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At St. Paul’s: “Our primary mission is to relate to, and minister to people who are living on the edge, who seek God’s will for their lives, struggling to find direction and purpose in a society that can be violent, insensitive and money-grabbing.”  

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July 24 Bulletin

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Feb 24, 2013

Lydia and I have been watching reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She is a senior in high school but saves the world from death and destruction. She knows ju jitsu and aikido, but more to the point, she’s the chosen one, the killer of demons, were wolves, vampires and every predator under the moon and sun . . . wouldn’t it be great if there was a Buffy to protect us in every school and on every playground. People would feel safer. We would have fewer bullies.

Bullies are problems. Pastor David Miller was in the 6th grade with a big guy named Tony. Three people, including Frank of all people, came warning me. No one in the class cared less about my health and well-being than Frank -- the one who always peeked at my exams, who attributed HIS low grades to MY unwillingness to display my answers on tests. So I gathered all my nerve, brute strength and willpower, went to the office, called my mother, and told her to pick me up -- at the back door.  Buffy would have knocked Tony out.

On an opposite note, Jesus does not kick butt, nor does he run from Herod. Jesus was not worried about the bully. When some Pharisees tried to tell him that Herod was out to get him, Jesus had a snappy comeback: "Tell that fox I've got work to do." Jesus was not saying that he thought Herod was shrewd or sexy, or “crazy like a fox,” rather Jesus implied that Herod was a pompous pretender; in this context: "fox" has a cultural meaning: as Dr. Randall Buth translates from the Hebrew, a shu- AL ben shu- AL ---- a fox, the son of a fox - a small-fry. He was selfish, dishonest and cunning. Not the lion he wanted people to call him Herod was the opposite of a lion. But, Herod is also a dangerous predator. Herod fed off of the people he ruled by unjust laws and oppressive tax system. He used his money, power and men to suck the life blood out of people.  Herod was a thug, a bully, and Herod would kill anyone, John the Baptist for instance, who threatened his self-serving ambitions. His selfish agenda created oppression for his people.

In response to this blood-sucking villain, we have Jesus. Really, Jesus . . . meek, holy, mild, weak, Jesus?  He offers himself to the people of Jerusalem as a mother hen. Jesus drew this image from his own Jewish tradition. In the apocryphal book of 2nd Esdras (1:28-30) God addresses God's people in words that sound strangely familiar:

“Thus says the Almighty Lord, have I not prayed for you as a father his sons, as a mother her daughters, and a nurse her young babes?  That ye would be my people, and I would be your God; that ye would be my children, and I should be your father? I gathered you together, as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings.”

Also we hear in Psalm 57: Take pity on me, God, in you my soul takes shelter; I take shelter in the shadow of your wings?  In harmony with God's motherly purposes of protection and salvation, Jesus seeks to gather his people into a redeemed community under the caring wings of God. But then, how sad it is to hear Jesus lament..."but you would not."

I have to say, on the surface, this Gospel story feels a bit naïve, passive and weak. In these troubling times of many foreign threats and hidden gun-toting mentally ill lunatics lurking in the hallways of schools and movie theaters, wouldn’t we serve ourselves and others better if we were to strike out at our attackers, like Buffy, the Marines, or the concealed weapons carriers who bring their pistols to public places. It isn’t practical to hide. I mean, we have to protect ourselves because we cannot trust law enforcement and the military protect us and keep us safe, right?  We seem to have lost our trust in law enforcement and government to keep us safe. We feel uneasy and vulnerable. More predators seem to be near. The foxes are in the henhouses. But it is nothing new. And it is nothing new that some people feel vulnerable in their own neighborhood. We  need Jesus more than ever because vulnerable people become desperate and dangerous people; foxes, vampires, etc.

I went on Saturday to a grass roots meeting of civil rights activists, where we heard from activists from all over the Cleveland area who testified in agreement with State Attorney general Mike DeWine and the Justice Department report saying that Cleveland Police Dept has lost its mission and focus. But that wouldn’t surprise us would it?  The police fired 137 bullets and killed 2 unarmed civilians on November 29th. And there have been numerous other reports of brutalities that don’t make the news. People in the African American community, since EMANCIPATION, have been constantly harassed by the police. I have heard numerous stories from families at anti-violence rallies that paint pictures of racial profiling and police brutality.

Let me be clear. I believe 137 bullets would not have been fired if the two people in the car had stopped. They ran scared for a reason, which I am not condoning; probably some criminal activity. But it’s a moral outrage that so many cars were involved and so many shots were fired. It’s a Civil rights issue. It’s a justice issue. And we know there will be no peace without justice. We need to protect all of our citizens. So why did this happen? Are these the Keepers of the peace?  Not so much, my friends; not everyone feels that way. And we have seen this before. Fear, angst, outrage. This is nothing new.

All we have to do is look to at history to see how our fore bearers were up against these police tactics.  Martin Luther King, Jr., and the hundreds of unnamed "Freedom Riders" were undeterred by threats and violence when they integrated lunch counters in the 60s. Some were killed, many were beaten, and even more lost their homes, but they did not back down.  This led the way to the Civil Rights Act and Kennedy-era changes in voting.

And now, 50 years later, all of us STILL need protection. Not just those of us with the most money or the biggest property or biggest mouths to complain, but government and police protection is for the poor, the voiceless and vulnerable, especially children. All us of need protection, rich bankers or poor honest day laborers, CEOs or emotionally disturbed inmates; we all need protection, and WE are the ones called to watch. We are the ones gathering God’s people under God’s protection.

Look at the financial crisis that was caused by reckless spending on wars and tax cuts. WE need regulations with more bite so that the guilty corporate interests in Big Business like Wells Fargo, Chase Bank and Citicorp are brought to trial. WE need to protect ALL citizens from the corporate interests who seem to think that corporations have the same rights as people, and jail those who would abuse the system for personal gain, because this creates oppression. Oppression stops God’s plans by creating unfair system. Some folks are marginalized. The level playing field is dismantled by greed and the police are put in awkward position of defending the corporations against its own citizens. Many thanks to MA Representative Elizabeth Warren who took government regulators to task for not sentencing Big Banks to jail for their greed and legal but immoral behavior that brought our country to the worst financial meltdown since 1929.

But let’s get back to God’s plan. It’s not fight or flight.  It is not destruction. It is not in God’s DNA to destroy or manipulate. God has a creative, compassionate nature.  God wants peace and justice. So this is why I am involved in this new civil rights discussion. I believe we have to create the grassroots movement that will speak loud enough with enough voices for government regulators and Senators and Congress to pass legislation to hold the Foxes of this world accountable for their misdeeds. This will bring justice and peace.

This is our inheritance. Together under the wings of Christ we live by the vulnerable power of the cross as we face a world full of foxes. It seems risky but the way to the cross is the way of God. We don’t have to have weapons or masses of trained killers, we don’t need the slayer to patrol our streets looking for demons, we have the power of love that conquers death.  We don’t need to fight with weapons and we wont run away. The third way is to use the method of non-violence to prevent Bullying. Gandhi called it the “LOVE FORCE.”  Teaching nonviolence builds a community of strong individuals who take care of each other. This is the best defense for churches and schools where children who are vulnerable. It creates in people a positive self concept that strengthens resolve and gives them courage.

Like the mother hen encircles the chicks with her wings, encircling kids with love creates healthy self awareness and a sense of belovedness. A child learns to operate in the world under the umbrella of protection until he or she is ready to fly on their own in the world. A single individual may cower in the stare of a bully, but those who move as a group will not be picked out as targets. 

We want to cover our children with strong and courageous wings but also, allow them to stretch and grow. In this creative tension, a child learns to adapt and grow strong enough to repel the advances of the predator. In the wild, predators separate their prey from the herd, chasing them, wearing them down, wearing the fight out of them.  A strong group will not allow the bully to have her or his way. The way to prevent bullying is to build strong groups.

Herod had Jesus crucified but could not defeat the community of believers which, to this day, have the faith and strength and resolve to withstand any calamity. All the weapons in the world could not snuff out the love and nonviolent method that Jesus brought to the ministry with him. He operated on the agenda which highlights healing, love-force, the rejuvenating power of prayer, building a community of believers and sharing everything in common.  And so we follow that lead, pulling the “least of these my brothers and sisters” whom Jesus calls our neighbors, under God’s protective wings.