Sunday, October 16, 2016

Catastrophizing The Presidential Election...Or Trusting In Jesus.

Brad Sullivan
Proper 24, Year C
October 16, 2016
Emmanuel, Houston
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

Catastrophizing The Presidential Election...Or Trusting In Jesus.

Does anyone else ever find themselves catastrophizing their lives?  Imagining the worse scenario happening, maybe even what would you do if?  I thought it was pretty uncommon, maybe even that I was the only one who did that, but I find more and more that catastrophizing our lives is actually quite common.  We’re afraid of things, and our brains seem to like to try to prepare us for possible tragedy by playing out our fears.  It doesn’t actually help, but our brains sometimes just don’t get that.  When we’re afraid, we often live into our fears, and we can’t really spread that much love and joy and hope when we’re catastrophizing our lives.

In the midst of our worries and fears, Jesus said, “Do not be afraid.”  “Do not worry.”  “Do not lose heart.”  Jesus repeated these refrains throughout his ministry, which tells us his disciples and all those whom Jesus taught were rather anxious and worried as well.  It may be rather gratifying to realize that we are not the only ones who are living in an anxious time.  We are not the only ones who worry about the present, the future, heck even the past.  Into the darkness of our anxieties and fears, Jesus brings us the light of hope, and as Paul wrote in Romans 5, “hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit…”

At the heart of Jesus’ teaching and the practice of hope, was his teaching and practice of praying always and not losing heart.  At the core of Jesus’ teaching is a persistent hope and trust in God, and God’s abiding love for us is at the heart of this hope.  

God’s abiding love for us is at the heart of the parable Jesus told about the unjust judge (who didn’t care about God or anyone, we are told) and the widow who kept bothering him.  The judge in Jesus’ story didn’t care a hill of beans for this societally unimportant widow.  She wasn’t going to help get him re-elected.  She couldn’t bribe him, but she was terminally annoying in her persistence.  She was like a toddler asking for something.  If you ignore them, they just get louder.  So with no love in his heart, the judge granted justice to the widow just out of self preservation.

God, on the other hand, deeply loves us, Jesus is reminding us.  So fear not, for he will grant justice not out of annoyance, but out of love.  Hope in God, even in the dark times, for God is sovereign, good, and the source of all light, love, and grace.

Jesus’ teaching about our hope in God and the need to pray always and not lose heart was a part of a greater discourse in which he had been teaching about the kingdom of God.  The Pharisees has been questioning Jesus, seemingly concerned about when the Kingdom of God was coming.  My guess is that this was playing into some of those worries and fears and catastrophizing life. 
There seemed concerned about when God was coming so that folks could clean up their acts just in time.  Getting the house cleaned up before the guests arrive…“No, our house always looks this good; what, yours doesn’t?”  Don’t worry about when God is coming, Jesus said.  Don’t fret about when to clean the house.  Don’t fret about not being good enough for God.  You’re not good enough for God.  That’s the point.  God is ok with that.  God’s grace is what makes you good enough, not your efforts at cleaning.  God’s grace is more than sufficient to clean your house for you once he gets here, if you really need him to.  Truth be told, though, God’s already seen the clutter of your house and is really over it.  He’s pretty well unimpressed by it.  We’re all a mess, and God gets that.  His grace is more than sufficient for us.

So, rather than worrying about when God is going to show up, like the bogeyman, Jesus answered the Pharisees, “the Kingdom of God is among you.”  

The kingdom of God is among you, so live the kingdom life.  Live as my disciples.  Live the way, the truth, and the life that I am, Jesus taught.  Do not worry.  Do not be afraid.  Do not let your fears and anxieties rule your life.  Pray continually, and do not lose heart.  Pray continually for God’s kingdom to be lived out among and within you.  Pray continually for God’s kingdom to spread to those around you, in your homes, in your work, in your communities, cities, in the world.  Pray continually that God’s Holy Spirit, having been poured into your hearts, will lead you and strengthen you to live out God’s kingdom, to share his love and justice and peace.

You see, contra some modern gospels and preaching, Jesus is not the great self help book in the sky.  Jesus teaching to pray continually and not lose heart was for his disciples’ sake, to be sure, but his teaching went beyond helping the disciples just for their own sake.  “Pray continually and do not lose heart so that you can life out my kingdom,” Jesus was saying.  Pray continually and do not lose heart so that you will not constantly catastrophize your fears and will instead be filled with faith, hope, and love, and spread the joy of faith, hope, and love, to those around you in your words and actions. 

Anyone hear of an election coming up pretty soon?  Talk about catastrophizing our fears, this election is one in which many are losing heart.  There is a huge amount of fear on both sides that the other candidate will win, and many on both sides seem like they can’t imagine anything worse in the world than the other candidate winning.  Some people are even becoming afraid of admitting to supporting whatever candidate they support.  Some are afraid of losing friends.  Some are afraid of being told how stupid they are for possibly being an idiot enough for support the other candidate.  Some are actually afraid for their physical well being.  It feels like as a nation, we are catastrophizing this election. 

As disciples of Jesus, we have a, not a duty.  We have the joy, during this election, to pray continually and not lose heart.  We have the joy to spread the light of hope, the light of faith and love, into the darkness of all the anxieties and fears over this election.  The bottom line is this, in the upcoming election, anywhere from 40-60% of the population is going to be mightily disappointed in the result, regardless of who wins, and regardless of who wins, God is still sovereign.  God is not going to abdicate ruling the universe either to Donald or to Hillary. 

God is here and with us, and God is for us regardless of who wins.  God is here and with us and for us during the trials and misfortunes of life, and God is here and with us and for us during the joys and blessings of life.  God is here and with us and for us when we make great decisions and when we make bone-headed decisions.  So pray and do not lose heart.

Pray continually, and do not lose heart for all those times when you and everyone around you falls short of God’s kingdom.  We always have and we always will continue to fall short of God’s kingdom.  We have and we will continue not to love as we have been loved.  We have and will continue the let our fears and our anxieties rule our actions.  We have and will continue to want to control the actions of others, concentrating on how the speck in their eye is ruining the world, rather than trying to heal the world by removing the log in our own eye.

That’s why God has given us grace.  Fear not those who don’t live out God’s kingdom way.  Fear not during these anxious times, but rather continue to pray and continue through your prayers to open yourself to God’s Holy Spirit which has been poured into your heart to live out God’s kingdom.  Do not be afraid and do not lose heart.

Practice gratitude instead of fear.  Rather than catastrophize your fears, remember and give thanks for all that is good in the world.  Remember and give thanks for all that is good in your life.  Then cast your anxieties where they can be best handled.  Cast your anxieties on God, and trust him with the running of the universe, for at the heart of our hope, at the heart of our gratitude, at the heart of Jesus’ teaching and practice of praying always and not losing heart is a persistent trust and hope in God.  Amen.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Put Your Trust In God, and Rely Not On Your Stuff

Brad Sullivan
Proper 21, Year C
September 25, 2016
Saint Mark's Episcopal Church, Bay City, TX
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

Put Your Trust In God, and Rely Not On Your Stuff.

Have you ever noticed that in some organizations, the folks who have a lot of money are the ones who it seems really matter in that organization, and everybody else isn’t as important.  If we look at elections, most of us only get one tiny vote, whereas people or businesses with lots of money get their vote as well as enormous amounts of influence over the candidates and over policy.  Money gets people what they want in this world.  Influence, power, prestige, security, lots of really nice things. 

Wealth is also often seen as an indicator of success and even moral elevation.  Those with money worked hard to earn it.  They did well.  Those without money didn’t work as hard, didn’t earn as much.  They aren’t as good people as the ones with lots of money. 

Most people don’t really think this way, of course, and yet we hear statements that point to such ideas that equate having a lot of money with success, working hard, and good moral fiber.  In reality, success often comes without monetary reward; hard work pays well and also doesn’t pay well, depending on what the work is; and good moral fiber is just as likely or unlikely among the rich as it is among the poor.

In short, while our society values wealth quite a lot, God doesn’t care one whit about it, except in one way.  God expects those with wealth to share generously with those who are poor.  As Jesus said, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” (Luke 12:48)

That is basically what Jesus had been saying in our readings for the last several weeks, and the Pharisees just weren’t buying it.  They mocked Jesus’ teaching about money, possessions and the requirement to care for the poor.  “You cannot serve God and money,” Jesus said.  Jesus even likened loved of money to idolatry.  The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, mocked Jesus’ teachings.  So, we heard today Jesus’ continued polemic against the Pharisees and against the idolatry of loving money. 

Jesus told the story of the rich man and Lazarus to show exactly what was wrong with the love of money.  He gave an extreme example to make his point.  Rich man was so rich that he had a huge feast every day, the kind of feast you’d have for special occasions, state dinners, that sort of thing.  He ate like that all the time.  The poor man, Lazarus, on the other hand was so bad off that he couldn’t even prevent dogs from licking his sores.

Jesus was teaching against lovers of money who don’t obey torah’s commands to give help to the poor, and we see God’s desire for those with money to help those without money in the judgment the two men receive.  Rich man is in torment, not for being rich, but for not helping the poor man, Lazarus.  Lazarus, on the other hand, is cared for by God in the bosom of Abraham, gathered to his people, loved, and made whole.

Contra those who feel that the poor aren’t worthy of help or that if they were better people and tried harder, they wouldn’t be poor.  Jesus taught, “You are commanded to help those in need.”  The poor matter greatly to Jesus, just as the rich matter to him.

God’s desire for us is not that we would all be poor or all be rich, nor even that we would all be middle income.  God’s desire for us is that we would care for each other as much as he cares for us. 

The rich aren’t bad, and the poor aren’t good.  Both rich and poor matter to God.  At the same time, the rich are commanded by God to share out of their abundance with those who are in need.  Paul wrote in his letter to Timothy:
As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life. (1Timothy 6:17-19)

In other words put your trust in God, share with others, and rely not on your stuff.  That’s pretty much what I’ve been preaching for the last three weeks, mainly because that’s pretty much what Jesus has been saying in our Gospel readings for the last three weeks.  Put your trust in God, share with others, and rely not on your stuff.

That sounds good as short quips go.  I can see those words on a poster with Mother Teresa giving soup to an orphan, or those words on a bumper sticker.  Folks would say, “Yeah, that’s right trust in the Lord, thank you Jesus.”

The challenge would then be, what in the world people who are inspired by those words would do to live them out.  Quips and posters are great as capitalism goes, but the Gospel of Jesus is a way, not a slogan, and Jesus’ way is meant to be lived day in and day out.

How do I put my trust in God and not in my stuff, and how do I know when I’m putting my trust too much in my stuff and not enough in God?  How much do I share, and how much do I keep?  We tend to like to quantify things, and wonder, “how much is enough?”  There’s no number I can give.  We could say 10%.  Give away 10% of what you have each year, 10% of your income, and also give up some of your possessions to help those without.  That’s a good biblical number.

Without quantifying it, though, think of it like this.  Give as much as you need to maintain your humanity.  People who don’t care about the plight of the poor or people who care and do nothing lose their humanity.  Look at the rich man in Jesus’ story. 

Even when he was dead and tormented in flames, he was still depending on his status, still thinking he was more important than Lazarus because he had been rich.  He wanted to command Lazarus to do his bidding.  This man had lost so much of his humanity, that he didn’t even see Lazarus as a human; rather as a thing to do his bidding.  Notice that in losing his humanity, the rich man had also lost his name.  He was just “rich man.”  The poor man, Lazarus, had a name.  Lazarus was a human being.  Rich Man, who loved money more than people, had lost his name; he had lost his humanity.  He’d traded his identity for “Rich Man.” 
As the story was told, he wasn’t unaware of Lazarus’ plight.  He even knew Lazarus’ name.  He simply didn’t care about helping Lazarus.  Rich Man was feasting every day, meaning he was having a full banquet-like meal every day.  He knew there was this broken down, likely crippled man named Lazarus who was starving near his home, and he did nothing but keep eating.  He did not obey the command of the Law of Moses to help this poor man, Lazarus.  He therefore lost his humanity, lost his identity, and lost his connection with God and others.

So what do we give, how much, and how often to avoid losing our humanity?  Well, rather than an amount and a self-serving goal to avoid punishment, we’re called as disciples of Jesus to let the same mind be in us that was in him.  I don’t think Jesus was worried about his reward or punishment.  Jesus loved God and people, and then he lived naturally out of that love.  We’re called to share Jesus’ love of God and people and to live our lives out of that love.  We’re called not to value wealth, but to see it as useful for serving one another in God’s Kingdom.  We’re called to share in the Jesus movement.  We’re called to share out of whatever abundance we have out of love, not fear.  We’re called live out our common humanity to its fullest.  We’re called to follow Jesus in his way and to put our trust not in wealth, but to put our trust in Jesus, in his way, his truth, his life, and his grace.  Amen.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Honor the People, Not the Symbol.

Colin Kaepernick has incited all kinds of anger and hatred poured onto him with religious zeal and fervor, zeal and fervor the likes of which God and God’s Kingdom have not experienced in decades, if not centuries.  Mr. Kaepernick incited this zealous anger towards himself by not honoring a symbol of America.  He didn’t honor the symbol because he saw so much wrong with America that he felt to honor the symbol was to honor all that was wrong with the country.  He wouldn’t honor the symbol of America so that he could instead honor the people that are America. 

To honor the symbol is for many to honor all that is great about America.  To honor the symbol was for him to honor all that was wrong with America, and that he could not do.  Perhaps he was overly pessimistic with his view of America (I don’t believe so), but his actions were comparable to much of Jesus’ actions, refusing to honor the symbols of his religion so that he could instead honor God and God’s Kingdom. 

Jesus broke the rules of his religion in order to love, heal, and honor people.  At times, Jesus didn’t honor the symbols and traditions of his faith in order to live out the heart of his faith.

Mr. Kaepernick did the same thing by not standing to honor the flag.  His statement was not “I hate America,” or “I hate the flag, the symbol of America.”  His statement was “I cannot abide the endless violence and racism in America.” 

A statement against violence and racism is a statement which I am sure Jesus would be one-hundred percent behind.  Verbally destroying a man who spoke out against violence and racism because he didn’t honor a symbol is, on the other hand, something I am quite sure Jesus would be against. 

The religious fervor of honoring the flag at the expense of honoring people is analogous to serving wealth rather than serving God, serving things rather than serving people.  Like the Pharisees serving and honoring the symbols of their faith rather than serving God and God’s kingdom, people are serving the flag rather than serving God and God’s kingdom lived out in America.

Jesus would tell us to listen to the message Mr. Kaepernick is giving, rather than be incensed that he is not honoring a symbol.  The message is that violence, mistrust, racism, and death of minorities due to the violence, mistrust, and racism is a very real problem and threat.  A threat to the lives of individuals in this country.  A threat to the ideals of this country which the flag, the symbol, is mean to represent. 

“But strive first for the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)  Strive first to end the violence, mistrust, and racism that is killing people in America and killing America itself.  Then, honoring the flag may be given to you as well.

Scorsese Is Directing? I’m Ok With That. Jesus? Not So Much.

Brad Sullivan
Proper 20, Year C
September 18, 2016
Saint Mark's Episcopal Church, Bay City, TX
Luke 16:1-13

Scorsese Is Directing?  I’m Ok With That.  Jesus?  Not So Much.

At first glance, in our Gospel story today, it seems as though Jesus is telling us we should be dishonest, and we’re pretty much confused through his entire parable.  By the end, the wraps things up pretty clearly, saying, “You cannot serve God and wealth.”  Ok, we pretty much get that.  We may not like it, but, we get it. 

In the middle, though, the master of the house praises a dishonest manager for being dishonest?  Does that make any sense to us?  I think it really kinda does.

Years ago, I saw a reality show called, “Big brother.”  It was the typical thing, a last man standing contest where people voted each other off the show, and they all lived in a house together.  They formed alliances and tried being friends and living together, and they really wanted to be friends with each other, until the times came when they ultimately all had to stab each other in the back so they could win.  All except this one guy, the guy who won.  He never actually tried to be anyone’s friend.  He’d agree to an alliance and then he’d break it.  He’d manipulate people and act like their friend and then vote them off the show.  There was no one whom he hadn’t made angry during the show.  When it finally came down to two people, there was the guy who won, and this other young woman, who had been pretty nice throughout the show.  They were making their pleas to everyone who’d been kicked off, saying basically, “Vote for me to win.” 

The young woman, who lost, was apologetic that the others had been kicked off and said she really did like them…she was so nice.  The guy who won?  He said that the whole time, his objective was to win, so of course he lied, manipulated, and made and broken alliances.  Everyone else there was a danger to him, and he wanted to win, not make friends with people he’d never see again.  They all realized he was the only one who was truly honest with them throughout the entire process.  He was shrewd in his dealings with them, and they all voted for him to win.

The master in the story that Jesus told kinda felt like the audience and the other members of that show.  “You’ve actually done kinda well here,” he’d say to his manager.  “You’ve swindled me a bit, but you actually managed something, and quite well.  You’re actually pretty good at this if there’s a gun to your head.  I just might keep you on.”

We totally get rooting for this guy in the show who was shrewd in his dealings, and we totally get rooting for the dishonest manager being shrewd in his dealings.    If his life were a movie with the right script and a good director, we’d all be rooting for the dishonest manager by the end of the movie. 

We’re somehow just not so comfortable hearing Jesus tell the story.  Scorsese writing and directing the movie, “OK.”  Jesus writing and directing it, “Ahh, I feel weird.”
Here’s the thing.  The context is that Jesus was being shrewd in eating with sinners and tax collectors.  He didn’t threaten them, and he didn’t shun them, and he didn’t assume they didn’t have enough money to be worth his time.  He ate with them and loved them into repentance. 

Also, it started with genuine love.  They weren’t his projects; they were people whom he loved.

The manager in the story Jesus told didn’t care one whit about the people, and yet he still figured out how to do well by them and create some decent community of the Kingdom of God.  He’d be relying on their generosity just as they were grateful for his.  It was quid pro quo, to be sure, but he was going to be getting to know the people in any case.  Kingdom of God kind of living was going to happen.  Out of purely selfish desires, he got some kingdom living done.  The people of this age, Jesus said, are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.

For the children of light, those disciples of Jesus who believe in his Kingdom way and the light that he is, if only they were as shrewd to care for those around them, Jesus was saying.
Remember, this is a polemic against the Pharisees and the Scribes who didn’t like that Jesus ate with sinners.  “There is grace,” the Pharisees and the Scribes would say, “but only if you follow the religious rules and clean up your act before approaching God, and pay for the temple.”  Jesus said, “There is grace.  Here, have some.  Have forgiveness, have dignity, have humanity and love.  Now let’s work on repentance so you can then also share grace, forgiveness, dignity, humanity, and love with others who need it.”

Jesus gave away grace rather than charge for it.  Jesus forgave sins when they hadn’t been paid for yet.  Jesus broke the rules of grace, at least the rules which the scribes and the Pharisees thought grace should have.  The Pharisees seemed to love their religion, the symbols and rituals of their religion.  They honored those symbols and rituals because those symbols and rituals were instruments of grace.  Unfortunately, they turned the symbols and rituals into idols by honoring the symbols and rituals rather than honoring God, God’s Kingdom, and God’s grace, which is what those symbols and rituals were meant to help them live out.

The dishonest manager broke the rules of money in order to bring about the best possible outcome for the most people.  In the same way, Jesus broke his religion’s rules of God’s grace in order to bring about the most good and the most grace for the most people so that they could live out God’s kingdom.    

“You cannot serve God and money,” Jesus said.  You cannot serve God and your rules about grace.  You cannot serve God and hold onto grace as if it is your personal possession to give out to those whom you deem worthy.  Life in the Jesus movement gives grace extravagantly.

Life in the Jesus movement also gives money and possessions extravagantly.  Jesus was also talking about money.  He was talking about how people lived their lives and how they used what they had.

The rules of our possessions says, “keep them, they are yours.”  The rules of our money say, “You earned it, it’s yours.”  Quid Pro Quo.  This for that.  Give only for what you are going to get in return.  Also, be afraid about tomorrow.  Save up and store up as much as you can, because tomorrow you just might be relying on your possessions to live. 

Jesus’ kingdom breaks the rules of money and the rules of possessions.  The rules of money in Jesus’ kingdom say, “it’s not yours, it’s God’s.  Use it for the benefit of others, for the benefit of God’s kingdom.  Use it for the benefit of those who are in need, not those whom you deem worthy.”  The rules of possessions in Jesus’ kingdom say, “Do not rely on your wealth and possessions to take care of you during hard times.  Rely on the people whom you have cared for and loved during their hard times to care for and love you during your hard times. 

Politicians get quid pro quo.  I’ll do you a favor, you do me a favor.  The children of this age are shrewd in their dealings with each other.  Would that the children of light were just as shrewd, caring for and relying on one another so that when the tables are reversed, people will be able to depend on the kindness of people to whom kindness has been shown.  Security found in people using their stuff for others, rather than security found in stuff while ignoring others. 

Give of your money and possessions extravagantly.  Give grace extravagantly.  As Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said, “That is life in the Jesus movement.” 
A way of love that seeks the good and the well-being of the other before the self’s own unenlightened interest. A way of love that is not self-centered, but other-directed. A way of love grounded in compassion and goodness and justice and forgiveness. It is that way of love that is the way of Jesus. And that way of love that can set us all free.
Someone once said, “When you look at Jesus, you see one who is loving, one who is liberating, and one who is life-giving.”  And that is what the way of Jesus is about. And that is the Movement of Jesus. A community of people committed to living the way of Jesus, loving, liberating, and life-giving, and committed to going into the world to help this world become one that is loving, liberating, and life-giving.

Break the rules and be dishonest in how you give so that you can bring about the most grace, and the most well-being for the most people.  Rather than be protectors of God’s grace, hoarders of God’s possessions, like the Pharisees and the Scribes, we are the people of Jesus who extravagantly give God’s grace and share our possessions with those who are in need both.  Amen.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Bullying, Terrorism, & 9/11: The Way of Self-Righteousness Is the Way of Death

Brad Sullivan
Proper 19, Year C
September 11, 2016
Saint Mark's Episcopal Church, Bay City, TX
Luke 15:1-10

Bullying, Terrorism, & 9/11:
The Way of Self-Righteousness Is the Way of Death

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” and people saw life and truth in him, and people flocked to him, following him and following in his way.  Jesus’ way of life was a way of love, and forgiveness, and reconciliation, a way in which he did not shun or exclude those who were considered to be sinners.  Rather, he welcomed them and ate dinner with them, and this did not sit well with the religious leaders of the time, the Pharisees and the Scribes.  They complained about Jesus, “He eats with sinners!”  They complained about Jesus, safe in their own self-righteousness, keeping the sinners at a distance, keeping them shunned, keeping them away, so that the Pharisees and the Scribes could be righteous in their own eyes.

The way of Jesus is life.

The way of self-righteousness is the way of death.      

We suffered horrific example of the way of self righteousness 15 years ago today on September 11, 2001.  Men who wanted all non-Muslims to be killed, ended over 3000 lives on that day.  They wanted not only all non-Muslims killed, they wanted all people who didn’t practice their particular brand of Islam killed.  Their way was the way of self-righteousness, believing themselves to be righteous in God’s eyes and believing all others to be unrighteous and therefore deserving of being shunned, excluded, and even killed.  We saw in them that the way of self righteousness is the way of death.

In contrast to that, I got to spend the weekend on a youth retreat at Camp Allen called Happening.  It has been a wonderful weekend with youth and adults from around the diocese renewing their faith and commitment to Jesus and to following in his way. 

At the same time, I heard stories of youth being bullied, youth who had been excluded by other Christians for not being “Christian” enough or for not being the right type of Christian.  I heard stories from an adult who works with youth in crisis, and she told about youth who had been bullied, some because they are gay.  They were usually bullied by other Christians who told them they couldn’t be friends with them anymore because they were gay, and so they were bulled and excluded, some even bullied and excluded to the point of suicide. 

Those who did the bullying were following the path of self-righteousness, the path of death, and those who did the bullying were terrorists every bit as much as those on 9/11.  They used words as their weapons rather than planes, but self-righteousness and contempt for those whom they saw as unrighteous was still what drove them.  They killed every bit as surely as the terrorists did, they just used their victims’ own hands to do so.

The way of self-righteousness is the way of death.

We also have to realize that I’m talking about youth, teenagers and some pre-teenagers who were trying to do the right thing.  Some were just being mean, but many were trying to follow Jesus.  They were bullying and excluding to try to push the other into repentance, to try to push them to be righteous, but that was not the way of Jesus.  Jesus didn’t bully and exclude.  He welcomed sinners and ate with them. 

The only people Jesus seemed not to love being around were the self-righteous: those who would bully and exclude, and if you go far enough down that path, even kill the unrighteous.  While the terrorist and the bully, some were even well meaning, trying to do the right thing, the way of self-righteousness is the way of death. 

It is deadly and sinful, and if we’re honest, the way of self-righteousness is also a part of all of us.  There are times when I’ve felt pretty self-righteous and had to be called down.  I assume there have been times when all of us have felt fairly self-righteous. Self-righteousness is a sin which we all share every now and then.  So it’s fortunate that Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them. 

As we look at those and think about those whom I heard about this weekend who did the bullying, I need to remember to look at them through the eyes of compassion, not the self-righteous eyes of judgment.  Judging their acts as harmful.  Judging them as sinners whom Jesus would welcome and eat with, because that is the way of Jesus, the way of life.  The way of love.  The way of reconciliation, forgiveness, and redemption.  Even those who have bullied others to the point of death, even those who commit atrocities and acts of terrorism because of their self-righteousness:  when they realize they have been following not the way of life but the way of death, they turn from that way, and they find Jesus welcoming them, inviting them to share a meal with him, because the way of Jesus is the way of life.  Amen.