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January 2007

Blair Wrong on Gay Issue

(London) British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Monday said he has rejected demands from the Roman Catholic Church that churches and faith-based organizations be exempted from new legislation protecting the civil rights of the gays and lesbians.
Last week the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, threatened to shut down the Church-run adoption agency rather than submit to the regulations that could force it to allow gays and lesbians to be adoptive parents. (story) He was backed up by Anglican and evangelical leaders.
The legislation adds sexuality to existing nondiscrimination laws.
The measure covers employment and the rendering of services. It would mean companies cannot refuse jobs on the basis of sexuality, nor could they refuse services to gay and lesbian customers.
It is already in effect in Northern Ireland, and its provisions covering England and Wales are currently being debated in the House of Lords.
But the cabinet has been split on whether to amend the legislation to allow churches and church organizations an exemption. In addition to adoption, an exemption would affect LGBT workers in church run soup kitchens and other religiously based services.
"I support the right of gay couples to apply to adopt like any other couple," Blair said at a news conference. "That is why there can be no exemptions for faith-based adoption agencies offering publicly funded services from regulations which prevent discrimination." . . . [Read More]

I want to go on the record that the Blair government is wrong on this issue. Wrong in the larger sense. It does not violate the British Constitution, because there is not separation of church and state in Britian. That's what's wrong.

Thank goodness we have always valued the separation of church and state, it protects both church and state and allows both to thrive. In America a ruling like this should never happen because it would violate one of our most basic and important values.

I do not want my freedom at the expense of another's freedom of conscience, expression, or assembly.

Our Way: The Good News

Our Way: The Good News
Luke 4:14-30; Lev. 25
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City
28 January 2007

If you haven’t figured it out yet, Wendell Berry, that Kentucky farmer, is my favourite poet. I quote him often enough in these sermons and other settings. In fact, there are three or four of his poems that I quote all the time. Tonight I’m going to open with “The Sycamore.” I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve used it in a sermon, a lesson, or a prayer.

In the place that is my own place, whose earth
I am shaped in and must bear, there is an old tree growing,
a great sycamore that is a wondrous healer of itself.
Fences have been tied to it, nails driven into it,
hacks and whittles cut in it, the lightning has burned it.
There is no year it has flourished in
that has not harmed it. There is a hollow in it
that is its death, though its living brims whitely
at the lip of the darkness and flows outward.
Over all its scars has come the seamless white
of the bark. It bears the gnarls of its history
healed over. It has risen to a strange perfection
in the warp and bending of its long growth.
It has gathered all accidents into its purpose.
It has become the intention and radiance of its dark fate.
It is a fact, sublime, mystical and unassailable.
In all the country there is no other like it.
I recognize in it a principle, an indwelling
the same as itself, and greater, that I would be ruled by.
I see that it stands in its place, and feeds upon it,
and is fed upon, and is native, and maker.

I think that poem is full of many deep, spiritual truths. It touches me in many ways. But one reason I love this poem and Berry himself as a poet, is that I am drawn to his love of the land.

I too love the land. My heritage is Irish and Cherokee, so I think that plays a big part. I also think that all of us Oklahomans love the land.

Living outside the state for a few years, I came to understand some things about Oklahomans. One lesson I learned during an adult bible study at Royal Lane that I was leading. We were studying Jurgen Moltmann’s In the End – The Beginning: The Life of Hope, specifically its chapter on youth. In that chapter he recounts how the Nazi’s co-opted the youth movements of Germany in order to further their own designs. This led to a discussion of our own adolescent years and our relationships with elders and authority figures.

Grace, a delightful woman who is an immigrant from India, talked with great negativity about the lack of respect for elders and authorities in American culture and compared this with her upbringing in India. I vocally and strongly disagreed with Grace’s impression of how young people ought to treat authority. I was joined by my friend Linda who is a middle-aged woman who has Oklahoma roots. As we continued talking, now about our cultural differences, Linda proposed a theory.

Linda said that our independent spirit is the result of our Oklahoma heritage. Since Oklahoma was the last part of America to be settled, our ancestors were the people who had not become established anywhere else – the Old World, the East Coast, or even the frontiers of the West. America as a whole is made up of the descendants of those who were not part of the European power structure – the younger sons who couldn’t inherit or the lower classes who couldn’t own property. And migration continued across the continent as those who didn’t own land and weren’t established kept moving to those last few open places. For many of our ancestors Oklahoma represented the last place where one could get cheap, sometimes even free, land.

After that conversation I realized that that is one reason this land is so much in my own blood. When living elsewhere, I enjoyed coming home. And I didn’t mind the drives across this land -- there is still something quite invigorating for me when I begin to near Ottawa County and the land becomes so familiar. There is hardly anything more stunning than an Oklahoma sunset in the summer.

Then, I came home. Inexplicably to many of my friends. But this place is part of me. This is “the place that is my own place, whose earth I am shaped in and must bear.”

In Luke 4 Jesus returns home to Nazareth, this place that is his own place. And it is there in Nazareth, according to Luke’s telling that Jesus explains his mission. Right now we are hearing many politicians announce their campaigns for the presidency. They outline their vision for the country and their plans. Jesus’ teaching here in the Nazareth synagogue is that kind of proclamation. His ministry has already begun, but he comes home to tell the world his vision.

According to Luke, Jesus sees himself as embodying elements of the Hebrew religion. Jesus reads from two different passages in Isaiah to explain his mission:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

It is a beautiful vision, long articulated by the prophets. It is the reign of God on earth. It is our fervent hope, just as it was the fervent hope of those listening that day. And they were pleased with what Jesus said. They were even quite excited that this new work of God’s would be headquartered there in their own village, by one of their own. These were proud neighbors who could say, “I knew him when.”

But Jesus surprises them. He tells them that not only will he not be headquartered in Nazareth, bringing favour and glory upon his home, but that God’s reign will be universal. This message of hope and peace isn’t only for the Jews, it is also for the Gentiles, even those who are enemies of the Jewish people. Jesus sites two scriptural precedents to prove his point.

This shocks and angers the people. Not only will they not be favoured among the Jewish towns and cities, Jesus’ message is for those they would rather not include. Oh how familiar we are with this story. As an Oklahoma Baptist come home to preach God’s inclusive love for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders, I have some taste of what Jesus encountered in those moments.

These Nazarenes are so angry because Jesus’ message is so good. What exactly has Jesus proclaimed? What is this good news that he is preaching.

My reading of this passage has been deeply influenced by the great Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder and his monumental work The Politics of Jesus. Yoder adopts the reading of Andre Trocme. You might be more familiar with Andre Trocme as the pastor in the French town of Le Chambon. Le Chambon, under Trocme’s leadership, successfully hid its entire Jewish population from the Nazis. I believe it was the only town to have done so. Trocme is one of the great twentieth century Christian saints, someone who knows something about the radical nature of Jesus’ politics.

According to Trocme and Yoder and now generations of Bible scholars, the key to this passage that Jesus quotes is the final line “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

What, you might ask, is the “year of the Lord’s favor”?

Many scholars believe it to be the proclamation of the jubilee. What’s the jubilee? For that we have to go back to Leviticus 25. This is one of the great passages in the Levitical Code. For all those people who pretend to take Leviticus seriously when they think it is speaking about homosexuality, I actually wish they’d take the principles of this chapter seriously.

The Jewish law dictated that every seven years the people were to leave the land fallow. They weren’t to grow or cultivate crops. They would eat whatever the land naturally produced, but were to give the land a year of rest. It is actually a wonderful agricultural principle. It also says something about creation itself. Creation needs restoration, healing, and redemption.

The way of God took this great agricultural principle and expanded it. If this one part of creation needs restoration, healing, and redemption, then probably all of creation does. So, every fifty years the people were to celebrate a jubilee. There were four prescriptions in the jubilee year: “(1) leaving the soil fallow, (2) the remission of debts, (3) the liberation of slaves, (4) the return of each individual of his family’s property.”

This system respected the power of land and property as necessary for well-being. It assumed that everyone was entitled to land and a home, land that they could use to support themselves and their family. If, for some reason, a person sold that land in order to cover a debt, then it would revert to that person or his family every fifty years. No one would be allowed to accumulate wealth in such a way that it oppressed others and robbed them of their well-being in perpetuity. Everyone got a chance at a new beginning.

It is a stunningly radical economic vision. Scholars debate whether or not the ancient Jews actually held to this practice. There are at least a couple of instances in scripture where something like the jubilee is celebrated.

Whether or not it was practiced diligently, it was the ideal to which the prophets aspired, often denouncing the oppressive and unjust economic systems of their day which robbed people of land and property and enslaved them through debt.

We know that in Jesus’ own time the peasant population had lost most of its property and were suffering under extreme debt, causing many to sell themselves into slavery.

Into this environment Jesus comes and proclaims the jubilee. The jubilee proclamation is central to his message. When he teaches us to pray, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” he is referring to the jubilee. The parables are filled with stories of indebtedness. A large part of Jesus’ conflict with the Pharisees, those conservative literalists, is that they were neglecting the aspects of the Torah that truly expressed God’s will for humankind. It was the great Pharisaic rabbi Hillel who had interpreted the rules to allow loopholes around the jubilee rules.

Jesus’ vision of the reign of God was not only a rebuke of empty religious ritual, Roman militarism, or political oppression. It was a call for a restructuring of the human economic system.

The jubilee tradition that Jesus preached is not Marxism. It does not call for a collectivist state. It is attuned to economic realities. What it does share with Marxism is its critique of economic systems that allow the economy to run on its own without consideration for the ways systems can become oppressive. The jubilee tradition calls for restoration, healing, and redemption of creation.

In fact, the jubilee tradition has played a surprisingly powerful part in global politics in the last decade. You might remember that as the millennium approached, there was a call for a jubilee to forgive the debts of developing nations. Pope John Paul II and U2’s lead singer Bono played leading roles in this effort. It was partially successful, with many debts forgiven, though not all.

That jubilee spirit continued into this decade as the developed nations of the world formulated the Millennium Development Goals. This project is supposed to cut in half extreme poverty worldwide by 2015. Extreme poverty is defined as living on less than one dollar a day. For the first time in human history, the technology and financial ability to eliminate extreme poverty exists. What is lacking is the political will to carry it out. For example, battling malaria is one of the goals. Harvard economist Jeffery Sachs argues that a serious malaria reduction plan for Africa can be implement for only 3 billion dollars. This year alone Wall Street handed out 24 billion dollars in Christmas bonuses.

All the major economic powers, including ours, signed on to the Millennium Development Goals. President Bush spoke about it just this week in the State of the Union address. But every report on them that comes out finds the world behind.

We do live during exciting times. The Millennium Development Goals, Jeffery Sachs’ work, the projects of the Gates Foundation, and many others are seriously combating the inequities of our global economic system having been influenced by principles that are central to the Christian gospel and the Hebrew Torah.

The essence of Jesus’ proclamation of the jubilee is that all of God’s people and all of the creation needs to be redeemed and given an opportunity. The specifics of the ancient Levitical Code don’t fit our contemporary circumstances, but we can find ways to live out these principles. If we call ourselves Christians and followers of the way of Jesus, then we must take to heart the radical economic messages of Jesus and practice them in our own lives and seek to influence our workplaces and our governments.

It is a universal message that starts at home. The jubilee tradition has great respect for the power of home. It’s one reason Jesus probably proclaimed it in his home town. Because it values home and land, I resonate with it because I’m an Oklahoman. The jubilee tradition, like we Oklahomans, loves the land and seeks its restoration, healing, and redemption. We all live here because this is home. There is something about Oklahoma that it is deeply rooted in us, otherwise, we, of all people, would go someplace else.

Now, it’s all well and good to proclaim this jubilee message in a sermon. It bothers me that I can’t conclude with practical information on how you can participate in public policy advocacy or ways to volunteer in our community to fight poverty, homelessness, and hunger. Or even ways to participate in environmental programs that seek to restore creation according to the jubilee vision.

Recently a close friend of mine said that what he finds lacking in churches is this very next step. A sermon like the one I just preached should conclude with all the practical ways we as a congregation can be involved.

As a result of that conversation, I am embarking upon a new project. The Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City is going to create a ministry that will be a clearing house for all the volunteer opportunities available in Oklahoma City. I want to create a website that would list all the volunteer opportunities while also listing the offers of volunteer services that individuals make. We would work at matching people with opportunities and keeping our information up-to-date and effective.
It is a ministry that will get us more involved in this community, working to fulfill our vision of the reign of the God. It will also provide more knowledge for our congregation so that we can participate. It is an exciting new venture that I think can define our congregation’s mission within the larger community. And it will be one way that we follow in the way of Jesus, proclaiming the good news.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon us,
because God has anointed us
to bring good news to the poor.
God has sent us to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
In this place that is our own place,
whose earth we are shaped in and must bear.

Taking Issue

While typing those other blog posts, I was listening to Meet the Press. Tim was interviewing Mike Huckabbee who announced for President.

Tim was grilling him on gay issues. And Huckabee kept repeating that we shouldn't change institutions that have stood throughout recorded history.

I'm annoyed by the ingorance of statements like that that get said all the time. And even more annoyed that the interviewers never point out the historical inaaccuracies and grill people on their ignorance. This despite tons of material on the ever-changing, ever-developing, culturally constructed nature of marriage, sexuality, and gender.

Heterosexual marriage has changed dramatically over the last two centuries as companionate marriage replaced marriage as a property arrangement between families.

And same sex marriage was fully legal in the Roman Empire. And there have been other legal standings or sacred blessings of same sex relationships at various times and in various cultures throughout history.

Notes on a Scandal

A deliciously dark comedy. I hadn't expected that, but that is really what it is. There are many really funny lines and situations throughout the film. Plus, the ending is not tragic, like one might have expected the story to lead.

Dame Judi is wonderful. As you expected. But I wasn't as covinced by Cate Blanchett. Her performance was missing something. She was close, but not quite right on. For example, she never convinced me why she would be such good friends with Barbara (Dame Judi's character).

The film is well written. The score, by Philip Glass, is at times over the top, but it works, especially if you experience it as adding to the camp comedy of the fim.

The supporting characters are nicely conceived and nicely played.

3 film reels
4 popcorn kernels

Letters from Iwo Jima

My goal this weekend was to catch up on some of the Oscar films. Since their stupid decision four years ago to move up the show a full month, you have to rush to see these movies instead of taking your time to catch up. Plus, when they are in OKC you feel like you'd better go right now or it will be gone.

First up was Letters from Iwo Jima. I missed Flag of Our Fathers earlier this year, but it is now at the dollar show, so I might see it this week.

This is a brilliant film. The best of Eastwood's remarkable run this decade. One of the best films this year and one of the best war films I've seen.

Of course one reason it is so remarkable is that someone would make such a sympathetic, profound film about one's enemies. This is why I really want to see both films.

The performances in this film are amazing. Why weren't these cast members nominated for Oscars? Ken Watanabe should have been. The same for the young man who plays the character Saigo.

Eastwood shot it with a very washed out color that I found wasn't just an interesting technique, it really helped the film and was strangely beautiful.

Like any great war film, there is a big canvas, but you focus in on the details of a few characters. Eastwood is excellent at filming violent content. There is stark brutality here. I was quite moved watching these characters on the receiving ends of violence, especially knowing that we were the ones on the other end.

There is a Kurosawa influence here that you see in a few places -- the soldiers at night walking through the fog, the dark sands with the wind blowing and the loan figure walking along.

I really like the three of four best films I've seen this year and am still not sure which is the very best. This clearly is in the competition.

5 film reels
4 popcorn kernels

Centennial Excursion 1

For those of you outside Oklahoma who may not know, this is Oklahoma's centennial year. There are lots of celebrations planned. Some of my friends and I have set a goal to do lots of in state travel this year to see and experience things we've always meant to or haven't in a long time. We did our first one Friday night when a group of us traveled to Okarche for fried chicken at Eischen's Bar. I had never been, but long heard about the experience. We had a hoot. The bar is quite packed. You have to stand around waiting for someone to get up and then pounce on their seats. The food is served family style on wax paper. The chicken is very good.

My goal, and a couple of other friends, is to do 100 Oklahoma themed things this year. That's not just excursions, but maybe reading a book or listening to an album, etc. I'm going to start keeping track. I'm a little behind, but will work to catch up.

Pan's Labyrinth

As I sat waiting for Pan's Labyrinth to begin, I was a little worried. It had appeared on so many top ten lists and had received such glowing reviews, I was afraid that I had built up too much expectations and would be disappointed. So I tried lowering those expectations.

And, I did end up a little disappointed. I like the movie and thought it good, but not as great as the things I'd heard about it. Maybe the expectations messed me up?

At the beginning I kept waiting to really get into the fantasy. Then as the real story developed, I started finding the fantasy elements to be distracting. I think there was a good idea here, but am not certain that the execution was quite as good as it could have been.

That said, it is an intriguing film. A good story with strong performances and beautifully shot. Maribel Verdu, who plays the housekeeper, gives an amazing performance that should have been considered for a Supporting Actress Oscar.

I do encourage you to see it. It is an adult fairy tale. It would be great to see more films like this.

4 film reels
3 1/2 popcorn kernels

The Moment

I didn't watch the State of the Union the other night (NPR recaps have played almost all of the speech anyway). But I did tune in for the beginning to catch the historical moment.

I must say, I was moved. And the President struck just the right note in honoring the first Madam Speaker.

That on the same day when 8 of the 20 Oscar acting nominations went to racial minorities.

Should have happened 20 years ago, but, at least these are little signs that we're becoming what we ought.


Check out my latest column. An excerpt:

I was recently at Irma’s with my boyfriend and his best friend, having my usual, the excellent No-Name Burger with cheddar and a side of fried okra. We got to talking about MySpace and laughing about the silliness of ourselves and our friends when it comes to the world’s No. 1 Web site, when I said, “Nowadays you aren’t officially ‘in a relationship’ until you change your MySpace status.”
The waitress, from three tables over, then popped over to our table and said, “I heard what you said. It’s so true!”

Our Temptations: Not the Way to Go

Our Temptations: Not the Way to Go
Luke 4:14-30
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City
14 January 2007

So, you might be asking yourselves why now, in January, at the point where you may have made New Year’s resolutions, I’m talking about temptation. Surely this is too cruel. I personally have given up on making New Year’s resolutions. Not because I’m perfect and have nothing to improve about myself, but because they seem to be such empty things. How many resolutions have you kept even this far into the year? Do you make the same or similar resolutions each year? See, they don’t seem to work very well. Not that we don’t ever make a decision to alter our behaviour and are then faithful to that decision. I just think it has to be prompted by something more significant that the start of a new year.

Temptation is a funny thing. Oscar Wilde wrote, “I can resist everything except temptation.” We usually know better, that’s why it’s called temptation. A couple of weeks ago I went to one of my favourite Indian buffets. I knew I shouldn’t eat too much, that if I did, I’d pay for it later in discomfort. Yet, even though fully aware, I still gorged myself, explaining in the moment, “But I don’t eat this very often and it tastes so good.”

Ethicists call this incontinency. Not the kind of incontinency that requires a diaper. It’s an ethical category. As such, to be incontinent is to demonstrate a weakness of will. You aren’t ignorant, but are fully aware of what you should do. In fact you have even willed previously to behave the right way. Yet, you find yourself violating both your rational understanding and your own will. Succumbing to temptation means we are weak. But that shouldn’t come as news to us.

Why do we do it? Because it feels so good in the moment, right? In the moment it is much nicer to take a nap instead of going to the gym. But in the long run we feel worse if we don’t go to the gym. In Pilgrim’s Progress, one of the many characters that Christian encounters describes temptation this way:

For the Lusts, Pleasures, and Profits of this World; in the enjoyment of which, I did then promise myself much delight: But now every one of those things also bite me, and gnaw me, like a burning Worm.

In fact, if we succumb to temptation too much and too often, then we lose the power of our own will and become someone battered about by every gust of momentary pleasure. Dante describes this in the second level of the Inferno where the Lustful are beaten about by a terribly powerful wind

The hellish hurricane, which never rests,
drives on the spirits with its violence:
wheeling and pounding, it harasses them. . . .
now here, now there, now down, now up, it drives them.

So, when it comes to the pleasures like food, drink, sex, working out, sleeping, etc., we need to develop the virtue of temperance or self-control. That’s what’s really behind the drive to make New Year’s resolutions, the hope that we can this year find the right balance for our lives.

Finding the right balance is a healthy, good thing. But it’s not what we are talking about in this passage from the Gospel of Luke. Whether or not we are tempted to eat another piece of cake is a completely different kind of temptation than that which Jesus encounters in the wilderness. We too, as the church, face the same temptations that Jesus faced. Therefore, it is crucial that we understand what is going on in this passage.

Luke begins his story of Jesus with angelic announcements, prophetic utterances, and miraculous births. Jesus then appears in the Temple as an adolescent, where he reveals a greater spiritual insight than the scribes and religious leaders. As an adult this Jesus doesn’t return first to the Temple. Instead, he journeys out into the wilderness like so many people with great spiritual insight. There, he has a series of powerful spiritual experiences. First he is baptized by John, into the vision of a coming reign of God precipitated by conversion and forgiveness of sin. Upon that baptism a voice from heaven announced, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Then Jesus goes further into the wilderness where he spends forty days and forty nights where he fasts and is tempted of the devil. The Gospel of Mark does not specify the temptations and the Gospel of Matthew record them somewhat differently. Luke records three temptations: to turn stones into bread, to subdue the nations, and to reveal Jesus’ divine mission in a dramatic, public sign. Jesus rejects all of these temptations.

But, we might ask, what exactly is Jesus being tempted to do with these experiences? The temptation is for Jesus to take an easier path than the way of God. With his baptism, Jesus has been initiated into the community of those who are awaiting the reign of God. John the Baptist had proclaimed a new social order based upon God’s prior revelations. Jesus, according to the Gospel, is God’s agent to bring about this new world.

Remember what has been said about Jesus already in this Gospel. The angel Gabriel announced, “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary herself sang about her pregnancy “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” The priest Zechariah quoted scripture in his song, “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” The old man Simeon blessed the infant Jesus with these words, “for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

Jesus clearly has a mission. But how will that mission be carried out. It seems that many different paths are open to him. In fact, I think that’s what the temptations represent – different ways that Jesus might have gone about his mission.

He could have inaugurated the reign of God by supplying bread to all the hungry. People are drawn to something that fulfills their basic needs. Especially the very poor and needy will give service and submission. This is why Jesus rejects this path. It is not because he doesn’t care for the poor and needy. It’s not because he doesn’t feed the hungry. Often in his ministry he does feed the hungry and he reminds the church over and over again that we are to help those in need.

What Jesus rejects is a cheap path to power. One way that Julius Caesar was able to become dictator of Rome was because he provided basics needs to the hungry masses. Because he provided food, they overlooked his subversion of traditional republican principles. Many other dictators have risen to power in just the same way.

Jesus wants people to freely choose to follow him, not come because they were attracted by what they could get out of it. It is a caution to the church today. So often the church in contemporary American society has become a group self-help organization where people can go and get something that makes them feel good about themselves. For the church to succumb to this way of operating is one way to fail the first temptation.

In the second temptation, Jesus is offered another path to power. As God’s anointed, he can claim authority over the nations. The devil is pretty clever here, because he is simply reminding Jesus of what scripture promises. At the baptism the voice from heaven had quoted from Psalm 2. Here in the second temptation, the devil refers to the rest of Psalm 2:

You are my son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.

If Jesus really is God’s anointed, then he can draw upon the promise of the Psalm and seize power over the world. But Jesus rejects this path as well. Jesus understands that real power and glory are not the kind that lord it over people. Jesus will change the world by being a suffering servant. The voice from heaven at the baptism also quoted from Isaiah 42. It too presents a vision of the changed world:

I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.

In this vision justice comes about not because of royal decree from a powerful throne. Justice comes about from a bruised reed that doesn’t break, a dimly burning wick that will not be quenched. Justice will come about through suffering. It will be a long and slow process which will change society from the ground up. Quite importantly, it is a path that rejects violence and coercion.

The third temptation would have Jesus make a public display of miraculous power. Surely people will be attracted to a wonder worker. The devil is right that people will be attracted to someone with this kind of power. However, it is contrary to the way of Jesus. Jesus wants to liberate and empower individuals. People attracted to signs and wonders surrender their autonomy.

The temptations offer three easy paths to Jesus. But Jesus rejects them all. He rejects them because they are not the way to establish God’s reign. The important, core truth of the temptation story is that it is not just our ends that are important, the means to those ends are integral to fulfilling those ends. We can only establish the reign of God by following the principles of the reign of God. There is no short cut.

We aren’t too far removed from the Christmas season. It is a time of goodwill, with comforting stories. I call these the “warm fuzzies.” But we Christians know the truth of the birth of Jesus. We know that this beautiful story will lead to the cross. The way of peace that we must imitate and embody as followers of Jesus is the way of the cross. We can courageously live out that adventure assured that the story doesn’t end with the cross, but continues through Resurrection and Pentecost. However, that confident, post-Easter hope does not remove the fact that the cross lies starkly in the path of peace that begins on this Christmas Day.

The question we must ask ourselves is not whether we want peace and goodwill, because most everyone says they want those things right before they run over you getting to the checkout line at Target. The holidays may be the best time of year because most people voice these high ideals and even live them out in ways that they don’t normally. But to accept the warm fuzzies of Christmas is not to be a Christian. The question before us is “Do we really want Christ to be born anew in us?” Because that means committing ourselves not to the warm fuzzies of this holiday, but to the way of peace that leads through the cross.

I think that churches are often tempted to take the easy path, to look for the shortcut, to engage in means-to-an-end that do not lie along the path of Jesus. We are currently setting up our administrative and governing functions as a congregation. Those things are themselves not our ends. Our ends are worship, service, fellowship, and education. But even those means must be governed by the same virtues that we want our ends to embody. We must be Christ-like in our business functions if we are to be faithful to the way of Jesus.

And it is the same in your individual lives. We are God’s beloved children, in whom God is well pleased. We have been blessed by God, because to us has been revealed the deep truth that there exists another way to go, another way to live our lives. We can follow the way of Jesus. And this is the path of true joy and exciting adventure.

I hope you’ve seen the currently released film The Good Shepherd starring Matt Damon and marvelously directed by Robert DeNiro. If you haven’t seen it, then go do so before it leaves theatres. The film is a powerful meditation on these very issues we are discussing today.

Set during the Second World War and the Cold War, Matt Damon plays a character who was one of the founders of the CIA. His character is constantly confronted with a series of choices. To achieve the agencies ends quickly and easily, he must sacrifice core principles. If he defends core American democratic principles, then he might put the nation in immediate risk. Time after time he chooses to sacrifice his principles for the immediate success. And in the process he looses his family and his own soul.

It is a stunning portrayal of the sort of evil that is most dangerous. It is the evil that philosopher Hannah Arendt called the “banality of evil.” It is most identified with Adolf Eichmann, the bureaucrat who oversaw sending Jews to the camps. Eichmann wasn’t the architect of the plan. He was just a bureaucrat who did his job. But his actions results in horrendous evil.

The film The Good Shepherd reminds us that even our American democratic system can produce an Eichmann. Clearly the film is intended as a commentary on current American governmental policies. Instead of pursuing the high road of peace and liberation, we have, over the last five years sacrificed core principles for the easier, more expedient path. And the consequences of our actions are going to haunt us for generations to come. I wish the architects of our current policies had re-read this passage from Luke, because it would have reminded them that the means are as important as the ends and that to succumb to these temptations is to follow the path of the devil and not the path of God.

Last week this sermon would have been preached on the weekend in which we in America and in the church commemorate one of the great Christian leaders of recent church history – the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King constantly reminded folk that our methods must be as moral as our principles and our goals. That’s why the Civil Rights Movement followed the very difficult path of nonviolent direct action.

The reign of God will only be achieved by following the way of God. That’s true for our world and our nation, for our church, and in our individual lives. May this story invade your consciousness and guide you into the paths of righteousness, for you are God’s beloved children.