Monday, October 20, 2014

Heart Breaking Story

One of the most heart-breaking stories in the news is the story about Brittany Maynard, a young woman clip_image002with an inoperable brain tumor. She and her husband moved to Oregon where she can avail herself with the state’s ‘Death with Dignity’ law and her plan is to take a lethal dose of medication on November 1st. She has only months to live and her plan is to end her life in this world before she and her family have to endure the final stages of the disease.

Her choice and the publicity around the choices have resulted in significant conversation and controversy. Many applaud her courage and many are horrified at her decision. She is only 29 years old and has been married for a year.

I hate this story. I say that I hate this story not because I hate Brittany Maynard, I just hate the fact that a young woman is dying of a brain tumor at such a young age and has been faced with horrible choices. Choice one is to end her life quickly and painlessly and very soon, or to die in a horrible fashion pretty soon. Choice number one and choice number two are both terrible options.

The story, obviously, has raised many questions.

She has been applauded by many people. The idea of death with dignity is popular and it allows physicians to prescribe medication that will provide a lethal dose to a person should that person choose to take it or not. People have the ability to have a final day with loved ones, take the dose, and die effortlessly before the final months of agony. The argument, of course, is that we do this with beloved pets and it makes sense that we be able to provide this option for people we love.

On the other hand others will say that we cannot take on the role of playing God. We can only die, the argument says, when it is our time and God is the only one who can choose that time.

I, personally, wrestle with these ‘life’ issues. I wrestle with abortion. I wrestle with death with dignity. I think capital punishment is appalling. I was educated in a Roman Catholic seminary in the 1970’s and that was the era of the ‘seamless garment’ view of life issues. In that theory of Christian ethics, abortion, death with dignity, and capital punishment were all wrong. Many so-called ‘pro-life’ people now are against abortion and death with dignity, but are fine with capital punishment. I cannot call people pro-life unless they embrace the seamless garment premise. Being for some and not others and calling one’s self pro-life strikes me as hypocritical.

If someone says, to me, “Hey, but look at your, you WRESTLE with two of the issues but come down clearly on one, doesn’t that make YOU a hypocrite too?” The answer is yes, of course. I wrestle and no matter how hard I try, I’m stuck.

There is one thing that really disturbs me, however. Recently, wrote a column that ultimately condemned Brittany Maynard and her choice. Ms. Tada not only disagrees with Ms. Maynard, but says that God has been removed from the process and that Ms. Maynard is ultimately condemning herself to hell. Ms. Tada recently wrote:
“I believe Brittany is missing a critical factor in her formula for death: God. The journey Brittany — for that matter, all of us — will undertake on the other side of death is the most important venture on which we will ever embark… Unfortunately, three countries and five states have now determined that individuals can make these choices for themselves. This is what happens when God is removed: The moral consensus that has guided that society begins to unravel.”

clip_image004 My initial instinct is that Ms. Tada and I have a theological disagreement on the removal of God. I don’t believe God is ever really removed from situations. God is present. Period. How people listen to God is often different but to say God is removed is, to me, very presumptuous.

But worse than this, Ms. Tada seems to assert that Ms. Maynard is condemning herself to hell.

Joni Eareckson Tada is a person I have to respect on many levels. She broke her neck in a horrible diving accident when she was young and has spent her life in a wheelchair with no use of her arms and legs. She is a survivor of breast cancer. Her concern about death with dignity is genuine and she is not speaking from the perspective of a person who has not made difficult choices in her own life. She is not talking from the perspective of a person who, herself, has not suffered. While I disagree with many of her theological perspectives, she’s a person I do respect and admire.

There is a line, however, that she crossed that she has no right to cross. She determined that Ms. Maynard is condemning herself to hell. To avoid some suffering in this world, Ms. Tada believes that Ms. Maynard is assigning herself eternal suffering in the next. She sees herself as warning Ms. Maynard that this is something she ought not do. Her words, while harsh, are actually loving----but they are not words he has a right to use.

We people seem to have determined that we have a right to judge others and to state where people are heading when our lives in this world have come to an end. We seem to be missing a critical factor in our formula of judgment: God.

What strikes me is that when people like Brittany Maynard are forced with two horrible choices and makes one, God is present in her life. We may see God or we may not see God, but God is present.

We can debate anything we want but let’s take God’s judgment out of the equation. As for Brittany Maynard, my heart breaks. In my view of God, the first heart that broke was God’s heart and that when her journey in this world comes to an end, my faith is that her journey will continue with God.

And God, last I checked, doesn’t need our input as to who walks with God in Heaven.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Things People Think are Biblical, but Really Aren’t: The Real Message of the Bible is to be Nice

 

Ministers pretty much all have a common experience. We are at a wedding reception and are seated next to someone’s Great Uncle Waldo from Nebraska. Great Uncle Waldo is enjoying the fact that there is an open bar at the wedding reception and mildly freaked out that he’s stuck being seated next to the minister. The minister is looking at his or her watch, hoping that time passes quickly so he or she can leave before Great Uncleclip_image002 Waldo musters up the courage to talk. After four or five drinks, Great Uncle Waldo decides it’s time to have a conversation.

He puts his arm around the minister’s shoulder and exhales. The member of the clergy offers thanks that this particular clergy person had quit smoking and didn’t have an open flame in proximity to Great Uncle Waldo’s breath because the alcohol content near an open flame would immolate both of them.

Great Uncle Waldo then says, “I’m not really a church going person and I can’t say I know much about the Bible, but the whole secret is to be nice to one another.”

For most clergy this would be revelation.

Clergy in mainline Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church have pretty comparable educations. After four years of college 3-4 years of graduate level seminary are taken. The Master’s of Divinity degree required to become ordained is usually a 75-90 credit degree whereas many Master’s degree programs are usually between 30-40 credit hours. (Interesting side note is that most mega-churches do not have seminary educated clergy and do not require the M.Div. degree. Further comments shall be restrained.)

In any case, most clergy are well-educated individuals and have a working knowledge of the history of Christianity, systematic theology, Christian ethics, Scripture, as well as extensive field education. Most have listened to countless sermons preached by scholars and have read extensively. Most have libraries filled with resources and can articulate and explain often very difficult and obscure passages of Scripture. There is one thing clergy to not learn in this extensive education and one thing all the scholars who have taught us also seemed to have missed.

Never have any of us heard in all that education that the whole secret of Christianity is to be nice to one another. Either Great Uncle Waldo has been given divine revelation and should be put immediately on the preaching circuit or…

Here’s the bad news. Great Uncle Waldo is wrong. The central theme of the Bible isn’t about being nice. If you actually read the Bible, Jesus wasn’t always nice. He was loving, but loving isn’t always being nice. Sometimes confrontation is more loving than being nice. If you read the letters of St. Paul, St. Paul was not always nice. Again, sometimes confrontation is more loving than being nice.

Does this suggest that we ought to be mean to one another? No. Does this mean that we shouldn’t be nice to each other?

Actually, for the most part, being nice to one another is a good thing. I like to think that I am a pretty nice person and I like nice people. To be honest, the world would be a better place if people were nicer to one another. I say this, of course, in terms of that niceness being genuine and not phony.

Having said all of this, being nice is not a Biblical theme. The Biblical message is about truth and love and sometimes truth requires bitter medicine. It doesn’t require meanness, but it requires directness and sometimes the directness is painful.

Alas, Great Uncle Waldo is wrong. It may be nice when people are nice, but it’s not Biblical.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Things People Think are Biblical, but Really Aren’t: Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner

 

We’ve all heard it said, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” It sounds like a good Christian thing to say doesn’t it? As Christians we are anti-sin and pro-love so this seems to make a lot of sense. We’ve probably all heard it said, “As it says in the Bible, ‘hate the sin but love the sinner…’ The problem is that it’s not in the Bible.

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It’s actually something that Gandhi wrote in 1929 when he wrote, “Hate the sin and not the sinner.” St. Augustine expressed a similar thought back in AD 424: “With love for mankind and hatred of sins.” The thoughts were close but not Biblical and not, exact.

Some have used Jude 1:22-23, 22 And have mercy on some who are wavering; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies, as something of a proof text for this, but, alas, it’s not even close.

There are a bunch of problems with this statement and good reason why it’s not in the Bible.

For one, when we begin to entertain the thought of ‘hate’ it blurs the line between love and hate. Hating the sin allows us to judge people by their sins. Hate is something we are called, specifically NOT to do. God is love and we who abide in love abide in God. When we venture into the world of ‘hate’ we are moving in the wrong direction.

Secondly, it gives us permission to judge one another. Have I ever judged another person? Yes. Did I have any right to judge another person? No. Have I ever looked at the speck in another person’s eye and missed the plank in my own eye? Far too many times. When we begin to think we have the right to ‘hate the sin,’ we go down the path of judgment and judging others, from a Biblical perspective, is most definitely a sin.

Thirdly, it puts us into a position of determining sins. Sin is classically seen as moving away from God or living outside of God’s will or God’s way. The difficulty in determining ‘sins’ comes from the fact that we have to determine what God’s will or God’s way happens to be. It means what my conscience determines is sinful or not supersedes your conscience. That ultimately leads to judging one another and, again, that is most definitely a sin.

So, how do we treat sinners?

Love everyone. That covers it.

Sermon Audio 10/5/14

 

The Pursuit of the Prize

Text: Philippians 3:4-14

Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo

October 5, 2014

 

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Audio Sermon September 28, 2014

 

Doing the Right Thing

Text: Philippians 1:1-4; Matthew 21:23-32

Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo

September 28, 2014

 

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Audio Sermon for September 21, 2014

One in Christ
Text: Ephesians 4:1-6
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
September 21, 2014

 

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Things that are Not Biblical That People Think are Biblical: God Helps Those…

God helps 

 

Many people have said, over the years, “As it says in the Bible, “God helps those who help themselves.” To find this verse in the Bible, I suggest you look at Matthew 29:10. I’ll wait while you look.

Waiting.

Waiting.

Waiting.

Looking at my watch.

Waiting.

Waiting.

Okay, by now you may have looked in the Bible and searched for Matthew 29:10 and found, to your amazement that I have either misquoted, or do not know my Bible, or was pulling your leg. I do know my Bible pretty well and I didn’t misquote.

The phrase is not Biblical. It mostly dates back to ancient Greece, the philosophers, and Aesop’s Fables. Shakespeare used it. Ben Franklin used it and published it. The phrase has been around a long time; it even pre-dates much of the Bible.

It is also not without wisdom. Actually, it’s a pretty wise statement. It’s reminiscent of the words of St. Augustine that I try to live by, “Work like it all depends on you and pray like it all depends on God.” The statement, though not Biblical, is a good one.

What I like about “God helps those who help themselves,” is that it’s a reminder that we are not called to be slackers. The Bible is full of statements in the Wisdom books about loafers, idlers, and slackers. St. Paul makes a point that people should work for their food. Stating that phrase, “God helps those who help themselves,” is not Biblical does not indicate that people believe no one should work or do anything productive. Far from it. Productivity in life is a good and vital thing. We need people to show up and put in effort. The world spins and things take place because people work hard and help themselves.

Good words? Yes.

Wise words? Yes.

God’s words? No.

Yet, people believe it is Biblical; even a central teaching of the Bible.

In Wikipedia it says:

The beliefs of Americans regarding this phrase and the Bible has been studied by Christian demographer and pollster George Barna of The Barna Group. To the statement "The Bible teaches that God helps those who help themselves"; 53% of Americans agree strongly, 22% agree somewhat, 7% disagree somewhat, 14% disagree strongly, and 5% stated they don't know. Of "born-again" Christians 68% agreed, and 81% of non "born-again" Christians agreed with the statement. In a February 2000 poll, 53% strongly agreed and 22% agreed somewhat that the Bible teaches the phrase. Of the 14 questions asked, this was the least biblical response, according to Barna. A poll in the late 1990s showed the majority (81%) believe the concept is taught by the Bible, another stating 82%.

Despite being of non-Biblical origin, the phrase topped a poll of the most widely known Bible verses. Seventy-five percent of American teenagers said they believed that it was the central message of the Bible.

While I like the wisdom of the statement, it concerns me that so many people think it’s a part of our faith heritage. It’s not. The reality is that if one reads the Bible and one reads the first priority of Jesus, the Bible would more likely say (and mean) “God helps those who help others.” Jesus tells us, constantly, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc. We are called, repeatedly, as Christians, to help others. There is no distinction on who we help either. There are no ‘worthy’ poor or ‘unworthy’ poor in the Bible. There is no distinction between the people who have hit hard times or the slackers. There is only the word ‘poor’ that hounds us constantly. “God helps those who help others,” is actually a consistent Biblical theme.

The phrase, “God helps those who help themselves,” while filled with wisdom is not Biblical.

So, the next time someone tells you, As the Bible says, “God helps those who help themselves,” refer them to Matthew 29:10 and tell them what, exactly, that reference means.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Things that People Think Are Biblical, but Really Aren’t: Lex Talionis.

 

I’ve heard many people say, “Well, you know what the Bible says, ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” Does the Bible actually say this? Yes, but before you cite it, there are some facts to learn about it.

It is stated in Exodus 21:

23 If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

 

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This is part of unofficial Jewish Law, after the giving of the 10 Commandments. A long list of things were being given out to the people of Israel, giving them a sense of depth and breadth of the Mosaic Law. This particular statement is based on the principle is sometimes referred using the Latin term lex talionis or the law of talion, means a retaliation authorized by law, in which the punishment corresponds in kind and degree to the injury. It comes from the Code of Hammurabi which was a Babylonian law code of ancient Mesopotamia, dating back to about 400 years before Moses.

The lex talionis is based on retributive justice, which means that people can retaliate in a restrained way. An eye for an eye means that if someone attacks you and destroys your eye, you can destroy their eye; you cannot kill them. It is based on a premise of justice as opposed to revenge. It was, for the time, a very enlightened and progressive perspective. In Exodus, Moses is saying that this old law of a different culture, should still be a part of Israel’s existence. It’s in the Bible, but it’s not necessarily a Biblical principle. It comes from ancient Mesopotamia.

Alas, that’s not my point, so before you say, “Thank you for the proof text, thank you for this verse,” and go on your merry way extracting eyes from people who have harmed you, please recognize something. Jesus disagrees with the Code of Hammurabi.

In Matthew 5 he says:

38 "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. 43 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46

To summarize this quickly, Jesus was not a fan of the Lex Talionis. He is replacing the old law with the new law and the new law is complex.

One of the great challenges Jesus gives us is something most of us would prefer to not deal with. Jesus was a pacifist. Passages like this reveal it. His behavior in the garden revealed it. His comments to Peter, who was willing to defend Jesus, reveals it. Jesus was a pacifist.

In early Christianity, before Constantine, all Christians were pacifists. It was forbidden to join the Roman Army and it was forbidden to take up arms. It was seen as acceptable to die for one’s faith, but never to kill for one’s faith. When Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire this changed. Now Christians could and did, fight for Rome. Since that time most Christians are not pacifists. There are exceptions. The Religious Society of Friends are pacifists. Churches from the Anabaptist tradition are pacifists. Most Christians are not.

I’m not going to make an argument for pacifism. I’m not a pacifist. I say that reluctantly as I wish I could be, but the world around us does not really allow for this. I say that knowing this is my opinion, nothing more or nothing less.

Jesus was opposed to the Lex Talionis because he could not or would not physically harm another person. He strove for mercy in everything he did. In our society we recoil when we hear of other cultures cutting the hands off thieves; yet we lament when we determine that prison conditions are too good. (The reality is that most people in prison live in deplorable conditions.) The simple reality is that most of us have little to no objection to having pain inflicted on wrong doers----as long as we are not the wrong doer or we are not related to them, of course.

There are tons of questions we can wrestle with. Jesus does not make this very easy for us. But there is one thing very clear. Jesus was opposed to the Lex Talionis. Next time you decree it to be Biblical, you may need to contrast the views from Exodus and Matthew. For Christians, we really do not believe in an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. For Christians, that is not a Biblical principle.

Audio Sermon September 14, 2014

Because God….

Texts: Romans 14:1-12; Matthew 18:21-35

Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo

September 14, 2014

 

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