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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Railroad Crossing Three Tracks



Railroad Crossing Tracks by Jeff Carter on 500px.com

Background Images for Everyone - Week 9 - 2017


This is for you, or someone like you - a free gift.  You are invited to download this background image and to use it where and how you will. Use it at home, work, school, or church; it's yours. I only ask that 1) you share it freely and 2) you tell others that you found it here.

Love Your Enemies – You Don’t Need Me To Tell You This (A Sermon)


Matthew 5: 38 – 48
Psalm 119: 33 – 40
1 Corinthians 3: 10 – 11, 16 - 22


No one here today (or anyone reading this sermon later online) needs me to explain today’s passage; the meaning is relatively clear (and I don’t often say that.) You don’t need me to define obscure words or to explain difficult concepts. I might be helpful in fleshing out some small nuance, or perhaps to dismiss a few misunderstandings relative to this passage, but you don’t need me to explain it. Jesus’ words are easy to grasp; his message is not difficult.

Not difficult to understand – perhaps – though it seems to be difficult, if not impossible, to put into actual practice. (And indeed, many theologians have suggested that the whole point of the Sermon on the Mount was to set up an impossible standard that we could in no way meet – as a way to shatter our self-reliance and to awaken us to God’s grace.) (Jeremias 12)

Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” We might do some hair splitting, quibbling about who exactly is our enemy, or what it means to “love” them in day to day life, but we know what we’re being told to do. We understand the general intent. We just don’t do it. We don’t want to do it.

The psalmist wrote, “Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.” (Psalm 119: 35 NRSV) But not this one. We don’t delight in this particular command. It strikes us as foolishness. “Love your enemies;” we sneer that “that’s a damn fool way to get ourselves killed.”

You don’t need me to explain this passage. You don’t need my sermon on it. In fact, I’ve been half tempted to forgo my usual sermon preparation, and to just read Martin Luther King jr.’s sermon “Loving Your Enemies instead of trying to saying anything new today. But I won’t do that.

Jesus begins this passage with a reference back to the old standard, the Lex Talionis code of the Old Testament: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” We should maybe point out that this was not a bloodthirsty, barbaric code of law. This was, in fact, a limit and a check on violent, bloody conflict. It was a restraint on wildly escalating blood feuds. (Albright 64)

He then offers his own antithetical – not that / but this – teaching, which does not contradict or abolish the old code, but goes further than the law. Jesus says that not only are we to give up the vengeance of escalating blood feuds, but we are to put aside even a righteous tit-for-tat, eye-for-eye, tooth-for-tooth reciprocity. It might be acceptable according to the old code to hit the one who has hit us, or to gouge the eye of someone who has gouged out our eye, but Jesus says, Do not resist an evildoer…if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.”

The German theologian Joachim Jeremias has suggested that this blow to the right cheek “is not speaking of a simple insult; it is much more the case of a quite specific blow: the blow given to the disciples of Jesus as heretics. It is true that this is not specifically stated, but it follows from the observation that in every instance where Jesus speaks of insult, persecution, anathema, dishonor to the disciples, he is concerned with outrages that arise because of the discipleship itself. If you are dishonored as a heretic, says Jesus, then you should not go to law about it, rather you should show yourselves to be truly my disciples by the way in which you bear the hatred and the insult, overcome the evil, forgive the injustice” (Jeremias 28 – 29).

We spoke last week about not calling someone racca, fool, heretic, rebel because of the hatred and disunity that kind of insult creates. Here, we are further enjoined to not respond with vengeance to the insult of being called heretics ourselves. Personal vengeance is removed from our hands, and from our fists. (Robertson 48). But you don’t need me to tell you this. 

Jesus goes on to give a second antithetical statement. He refers first to the old law which said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” And here it can be remembered that while the first clause of that statement, “love your neighbor” is found in Leviticus 19:18, the second half, “hate your enemy” is not found in the written scriptures – though it may have been a part of the oral traditions and interpretations of the rabbis of the day. (Albright 69) Jesus, again, does not abolish or contradict this law but calls us further. He says that not only should we love our neighbors but that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who would persecute and hurt us.

He says that if we greet only our brothers and sisters with the prayer and blessing “Shalom” – peace be to you – which includes prosperity of every kind, material and spiritual wellbeing (Johnson 301) – if we only greet the brothers and sisters of our theological tradition, or the brothers and sisters of our racial or ethnic group, or the brothers and sisters of our country – then how good are we, exactly? Even the perpetually despised tax collectors and heathens can do this.

But you don’t really need me to explain any of this. Jesus message here is relatively clear.

This passage goes against our natural instincts and inclinations, goes against our customs and traditions, and even contradicts some of our Christian teachings. When faced with an enemy or a conflict we, by nature and nurture, react with either a fight or flight response. But love goes further than these limited reactions. We are not called to fight, to strike back (and definitely not to strike first); we are not called to return violence for violence. We are called to love, and to respond with love, not hate.

And neither are we called to run away from our enemies; we are called to love and love does not run away from conflict or danger. We’re called to give more than is asked of us, to go further than is demanded. We are called to love. But you don’t need me to tell you this.

We called to love and to love everyone – friends and family and foes. We are called to love those who are amicable to us and those who are hostile to us. But love is hard. Love is hard and we don’t want to accept the challenge that this represents. We want an out, an escape, a justification for our inability to put this instruction into practice. “[L]ove in action is a dreadful thing compared with love in dreams…active love is labor and fortitude” (Dostoevsky 50). Love is hard and dangerous work. Love kills us. But it is in that dying to ourselves, to our own desire, is how we learn to truly live.

Love is how we become sons and daughters of our father in heaven. Love is how become what we are created to be, how we reach our end our completion, our goal. “Be true, just as your heavenly father is true,”(Albright 71). We are to be straight and square – sincere and constant and candid in our love, not turned aside toward vengeance no matter how great the provocation. (Johnson 47).

This command, “be perfect just as your heavenly father is perfect” is not just a command for us, but also a promise to us. It is written in the future tense – “You shall be perfect.” (Buttrick 304). We shall be perfect and made whole when we know how to love even our enemies.

But you didn't need me to tell you this.





Albright W. F. & C.S. Mann. Matthew: Introduction, Translation, and Notes. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc,. 1971. Print.

Buttrick, George. “The Gospel According to St. Matthew: Exposition.” The Interpreter’s Bible Volume VII. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 1951. Print.

Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Translated by Constance Garnett, New York: Barnes & Noble Books. 1995. Print.

Jeremias, Joachim. “The Sermon on the Mount.” University of London, 7 March, 1961.

Johnson, Sherman E. “The Gospel According to St. Matthew: Exegesis” The Interpreter’s Bible Volume VII. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 1951. Print.

King jr., Martin Luther “Loving Your Enemies” Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama. 17 November, 1957.

Robertson, Archibald Thomas. Word Pictures in the New Testament: Volume I. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press. 1930. Print. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Saturday Afternoon Landscapes


Two Saturday afternoon landscapes - the first is shot with a homemade, DIY selective focus lens, the second with an infrared filter.

Saturday Afternoon Landscape (Selective Focus) by Jeff Carter on 500px.com


Saturday Afternoon Landscape (Infrared) by Jeff Carter on 500px.com



Paying Taxes Joyfully


Last night Dr. Cornel West spoke at a Salvation Army event for young adults; he spoke about racial reconciliation and the love that Christians must have for each other, and for everyone. But there were some who were less than blessed that Dr. West was our guest. Some accused him, before the event, of stirring up hatreds, and others were angry that we’d invite a Marxist to speak.

Afterwards, in a very brief Twitter exchange, a Salvationist friend of mine posted: “Socialism ≠ Christianity. Christ promoted voluntary giving/charity NOT mandatory taking by the government.”

To which I replied that I’m “not convinced those are (or have to be) mutually exclusive categories.”

I voluntarily – joyfully, even – pay my taxes to help others and to contribute to the uplifting of my neighbors. I like that we can have roads, fire departments, police, public libraries, schools, health inspectors, and et cetera. I enjoy paying my taxes in the sense that I am pleased to help others in this way. It is a form of service and giving – and while it may be a duty, an obligation, it is not a hateful duty.

'Yes,' but, I am frequently interrupted when I speak this way, 'wouldn’t it be better to give your charity to the homeless guy personally, instead of letting the government do it?'  Maybe. But if government subsidized housing can keep that guy from being homeless, I’d rather have the government program than the beggar on the street corner.

There are some caveats to my joyful taxpaying, however.

Waste is bad and to be continually eliminated. Being liberal (that is giving freely) should not be equated or equivalent to wasteful. However – I’d rather give extravagantly (wastefully, even) than be stingy or miserly, withholding from the many because of the faults of the few.

Fraud is also bad – and there are some who “take advantage of the system.” True. However, those cases are relatively few.  I’d rather be defrauded by a few than not give at all.

I also object to tax funded instruments of death and destruction – and by this I mean the huge military budget of our country. My joyful giving is greatly taxed by this. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr. “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” (Beyond Vietnam April 4, 1967) 

'But,' I am interrupted again. 'Taxation is theft!'

And to this I sigh. I have heard too many sermons and devotionals and commentaries from Christian leaders, and preachers, who have over and again said in one word or another that ‘we are only stewards of what God has entrusted to us’ for this argument to take root. Taxation can only be theft if I stubbornly insist in thinking that the money is mine.

Socialism and Christianity may not be synonymous, terms to be used interchangeably, but I don’t believe them to be mutually exclusive terms. It is possible that Socialism can be a political expression of the love we, as Christians, are commanded to have for each other. Socialism is (or can be) love.


Friday, February 17, 2017

Another Bouquet


It's not really another bouquet; it's the same bouquet.

Bouquet by Jeff Carter on 500px.com

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Minister’s New Sermon (a parable of sorts)


Once, not so long ago, there was a Minister who was exceedingly proud of his theological profundity, despite the fact that he seemed to care nothing for study of the scriptures. He had a comment, or a thought, or a brief word to share (that was never so brief) on any topic of Christian devotion. He would speak at length whenever given the opportunity. He needed no time to prepare, in fact he preferred to speak extemporaneously. Taking time to exegete a text seemed wasteful to him, something for the ivory towered intellectuals; he was, he said, gifted by God to speak as he did without preparation.

It also his practice to conclude his speeches, and sermons, and devotional discourses by addressing his audience (whether it was a large crowd or a single individual) and pressing them for comment. “Now tell me, what you think of this,” he would command them. And because he was a Minister of some import and influence with the leaders and prefects of the community, his audiences (whether crowds or individuals) felt compelled to praise his words and compliment his insight.


“Truly, a wise word, sir,” they said, or “I fully agree with everything you have said.”

One Sunday morning he stood at the pulpit in his chapel and delivered a sermon of such eloquence, such soaring expressiveness (he thought, even as he was speaking) that surely the congregation would be lifted to new heights of devotion, that their hearts would burn within them. He lifted metaphors from the text and mixed them with his own spontaneously conceived metaphors. He used catchphrases and buzz words that were current only a decade or so ago. He drifted from one new thought to another new thought in a stream of ever flowing (if somewhat disconnected) ideas until he reached, at long last, his conclusion, and then spoke a bit more before sharing a final two points.

After the prayer and the benediction were spoken, the Minister stood at the door of the sanctuary so that he could greet the members of the congregation as they left. He shook each of their hands and asked, “What did you think of what I said? Deep, right?”

And no one contradicted him.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Bouquet



Bouquet by Jeff Carter on 500px.com

This Is (Still) the Problem We All Live With


Conservative cartoonist Glenn McCoy has published an editorial cartoon depicting the recently confirmed Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. In this cartoon McCoy has shamelessly hijacked the layout of Norman Rockwell's 1964 painting, The Problem We All Live With but replaced six year old Ruby Bridges on her way to a recently desegregated school with Betsy DeVos.

The problem (that we still live with) is that Betsy Devos is not the disenfranchised being empowered. She is the powerful (rich and powerful) who now directs the franchise. Betsy DeVos is not the weak needing protection. McCoy has hijacked the story of people of color to portray conservatives as the oppressed and mistreated. It is foolish to suggest this when conservatives currently control the executive branch and the legislative branch, and are poised to control the judicial branch as well. This is disingenuous. This is still the problem that we all live with.







If the Sermon on the Mount Doesn’t Apply Then We Are Not a Christian Nation



It is true that I identify as a pacifist (but not passive) and that I try (though struggle sometimes) to live up to that identification. It is true that I believe non-violence to be the ideal and find that ideal described in the teachings of Jesus. I believe that the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 – 7) enjoins us to forgo retaliation, to set aside vengeance and anger, and to practice a radical, extravagant mercy toward our enemies – personally, communally, and even nationally.

But I know that this issue is not clear. The Bible is rarely as clear and unambiguous as we might like it to be.

It is often pointed out to me that Jesus’ words are applicable only to the individual; “it belongs to the sphere of personal behavior (Bruce 70.)” And I recognize the truth of this observation. Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” was not addressed to political groups, or national entities – it wasn’t even given to the crowds at large, it was given to his disciples, which at this point in Matthew’s narrative numbered about four (Matthew 5: 1)

But IF it is the case that these instructions (and, by extension of the argument, all of Jesus’ instructions) apply only to the individual and not to communities, or nations – which are composed of individuals – then there can be no “Christian nation.” If Jesus’ instruction to “turn the other cheek” and to “love your enemies” are not in any way applicable to nation states, then we must stop attempting to say that America is a Christian nation. 

Bruce, F. F. Hard Sayings of Jesus. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1983. Print.


Monday, February 13, 2017

Biblical Limericks: Modern Christians Respond


That Jesus guy’s an absolute fool;
his instruction’s totally uncool.
He says, ‘do not strike back
when you’re under attack.’
We don’t believe we’re bound to this rule.

Matthew 5: 38 - 39

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Background Images for Everyone - Week 8 - 2017


This is for you (or someone like you): a free background image. It's yours. download it. Use it where and how you will - at home, work, school, church; it's yours. I only ask that you 1) share it freely and 2) tell others that you found it here.

You Fool – You Rebel! (A Sermon)


Matthew 5: 21 – 37
Psalm 119: 1 – 8

“I have not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets,” Jesus told his disciples. “I have come not to abolish, but to complete them.” (Matthew 5: 17) If Jesus was a radical, revolutionary prophet, he was not so in this regard; he followed the tenets of the Jewish faith and accepted the authority of the torah. (Evans 223)

How blessed are those
whose way is blameless,
who walk in the Law of Yahweh!
Blessed are those who observe his instructions,
who seek him with all their hearts,
and, doing no evil,
who walk in his ways.
You lay down your precepts
to be carefully kept.
May my ways be steady
in doing your will.
Then I shall not be shamed,
if my gaze is fixed on your commandments.
I thank you with a sincere heart
for teaching me your upright judgments.
I shall do your will;
do not ever abandon me wholly.
(Psalm 119: 1 – 8 New Jerusalem Bible)

But Jesus, in his “Sermon on the Mount” gives a series of antitheses, not this-but that statements. In this he does not contradict the law or abrogate it; he goes beyond and further than the law. The law spoke to a man’s outward actions, to a woman’s behavior. Jesus’ words speak to his inward thoughts, to the attitude of her heart.

The physical act of murder in the old law is punishable by death, but Jesus extends this judgment to inward anger – the murderous, malicious anger burning inside a person.  Jesus told his disciples that calling someone a “fool” or “raca” = liable to judgment

But Jesus himself called people fools. Later, in this same gospel – the gospel of Matthew, Jesus calls the scribes and Pharisees fools. “You blind fools!” (Matthew 23: 17) So either Jesus was inconsistent, didn’t heed his own instruction, or Matthew wasn’t accurate in recording either one or the other of these passages. Or it could be that we need to seek a different explanation for this text.

There are two terms to understand in this verse. The first is the word “raca” and is not easily explained. It seems to be an Aramaic word – a contemptuous form of address, “good for nothing” or “wretch” (Exegesis 295). This is more than a “fool;” this is the description of a heretic. (Schaff 61) The second is usually understood as the Greek word Morē meaning “fool.” But some scholars have suggested that it may be the homophonic Hebrew word Môrê which means “rebel” – that is, a rebel against God or Apostate. (Albright 61, Stott 84)

We can read these two phrases as roughly parallel – the first contempt for his mind – his “empty head”, the second contempt for his scoundrel’s black heart. (Stott 84) Jesus’ instruction is then: Whoever despises a brother or sister in the faith as a heretic, or as a rebel against God will be liable to the Gehenna of Fire.

Religious debate is often divisive; along with politics it is a topic to be avoid in polite company. It tends to leave people polarized, raging in a state of fury. Sectarian violence is plague on the faith – on all faiths: Catholic Christians murdered Orthodox Christians during the Crusades, Protestants and Catholics killed each other during the Reformation, Catholics and Protestants killed each other in Ireland from the 16th century up through 20th century.

Early in the history of Christianity, when Christians were still by and large Jewish and members of the Jewish communities, there was division between the traditional Jews and the Christian “followers of the way.” This internecine conflict led to a split in the two groups; the Christians were expelled from their synagogues and cut off from their community.

The rabbis eventually developed 18 Benedictions to be read as part of the liturgy. The twelfth of these blessings was the “blessing” on the heretics:

“For the apostates let there be no hope, and may the arrogant kingdom be uprooted speedily in our days and may the Nazarenes (notzrim) and the heretics (mînîm) perish as in a moment and be blotted out of the Book of Life, and not be inscribed with the righteous. Blessed art thou, O Lord, who humblest the arrogant.” (Encyclopedia Judaica)

But this cursing wasn’t one sided; there is a virulent strain of anti-Semitism that has run through the Christian church since the beginning.

It’s hard to come back from that. It’s hard to come back from that anger, from that hatred. It becomes an impenetrable wall between us.

I have been called a fool. I have been called an idiot. A blasphemer, a false prophet, a son of the whore heretic. And this by my fellow Christians, my fellow Salvationists. I have been, I am hated by some. Recently a friend of mine told me of a Salvation Army officer that she knows who has expressed a hatred of me, despite the fact that I don’t think we’ve ever actually met. This officer ‘hates’ me because I support LGBTQI people, and believe they should be welcomed and included into our churches. Hate is the word the officer used. And it’s sometimes difficult to believe that I am a part of this community – because of the animosity that is expressed.

This kind of hate is murderous. It kills. It destroys the bonds of fellowship, destroys the bands of brotherhood /sisterhood.

The one who keeps and follows the law of God, the torah, the divine rule of faith and practice was considered to be blessed. And to this we say amen, so say we all. We might all agree that we worship only one God, and that Jesus has saved us from our sins and that the scriptures of the old and new testaments are to be the foundations of our faith and practice, but problems and conflicts arise when we get right down to how that scripture should be interpreted and put into practice in our ordinary, everyday life. We cannot allow those differences in interpretation cause us to break the Christian fellowship of faith.

All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them.  (1 John 3:15)

This is not to say that doctrine is unimportant, or of no concern. This is not to say that we should have a freewheeling, anything-goes approach to doctrine. We are called to study and to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). But we cannot let our disagreements – even in the matters of religious doctrine – become so inflammatory that we begin to hate and to despise our brothers and sisters.

If we call them “Racca,” empty headed, good for nothing worthless, reprobates, if we call them “fools,” black-hearted rebels and wretched apostates, then we have put ourselves in the place of God and judged them – and in doing so we make ourselves liable to the judgment of Gehenna Fire.




Albright, W.F. and C.S. Mann, Matthew: Introduction, Translation, and Notes. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc. 1979. Print.

Buttrick, George A. “Matthew: Exposition.” The Interpreter’s Bible Volume VII. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 1951. Print.

Encyclopedia Judaica. 2008 The Gale Group.

Evans, Graig A. Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 2006. Print.

Schaff, Phillip. Ed.  A Popular Commentary on the New Testament by English and American Scholars. Edinburgh, Scotland. T & T Clark. 1879. Print.

Stott, John. Christian Counter Culture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1978. Print.


Forgive Our Sins as We Forgive - Rosamond E. Herklots, 1905-87,

"Forgive our sins as we forgive,"
You taught us, Lord, to pray,
But you alone can grant us grace
To live the words we say.

How can your pardon reach and bless
The unforgiving heart
That broods on wrongs and will not let
Old bitterness depart?

In blazing light your cross reveals
The truth we dimly knew:
What trivial debts are owed to us;
How great our debt to you!

Lord, cleanse the depths within our souls
And bid resentment cease;
Then, bound to all in bonds of love
Our lives will spread your peace.


Friday, February 10, 2017

Infrared Afternoon


This photo was taken with an Infrared filter (blocks most of the visible spectrum of light)

Infrared Afternoon by Jeff Carter on 500px.com

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Camera is Fixed


Several weeks ago my camera stopped working; the shutter assembly failed. I had to send it back to the manufacturer (Canon) for repairs. But, I am pleased to report, it is fixed and returned to me once again.

Here's a photo of our dog to prove it.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Background Images for Everyone - Week 7 - 2017


This is for you. A free gift. A background image that you can use as your very own - at home, work, school, church, wherever. It's yours if you want it. I only ask that you share it freely and that you tell others that you found it here.

Biblical Limericks – Family Values


We will observe and strictly enforce
everything that Jesus said, of course;
our family values
are strong as long as you
say nothing of his words on divorce.

Matthew 5: 31 - 32

Sunday, February 5, 2017

We Are the Light of the World – This is How We Will Shine


Matthew 5: 13 – 20
Isaiah 58: 1 – 12
Psalm 112

Even though Jesus delivered his “Sermon on the Mount” to his disciples, living in first century Galilee, to his disciples who were peasants and poor laborers of Israel, this passage has been frequently cited throughout the history of American political speech craft. It wasn’t about us, had nothing at all to do with the United States of America, but we have, for better or worse, appropriated it as our own.

In 1630 Governor John Winthrop, while still aboard the ship Arbella, spoke to his fellow Puritans as they made their way to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the  “the new world.” He said that they would make a “city on the hill” of their new home, and that both the eyes of the world and the ever present help of Almighty God would be upon them there. (Winthrop “A Model”)

John F. Kennedy used the City on a Hill theme in his last formal address before becoming president in January of 1961:

“Today the eyes of all people are truly upon us—and our governments, in every branch, at every level, national, state and local, must be as a city upon a hill—constructed and inhabited by men aware of their great trust and their great responsibilities.
For we are setting out upon a voyage in 1961 no less hazardous than that undertaken by the Arabella in 1630. We are committing ourselves to tasks of statecraft no less awesome than that of governing the Massachusetts Bay Colony, beset as it was then by terror without and disorder within” (Kennedy  “City upon a Hill”).

President Ronald Regan, in his farewell address after two terms said:

“…in my mind [that city on the hill] was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still” (Regan “Farewell”).

President Barak Obama, and numerous other American politicians through the years – Republicans and Democrats alike - have referred again and again to these words from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (though Reagan attributed the phrase to John Winthrop, not Jesus). But, no matter how much we might want to describe the Unite States of America as this “city on the hill,” we are not.

No nation is. The city on the hill is made up, not of nation states, but of the many followers of Jesus no matter where or when they live, or have lived, or will live. The city on the hill is you. The city on the hill is me. The city on the hill is us – if we are following the precepts that Christ taught, living by this code. It’s not just a matter of intellectual assent to a prescribed doctrine, but an adherence to a standard of living that exemplifies, and demonstrates, and puts into vigorous action the good news of the gospel, a life that brings peace and freedom to everyone around. That city on a hill is a city of light, and peace, and freedom.

In addition to comparing his disciples to a city on a hill, he also said that they were the salt of the earth and the light of the world. “You are the light of the world,” he said to them. When Jesus said this to his disciples, and when Matthew recorded it in his gospel, for his Jewish audience, they would have remembered the words of the prophet Isaiah:

I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
(Isaiah 42:6)

and from the second of the Servant Songs (that we read just a couple of weeks ago

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
(Isaiah 49:6)

The people of Israel, God’s chosen people, were to be a guiding light to the nations of the world. And on that mountain side, Jesus repeated the pledge to his disciples. They would be the light of the world. And now, we here this morning take the words as well: we are, or can and should be the light of the world.

We live in the midst of darkness. The darkness surrounds us, envelops us, threatens to overtake us. These are dark and desperate times, filled with the tremors and rumors of war and many, countless troubles – political, economic, racial – both foreign and domestic, far abroad and close at home. There are many who feel that the light has gone out, the candle has been extinguished and they are ready to curse the darkness (to invert the quote attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt). But we are the light of the world and our light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overtaken us. (John 1: 5)

Yes. The world seems dark. Yes the world seems broken. Yes, we might even affirm with singer Leonard Cohen, that “there is a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in.” (Cohen “Anthem”) We are, like the Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn, going to “kick at the darkness ‘till it bleeds daylight” (Cockburn “Lovers”). We’re going to “Storm the Forts of Darkness and bring them down” (Johnson “Storm the Forts") because we are the light of the world.

There is a Jewish tradition originating in the Kabbalah of the 16th century that said when God created the universe he put part of himself into vessels of light – something happened and these vessels of light were shattered, trapping the light of God within the material of creation. The tradition also says that it’s up to us to restore that light. This is called tikkun olam, “repair of the world.” (Karesh 520) It’s a late tradition, yes, that has gnostic affinities, but I rather like the idea that we, each one of us, created in the image and likeness of God, have a splinter – a shard of God’s eternal light hidden within us, and that we can do something to fan the flame of that light in others.

To be the light of the world is to repair the world, it is to restore justice, and to protect those who are powerless. With our prayers and our good works, our acts of righteous justice we can release those sparks of the divine light into this world of darkness. We bring light to the dark world by standing with and alongside the poor and marginalized. We pierce the darkness of the world by rescuing the perishing and by caring for the dying (Crosby “Rescue the Perishing”). We shatter the darkness by sharing of ourselves with those in need, by feeding the hungry, by sheltering the homeless, and caring for the sick. We repair the world and restore light to the darkness by letting the oppressed go free, sharing our bread with the hungry, bringing the homeless into our house, and covering the naked. Then our light will shine – will break forth like the dawn of a glorious new day. (Isaiah 58: 6 – 8) We are the light of the world; this is how we will shine.

The Roman naturalist and philosopher, Pliny the Elder said, “Nothing is more useful than salt and sunshine” (Pliny). If we are that city on the hill – the example to the world – then we are to be salt and sunshine to a dark world, the light of the world.

"Jesus bids us shine," (Warner) so let your light shine. Let your light shine so that the people around you might know some kindness again (Schwartz) . Share. Give. Help. Care. This is how our light shines, and how we enliven the spark of that divine light in others.We are the light of the world; this is how we will shine.





Cockburn, Bruce. “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” Stealing Fire. True North Records. 1984.

Cohen, Leonard. “Anthem” The Future. Columbia Records. 1992.

Crosby, Fanny. “Rescue the Perishing.” The Song Book of The Salvation Army. London, England. The Salvation Army. 2015. Print.

Johnson, Robert. “Storm the Forts of Darkness” The Song Book of The Salvation Army. London, England. The Salvation Army. 2015. Print.

Karesh, Sarah E. & Mitchell M. Hurvitz. Encyclopedia of Judaism. New York, NY: Facts on File, Inc. 2006. Print.

Kennedy, John F. “City upon a Hill” Boston, MA. January 9, 1961.

Pliny the Elder. Natural History. Xxxi, 102.

Reagan, Ronald. “Farewell Address” Washington D.C.: The White House. 1989.

Schwartz, Stephen, "Light of the World," Godspell. 1971.

Warner, Susan Bogert, "Jesus Bids Us Shine." The Song Book of The Salvation Army, London, England. The Salvation Army. 2015 Print. 

Winthrop, John. “A Model of Christian Charity” 1630. 


Saturday, February 4, 2017

We Must Keep “Evil” Out of our Country


And how does one do that? How does one keep evil out? As if evil were only “out there” somewhere and not here as well. The immigrant and the refugee coming from out there are no more evil than those already here. Are we any better? No. There’s no one righteous. (Romans 3)

Those seeking to come into this country are no more evil than we already are ourselves. Those seeking to come into this country are no more righteous than we are ourselves.

This kind of statement is divisive fear-mongering; it attempts to pit "noble" us against "evil" them. It is proud and arrogant. It is blind. 


"If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the dividing line between good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being..." (Solzhenitsyn 168)




Solzhenitsyn, Alexander. The Gulag Archipelago. New York, NY: HarperCollins. 1976. Print.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Tower Song


Here's a brand new song, that not exactly new: The Tower Song. Like it? Download it. Share it. Sing along.  (With thanks to Emily Dickinson for the first verse, sorta' and William Faulkner for the seventh verse.)




The ­­­­­Tower Song

1. I’ve come to tell the truth;
Let me tell it strange.
Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu.

2. This song is just a dream,
but dreams, they can be real.
Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu.

3. There’s a tower in New York City,
but it’s not for you and me.
Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu.

4. That tower’s full of gold,
but I don’t want none of it.
Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu.

5. That tower full of gold
is a poorhouse don’t you see.
Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu.

6. That tower built on profit
never listened to the prophet.
Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu.

7. The past is never dead -
it ain’t even past.
Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu.

8. That tower has many names;
some call it Babylon.
Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu.

9. Nimrod built a tower
long ago, way back when.
Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu.

10. Daniel saw a stone
that’ll bring that tower down.
Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu.

11. That mighty, rolling stone
will bring that tower down.
Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu.

12. This song is just a dream,
but dreams, they can be real.
Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu.









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