Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Color of Character

This week has marked the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. The speech defined a movement and is judged to be one of the top five speeches given in American history by many folks who rank these sorts of things. One of my, and many others, favorite lines in the speech is this sentence: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."  Yes, yes and yes again.

This sermon\ speech, was one of many delivered that day on the mall of the Washington monument during the 'March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.' I must confess I never knew the name of the event until this week. I just remember the speech and the civil rights movement. A few years later, I found myself to be the only white guy in my class (there were white girls and for several years, there was only one black girl, Janie, thus our class was racially fifty\fifty) so I paid a little more attention to the civil rights movement. Much has changed because of that movement but so much hasn't changed and I think I see why. Why haven't more good things come even with so great a motivation as Dr. King's speech gave to blacks, whites and all wanting more equality and justice in this nation. In all these years, in all the subsequent speeches, in all the voting rights acts, affirmative action laws, in all the jobs bills, in all the hundreds and hundreds of programs designed to move our nation toward equality and justice for all, we still fight over race and justice issues and many divides are deep as ever. The clue to the problem is in the last five words of Dr. King's speech: 'the content of their character.' What have we done to promote the content of our national character? What have the bills, movements, speeches, actions, and laws accomplished with regard to helping individuals grow in the content of their character? All the laws have not changed hearts very much. Many of the movements polarized the population according to what effort or strategy or political party they felt would deliver what they wanted.  These merely showed the lack of character even the noblest of ideals could not reach. The solution forwarded over and over again was another politician, another program, another law, and more money thrown at the problems. This is not merely a black issue, a white issue, an Hispanic issue, an Asian issue, a Muslim issue, a Hindu issue, an economic issue or even an American issue.
It is a human issue.
But there is a color solution that address the problem and transcends the divisions on all levels of humanity and needs. The color is red and flows from the wounds of Christ. His blood washes the sins of humanity and every human. He changes and re-births the character of each believer who follows Him in faith. America has sought political solutions to spiritual problems. America has settled for tolerance when Christ has called humanity to love and respect. G. K. Chesterton said nearly a hundred years ago that "tolerance is the virtue of a man without conviction." America has settled for jobs creation when Christ offers a new creation. America has sought economic parity and economic riches when Christ calls His people to stewardship and loving generosity. We are not to be an enabler of the lazy, but an empowering and encouraging force for the hurting. Christ's freeing men from sin and guilt and offering to all mankind the grace and joy of living His Kingdom life will inspire and uplift men to the highest ideals. We have aimed too low and lead low lives as a result.

What do you do, what can I do, what can our churches do to increase the content of our character? Let's try re-focusing on the neglected part of the speech. Let each person, each church, each believer rise to the call of the Spirit of God and allow Him to grow the fruit of Jesus' character in our lives (Gal. 5:2-25). Make every effort to add to your faith goodness, and to goodness knowledge, and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love (II Peter 1:5-8).  Embrace a dream that has no place for power politics, greedy self-interest, small-minded bigotry, and unloving tolerance. Have a dream of righteousness, freedom from sin, and the power of love. May America and Americans learn what the color of character truly is. As good and timely as Dr. King's speech was, it is time to stop dreaming and start building---especially Christlike character.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Butcher Priest

                                                    Butcher Priest

I'm sure the hospital officials thought I was a candidate for the psyche ward. Well, I guess I always am but  gave more visible cause that day. I entered a somewhat catatonic trance by one of those anti-viral\microbial\disinfectant dispensers for visitors to cleanse their hands upon entering and exiting the hospital. I thought how different my duties were from the butcher-priests of 3500 years ago. I had been reading Leviticus and was impressed with the kind of work the priests were called to do to for six different (counting two sin offerings) offerings.

( Insert in your own mind dream sequence music........)

When they become aware of the sin they committed, the assembly must bring a young bull as a sin offering and present it before the Tent of Meeting. The elders of the community are to lay hands on the bull's head before the Lord and the bull shall be slaughtered before the Lord. Then the appointed priest is to take some of the bull's blood into the Tent of Meeting. He shall dip his finger into the blood and sprinkle it before the Lord seven times in front of the curtain. He is to put some of the blood on the horns of the altar that is before the Lord in the Tent of Meeting. The rest of the blood he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. He shall remove all the fat from it and burn it on the altar and do with the bull as he did for the sin offering (he shall remove all the fat from the bull... the fat that covers the inner parts or is connected to them, both kidneys with the fat near the loins, and the covering of the liver, which he will remove with the kidneys...But the hide of the bull and all its flesh as well as the head and legs, the inner parts and offal, that is, all the rest of the bull he must take outside the camp to a ceremonially clean place where the ashes are thrown, and burn it in a wood fire on the ash heap.

Time and again for each offering was the securing the animal- a bull, a ram, a lamb, a goat, two pigeons, as the offering's demand or the person's ability would allow- the slitting of the throat with respect and precision to cut the right nerves and sever the carotid artery-the catching of the blood in the proper basin (a bull would have over 4 gallons of blood)- the sprinkling and dabbing of blood inside the tent, the pouring of all the blood on the altar outside the tent- the butchering of the proper organs and cuts to burn on the altar, the hauling of the hide and offal (probably an offal smell) outside the camp about one-eighth to one--quarter mile away.  Can you imagine on a ninety degree day on the desert plains of Sinai the workload of hundreds of animals being sacrificed, the smell of blood, dung, and burned cuts of meat? Consider the stickiness of the blood of hundreds of animals on hands and fingers, the blood soaking the toes and getting under every finger and toe-nail and running down to the elbows.  And then someone would come to present a grain offering-grain, mixed with a little oil, offered by priestly hands soaked with blood and fat, waved before the Lord in thanksgiving and that too placed on the fire. No wonder it took an entire tribe with thousands of priests working in shifts to handle the duties. I can imagine one worn down, exhausted Levite after a special day of worship and sacrifice standing almost catatonic with dust, grain, fat, blood, and sweat covering him from head to foot as he tries to pry open sticky, curled with cramping fingers and he thinks to himself:  "This business of sin and it's forgiveness is dirty, exhausting, and costly. It has to be done again tomorrow and next week and next month. It never ends. Is this really what it takes to atone for sin, worship Yahweh, and find His pleasure? Are there enough bulls, goats, and pigeons? Is there enough blood spilled to satisfy His holiness? Is there a better way?

It was at this point I "awoke'' from my trance and rubbed the disinfectant into my hands and thought as I waited for the elevator--sin is still a costly, exhausting, and dirty business. We can rub our hands with a gallon of cleanser and not cleanse the heart of sin. But there is a better way, the way of  The Lamb.......

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the Living God!  But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.   Hebrews 9: 14, 26

The only thing left for me to butcher is my sermons.