Tag Archives: US government

Looking Back at Sunday’s Gospel

Sunday’s readings: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18     Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17-4:1     Luke 13:31-35

The Gospel: 

            At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”

He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.

’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”     Luke 13:31-35 

One thing I asked of the Lord, that I will seek after; to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. … for he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent.” Psalm 27:4, 5 

When someone warned Jesus that Herod wanted to kill him, Jesus did not stop doing what he was doing. He did not run and hide. Nor did he rush to Herod and get in his face. Jesus pointed out that his death was essential to his work, and he was ready, knowing that only if he died could he rise again. He said, “On the third day, I finish my work.” Then he began to weep over Jerusalem where the temple represented God’s choice long ago for a point of contact between heaven and earth. He wept, because people had so thoroughly corrupted temple worship that it could not serve God’s purpose any longer, and the same people did away with anyone who tried to assert God’s purpose. Jesus looked ahead to the rending of the curtain that would end the useful life of the temple of stone, because Jesus was the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God on earth. In him, the kingdom of God drew near to everyone, but after Jesus returned to heaven, there needed to be another way for the kingdom to draw near to the people.

That goal would be accomplished by individuals. In Psalm 27:4 the writer said that all he really wanted was to live in the house of the Lord always. His relationship with God the sort of relationship God had in mind in the model of the temple. The psalmist felt that he was part of God’s family who could count on God’s presence and protection in time of trouble. This theme is repeated in many places in the Bible. Perhaps the best known is in the 23rd Psalm where David wrote, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” This theme is one of the places where the unity of God’s revelation in the Old Testament and the New Testament is very clear. It would be most vividly repeated when Paul wrote to the Corinthians that our bodies, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, are temples.

The temples where Israel worshipped in Solomon’s day and in Jesus’ day were gigantic stone structures intended to portray the greatness of God and to be places where God literally took up residence on earth. They were physical representations of that grand day in the future described in Revelation saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals.” Paul’s words make it clear that until the fulfillment of the prophecies in Revelation, we have that same role. We are the vessels of God’s presence among men, walking temples that bring the kingdom close to the people we meet.

That is a huge responsibility. It is more than we could possibly do on our own. Fortunately, the fact which makes it true is the same fact that empowers the reality. When the Holy Spirit dwells within us, we are no longer on our own. We serve God according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, speaking and acting in obedience to our call to serve Christ and to be light and salt in the world.

The fact that the Holy Spirit indwells the people who serve God was known to the men who founded the United States. Those men believed that human beings were God’s servants and in the spirit of that belief, they also believed that no human institution should interfere with a person’s obedience to God. They would be appalled if they heard that the government of the USA had determined that only behavior confined to a building dedicated to worship was considered to be religious behavior. They were like the psalmist. They believed that in our hearts, we were always in the house of God and always subject to his sovereignty in our lives.

Because of our great responsibility to be agents of God’s in-breaking kingdom, we have an equal responsibility not to let human tendencies muddy our message. We have the right and responsibility to follow Christ’s teachings with regard to the sanctity of life and the meaning of family, but in the battleground of ideas, we must equally project Christ’s love for all people, even people whose agendas are in complete opposition to God. When Jesus heard that Herod was looking for a way to destroy him, he did not try to zing Herod with “nastier than thou” rhetoric. In fact, on the night of his trial, Herod gave him a chance to do just that, but Jesus chose to stick to his mission, the salvation of all people.

How should we respond to the terrible things people arguing cultural and political issues say about Christians and Christian ideas? We might learn something from Pastor Saeed Abedini. Pastor Saeed was able to send a letter to his family in America via Iranian relatives who are allowed to visit him. In his letter he said:

They are just waiting to see how I react to all of their pressures and persecution. What will come out of me during these intense times? But again, this is another golden opportunity for me to shine the light of Christ in this dark world and to let God to use me.

Yesterday when I was singing worship songs, the head of my cell room attacked me in order to stop me from praising but in response I hugged him and showed him love. … It is during these harsh conditions, that I deeply need God’s Saving Grace so that I can be the fragrant scent of Christ in the dark house of Evin prison.

Pastor Saeed shows by his behavior and attitude that the Holy Spirit lives in him. He truly is a little temple bringing the Kingdom of God near to his fellow prisoners, his guards and all who come in contact with him. When we are engaged in conversations and verbal combat on the subject of culture change demanded by secular thinkers, we need to remember how Pastor Saeed defeats his enemies. He prays to be the fragrant scent of Christ, the incense of prayer in a temple, in the dark house of Evin prison. We must pray to be the fragrant scent of Christ in the dark house of political discourse in the USA. 

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
1 Corinthians 3:16

Read this week’s news from the persecuted church and the culture wars in the US at Living on Tilt the newspaper.

Religious Persecution Takes a Variety of Forms

In the USA, we are accustomed to the freedom to choose and practice any religion. Or no religion. There is a certain amount of friction over the boundaries between some religion and no religion. There is friction. In February, 2012, the friction boiled over into a hot dispute about the boundaries between religious practices and government. Americans believe that our right to exercise our religion is inherent in our constitution, but sometimes disputes with government hinge on dark semantics.

In the USSR, a country founded on Marxist principles, religion was severely repressed. Karl Marx called religion “the opiate of the people,” and the government of the USSR viewed religion with scorn. When the USSR collapsed and its government was dissolved, many people thought that religions would automatically flower in the nations which formerly comprised that vast union. It hasn’t happened everywhere. It hasn’t happened in Belarus.

Article 16 of the constitution of Belarus says that the country has no state religion. However, the country does require that religions be registered. A law passed in 2002 makes unregistered religious activity a criminal offense. The secret police of Belarus monitor all religious activity. The law prohibits meetings of unregistered religious groups, and restricts any religious activity directed toward children. If the federal government of the USA suddenly announced that private citizens who wanted to hold prayer meetings or Bible studies in their living rooms were required to fill out a long form and receive a registration number from Washington in order to be legal, Americans would be outraged. Americans would be equally outraged if police raided a group of people meeting in a storefront or someone’s basement on Sunday because they could not afford to buy a church building. In Belarus, pastors are fined more than they earn in a month if the police find them conducting services in unregistered locations or if a policemen discovers that they are reading the Bible and praying with people on sidewalks in their home towns.

If the USA were like Belarus, this scene would be credible:

Sandra, at the cash register at Safeway, pays her bill and receives her receipt. She glances at the cashier’s name tag and says, “The peace of Christ be with you Darlene.”
Darlene:  “Thank you so much. I need to ask you something.”
Sandra: “What is it?”
Darlene: “Would you pray for my granddaughter Jenny? She is only eight years old and she has pneumonia. Her mother is worried.”
Sandra: “Of course. I pray God will bless Jenny with healing. May he comfort Jenny’s mother and give the doctor wisdom to care for Jenny.”
In the line behind Sandra, a man shoves two people aside and strides up to Sandra. He shows a police badge.
Policeman: “Step out of the line and come with me.”
Sandra: “Why?”
Policeman: “You know it is against the law to pray outside of a registered church building. I have to take you in and book you for unregistered religious activity.”
The policeman cuffs Sandra and leads her away.

Would you want this sort of law in the USA? 

In countries where religions must be registered, their activities and influence are severely constrained. In the USA people can choose a religion, change their religion or decide to have no religion, and to date, people think it is no business of the government. Recent developments have some people asking if something changed.

Various religions in this country provide a range of social services whose quality far exceeds that of any programs operated by any level of government. They have provided those services following policies guided by their freely-chosen religious principles. However, recent news stories report that the federal government has intruded on the religious principles of numerous Christian agencies and institutions, demanding that social services be provided under policies consistent with federal social policies, regardless of Christian teachings to the contrary. Christian adoption agencies have been ordered to place children with same-sex couples in direct conflict with Christian teaching that homosexuality is sin. Christian pharmacists have been ordered to provide counseling for morning-after abortifacients and to fill prescriptions for morning-after abortifacients even if the phatmacists hold the view that it is a sin to provide and use such medications, even if they are willing to graciously refer patients to providers for whom there is no religious conflict with the service. Christian hospitals and universities have been ordered to provide contraception, abortion and sterilization as covered services in healthcare benefits for their employees, even though the institutions are founded and operated by people who belong to a religion that teaches that such “services” are sin. How is arresting people for conducting unregistered religious activity different from fining people for refusing to conduct activities in direct opposition to their religious principles?

Around the world, Christians are praying for their fellow Christians in Belarus to be free to choose and exercise their faith. Maybe we should also be praying for some power in the USA to resurrect the First Amendment and protect the free exercise of Christian faith in the USA, too.