Thursday, November 29, 2012

What Shall We Serve?

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Matthew 6:24-33:

At my last church, every Thanksgiving we took up a food collection to give meals to 200 families in inner-city Boston, but every year I found much amusement because when people brought the food in, they had a kneeling rail, which is actually the remnants of fences in churches, but they would stack up the food on the top rail of the kneeling rail.  And every year I would tell them that out here in the west we too stack up cans on the top railing of fencing, but we do this for a much different purpose.  (we shoot them off).

This reminded someone of a similar amusing experience they had.  One of the members of their congregation had brought her young granddaughter who was visiting with her to church, and they too were taking up food for the local food pantry.  So there were cans and boxes of food stacked up around the altar.  The little girl was interested in what was going on, and so asked her grandmother what all the food was for, and she was told that the church collects the food to give to the poor who otherwise would not have enough to eat.  Now, it also happened that this particular congregation’s choir processed up the center aisle every week as well (don’t get ahead of me).  So as the choir approached the little girl she cried out “Look grandma!  Here come the poor people now!”

Today in the church we sort of celebrate two events.  The first is Christ the King Sunday, which is the culmination of the Christian year.  Normally the passage for Christ the King is an apocalyptic passage, but since we have been talking about apocalyptic works for the past three weeks, we also sort of spent three weeks exploring the idea of Christ as King, that Christ will come again to rule.  Many of the hymns we sang over the past three weeks were also ones that are typically sung for Christ the King Sunday.  But we also are on the tail end of celebrating Thanksgiving, a day in which we give thanks by watching football and overindulging, and then spend the day after, or at least some of us do, an approximately 308 individual store visits and 11.5 billion dollars, in order to buy things they had just said the day before they didn’t need in order to be happy.  So perhaps today’s passage from Matthew is an appropriate one to be assigned for reading on Thanksgiving.

Matthew places this lesson as part of the Sermon on the Mount.  Although the teaching is also included in Luke, he places it much later in the story.  I have also expanded what the lectionary calls for by including the line prior to the main passage about not being able to worship both God and mammon because I believe we have to hear this in order to understand what Jesus says about not worrying about tomorrow.  We often throw out the line about not being able to love God and money as a claim about the problems of wealth, certainly you have heard me saying a lot over the past few months.  And that is important, but mammon is about more than just money as we see by the passage that immediately follows.

This line wasn’t meant to apply just to those who have wealth, but even to those who are poor because the desire to have wealth and things is just as damaging as actually having those things.  It is in thinking that only if we have one more thing then we will be truly happy.  Indeed, American Capitalism is based almost solely these days on the massive spending that we do on things that we are told that we “need.”  We are inundated by these ads all the time, and they will only get worse as we get to the culmination of excessive spending and overconsumption, which is Christmas.  How did that happen?  How did we flip the idea of Christmas on its head, and let it become what it has become?  How did we come to believe that in order to celebrate the greatest gift that the world has ever received, the person of Christ, that we need to go out and buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t even like?

One of the things that strike me about this statement of Jesus, is that it does not say, “if you worry,” as if some of us might worry about these things, while others might not.  Instead Jesus tells us not to worry, knowing that worrying is just part of who we are.  But part of the problem with this, is as someone said “telling someone not to worry is like telling them not to think of an elephant.  As soon as you say it, all you can think about is the elephant.”  As soon as we here, don’t worry about what you are going to eat, or drink or wear, we either start worrying about it, or we wonder how it’s even possible not to worry about it.

Now there are some people who don’t worry about these things.  One group are those who are so wealthy that they don’t need to worry, although while we might think that if we had several million dollars in the bank that we wouldn’t worry, but it’s not true.  I’ve known several people whose personal fortunes put them into the Forbes list of the wealthiest Americans, and few of them didn’t worry about things.  In fact most of them were focused on making more money because they thought what they had wasn’t enough, and those that didn’t worry, except for one notable exception, did not think about the poor.

And it is the poor, who also can be those who don’t worry, but they didn’t worry because they have given up, not because they are not truly concerned about these issues.  They have given up, because there does not seem to be an hope available, and dollar amounts that would seem trivial to most of us can mean the different between life and death for their children, although they have little hope of coming up with those amounts.  These are people we see on the news whenever they decide to cover one of the tragedies taking place somewhere in the world.  But it is at times like this that we take Jesus statement from today, and combine it with his cry of anguish from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”

This is part of the tension of living a Christian life in which we have lamentations as a part of our belief, and also these statements that tell us to simply have faith.  But we have to remember that the request in the Lord’s prayer to give us this day our daily bread, is not just some idle request, or some empty phrase.  For the people that Jesus originally spoke to, many of them would not have known where their next meal may come from, and the same really remains true for us as well, regardless of how well off financially we may or may not be.

Some have taken the last line of today’s reading, “strive first for the kingdom of God… and all these things will be given to you,” as a statement that God will give us everything we ask for, including wealth and possessions, if only we had enough faith, or the right type of faith.  This is known as the gospel of wealth, and it really says that if you are poor, if you are worried about these things, it’s because we don’t have enough faith in God, otherwise God would have given them to us.  But I think that is the farthest thing from what Jesus is actually saying here.  Nor is Jesus saying that all we need to do is simply sit back and let God do everything, which is known as quietism.  Strive for the kingdom of God.  This is not a statement that says that God will take care of everything.  It is a statement about faith and faithfulness because in order to strive for something we have to be active and engaged and energized and doing the right things in the world.

I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that in Matthew 25, in the story of the sorting of the sheep and the goats, that Jesus talks about the very same things he addresses in today’s passage.  When people come to meet Christ for the final judgment, what Jesus looks at, and what the people ask Jesus is “when was it that we saw you hungry, or thirsty … or naked… and did not take care of you.”   And what does Jesus say?  “whatever you did to the least of these, you did it to me.”  One of the ways, and maybe the most important way that God is in service to the world is through us, in allowing our hands and using our hands to do God’s work in the world.  We are called to proclaim the gospel message to the world, we are to proclaim the coming of the kingdom of God, and as St. Francis famously said, we should even use words when we have to.  God knows we need these things, just as we know we need them, but when we align ourselves with God, when we decide to fully serve God, it’s not that these things just magically appear, although sometimes it’s amazing how sometimes they do, but instead it’s as we have talked about for the past few weeks, when we have faith in God and put our trust in God then we can have joy and hope and peace and assurance regardless of what is going on in our lives.

In Ireland, there are circles of stones or mushrooms that seem to appear naturally, and are known as fairy circles.  Within Irish mythology these circles are believed to hold mythically creatures, like fairies, hence the name.  When he was visiting Ireland, the author Michael Lewis asked his driver if Irish people actually believed in fairies, and he was told says “I mean if you walked right up and asked [them] to [their] face, “Do you believe in fairies?” most will deny it.  But if you ask [them] to dig up the fairy ring on [their] property [they] won’t do it.  To my way of thinking, that’s believing.”

Ralph and Cheryl Broetje are owners of the largest privately owned orchard in the United States.  Consisting of nearly 1 million trees spread across 5500 acres in western Washington, they annually pack 5.5 million boxes of fruit in a 1.1 million square foot packing and storage facility, and employ 700 full-time workers.  What is striking about this business is not only the size, but how they run their operation.  Broetje Orchards gives away roughly 75% of their profits, including 100% of their profits from their cherry orchards, every single year.  One of the reasons I like Ben and Jerry’s is because they give out a portion of their profits too, but they only give away 10%.  Ralph and Cheryl give away nearly 75% which finances outreaching projects not just in Washington, but around the world. but that’s not all.

When they saw that many of their employees where pulling their older children out of school in order to have them watch their younger siblings, they made a commitment to provide quality education, housing and training to all of their employees.  Today they have a housing development which rents 126 single-family homes at below market values to their employees.  They also subsidize their on-site preschool so that no one ever pays more than $7 a day, no matter how many children they have attending.  But that’s not all.

When they decided to add machinery to their packing facility in 2004 they could have installed new highly efficient equipment which would have forced them to lay off some of their employees.  Instead, they added machinery which was not quite as efficient but did allow them to add 35 positions.  And if that was still not enough, and for me this speaks more about their faith than anything, in 2006 when 70% of the apple crop was wiped out by a hail storm their insurance company told them they would pay on the policy but only if no harvesting was done.  That meant they would have to lay-off several hundred of their year-round workers, and not hire any of the even more migrant workers who come to work their orchard each year.  Instead, Cheryl and Ralph said they decided to trust God, discarded the insurance money and went ahead and picked the fruit.  They were able to keep everyone employed and broke even that year.  Imagine what a very different place we might be in today if all our companies were being run more like Broetje orchard.  Imagine if we lived our lives like the Broetje’s do.

We are going to worry that’s just part of who we are.  The question is are we living our lives claiming allegiance to God, but living differently, living as Craig Groeschel has said as Christian atheists, or do we actually live our lives believing and acting as if god truly is in control?  You cannot have two masters Jesus says, because you can only be devoted to one, so are we devoted to God, or are we devoted to things and the pursuit of things, trying to put our reliance on ourselves?  At this time of year we are supposed to be taking time to stop and reflect as we give thanks for our blessings and as we prepare to again gather around the manager and welcome the Christ child, but instead our culture wants to push us faster and faster. Do we only believe that God is in control and that we are pledging our allegiance to God, or do we actually live it out in our lives as well?

In order to understand Matthew’s view of his Christology, that is who Christ is for us, we have to understand his eschatology, that is what the end of time will be like, and to understand his eschatology we have to understand his Christology.  The two are inherently linked.  How we live our lives, Matthew is saying, or Jesus is saying, is driven by our view of Christ and our view of what is to come.  “Strive first for the kingdom of God,” Jesus says.  Strive first for the kingdom of God and for God’s righteousness, give thanks to God and give your allegiance to God, and all these things will be given to you.  May it be so my brothers and sisters.  Amen.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Book of Revelation: A Proclamation of Hope

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Revelation 21:1-7:

Last week we talked about the four traditional ways of interpreting Revelation.  The first, and the most recent was that of the futurist perspective, which, even though it is the most prominent one in America today, it didn’t really come into a major interpretive model until the late 19th century.  The futurist perspective has argued that everything that is talked about in Revelation has not yet taken place, that it is all in the future.  The futurist perspective replaced the historicist perspective, which said that some things talked about in Revelation had already been fulfilled, and some are yet to be fulfilled.  John Wesley, the founder of Methodism was a historicist. There are several problems with these positions, but the two biggest in my opinion, are first that it is seen as a blueprint for the future, which I don’t think it is, and they also see Revelation as presenting a linear progression, that is chapter seven leads directly to 8, which leads to nine, etc.  Except, if you read Revelation, you’ll see that that is not how Revelation operates.  It does not run from one thing to the next to the next.  Instead there is a sort of circular pattern, and is repetitive in what it portrays.

The third model is the Preterist model which says that what John was talking about was applying simply to his own time, and that the events have already taken place.  This model helps to seek to explain the two most troubling images with which most people are familiar.  The first is the whore of Babylon, of whom we are told “on her forehead was written a name, a mystery; “Babylon the great, mother of whores and of earth’s abominations.  And I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the witnesses to Jesus.”  This woman is seated on one of the beasts described earlier which has seven heads, and then we are told “the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated.”  Now this is a little question on history and myth.  What city was built on seven mountains, or seven hills?  That’s right, it’s Rome, and so we are told who the beast is.  Two weeks ago we also talked about the Romans destroying the second temple.  What empire destroyed the first Temple?  The Babylonians, so there is a direct connection made here between the empires that destroyed the Temple, so the whore of Babylon and the beast both represent the Roman empire, who are the powers who run the world, and they are also the ones who are pe

And while many emperors did this, Nero was perhaps best known.  Nero blamed the Christians for the burning of Rome, and so began arresting them and having them killed.  They were introduced into the Roman coliseum to be killed by animals, and it is even reported that Nero would have Christians covered in pitch or tar, and then at night lit on fire at his Roman palace not only to provide light, but also to provide entertainment for his guests.  As you might imagine, Nero was not well thought of by Christians, and in fact his treatment of Christians became so bad that other, non-Christians and non-Jews began to object to his treatment.  As his reign came to an end, and his generals and the senate turned against him, Nero committed suicide.  But rumors began to spread, especially in the eastern provinces, the very places that John was writing to, that Nero had not in fact died and that he would return to power.  Augustine records in the year 422 that this was still a popular story.  So there was great fear of Nero, which leads us into the most well known declarations from Revelation, and that is the mark of the beast, which we are told is 666.  What does this number mean and whom does it represent?

Each letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a corresponding numerical value attached to it, so if you add up the values of Hebrew spelling of Nero Caesar you get the value of 666.  But here is an interesting quirk, some manuscripts of Revelation do not say that the mark of the beast is 666, but instead 616.  And this can also be explained, because there is a character in Hebrew called the aleph, which is actually not pronounced, if you spell Nero Caesar without the aleph on Nero’s name, then the values add up to 616.  Now the use of 666 was more symbolic because it is an ultimate mark of imperfection.  Seven is an important number in Revelation, and is a sign of perfection, and so three sevens is even more perfect, so three sixes is then the sign of the ultimate imperfection.  So regardless of who we might hear has the mark of the best, and it is an ever changing person, the only person for whom both 666 and 616 work is the emperor Nero.

One more point to clarify is something that many people think is in Revelation, but which is in fact not only not in Revelation, but not even truly in scripture and that is the rapture.  For those who might be unfamiliar with the term, the rapture refers to claim that Jesus will come and back and all true Christians will instantly be taken up into heaven.  The rapture will then be followed by seven years of tribulation, or warfare, until Christ comes again at the end of the seven years for the judgment, which will then bring in a millennium of peace.  People who believe in this are called premillenialists, that is the judgment is before the millennium.  Those who follow the Left Behind novels, or ascribe to that theology are almost exclusively premillinialists.  There are others who are post-millenialists, that the final judgment will come after the millennium, and there are also amelinialists, people who say that the millennial referred to in Revelation is like other things, a symbol, not something to be taken as literal.  These tend to be people who follow the final interpretive model which is known as the idealist, which says that Revelation and all apocalyptic literature are not to be taken literally, but instead are about the struggle between good and evil in all times and places and to give us a sense of hope and encouragement.

There are two passages that are most used to justify the rapture, and this is one of those times in which you can say that you can get the Bible to say anything you want to, especially if you take them out of their context.  The first comes from Revelation Ch 3 v 10 in which John is writing to the church in Philadelphia (and that’s not Pennsylvania), and says “because you have kept my word, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming.”  But the Greek here can also be translated as something like “keep you throughout the trials,” and if we continue reading the context of the passage he continues “hold fast to what you have so that no one may seize your crown.  If you conquer…”  you will be rewarded, which indicates to me not that they will escape, but instead that there will be martyrs, and that the people need to remain faithful in the face of that persecution.  But the most important passage comes from 1 Thessalonians, Paul says “For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever.”  But what Paul is talking about here is the resurrection of the dead and the final coming of Christ, not a secret coming.  The Thessalonians were concerned that some of their members had died and so they were worried that they would miss out on the second coming, and so Paul is telling them not to worry that they will all participate when Jesus returns.   For 1800 years no one read this passage this way.  It wasn’t until John Nelson Darby came up with this interpretation, which he needed in order to explain his very unique and new interpretation of revelation, that this came into being.

I do not subscribe to the idea of the rapture, and here is the biggest reason why, it’s escapist.  We are not called to be escapist, and that is not what John is telling the churches either.  While we are called to be not of the world, and that is clearly part of John’s message, we are called to be in the world.  When James and John ask for positions of power, when they ask for the things that the world says we should seek, what does Jesus say?  Can you drink from the cup from which I drink?  They say they can, but initially they can’t.  Even Jesus asks that the cup be removed from him, but then concludes, “But not my will, but thy will be done.”  When Jesus is on the cross, the people mock him and tell him to order his angels to come down and save him, in other words to perform his escape, but he doesn’t, instead he endures to the end.  And Jesus tells us to do what daily?  Pick up our cross and follow him.  We are not called to escapism, we are not called to rejoice somewhere else while others suffer and tortured, instead we are called to persevere, to remain faithful, to continue proclaiming the gospel message of God’s love and forgiveness even in the midst of suffering and despair, and the rapture bypasses all of that.

But, here is the really bad news for all of you, or at least most of you, if the rapture does exist, which again I do not believe, according to Lehay and Jenkins, the writers of Left Behind, you will not be taken in the rapture because you are sitting here in a Methodist church, and according to them we are not true Christians, we are apostates.  That is we are no longer even practicing the same religion, and since only true Christians will be raptured, that means we will be left behind. 
But not only does the rapture revel in escapism, but the futurist perspective also seems to revel in the idea of violence itself, especially in violence that might be done to those who think, look, and act differently than themselves.  This theology is used to justify and support lots of things that I do not believe we should be supporting, while ignoring many of the problems in the world that I believe that we are called as followers of Christ to address.  John sees a vision in which he is told that only the Lion of the tribe of Judah, of the root of David, who has conquered can open the scroll, and he looks around, but rather than seeing the lion, the symbol of force, he instead sees a lamb, with the marks of slaughter on it.  As Bruce Metzger said, “He looked to see power and force, by which the enemies of the faith would be destroyed, and he sees sacrificial love and gentleness as the way to win the victory.”

It is not violence that is redemptive it is the love of God that is redemptive.   It is not the lion who overcomes the power of the world, it is a lamb, a slain lamb, that redeems the world.  Even in one of the most powerful scenes, and one used by futurists to defend violence, Jesus, who is called the word, rides in on a white horse and he pulls from his mouth a sword.  This, however, is not the sword of violence, it is the sword of the word, and it is the proclamation of the gospel.  As they say, the pen is mightier than the sword.  The powers and the principalities don’t ultimately conquer because they can’t.  They don’t ultimately even understand what power, true power even looks like.  They think it is force and the exertion of will, but true power comes, as Jesus says, in laying down your life for your friends. 
Revelation is about the power of the slain lamb, not the power of the sword, and it culminates in this beautiful message of ultimate redemption and reconciliation, in the coming of the New Jerusalem in which death and crying will be no more, in which suffering and sorrow will be no more, in which pain will be no more, in which the Kingdom of God will come and the creation will be complete once again.  That is the message of hope that is proclaimed in the Book of Revelation.

John is writing to these seven churches in Asia and is encountering two things.  One is those who have become complacent in their faith and he is telling them to repent and turn to the ways of God.  But John is also writing to churches that are faithful, but which are facing, or will be facing persecution because of that faithfulness, and he is telling them that they must remain faithful even in the midst of everything else that is going on.  Some of them will become martyrs to the faith, but rather being delivered from this situation, they will be delivered through this situation.  Desperate times they say, calls for what?  Our answer should be a stronger and deeper faith.  Desperate times, John is saying, calls for a deepening and strengthening of our faith, even in the midst of suffering, pain, mourning, and death, God will be with us and we will win the eternal reward, and the powers of the world will meet their justice.  Just as we will have to answer before Christ when he comes again, so too will those who oppose the will and work of God.  The answer to evil and injustice and oppression and hate and violence is not to meet like with like, it is to meet it with the power of the slain lamb, with peace, with forgiveness, with reconciliation and with love, it is to meet it with faithfulness to the word of God.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of the twentieth century’s greatest theologians and pastors.  When Hitler and the Nazi’s took over Germany he immediately began speaking out against them, even in the face of fierce opposition.  When he saw the German churches capitulating to the will of the state, he formed the confessing church which claimed that Jesus, not the fuehrer was head of the church, and affirmed God’s faithfulness to the Jews and God’s chosen people.  Twice Bonhoeffer left Germany, but both times he returned to his native land, because he was not an escapist.  He felt that in order to do what God was calling him to do, in order for the church to be what the church was called to be, that he had to be in Germany actively opposing the Nazis, and so he kept coming back, because there was, in his words, no cheap grace.

He was finally arrested in 1943 and spent the next two years in various prisons and concentration camps, but then in April 1945 after completing a worship service, he was led away by prison guards, and he was said to have said “this is the end – for me the beginning of life.”  Four days later he was executed by hanging, just two weeks before US soldiers liberated the concentration camp where he was located.

While we will never know what Bonhoeffer was thinking of, or what he prayed for as he made his way up to the gallows that day, I’m sure that he did find hope and know that no matter what happened to him, that he would be with the saints and martyrs singing praises, singing hallelujahs to God, and that the beasts of the world, in all their forms, would be thrown down and destroyed, and that he would come face to face with God longing to hear him say, “well done my good and faithful servant.”  And so he went to his death with hope.  The camp doctor who witnessed his execution said, “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer... kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

During the war, the British had a poster put up, which has sort of become popular again, which said “Keep Calm and Carry On,” and I think that is what John is saying to us.  The powers of the world do not control the world, because they can never have the final word.  What Revelation says to us is that there is always hope, even in the midst of despair and suffering, that God will make things right in the end because he is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, and he will give us water as a gift from the spring of the water of life and all things will be made new.  That is the promise for us.  That is the message for us, and that is the hope for us.  Revelation is not a book of escapism or violence.  Instead, it is a message of hope, of redemption and of conquering through the word, through love, and through the power of the slain lamb.  And the book ends this way, “the one who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely, I am coming soon.’  Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus!  The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints.”  Amen. Amen. And Amen.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Knowing the Game Situation

In yesterday's game between the Broncos and the Chargers, with time winding down, the Chargers went for it on 4th and 9. Under duress, Philip Rivers just threw up a pass. If it's incomplete, it's first down for the Broncos at the last line of scrimmage.

Instead of just letting the ball fall, or even batting it down, the Broncos linebacker dove for the ball for an interception. It was 4th down, what are you doing intercepting the ball?!!!! That mistake cost his team 15 yards. This was the result of being completely unaware of the game situation, poor coaching, or being concerned only about personal stats rather than the whole team. Whatever the reason it was dumb football.

But here is what is even worse, the commentators did not say anything about it. They did not say, "hey it was fourth down, he should have ignored that ball rather than dove for it as there was not even a Charger receiver in the area." Instead they said nothing. On the next play they did talk about how smart it was for the Broncos' receiver not to go out of bounds in order to keep the clock running. "That was football intelligence," they said. It was, but the play before was not and you needed to call that out and say that it was "unintelligent football."

As much as the call at the end of the Greenbay and Seattle game earlier in the season was totally wrong, giving Seattle the win, it too was a situation of a player not understanding the situation.  It to was 4th down.  Why are you going for the interception?!!!  Knock the ball down, the game is over and you win!

Who is coaching these players on simple fundamentals and paying attention to the game situation?  It was dumb football, but I wonder if during the film the coaches will call him out or praise his effort in trying to catch the ball?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Jury Duty: Feeling Like A Good American

Yesterday I completed a four month jury duty assignment.  And, up to yesterday, I had never been selected for a jury, but yesterday I was chosen. The charges were assault and battery with a deadly weapon and possession of an illegal knife.

I am not a rah-rah America type of guy, but there are times in which I am proud to be an American, and yesterday was one of those days.  To be sitting in that room with eleven other people, most of whom would never be in the same group together, and discussing the case was a really great experience. The state had to prove the guilt of the accused, the accused did not have to prove his innocence, and knowing that if we decided against the state there was nothing they could do to us or the accused was an important reminder.  I think we forget sometimes that this is not true in many countries in the world (including some we support).

I was a little nervous going into the deliberations because I was not sure that the prosecution had proven their case on the first charge, but there was no way to know how the other jurors were thinking.  In the end, on the account of assault and battery with a deadly weapon, we did not think the prosecutor had proven the case and we found the accused not guilty on that charge.

I do have to say that the police officer who testified certainly did not do the prosecution any favors, as he left us more confused about events.  But conversation amongst the jurors was handled with the serious and  deliberateness that the situation deserved.  We probably spent more time than we needed to in reaching the verdict, but everyone had their say, we asked questions of each other, corrected areas where we heard things differently, and in the end reached a consensus.  And then just to be sure, we went back over each of the charges again for a final vote.  On the issue of possession we found the accused guilty based on the testimony of the officer who said he took the knife from his pocket.

This was the best possible out come for the defendant, as I'm sure the attorney had told him that he was probably going to be found guilty on the possession charge, and if fact the defense attorney never challenged anything about this charge.

I'll be honest and say that I was not looking forward to having jury duty, that I was happy when I had not been selected in the past, and wasn't really thrilled with being chosen yesterday.  But in the end it was something I was very happy to have done.  I completed my civic duty, we decided as a group of peers on charges, and in the end I am very happy with the decision we made and feel it was the right one.

We must remember that we do have obligations to this country, and the only reason it works the way it does, for good and for ill, is because of the effort that we put into keeping it what it is and pushing us towards a "more perfect union."  I for one am glad to have done my part, and today I am glad to be an American.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Book of Revelation: Is This The End?

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Revelation 1:1-19:

In the lead-up to the election this week, one news stations reported on, in their words “a hellish post-apocalyptic world in which all you saw were political ads.”  That would definitely be hellish, although if you were here last week, then you know that that is an incorrect usage of the term apocalyptic.  It is certainly eschatological, which has to deal with the end of times, or with cataclysmic events, but it is an incorrect usage of the term apocalyptic.  Does anyone remember what apocalyptic means?  That’s right it’s an unveiling or revealing.  The Greek word Apocalypsis, translated into Latin becomes revelation, which is why we talk about the Book of Revelation, and it reveals something to us, just as all apocalyptic literature does.  It seeks to reveal earthly realities through visions of Heavenly truths, and this was a very popular literary genre at the time that Jesus was alive, and after, and we are spending a few weeks looking at this genre, and our only full-blown apocalypse, which is the Book of Revelation.

My sister in law says that when she hears a sermon she wants to laugh, she wants to learn something, and she wants to be moved.  I sort of hold onto that as my guiding principle when writing sermons.  Sometimes I’m successful and sometimes I’m not, but today I am only going to be touching on the first two.  If you want something deeply moving from the sermon, you’re going to have to come back next week, as this is the first part of a two-part message, and the moving stuff comes next week.  Today we are going to look at different ways to interpret apocalyptic literature, and the Book of revelation in particular, and we’ll do a little more defining of terms which will then set us up for next week when I will tell you what I think Revelation says and what we are to take away from it.

But before we delve into everything else, let me clear up one thing.  Last week I said that if you disagreed with something I said during this serried, that it was okay that you don’t have to agree with everything I say, but that you shouldn’t come up to me and try and make a point by point argument from scripture about how wrong I am.  Some people thought that was a little dismissive, so let me apologize and say that was not my intention.  I am open to having a discussion on anything I say, but what I don’t want to do is sort of have to have a point by point scriptural argument about things, because neither one of us are going to be better for it, but if you would like to sit down with me and discuss these things, please consider this an invitation to do so.

The Book of Revelation has been a controversial book right from the start, with some challenging whether it should be included in the Bible and others questioning who wrote it.  During the time of the Protestant reformation, which we celebrated the 495th anniversary of on October 31 of this year, Martin Luther said that John did not write Revelation, that he could see no inspiration of the Holy Spirit in its writing, and that it should be removed from the Bible.  If Luther had gotten his way, the landscape of American Christianity would look very different today.  Now it should be noted that this was not the only book that Luther wanted to remove.  He also thought the letter of James should be removed as it was but he lost that argument too.  Luther was successful in removing the books we know as the Apocrypha, which are found in what are commonly referred to as Catholic Bibles, although it is becoming much more common to also find the books in “Protestant” Bibles.  While Luther did go on to write a commentary on Revelation, it was not originally in his list, and the other great Protestant reformer John Calvin, never wrote a commentary on Revelation, although he did write one for every other book of the Bible.

How Revelation should be interpreted has also been greatly debated, although there are four standard interpretive methods.  We’ll start with the one that is most prevalent today, although it was basically unknown, most especially in Protestantism until the 19th century, so roughly 150 years ago, and it is known as the futurist model.  The futurist model holds that although Revelation was written around the year 95, that nothing from what it says will happen has yet happened.  Everything in Revelation after chapter 3 has yet to unfold and all will take place at the end of the age.  This is the view taken by those who subscribe to the ideas presented in the Left Behind novels.  Now a true futurist will, in looking at events taking place around them, not claim that the events themselves are what was prophesied, but instead they are the signs that the end of times are near.  Now that does not stop people from making such predictions, but it does fall outside of the typical interpretation.  This might be the most prevalent interpretive lens being used today, certainly in fundamentalist churches.

Now one of the great ironies about the futurist model, and there are lots of ironies well dealing with this subject is that while it is new in the Protestant tradition, it actually comes out of Roman Catholicism.  Many of the Protestant reformers, Martin Luther amongst them, claimed that the Pope was the whore of Babylon, or perhaps the Anti-Christ discussed in Revelation, a  common theme still today.  But in order to combat this interpretation, a Franciscan monk by the name of Francisco Ribera, said that this can’t be, because the anti-Christ has not yet come, because the events of Revelation have not yet occurred.  Ribera did this in order to protect the integrity and standing of the Pope, but in doing so he created, and as I said this is greatly ironic, the modern American fundamentalist position on the Book of Revelation.  Ribera’s position remained within the Roman Catholic church until 1826 when the librarian to the archbishop of Canterbury published a pamphlet promoting the futurist idea, which was then picked up by John Nelson Darby, who began his professional career as a lawyer, then became an Anglican priest, before leaving to form the Plymouth Brethren, which also sounds like a failed car design, and put Ribera’s ideas, along with his own, to form the ideas that have come down to us today.

But before Darby popularized the futurist perspective, the most common perspective, and the one held by most Protestants, was the historicist.  The historicist model says that the events told about in Revelation began happening in 95, or whenever the book was written, and they have continued happening over time.  Some see every chapter as a different period of time, both past and future, so that Revelation speaks to the church in all ages.  As one scholar put it, Revelation is said “to sketch the history of Western Europe through the various popes, the Protestant Reformation, the French revolution, and individual leaders such as Charlemagne and Mussolini.”  While there are some who still subscribe to the historicist model, its adherents are much smaller in number.

The Preterist Model believes that the events that are talked about in Daniel, and in Revelation, are events that were taken place at the time they were written, and need to be understood as such to understand what the writer is saying.  The term preterist comes from a Latin term meaning “gone by” or “past.”  Preterists understand that the churches to whom John was writing were undergoing, or about to undergo, persecution and suffering because of the growing emphasis in emperor worship, which they could not do because of their faith in Christ.  While there are strengths and weaknesses to all of these, this model takes seriously the injunction at the beginning of Revelation that these things “must soon take place,” but there is little way to see the final victory of the final chapters of Revelation, a victory also largely ignored in the Left Behind novels as well.

The final interpretive method is known as the idealist, which sort of breaks into two categories.  Some idealists say that the events portrayed were never meant to be heard or understood as being literally true, while others take a preterist approach, but what idealists want to highlight is that every generation faces this battle between good and evil and so the text speaks to us not because it is forecasting what might happen, but instead taps into the timeless truths that we can find in the imagery about the battle of good and evil and the need to explain suffering, and encourage faithfulness in the face of suffering.

Each and every one of us will approach scripture with our own lens, it’s impossible not to, but what we should be aware is the lens that we use so that we can be aware of it and try and test it off against other interpretations in order to try and guard against forcing ourselves onto scripture to make it say what we want it to say, rather than having scripture speak to us itself.  My own lens is that of a sort of combination of preterist and idealist, falling into the first type of preterist.  I believe that we have to understand the context in which Revelation was originally written in order to understand what John is saying, but also know that it has to move beyond that understanding for it to still speak to us here in our own day.  So let me give you an example to illustrate.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul encourages people not to get married and even later says that the celibate life is better, which has obviously had major impact on the church and what is held up as better, but why does Paul say this?  Because he says “the appointed time has grown short… the present form of this world is passing away.”  In other words, Jesus is going to return at any time, and so don’t worry about long term commitments because there won’t be long-term commitments.  So we have to understand Paul’s original context so that we can understand what he is talking about, and when we don’t do that then we are liable to make statements and leaps that are troublesome and sometimes even dangerous to make.  Now Paul’s words still have a lot to say to us in our day, but that’s for another message.

Now these are all ways to understand the last portion of Revelation, but what we have to understand is that Revelation is not only an apocalypse, but it is also a letter, just like the other letters in the New testament, like those from Paul.  That means that there is a specific audience that John is addressing, and they are the seven churches in modern day turkey.  John does not begin his letter, “John, to the Christians in North America, who live in the twenty-first century.”   We need to understand this original audience.  But, one of the arguments that futurists will make is that in addition to being a letter, and apocalyptic, that John is also writing prophecy, and with that I would also agree, but this brings us back to our task of defining things, and that is of a prophet and of prophecy.

Normally when we think of someone who is a prophet, it is someone who is making predictions about things that will happen in the future, and we would say that if someone makes a prediction that is not true they are a false prophet, although ironically that position is not applied to all the people who have made claims about when the end will come that have not come true, which would be nearly all of them.  But that is not a biblical understanding of prophecy.  We certainly think it is because we look at what we are Christians claim are prophecies about Jesus, which we will begin to hear again in just a few weeks as we begin Advent, but prophecy was not about predicting the future the way we understand it now.

Instead, prophecy was about trying to get people to repent, to return to God and to turn to righteousness, and it was also to convey the word of God.  Anyone who said, “thus says the Lord,” or something similar, was making a prophetic utterance.  Abraham was a prophet, as were Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Deborah, Esther, Joshua and Abigail, not people we normally assume with being prophets.  Probably the best, and maybe most successful prophet the way prophecy should be understood is Jonah.  Why?  Because he goes to Nineveh and tells them to repent or that God will punish them, and the people repent and so God gives them a reprieve.  He does not give a timeline of exactly how things are going to happen and what is going to happen in the future, his goal is to get the people to repent and begin to follow God, which is what happens.  What the prophets do not do is to say that this will happen 500 of even two thousand years in the future, but instead that it will happen right now, but it need not happen.

What they prophesy is a warning that if things don’t change, then bad things will happen, and a call to faithfulness, and the same thing could be said here. John’s prophetic voice is to these seven churches, some of whom are being faithful and are suffering, or about to suffer, but that they need to remain faithful to achieve “the crown of life,” which is what he says to the church in Smyrna, but he tells the church in Ephesus, that while they have been “enduring patiently” that they have “abandoned the love you had at first,” and so what is the solution?  They must, in John’s words, “repent, and do the works you did at first.”

We are in the mainline churches have ignored apocalyptic books and passages because we are uncomfortable with them, they make us uneasy and we’re not sure what we are supposed to do with them, and so we ignore them completely, not only to our detriment, but to the detriment of the church and the proclamation of the gospel message.  Fundamentalists churches have a tendency, through their over emphasis on the Book of revelation, and other passages, to ignore the rest of scripture, or simply to use it to support their eschatological claims.

Leonard said to me last week that the Book of Revelation is just as important and other pieces of scripture, that it’s in the bible for a reason, and I couldn’t agree more.  As I said a few weeks, the tree of life is found in the book of Genesis in the Garden of Eden and it is also found in the Book of Revelation, most especially  in the final two chapters, and I don’t think it’s just a coincidence.   Jesus says I am the first and the last, the alpha and the omega.  Revelation is the completion of the scripture story, it does tell us about what we can expect from God, that God writes the final chapters, and that we must not give up that God is proclaiming a message of hope for us and for the world, a message of hope that we will look at next week.  Amen.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Little Apocalypse

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was selections from Mark 13:

We in America seemed to be obsessed with the end of times.  The current craze is to say that the world will end on December 21, 2012, because that’s supposedly when the mayan calendar says it will end.  There are lots of problems with this, and I don’t have time to go into the answers, but simply answer is I don’t believe.  The good news is if I am wrong, I won’t be here for you to complain to me about it.  But we are obsessed with this stuff.   Dr. David Morrison, who is the person who answers questions that are emailed to NASA, says that he spends at least an hour a day answering questions about the apocalypse.   This phenomenon also is strongly an American phenomenon, and has been with us since Columbus and the Puritans, although we also export our ideas very well through movies and television shows.   And then there is our literature  about the end of times, like The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey, and of course there is the Left Behind series, and the fact that Nicholas Cage has signed on to do some of the movies might just be the sign that the apocalypse really is upon us But the one thing I will point out is that while all twelve of the books, and the three prequels, have been on the New York Times best seller list, they were on the fiction list, and there is a very good reason for that, because they are fiction.

Now this is going to be one of those sermon series where I might get myself in some trouble with some of you, because I will be saying some things that might differ from what you might have been taught or heard your entire life, especially if you come from a conservative tradition.  Although it might appear from what we see in coverage of this topic like there is only one way to think about it, and there is only one correct way, and some will say that very thing, I am here to tell you that there is not, and we will look at different ways to interpret what the Bible does and does not have to say about the second coming or the end of times.  I am going to give you what might be considered a minority report that will contradict what we might be used to hearing.  But, if I say something with which you disagree, please don’t come up to me afterwards and try and rebut me point by point, or whip out your Bible and say, in such and such it says this…  we really don’t have the time to do that.  Instead, I simply ask that you keep an open mind, listen to what I have to say and if you disagree then that’s okay.

I also must say that this is going to be one of those sermons in which we are going to be talking about a lot of big, sophisticated words, but I will define each of them for us.  We are going to use these terms for several reasons.  The first is that the church is really good at creating these words, in fact the longest real word in the English language is a word related to the church.  The second reason is that I still have $60,000 in student loan debt to pay from having to learn these words myself and so I have to use them to justify that money.  The third reason is because it is important to know these words, even if you disagree with me, then you’ll know what people are talking about when they use these words in other contexts.  And the final reason is that I will give you something that you can talk about while eating your Thanksgiving meal, and you can say something like, “at church we were talking about premillenial dispensationalism” and perhaps, “you know that’s not really apocalyptic instead it’s eschatological,” and everyone will think you’re really smart and know what you’re talking about.

Today’s passage is known as Mark’s Little Apocalypse.  An apocalypse is a particular genre of literature that was prevalent in the first century in both Christian and Jewish writings.  For us, the best known, and perhaps least understood of these in the Bible, is the Book of Revelation, and it is singular, there is no s on the end, which is also known as the Apocalypse of John.  The Book of Daniel and some other books also have apocalyptic sections in them, although none of the others are full-blown apocalypses.  Just like other literary genres, apocalypses had certain characteristics and traits that people would expect and that they also would understand.

If I was to tell you that Linda and I had gone to the movies and saw a romantic comedy, you would know exactly what that meant even without me telling you any of the details.  Now if I was to say that we saw a romantic comedy and the action scenes and special effects were really spectacular, you might look at me a little strangely, because those don’t go with the romcom genre.  And conversely if I said we saw an action flick and I told you that the romantic story line was really good, that might seem a little strange as well.  We know exactly what these things entail, and what to expect when we see them.  Well the same thing can apply to us when we look at apocalyptic literature because it’s not something we are accustomed to, it’s not part of our normal world view, but it would have been in the first century.  They would have known exactly what the genre entailed and what everything meant.  I think that part of the reason that the Left Behind novels are so popular is because it takes what is incredibly difficult materials and tries to make them easy to understand.

Now the word apocalypse, or apocalyptic, really has nothing to do with the way we use it today, which sort of deals with the end of time, so we refer to movies as apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic.  Instead, apocalypse means unveiling or revealing.  Apocalyptic literature seeks to reveal, or to “explain, earthly realities through visions of heavenly truths,” and they don’t all have to do with the end of times.  One of the most popular apocalypses in the early church, and one that was included in many of the early lists of those books which were canonical, that is they belonged as holy scripture, was the Apocalypse of Peter, in which Peter is shown what happens to people in heaven and hell.  A second type of apocalypse talked about the coming of Christ, or the end of times.  The Book of Revelation happens to do both of these things.  But, again while we apply the word apocalypse to the end of time, the proper word that should be used is eschatology, which means dealing with the end times.  An apocalypse is the revealing of these things, not the thing itself.  If we are to say that there is to be a final battle between good and evil, this is technically not an apocalyptic event, but instead it is an eschatological event.  And if they are talking specifically about the second coming of Christ then they are talking about the Parousia, that is the second coming.

What Apocalyptic literature wants to say is that when things are at their very worst is that we should not give up hope, that God is ultimately in control and God will redeem the righteous and the wicked will be punished.  In today’s passage, Jesus is talking about the destruction of the temple, a common theme for the prophets, and we’ll look at what biblical prophecy means next week.  This is actually the second Temple, after the first one had been destroyed by the Babylonians, and it was one of the true wonders of the ancient world.  But what we must also understand is that at the time that Mark is writing his gospel, Jerusalem is either under siege and awaiting the invasion by the Romans who will destroy the temple, or the Temple has just very recently been destroyed.

The Jews in Judea had risen up against the Roman army, and after giving the Romans one of their worst military defeats, Rome, under Nero, sent to full force of the imperial army against Jerusalem, sending somewhere between 60 and 80,0000 soldiers.  On their march to Jerusalem, they sacked cities and burned the fields, causing widespread famines and starvation.  Within the walls of Jerusalem, which were considered impregnable, the jews battled amongst themselves for who would be in control and how to approach a solution.  After a four year siege, some Jews began calling for a peace settlement, and some tried to flee, but they were executed, and then the zealots set fire to the storehouse of food supplying the city to let everyone know that there could be no retreat leaving people to eat shoe leather, their belts, and according to some accounts each other.

Finally the Romans broke through the walls, and as they made their way to the temple, three different Jewish groups fought and killed each other for control of the temple, until the Romans conquered it, destroyed it, and carried the treasurers back to Rome, where Titus was given a triumphal arch commemorating the event.  In the end it is estimated that 1.1 million Jews were killed during the revolt, and another 100,000 were taken into slavery.  It was nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom, there were rumors of wars and actual wars, there were famines, and there were earthquakes, and just a few years later Vesuvius would wipe out Pompeii, so all of this had true import and meaning for those who had survived and were suffering.

But notice what Jesus says, and I think this is crucial to understand not only what Jesus is saying here, and what John also says in Revelation and what Daniel says in his own apocalypse.  “This is but the beginnings of the birth pangs,” Jesus says.  That means it will probably get worse, but is that what we focus on when we talk about birth?  Women might talk about how long they were in labor for, and how much it might of hurt, but what almost always follows at the end of it?  It was all worth it.  That’s because we don’t focus on the pain, but we focus on the end, we focus on the birth of the child and what a wonderful thing that is.  In France when a woman announces that she are pregnant, or it become obvious that they are, people say “I congratulate you on your hope.”  I congratulate you on your hope.  Apocalyptic literature is not about what is or might happen, it is not a blueprint about what the end of the world will look like, instead its purpose is to reveal to us that God is ultimately in control and that if we persevere through our pain and suffering that the end result will be so much better, it is to provide us with a sense of hope, a sense of purpose and a sense of assurance of God’s presence in our lives.

“About that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the father.  Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.”  Here is one thing I feel pretty confident in saying, if anyone tells you they know the day or the hour that Jesus will return, they are lying.  If Jesus does not know, how could they possibly know?  What I also think Jesus us trying to tell us is that when we focus on the birth pains, or the things that lead up to them, that we are being distracted from what and who truly matters.  Our focus is not to be on the interim, it is to be on the end, it is not to be on the suffering, especially sort of reveling in other’s sufferings, our goal is to be on the hope and on proclaiming that hope.  Ours is not a gospel of fear and terror and torture as some people would like to proclaim, ours is a gospel of love and forgiveness and fearing not because there is eternal hope because God is in charge of the world and God, not the power and principalities of this world, will have the final say in our life.

In a few moments as we gather at the table we will make the eschatological claim that Christ will come again, and on that we might all agree, although maybe not on the details.  But he could  come in ten minutes, ten days, ten years or ten thousand years, people have been speculating about that, and giving timelines, for the past 2000 years and so far they have all been wrong, but here is the most important piece.  Whether Christ comes tomorrow or in 10,000 years, at some point we will meet Christ, and the question for us is what we are we doing to be ready, and I strongly encourage you to read Matthew chapter 24-25, which is in this week’s recommended readings, because Jesus says what we must do to prepare for the questions that Jesus, or the master might ask of us.

Story of Steven severely burned, teacher goes in, nurses ask what she said, and I thought if they were sending me someone to teach me that there had to be hope….

And that will lead us into next week’s message when we will look at the Book of Revelation and seek to answer the question, “Is this the end?”  which I think you can already guess the answer to.  Apocalyptic literature is not about fear and terror, instead it is about hope.  Hope for me, hope for you, hope for the world, that God will write the final chapter and that God will provide the final answer.  May it be so my sisters and brothers. Amen.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Why Your Vote (For President) Doesn't Count As Much As Others

I went out and voted this morning, and I encourage everyone to do so because there are lots of things on the ballot, including election of local officials and those for congress, that are very important.  But the simple fact is if you do not live in one of the battleground states your vote for president doesn't matter a whole lot.  Yes I know that's not totally true as every state contributes to the electoral college total, and thus those votes do count, but  just one or two states will ultimately determine everything.

People have been saying for months that this election will really come down to the results from just 12 counties, with those in Ohio playing the biggest role (and so that total may be down to just a few).  That means that all those national polls the pundits have been talking about and how close they are don't matter either.  Which is why all the pundits who have been touting them are so far off.

In almost every scenario, Romney cannot win without taking Ohio, and so what people in Texas might say in a poll isn't really important as they are going red.  Obama can win without Ohio, but taking Ohio will make his path much easier, and that's why everyone talking about turmoil in Ohio may be off as well.  Obama may win without knowing the results in Ohio, but Romney almost certainly can't.

But, we again face the real possibility that Romney could win the popular vote, and lose the electoral college, as happened with Gore in 2000.  If that happens I can assure you the GOP will be outraged and calling for immediate change, although they were strangely silent on the issue just 12 years ago.  I've sort of gone back and forth on whether we should abolish the electoral college or not.

I understand the reason that it was put into the Constitution, but I'm not sure it's actually worked the way its supposed to, but if we want a truly "national" election then it would need to go.  But I also think there are lots of reasons for keeping it.

I currently live in New Mexico, a state that is strongly expected to be in Obama's camp (99.4% chance according to Nate Silver at fivethirthyeight), and we live just 45 minutes from Texas, which is where we get our local channels, which is solidly red.  So, we have had very little electioneering taking place because we are not being courted or fought over, the race is decided.  Prior to moving back to NM, we lived in Massachusetts for 8 years, another solidly blue state, so for the last three presidential elections we've been largely free of the worst of the campaigning, and I have to say that I'm glad for that.

I did cast my vote for Obama, although I have to say that I, like many others, have been disappointed in what Obama has done in his first term.  Not because he did too much, but because he didn't go far enough. The stimulus plan wasn't anywhere close to big enough and "Obamacare" (and I hate that phrase) did not give us nationalized health care as the Right would like to claim, it just made us all buy insurance from for-profit insurance companies, not really a great panacea.  For some reason when Democrats get into power, and this happened when they retook Congress as well, they lose any sense of being the victor and cave on everything that we hold to be important.  I don't know why we do it, but it happens every single time.

But, even though I was disappointed in Obama there was no way I could vote for Romney (nor any of the other candidates who ran this time for the nomination).  I lived in Massachusetts when Romney was governor  and have seen what he is like, and the fact that Obama holds at least an 18 point lead on Romney in Massachusetts should say something.

The pundits all say it's because Massachusetts is liberal, but let us not forget this is the state that elected him governor.  The reason he only served one term is that he knew he would not win if he ran for reelection, which would destroy his possibility of becoming president.  This election might be the first time that we have a presidential candidate who not only could lose his home state (Michigan) but also the state he was a politician in.  The way I see that is that the people who know him best don't want him around.

Here are my biggest problems and what I saw under his leadership in Massachusetts and in his campaigns.  First, he is an ethical eunuch.  He may have had ethics at some point, but they have been removed, and I'm only talking public ethics here as he seems like a moral person in his personal life, not counting the dog on the roof.  Second, and most importantly, is that I have no idea what Romney actually stands for.  The person who ran for governor of Massachusetts is not the same one who ran for the Senate just a few years before, nor is that governor the one who ran for president in 2007 and definitely not the same as in 2012, and the person in the primaries is different than the person in the general election.

Other than taxes on the rich, there is not a single issue that I have seen that he hasn't said totally contradictory things about at some point.  And even taxes on the rich might be up for debate because he says that he wants to remove tax loopholes, and the wealthy use those more than anyone else.  I do think in his core that he has firm convictions but I honestly don't know what they are because he won't say.

I don't know if his campaign persona is what advisers have given, or if it is something that he has taken on himself, but I would trust him a lot better if I truly knew where he was and what he believed.  I'm not even convinced like some that what he says when he thinks no one is listening, like his 47% comment, is who he is either, because it's just as likely he was still playing a part rather than his true feelings.  I just wish he would stop smirking and chuckling and be honest and open with us.  If he had actually done that I think he would have done a lot better than he has.

I expect that President Obama will win reelection, and I hope that he does, but I will be praying for healing, reconciliation and peace regardless, and praying that we might all finally understand, both left and right, that we are in this together, and that, as Benjamin Franklin famously said, we must all hang together or surely we shall all hang separately.