I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.
Why is the Trump administration ashamed of the Gospel? Jeff Sessions and others have quoted from this very epistle in an attempt to justify their cruel and wicked policy of separating immigrant and refugee children from their parents. They are ignoring everything that Jesus taught which stands in direct opposition to the very policy they are attempting to justify. In my opinion anyone who supports this abusive, and likely illegal policy, is an unfeeling person, devoid of human kindness, compassion and love. I don’t think I need to remind anyone that Jesus taught us to love one another and to welcome the stranger and refugee. Throughout the Bible, both in the New Testament and in the Hebrew Scriptures, we are taught to protect children, to treat sojourners in our land with hospitality, and to love our neighbor. These are cornerstones of Judeo-Christian tradition and law. In Paul’s letter to the Romans he does tell Christians that they must follow Imperial Roman law. This may have been more about preserving the lives of the early Christians than about theology. Paul was many things, he said that he had become all things to all people, (1 Corinthians 9) and one of the things that Paul was, was pragmatic. If Paul had advocated breaking Roman law the Church would probably have died in its infancy. Oppressed minorities are obliged to follow the laws of their oppressors to the letter in order to avoid further persecution. Perhaps that’s one reason why crime rates are lower among immigrants then native born Americans. Using children as pawns in some sick political game is as heinous and cruel as it is immoral.
While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.
Like the early believers, we sometimes think of each other as belonging to one group or another. We categorize people by race and by gender, by sexuality and by nationality or political party. Rather than thinking of people simply as people, we think of black people, white people, Jewish people, or Gentile people, but as much as we might like to categorize each other, with God there is just one category. We are all God’s children and we are all much loved.
A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.
Jesus chose to heal the leper in just the way we would expect that he would. We know that Jesus is full of love and that he will always choose to ease human suffering. He casts out demons, he forgives adulterers, he heals the sick, and above all else, he loves. Assuming that we are able, do we choose to help when we are called upon?
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.
God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. Last week we witnessed an unspeakable atrocity committed against children, and we are witnessing now the birth of a movement born of the pain of those children who survived the attack. It’s inspiring to see these eloquent young people confront seasoned politicians and lobbyists. These kids are not giving in to despair. They are truly shaming the strong. Their youth and innocent earnestness have a strength that cynical politicians who take money from the NRA will not be able to dismiss. These young survivors of mass murder are messengers of truth whose voices may just break the iron grip that the NRA has had on our lawmakers for years.
Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.
In every group or community there will be differences of opinion, and that’s not a bad thing. Our having differing views on any given subject isn’t a problem unless we allow our differences to divide us, which it seems is what has happened in our country politically. We’re divided enough now, that there is little room for civil discourse. We’ve become intolerant of our brothers and sisters who’s views differ from our own to the point where we have become separate and antagonistic tribes.
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
We might not all be tempted by Satan for forty days in the wilderness, but we are tempted throughout our lives in one way or another. No matter what the temptations are that we face, or our success rate in resisting them, we can count on two things. We know that through repentance, grace and Jesus Christ’s great mercy, we are forgiven, and we know that at some point we will sin again. I’m not advocating for our thinking of God’s grace as a get out of jail free card. We should, of course, always strive to be the best people we are capable of being, but there has only ever been one man who was completely without sin.
Do not refrain from speaking at the proper moment, and do not hide your wisdom. For wisdom becomes known through speech, and education through the words of the tongue. Never speak against the truth, but be ashamed of your ignorance. Do not be ashamed to confess your sins, and do not try to stop the current of a river. Do not subject yourself to a fool, or show partiality to a ruler. Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will fight for you.
At this point if we don’t speak out against the NRA and our national obsession with guns, then we can consider ourselves complicit in the deaths of all future victims of mass shootings. This is the proper moment. It’s time that we realize that not matter how difficult it may be, we need to wrest control of our lives and deaths from the gun lobby and the politicians who do their bidding. It’s time that we admit that we have failed to protect our children and ourselves from gun violence, and move on to the next step. It’s time to dry our tears and lose our tempers. We can no longer sit silently, lamenting the fact that our legislators won’t act on our behalf. We need to demand that they act. The only thing more powerful than the gun lobby is an angry and active electorate.
The word of the Lord came to me: What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? “As I live,” says the Lord God, “this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die. Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is unfair.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is unfair.’ O house of Israel, are my ways unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways,” says the Lord God. “Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone,” says the Lord God. “Turn, then, and live.”
In the wake of yet another mass murder of children, we can learn from the prophet Ezekiel. We as a nation have not given up idolatry, we continue to worship guns. We have sanctified our right to gun ownership, and by so doing we have turned our children into sacrificial offerings. It is not God’s way that is unfair, it is ours. We must choose to turn away from this modern day Baal. One of the first lessons we are taught in scripture is that God does not want human sacrifice. God stayed the hand of Abraham when Isaac was on the alter, but we do not stay our own hands when our children are the sacrifice. No, prayers are not enough. We must act.
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”
Jesus sent his disciples out to heal the sick and to bring peace to the people who welcomed them. We are now living in a nation that is sick and it’s going to be up to us to heal her. Our country is suffering from an epidemic of gun violence which is enabled in part by the greed of our politicians who take large amounts of money from the NRA. Like the pairs of disciples who went out into the towns and villages of Palestine, we need to go out and campaign for political candidates who are committed to gun control. We cannot continue to tolerate legislators who’s allegiance is to the NRA and not to the people whom they represent.
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Is there any benefit to fasting if we don’t also strive to help others? What good is self denial if we aren’t giving what we have denied ourselves to a person in need? Maybe our fast can take the form of pushing ourselves to do more speaking out against social injustice and giving what we can to organizations which provide aid to those who are less fortunate. Maybe our fast can mean performing some sort of service which is out of our comfort zone. Whatever we decide to do to make the season of Lent meaningful, let’s make it something positive and beneficial for our world as well as ourselves.