Friday, March 25, 2011

What Gets God Pissed Off?

Well...let me just begin with a caveat (and a big one at that). I don't know what gets God pissed off. But I have a personal history with this question. On the second Sunday at my first appointment, Asbury United Methodist Church in Evansville, Indiana in the year 1985 - I quoted, during my sermon, from Alice Walker's book "The Color Purple" - where it says "God gets pissed off if you walk by the color purple in a field and don't admire it..." (not sure that's an exact quote, but it is as I recall it). All hell (so to speak) broke loose. They called a meeting of the Pastor-Parish Committee meeting for that very evening. I talked to my mom that afternoon and her exact words to me were "Mike, I didn't raise you to be that stupid." Point taken. I went and apologized to the members of the Pastor-Parish Committee for being young and stupid. They were gracious. But wary. But that's another story for another time.

Lately the Christian blogosphere (and a few places in the secular blogosphere) have been alive with a debate about heaven and hell (as in most cases the argument spends most of its time on the hell side of the debate - as if the debate itself wasn't a good example). The new Rob Bell book has stirred the pot most recently - but it's a hot topic nonetheless. And by a "hot topic" - I mean a hot topic in North America. My friends in Africa and Latin America have been telling me that it's not a topic of much conversation at all where they are. Hmmm. I thought that was interesting. I actually thought it would be much more of a "hot" topic there - guess I was wrong.

So, I got to thinking what did I know about what Jesus had to say about what we today call Hell - since I was 20 years old I've been reading through the Bible every year so I should have a good grasp of that right? It did take a little digging for me this afternoon to find all the references to hell in the Gospels. Seems like Matthew wanted to make sure that anytime Jesus ever said something about it that he got it covered - because Matthew's accounts touch on it twice as much as the rest of the Gospels combined!

The best known of those passages (by "best known" - I mean the ones that appear to be most widely known, anecdotally) have to do with wealth and poverty. There is the story of the sheep and the goats that can be found in Matthew 25. There is the story of Lazarus and Dives in Luke 16. There is the story of the wedding banquet in Matthew 23.

There are of course the very famous references which appear in a couple of the Gospels to taking off a hand, a foot, and plucking out an eye (so as to keep one from hell). Unfortunately I knew a young man in my last parish who took those passages so literally that he sawed off his own hand in his garage. But those passages are not as much in the public conversation (at least not the ones I'm around). I have been struck by what I have noticed as a lack of conversation at all about poverty and wealth when talking about these subjects (okay, I agree we don't talk about money at all in the church really anyway - or when we do it's more about giving to the church).

And it got me thinking that I'm hard pressed to remember any time in the Bible where God says, "you folks are being way too hard on rich people." In fact God's judgment against Israel is often around how they treat the poor. And this seems to be a somewhat common topic in the Gospels and in Paul's letters to the churches as well.

And we United Methodists certainly remember that commitments around responses of justice and charity, often around poverty, were central to Wesley's Methodist renewal movement in the Anglican Church.

I met yesterday afternoon with Terri and Katina and Duane and Lisa to talk together about what we will spend our time with this summer around Broadway. What a wonderful discussion. They talked about all the things they have been learning about their neighbors and we talked and dreamed together about how to name the abundance in the lives of their neighbors, how to bless and celebrate that abundance, and how to multiply it by joining it to abundance that it hasn't yet recognized. It's not perfect - far from it...but gosh I'm glad to be spending my time talking with my parishioners about what God is doing in the life of the world and not spending it sitting around trying to figure out how God is going to handle all the heaven and hell business. Seems like another debate for a group of rich folks to have. I wonder how God feels about that? About missing the abundance around us because of where we end up spending our time? I guess I'll find out one day.

7 Comments:

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