitter, God reminds Ezekiel and the people of a truth as old as the fall of humanity. God does not desire death. God is concerned about all life for all life matters, all life is beloved, and all life is sacred. Unfortunately, we are (or should be) aware that this truth is not always embodied in our thoughts, words, deeds, and human systems. As the protest sign of a young, beautiful, black girl read:
We say Black Lives Matter.
We never said ONLY Black Lives Matter.
We know All Lives Matter,
but we need your help because Black Lives are in danger.
Or as a beautiful clergy woman and classmate of mine wrote:
Black Lives Matter, and Blue Lives Matter, too.
Dehumanizing some Lives will leave All Lives Black and Blue.
Some roses are red, and violets come in shades of blue,
but I know that God loves me because God loves you, too.
But, the Apostle Paul takes our call to action another step while writing to a community divided by difference resulting in tension and conflict. Paul wrote to be united in diversity. This is a high calling that we have far too often failed to answer.
In the history of the United States, we lift up an ideal of unity among diversity within a large melting pot that (1) has not embraced the difference of persons, particularly our indigenous, brown, and black siblings, and (2) demands these persons assimilate, at times by force, to white, European norms.
Unfortunately, the church universal, denominations, congregations, and cultural Christianity has demonstrated these same demands.
Paul wrote that we are not to love the other as equal to ourselves…
but as greater than ourselves.
This love would not permit forced assimilation or dehumanization.
Lets look at the gospel.
Jesus was teaching in the temple and the religious elite questioned his authority because of his association with sinners.
Be like Jesus, spend enough time with sinners that it ruins your reputation.
Jesus criticizes them for questioning the authority of John for he was a ‘righteous’ man, considered a prophet by the people, and who offered repentance in baptism to the sinners.
These baptisms remind us all that ‘Every saint has a past. Every Sinner has a future’.
But, for the religious elite it was a lose-lose.
Christians are often defined as such by their belief in Jesus as the Messiah alone. Thus, Christians can profess the faith without a change in their lives. This is a defining aspect of Christianity that separates us from other faith traditions.
Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and other faith traditions also require a change in life and adopting faith practices that interweave and root your entire being within the teachings, the philosophy of the tradition. It is quite beautiful.
Jesus asks the religious elite, who does God’s will on this earth?
Is it the one who claims, or commits to do it, but does not?
This is the “Christian” who does not seek justice, act with compassion and mercy, or love and serve all persons but especially the vulnerable “other”.
Is it the one who does not claim, or commit, to do it but does?
These are perhaps Christians, non-Christians, and otherwise, who does seek justice, act with compassion and mercy, and love and serve all people but especially the vulnerable “other”.
It is the one living into and living out said Christian vocation whether identifying as “Christian” or not.
We often hear the criticism that Christians are hypocrites. It is fair.
Unfortunately, I have witnessed “Christians” who sort and separate the teachings of Christ from their personal, professional, family, and political lives.
Unfortunately, I have witnessed “Christians” who consider themselves righteous for not partaking in “sinful” behavior such as playing cards, dancing, smoking, drinking, cussing and tattoos; and yet, they stand in sinful judgment of those who do.
Unfortunately, I have witnessed “Christians” blame our troubled world on the Godless and Unchurched while sitting comfortably in their privilege ignoring the vulnerable “other”.
I recall a conversation with a friend who knows me well. He made a comment about how ‘good’ I was.
Now, for many “Christians” I might be a rebel.
I love card games and dancing.
I enjoy a good cigar and adult beverage from time to time.
I cuss like a sailor (ask my mom and sister).
I have ink.
I will be changing the language slightly, but I replied “I am messed up”.
He said “Oh, you are messed up, but you have a pure heart”.
Although I fail, I strive to live into and love out my Christian vocation to:
seek justice for all persons, but especially those in the most need;
act with compassion and mercy, even in the face of disagreements; and
love and serve all persons whether I will benefit or not.
So, in the words of Miranda Lambert,
I think Jesus could ‘understand a heart like mine’.
Scriptures were Ezekiel 18: 1-4, 25-32 and Matthew 21: 23-32.