Church of Christ Congregational (UCC), Norfolk, CT

“Jesus’ saying that the first shall be last and the last shall be first and that the poor were blessed didn’t sound like things that people who were already well off really wanted to happen. The larger Roman Empire already was a kingdom with Caesar as its head, and Jesus’ language about the coming Kingdom of God sounded disloyal. If the God of Israel were going to be king, then Caesar couldn’t be. And when, after Easter, Jesus’ disciples went out and started to win converts who refused to acknowledge Roman deities, or to sacrifice to the one who was supposed to guide the emporer, the world was set ablaze.

Now today people in this country aren’t being persecuted for professing faith in Jesus Christ. Despite declines Christianity is still the dominant religion here. But the message that Jesus proclaimed, which isn’t always the same as what’s offered as Christianity, is in tension with the common ideas that many Americans hold. His teachings that we are to help those in need and that the poor are blessed clash with the prosperity gospel proclaiming that God helps those who help themselves (and that, by the way, is not a biblical passage, it comes from Benjamin Franklin), of those who can stand on their own two feet, rather than those who are, in the words of Emma Lazarus, tired, and poor and hungry. Think of his parable of the good Samaritan, and how it clashes with the attitudes held by many in our current society about refugees, and imigrants, people of color and other religions – you name it. No, Jesus’ message is not the prosperity gospel but the gosple of hospitality.

So there is tension and there is strife all around us. There are divisions, there is acrimony and even fighting among members of families and groups in society. Sometimes the fire dies down, but then it blazes up again somewhere else. But Jesus wasn’t an arsonist. He is the first one upon whom the fire of judgement falls, and the one who brings the fire of truth and love to us.”

 

 

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