Friday, July 28, 2017

THE DISHONOR DONALD JOHN TRUMP PRESENTED BOY SCOUTS

THE DISHONOR DONALD JOHN TRUMP PRESENTED BOY SCOUTS
©Wendell Griffen, 2017
Justice Is A Verb!

My wife and I are parents to two men who became Eagle Scouts.  Like other parents, I attended troop meetings with our sons.  Like other parents, I trusted adult leaders to help instill the values of duty, honor, and service in our sons.  So I remember joining with our sons and their fellow scouts as they recited the following words at every troop meeting.

On my honor, I will do my best 
To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; 
To help other people at all times; 
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.

Those are the words of the Scout Oath.

Our sons and their fellow Boy Scouts also recited the following words at every Scout meeting.
A Scout is:
  • Trustworthy,
  • Loyal,
  • Helpful,
  • Friendly,
  • Courteous,
  • Kind,
  • Obedient,
  • Cheerful,
  • Thrifty,
  • Brave,
  • Clean,
  • and Reverent.
Those are the words of the Scout Law.

By even the most charitable analysis, Donald John Trump’s conduct – as President of the United States and before he entered that office – violates the Scout Oath and Scout Law.  His personal history does not demonstrate commitment to serving our country, God, or other people.  By no means would anyone associate Donald Trump with what it means to be “morally straight.” 

Donald Trump is not trustworthy.  He is not loyal.  His conduct towards persons in need is not helpful.  He is not friendly, courteous, or kind.  He is obedient to nothing except his self-centeredness.  Trump is not cheerful, but bellicose. He is not thrifty, but extravagant.  He is not brave, but a cowardly bully.  His personal and business dealings are not clean.  Mr. Trump can never be correctly considered reverent. 

In the less than 200 days that Donald Trump has occupied the office of President of the United States he has dishonored his office and those who honorably serve our nation.  He dishonored fallen members of the Central Intelligence Agency while standing before the wall that enshrines their service to the nation.  He dishonored the Constitution of the United States by issuing executive orders that discriminate against followers of Islam and persons from several nations with Islamic majority populations.  He dishonored the Federal Bureau of Investigation by firing former FBI Director Jim Comey because Comey refused to swear personal fealty to him.  He has dishonored transgender men and women who serve in the U.S. military along with their comrades and leaders.  His recent remarks during the Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia violated everything Scouting represents. 

Mr. Trump’s behavior as president contradicts any sensible understanding of principled leadership.  We should not expect his behavior to improve.  After all, Donald Trump is 70 years old.  If he were a 7 year old, we would term him a troubled, if not delinquent, child.  Mr. Trump is not a child.  Donald Trump is merely an untrustworthy, disloyal, unhelpful, mean-spirited, discourteous, cruel, undisciplined, bellicose, profligate, cowardly, crooked, and irreverent old man. 

For parents like me who are proud of the role Scouting served in helping our children become people of honor, Mr. Trump’s conduct during the Boy Scout Jamboree was an insult to every noble value and attribute represented by Scouting.  I hope the Boy Scouts of America will not extend another invitation to Mr. Trump.  Our youth and their adult leaders deserve much better from the President of the United States. 


For that matter, so does the rest of our nation and world.

Monday, July 3, 2017

WHEN I THINK ABOUT THE 4TH OF JULY

WHEN I THINK ABOUT THE 4TH OF JULY
©Wendell Griffen, 2017
Justice Is a Verb
July 3, 2017


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Samuel DuBose.  Philando Castille.  Terrence Crutcher.  Alton Sterling.  Walter Scott.  Freddie Gray.  Rekia Boyd.  Tamir Rice.  Sandra Bland.  Oscar Grant, John Crawford IV.  Eric Garner.  Michael Brown, Jr., Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride. Shantel Davis.  Kendric McDade.  Kimani Gray.  Amadou Diallo. 

When I think about the 4th of July …

According to a June 25, 2017 Washington Post news article by Cleve Wootson (http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/a-black-off-duty-cop-tried-to-help-stop-a-crime-another-officer-shot-him/ar-BBDb9qz?li=BBnbfcL), police in the United States have killed 461 people so far this year.  Twenty-five percent of the people killed were black people.  During 2016, police killed 963 people.  Twenty-four percent (24%) of the people killed were black people.  Wootson’s article covered the shooting of a black off-duty veteran police officer by a white on-duty police officer.

When I think about the 4th of July, I think about the ongoing state-sponsored, sanctioned, and sustained slaughter and other acts of terrorism against black, brown, and poor people by law enforcement agents and other vigilante actors with the same moral outrage expressed by Frederick Douglass concerning the abomination of human slavery when, in 1852, he delivered a historic address titled What to the Slave is the Fourth of July

When I think about the 4th of July, I remember twelve year old Tamir Rice, shot dead by a Cleveland, Ohio policeman while playing in a public park with a toy pistol. 

When I think about the 4th of July, I think about Eric Garner, choked to death by Staten Island, New York police as he gasped “I can’t breathe.” 

When I think about the 4th of July, I think about the men, women, and children who are systematically and routinely abused, slaughtered, and terrorized by sworn and paid agents of governments whose leaders profess to believe in “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” 

When I think about the 4th of July, I ponder and wonder how self-proclaimed “evangelical Christian” congregations of all denominations and other names claim faithfulness to the God of the Exodus while supporting policies and police practices that mistreat hard-working and peaceful immigrants and their families. 

When I think of the 4th of July, I reflect on the hypocrisy of flag-waving religious people who profess to celebrate “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” even as they have supported policies, practices, and people responsible for making the United States the world’s leading nation which imprisons its people. 

When I think about the 4th of July, I think about the wicked notions of patriotism and religion that validate mistreatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender members of this society under the guise of “religious liberty.”

When I think about the 4th of July, I reflect on the hypocrites who insist that this nation believes in “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” while supporting policies, practices, and politicians (including the current President of the United States) who demonize followers of Islam. 

When I think about the 4th of July, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” I remember the loud silence of white churches and preachers concerning the ongoing domestic and international travesties of justice practiced by this nation under the guise of “war on drugs,” and “war on terrorism.”   

These evils exist because white congregations and their clergy tolerate, condone, or are otherwise complicit in them. 

The slaughter of black, brown, and poor white people by law enforcement officers would cease if white congregations and their clergy denounced it. 

Demonization and discrimination endorsed and perpetrated against our Muslim and LGBTQ neighbors would end if white congregations and clergy opposed it. 

The United States would not be the largest developed nation that incarcerates its people if white congregations and clergy truly believe in and are determined to live up to the Declaration of Independence claim about a “self-evident truth” that “all men [persons] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” 

So, in the same way that Frederick Douglass was disgusted when congregations and clergy flouted their piety through hymn-singing and sermon preaching while black people were kidnapped, beaten, raped, murdered, traded, robbed of the value of their work, and brutalized during slavery, I am disgusted when I think about the 4th of July.

I am disgusted about flag-waving, hymn-singing, and Pledge of Allegiance chanting congregations, clergy, business people, and politicians who are engaged in what I consider naked and ceremonial demonstrations of and devotion to white religious nationalism disguised as patriotism when I think about the 4th of July

And I recall the words Frederick Douglass uttered in 1852.

Fellow-citizens! I will not enlarge further on your national inconsistencies. The existence of slavery [now add abusive, homicidal, and terroristic law enforcement behavior, mistreatment of immigrants and religious minorities, discrimination against our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and other queer neighbors, mass incarceration,  and other injustices] I have mentioned in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretence [sic], and your Christianity as a lie. It destroys your moral power abroad; it corrupts your politicians at home. It saps the foundation of religion; it makes your name a hissing, and a bye-word to a mocking earth. It is the antagonistic force in your government, the only thing that seriously disturbs and endangers your Union. It fetters your progress; it is the enemy of improvement, the deadly foe of education; it fosters pride; it breeds insolence; it promotes vice; it shelters crime; it is a curse to the earth that supports it; and yet, you cling to it, as if it were the sheet anchor of all your hopes. Oh! Be warned! Be warned! 

Fourth of July festiveness, food, and other hoopla do not change what I know about systemic, longstanding, and ongoing mistreatment suffered by people of color, poor people, workers, immigrants, religious minorities, my LGBTQ neighbors, and so many other vulnerable populations in this nation. 

I refuse to think and behave like a child who can be plied with, made content, and fooled by ice cream, hot dogs, watermelon, barbecue, fireworks, and patriotic music, speeches, and songs.

I simply wonder how much more time will pass and how much more injustice and suffering will be perpetrated and endured before people who claim to be followers of Jesus behave like prophets of divine truth, love, and justice in the face of glaring and persistent expressions of despotism and tyranny by this society. 

How long, O God?  How long?



Sunday, May 28, 2017

ETERNAL LIFE IN A WORD

ETERNAL LIFE IN A WORD
©Wendell Griffen, 2017
May 28, 2017 (Seventh Sunday of Easter)
Eighth Anniversary of New Millennium Church
New Millennium Church, Little Rock, Arkansas

John 17:1-11
17After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2since you have given him authority over all people,* to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
6 ‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
        As I pondered this passage I was blessed by a childhood memory.  I do not recall how old I was, but I must have been less than sixteen.  I recall my mother praying aloud, for me.  I do not know if she knew I was listening.  Perhaps she knew.  Perhaps she prayed aloud intending that I would overhear her speaking with God on my behalf.  I do not know. 

I only know that I heard my mother praying for my protection.  I heard her talking to God, with me in mind.  That memory warms my spirit, even now. 

I think about that memory when reflecting on the passage we read from John 17 and what some call the “high priestly prayer” of Jesus.  The mood shifts from the end of chapter 16.  Between chapters 13 thru 16, Jesus spoke with and to his close followers to prepare them for his death and eventual departure from physical fellowship with them. 

But John 17 is his prayer to God, who Jesus has called “the Father” in his words to the disciples.  We have John 17 because this prayer was not only uttered by Jesus.  It was overheard.  It was remembered.  And its words and meaning have comforted and encouraged followers of Jesus across the centuries until today. 

In this prayer, Jesus petitions God, for us.  At John 17:9, we read:  I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.  All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 

We belong to Jesus because we have received his witness about God.  We belong to God because Jesus came to represent God.  Jesus came to actually show us God’s character.  Jesus came to explain God to the extent humans can understand God. 

In this prayer, Jesus also defines eternal life.  And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3).  Eternal life is defined by “oneness” with God and Jesus Christ!  The words Jesus uttered in this prayer show that we are meant for that “oneness.”  We are meant be part of the union between God and Jesus.  Jesus has declared that our essential being is a function of the relationship between God and himself. 

We first encounter the term “eternal life” at John 3:16, during the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus.  At John 3:16 we learn that “eternal life” has something to do with (a) God’s love for the world, (b) God’s gift to the world of God’s “only Son,” (c) and our relationship in God’s love through believing God’s Son.  What Jesus stressed to Nicodemus is the desire of God that everyone have eternal life by trusting God’s love as revealed by God’s Son.  God wants everyone to be part of the divine union between God and the Son. 

In a word, “eternal life” means “oneness” with Jesus in God’s love.  That “oneness” with Jesus makes us one with God’s love.  “Oneness” with Jesus brings us online with God’s purposes, God’s promises, God’s hopes, God’s passion, and God’s power.  “Oneness” with Jesus is our life in God! 

In the prayer he offered at John 17, Jesus emphasized that the relationship between himself and God involves us, includes us, and is never meant to exclude us.  Somehow, we are implicated and affected by all Jesus did for God.  In this prayer, Jesus emphasized the “oneness” that makes us part of all he did, and all that God wanted to do by sending Jesus into the world. 
       
Notice also that Jesus prayed, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one” (John 17:11).  That petition leads one to wonder about the threat Jesus recognized.  What danger concerned Jesus so much as he faced leaving the world that he petitioned God to protect us from it?  

I think Jesus was asking God to protect us from divisiveness caused by self-righteous partisanship. 

It is certainly true that the love of God is challenged by the drive to build empires of politics, religion, and commerce.  Yet, imperial politics, religion, and commerce do not prevent people who love God from living in “oneness” with each other.  Imperial politics, religion, and commerce operate to seduce us from God’s will, distract us from God’s presence, discredit us as God’s people, and destroy our work for God. 

But self-righteous partisanship is what divides us as people of God.  In every period of history, people who profess to love God have preferred to fracture into camps and fuss with one another. 

We have fussed among ourselves about who should be admitted into our fellowships. 

We have fussed among ourselves about how to pray. 
We have fussed among ourselves about spiritual gifts. 

We have fussed among ourselves about who should be baptized, when people should be baptized, and even how people should be baptized.

We have fussed among ourselves about whether women are equal to men when it comes to leadership.

We have fussed among ourselves about ownership of religious property.

Jesus prayed that God would protect us – “in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one” – because he understood the way human pride and interest in self-advancement threaten our sense of being and acting as one community.  Jesus had seen his disciples squabble among themselves for influence.  He sensed that pride and desire for self-advancement would cause us to not remember our oneness, together, with Jesus.

Jesus had seen pride and desire for self-advancement work on James and John, two of his closest companions, to the point they behaved like knuckleheads.  Luke’s Gospel informs us that after the Lord’s Supper, the disciples squabbled “as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest” (Luke 22:24).  Several days earlier the mother of James and John had come to Jesus, with her sons in tow, knelt before him, and asked that he designate that her sons be his chief power brokers (Matthew 20:20-27).  Therefore, Jesus knew how the effect of pride and self-interest worked to turn the disciples into divisive knuckleheads while Jesus was with them.  That is why he prayed to God for their protection at John 17:11.

Pride and self-interest are toxic forces that weaken intimate relationships.  Pride and self-interest divide us from one another.  Pride and self-interest cause us to prefer split into factions within congregations and denominations and sub-denominations within the overall population of people who profess to be followers of Jesus. 

Imperial religious, political, and commercial challenges have seldom caused followers of Jesus to forsake unity with each other.  Quests for power have usually been responsible for our disagreements. 

Does the long history of fussing, fighting, and splintering by people who profess to love God as followers of Jesus mean God hasn’t answered the prayer of Jesus?  Some people may think so, but don’t include me among those who think that way. 

God has been working across our history to restore humanity and the rest of creation to oneness.  Human pride and self-interest have dogged our efforts to be true to God in every age and place.  But God has not stopped working!  God did not stop working when human pride and self-interest fractured and frustrated the power of community in past periods. 

Jesus prayed for us – prayed for our protection – because he knew that God does not stop working when human pride and self-interest work to fracture and frustrate our duty and ability to fulfill God’s purposes of love and justice.  God does not stop working!  The issue Jesus was concerned about was whether we would stop believing that we are one community.  Will we become sickened and exhausted from the toxic effects of prideful and self-interested divisiveness that we forget, or choose to stop believing, that we are one?

Jesus prayed that God would protect our sense of knowing who we are, together, in God’s love.  Jesus prayed for God to protect us from the idea that we are somehow not one community, but separate and rival communities.  Jesus prayed that God would protect us from the notion that our different points of view somehow make it impossible for God to get anything good done in the world. 

I think God answers that prayer.  God answers that prayer anytime we reach across our lines of pride and self-interest to stand up, together, for love and justice.  God answers that prayer anytime we realize that we are sisters and brothers, together, in God’s love.  

God answers that prayer when Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Unitarians, Episcopalians, Catholics, Disciples of Christ, Lutherans, and any other crowd of folks get together and say it is wrong to oppress people who are hungry. 

God answers the prayer of Jesus when we get together and declare it is wrong to oppress refugees and immigrants. 

God answers the prayer of Jesus when we, in oneness, say it is wrong to deny people clean water and decent food and safe shelter because they can’t pay for it. 
God answers the prayer of Jesus when we, in oneness despite our different camps, declare and protest that it is wrong to make Wal-Mart the world’s biggest retailer by allowing it to mistreat workers. 

God answers that prayer when we, in solidarity with the love and justice of God – and despite our different camps of religious pride and self-interest – proclaim that it is wrong to send men and women to fight wars based on imperial commerce and corporate greed, wrong to lie about why we send them to fight and suffer and die, wrong to deny needed care and compassion to the communities harmed by our wars, and wrong to call a nation godly that does such things with impunity. 

In these and so many other ways, God is answering the prayer of Jesus. 

The issue is not whether God is answering the prayer.  The issue is whether we are acting in the oneness of God’s answer.  Are we being one with other people of God the way God and Jesus are one?  Are we working together the way God and Jesus work together?  Are we more than separate camps, factions, and denominations?  Do we want to be more?

Do not doubt that God is answering the prayer.  Think about being part of God’s answer.  Do not question whether we can be one as God and Jesus are one. 

Believe that God and Jesus are working, through the Holy Spirit, to bless our commitment to be one community for love and justice.  God and Jesus are working, through the Holy Spirit, to put us in line and online with God’s power, God’s purpose, God’s passion, and God’s presence in the world for love and justice. 

Beloved, God is answering the prayer of Jesus.  Let it be said of us that we are examples of God’s answer concerning the love and justice situations of our time and our place. 


Then, our oneness will glorify the oneness that exists between God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

THE LEGAL PRINCIPLES SUPPORTING MY RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

I am pasting a link to the brief that our legal team filed with the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission last week.  I do so to let you know what the law is, and has been for a long time, the meaning of judicial "impartiality" and "independence," and so you will know what my rights are under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and the Arkansas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, both as a follower of Jesus and as a judge.  

The brief is 20 pages long.  The law supporting my position is clear, well-established, and has been followed in Arkansas and elsewhere for years.  The ethics complaint against me was lodged in the face of that law.  That complaint, and the referral by the Arkansas Supreme Court that triggered it, is baseless.

In my brief I've asked that the complaint against me be dismissed by June 1, 2017. Because the legal principles in my case are clear and well-established, the executive director of the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission should readily grant that request.  Time will tell if that happens.

    

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

THIS IS WHAT RELIGIOUS FREEDOM MEANS

On May 18 my legal team filed a 20 page brief to respond to the complaint filed against me by David Sachar, executive director of the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission (JDDC), arising from my actions in practicing my faith as a follower of Jesus on Good Friday, April 14, 2017. I am pasting a link to that brief to this blog post so everyone will know that people in this society -- including judges -- are free to hold and follow religious beliefs.  People in this society -- including judges -- are free to hold and express their views about disputed social and political issues.  People in this society -- including judges -- are free to assemble peacefully.

I have no obligation to conceal my faith or my political viewpoints because I am a judge.  Concealing one's faith or political views does not make a judge ethical, nor does expressing one's faith or viewpoints make a judge unethical.  The freedom to express one's faith and social perspective lies at the core of our democracy.

I am not a stranger to this issue, nor is this the first time I have been threatened for exercising my freedoms of religion, religious expression, and speech.

On September 27, 2007, the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission dismissed two similar ethics complaints that were filed against me in 2005, twelve years ago.


  • Those complaints were filed after I remarked during a banquet speech delivered to the Arkansas NAACP that the federal response to Hurricane Katrina revealed the scab of racism and classism in the United States.  
  • I had earlier criticized the nomination of John Roberts to become Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court during a public meeting of the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc.  
  • I joined other Arkansas clergy in a January 2006 statement supporting a ballot proposal to increase the minimum wage in Arkansas.  
  • In October 2006 during a speech in Fayetteville, Arkansas I publicly opposed the war in Iraq and denounced politicians who villify persons who are homosexual and immigrants.  
  • Later that month, I authored an opinion editorial that criticized some of the policies of President George W. Bush.

I battled the staff of the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission for almost two years before the Commission decided in 2007 that my comments amounted to "protected speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution."  In that 2007 decision, the JDDC declared that "[t]here is no Arkansas Canon that expressly prohibits a judge ... from publicly discussing disputed political or legal issues.  The Canons ... cannot be used as a basis for a finding of judicial misconduct if the alleged misconduct is solely related to a public discussion of disputed political or legal issues."

I mention the 2007 experience to emphasize that my determination to live according to my faith and exercise my rights as a free person to express my views about social and political issues is unwavering.  I will not shrink from behaving like a free person no matter what actions are taken or threatened against me.  I will not flinch, blink, back down, or be bullied by anyone, including politicians who dislike or disapprove of the way I understand and practice my faith and fulfill my duties as a judge.

None of us should do so.  Tyranny is defeated by bold exercise of our freedoms.  Tyranny is defeated by standing up to and resisting bullies and tyrants, not by silent or timid acquiescence to their demands and dictates.

This is what I have written about in The Fierce Urgency of Prophetic Hope (Judson Press, 2017).  In the second chapter of my book I quote the following words written by Dr. Cornel West in his book Democracy Matters:  Winning the Fight Against Imperialism:
To be a Christian is to live dangerously, honestly, freely--to step in the name of love as if you may land on nothing, yet keep stepping because the something that sustains you no empire can give you and no empire can take away.  This is the kind of vision and courage required to enable the renewal of prophetic, democratic Christian identity in the age of the American empire.  
Freedom requires that we hope fiercely and love boldly.  If we believe in freedom we must protect and uphold freedom for all persons.  This means we must fight the tyrannical efforts and views of those who fear or despise freedom.

I am determined to engage in that fight with all my being.  I will do so as a follower of Jesus and as a Baptist pastor.  I will do so as a judge elected by voters who believe in freedom and who know what it means to have others try to deny freedom.

During the January 2, 2017 investiture ceremony to begin my current six-year term of office I made the following comments:

I will never forget that you elected me to do justice.  You did not elect me to show favoritism to the powerful, to cut corners, or to give an advantage to the powerful over the weak.  You did not elect me to be a black-robed spectator while popular passion and prejudice threaten the human dignity and freedom of individuals, people who are unpopular, and persons who are less favored.  You did not elect me to protect the interests of the wealthy, privileged, and powerful at the expense of those who are less fortunate.  You elected me to do justice.  I intend to do that work every day as well as I am able.
I meant those words.  I remember those words.  I know, both as a follower of Jesus and as a judge, that freedom must always be boldly exercised, and that threats to freedom must always be fiercely confronted.  I will not dishonor myself, my faith, and the trust that has been placed in me as a judge by allowing myself or anyone else to be bullied, threatened, or intimidated by agents of imperial politics, imperial commerce, or imperial religion.

Hope Fiercely!  Love Boldly!  Stand up for freedom and justice!

Here's my response to the latest judicial discipline complaint.











    

Sunday, May 21, 2017

EMBRACING THE PRESENCE, POWER, AND PERSISTENCE OF GOD'S LOVE

EMBRACING THE PRESENCE, POWER, AND PERSISTENCE OF GOD’S LOVE
©Wendell Griffen, 2017
May 21, 2017 (Sixth Sunday of Easter)
New Millennium Church, Little Rock, Arkansas

John 14:15-21
15 ‘If you love me, you will keep* my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,* to be with you forever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in* you.
18 ‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’

       How often have we heard, thought, or spoken these words:  If you love me, you will …?

        They are words spoken by parents and children.  They are spoken by lovers.  They are spoken by friends.  These words are spoken by people to others with whom they share, and cherish, intimate relationship. 

        If you love me, you will… 

        These words spoken by Jesus to his close followers and dearest companions the night of his arrest have been cherished for hundreds of years.  As with parents and children, lovers, and intimate friends, they are words of deep intimacy and tenderness.  They draw us into a mood of great passion, especially if we remember the situation facing Jesus and the others when Jesus spoke these words. 

Jesus told them he was about to be taken from them by his enemies.  They were struggling with the news that Jesus was about to die.  Then Jesus spoke with them about something he called “the Father’s house,” a metaphor Jesus used to introduce them to “eternal life.”  These followers of Jesus were being led into depths of faith and fellowship they had never imagined. 

Then Jesus spoke these words:  If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

  Notice the intentionality of this tender passage.  Notice how often we find the word “will” in it.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments…

And I will ask the Father…

And he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.

I will not leave you orphaned.

In a little while the world will no longer see me…

[B]ut you will see me.

[B]ecause I live, you also will live

… [Y]ou will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

…[T]hose who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.

It seems that Jesus was determined to burn some deep truths into the hearts and minds of his followers.  Those truths are:  (1) Loving Jesus inspires us to intentionally and relentlessly live according to the love and justice commandments of Jesus (that we love God with our whole being and love others as ourselves—meaning as neighbors); (2) Jesus will petition God (“the Father”) on behalf of all who live according to his love and justice commandments; (3) God (“the Father”) will, in love for Jesus, give all who live according to the love and justice commandments “another Advocate” as our companion; and (4) that somehow this binds us to Jesus, God, and the Spirit of truth  “forever.”

Jesus strained to impart these truths into their hearts and minds as he neared the threshold of his great struggle with the powers of human empire, politics, commerce, and religion.  With the deadly threat of religious jealousy, imperial pretension, and commercial greed lurking and approaching, Jesus assured his followers that his death did not mean their abandonment.  I will not leave you orphaned.  In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you will live. 

With the threat of death looming over him, Jesus spoke about living.  With the forces of empire bearing down on him to kill him, Jesus spoke about a relationship with God that would produce “another Advocate” to be with us “forever.”  With religious leaders scheming to produce false testimony against him and persuade Roman occupiers of Palestine to put him to death, Jesus spoke about “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive.” 

These are words of presence.  These are words of power.  These are words of persistence.  These words testify about the love of God for Jesus, the love of Jesus for God, and the relationship between God, Jesus, and the Spirit of truth. 

And, these words called the first followers of Jesus and all who followed afterwards to know that we are caught up in something that is powerful, deep, mysterious, and majestic.  …[Y]ou will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 

Because of love, we are followers of Jesus.  Because of love, we are one with Jesus.  Because of love, Jesus is one with God.  Because of that love, we are one with God.  Because of that love, we are one with the Spirit of truth.  Because of that love, we are part of all God is, all God hopes, all God loves, all God desires, all God is doing, and all God has. 

There is no deeper fellowship than this.  We cannot be loved more than this.  We cannot have any better life than life with and in God.  We cannot experience any greater truth than the truth produced by God’s love.  We cannot be associated with anything more powerful, more virtuous, more affirming, and more hopeful than God’s love.  Jesus is talking about what George Lucas termed “the Force” in the Star Wars science fiction movie saga.  In God, we are one with “the Force.” 

Jesus assures us now, as he encouraged the first followers on that long night before his arrest and eventual trial and crucifixion, that the powers of imperial politics, religion, and commerce cannot overcome the power of God’s love.  The powers of imperial politics, religion, and commerce will conspire against love and justice in our time and place, as they conspired against Jesus. 

The powers of empire—politics, commerce, and religion—will mass their forces against us.  History has shown this to be true time and again.  This is what happened to the prophets of old.  This is what happened to Jesus.  This is what happened to the first followers of Jesus.  This is what always happens to people who live according to the love and justice commandments of God. 

Beloved, know that if we love Jesus, we will live according to his love and justice commandments.  If we live according to his love and justice commandments of God as revealed in the life of Jesus, we will live contrary to the powers of imperial politics, imperial commerce, and imperial religion. 

If we live according to the love and justice commandments of God as revealed by the life of Jesus, the powers of empire will first seek to seduce us away from following the love and justice commandments of Jesus.  In the same way that Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by Satan and offered “all the kingdoms of the world” after his baptism by John the Baptist (Matthew 4:8-10), some people who would desire to live according to the love and justice commandments of God as revealed by Jesus are enticed away from that living by offers of wealth, fame, popularity, influence, and other aspects of imperial success.  In the parable of the sower Jesus described these people as seed that fell among thorns which “are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature” (Luke 8:14).

If we do not succumb to the seduction efforts the powers of imperial politics, commerce, and religion will attack us, accuse us, seek to divide us, threaten us, and otherwise seek to discredit us.  This is what happened to Jesus throughout his ministry.  The powers of imperial religion accused Jesus of not being sufficiently devout because he dared to follow the love and justice commandment of God by healing people on the Sabbath, welcoming and loving people religious imperialists called unworthy, and throwing in his lot with women, children, immigrants, and other marginalized people.  The powers of imperial religion and imperial commerce and imperial politics accused Martin King, Pope Francis, Dorothy Day, Fannie Lou Hamer, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, and countless other prophetic souls of not being righteous, patriotic, practical, or business minded. 

When seduction efforts fail to entice away from obeying the love and justice commandments of God and when efforts to discredit us fail, expect the powers of imperial politics, commerce, and religion to strike at our very existence.  This is what happened to Jesus.  This is what happened to Martin King.  This is what happened to Medgar Evers.  The powers of imperial politics, commerce, and religion ultimately resort to violence when efforts to entice and discredit followers of the love and justice commandment of God fail.  They will use violence, secretly and openly, to try to stop the love and justice movement of God.  They will bomb churches, mosques, synagogues, and other places where God is praised, revered, and where followers of God gather.  They will defund Planned Parenthood.  They will attack clinics where women receive health care.  They will send government agents to conduct raids, engage in terror tactics, and threaten followers of God’s love and justice commandment. 

Jesus knew this would happen!  Jesus knew that the powers of imperial politics, commerce, and religion will try to seduce us, discredit us, and destroy us.  Jesus knew this because Jesus experienced all these tactics.  In the face of all Jesus knew about the powers and practices of imperial politics, commerce, and religion, Jesus comforted his closest followers—and comforts us—with the promise about what God will do.

According to Jesus, when the powers of imperial politics, religion, and commerce confront and threaten us, we are not alone.  According to Jesus, when the powers of imperial politics, religion, and commerce work to divide us from one another, we are not alone.  According to Jesus, when the powers of imperial politics, religion, and commerce threaten to take our lives, we are not alone. 

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.  This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.  I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.  In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.

We are not orphaned.  We are not alone.  We are not forsaken. We are not helpless.  We are not powerless. 

No!  We are people of God’s love.  We are the sheep of God’s pasture.  We are prophets of love, justice, hope, peace, and truth.  We are followers of Jesus.  The Spirit of God is with us.   We live according to the love and justice commandments of Jesus.  We are one with God in Jesus.  The forces of imperial politics, religion, and commerce cannot see who is with us, but we are not alone.  The forces of imperial politics, religion, and commerce can and will try to seduce us, discredit us, and destroy us, but they cannot overcome us because we are not alone. 

We are one with Jesus.  Jesus is one with the Father.  The Father is one with the Spirit and Jesus.  We are part of that deep and powerful oneness.  We are part of all that is love, all that is truth, all that is hope, all that is peace.  We are part of God!  We are part of God!  We are part of God!

Because Jesus lives, we live forever in God.  Because Jesus lives, we live forever in the power and company and comfort of the Spirit of truth.  Because Jesus lives, we know that Jesus is in God forever, and we are in Jesus forever, so we are in God forever! 

We are in God now.  We are in God in sickness.  We are in God in seasons of struggle.  We are in God in our ups and our downs.  We are in God whether we are comfortable or suffering hardships and heartaches.  We are in God.  We are in God.  We are in God forever! 

Now! 

Tomorrow!

Always!

Forever!


Living and gracious God,
through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
you have brought us out to a spacious place
where we are called to live as those redeemed.
Empower us by your spirit to keep your commandments,
that we may show forth your love
with gentle word and reverent deed
to all your people. Amen.