Proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ

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Environmental Stewardship – Praying the Earth’s News: March 23, 2017

We pray this week for people affected by floods and fires that have been made worse by warmer global temperatures, and we pray for our planet and the future of the human race as warming takes us into “uncharted territory”.

Almighty God, in giving us dominion over things on earth you made us fellow workers in your creation: Give us wisdom and reverence so to use the resources of nature, that no one may suffer from our abuse of them, and that generations yet to come may continue to praise you for your bounty; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Collect For the Conservation of Natural Resources (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 827)

Please pray for:

People in Peru affected by severe flooding. Unusually intense rainfall — “the deadliest downpours in decades” according to this story from Reuters — has resulted in severe flooding in Peru. More than sixty people have died, and the rains and flooding are expected to continue.

People affected by wildfires in the Great Plains. Fires in the Great Plains have contributed to a “furious start” to the wildfire season in the United States. Dry conditions and very warm late winter temperatures contributed to the fires. Ranchers lost cattle to the fires, leading ranchers to call the fires “our hurricane Katrina”. Here in Nebraska this week, a wildfire near Lake Mcconaughy burned 800 acres and destroyed eight homes.

The earth as we enter “uncharted territory”. The Guardian reports on a World Meteorological Association report on the 2016 global climate, which reports that we have reached a level of warming that takes the planet into “uncharted territory”. NASA reported that on March 7 sea ice extent at both poles reached record lows. The need for action on climate change has never been clearer, but political prospects for such action in the United States at least look slim.

O God our heavenly Father, you have blessed us and given us dominion over all the earth: Increase our reverence before the mystery of life; and give us new insight into your purposes for the human race, and new wisdom and determination in making provision for its future in accordance with your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Prayer For the Future of the Human Race (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 828)

As we pray for others, we might also pray for our own hearts to be open so we can see the needs in the world around us and gladly respond to those needs:

O heavenly Father, who has filled the world with beauty; Open our eyes to behold your gracious hand in all your works; that, rejoicing in your whole creation, we may learn to serve you with gladness; for the sake of him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Prayer for Joy in God’s Creation (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 814)

 

Archdeacon Betsy Blake Bennett

The Eggplant: March 23, 2017 – Spoiler Alert

 

The Rev. John Adams

*Spoiler Alert: The following Eggplant contains spoilers for Kong: Skull Island (2017), Godzilla (2014), the Revelation to John of Patmos (~95), the good movies of M. Night Shyamalan (1999 and 2000), and Holy Week (~33).

For those who don’t spend time in the geekier corners of the internet, a spoiler alert indicates that plot details will be discussed, so if you have not yet seen or read the above and wish to do so without advance knowledge of their stories, read no further. If you have already experienced the above, have no interest in experiencing the above, or believe that knowing plot details will not detract from your enjoyment of the above, proceed.*

 

Earlier this month, Warner Bros. released Kong: Skull Island, an action-heavy monster movie that joins Godzilla (2014) in establishing the MonsterVerse (a shared cinematic universe analogous to the Marvel Universe in which fourteen superhero movies and six shows since 2008 have taken place). Immediately following the conclusion of the Vietnam War, Kong follows a team of scientists who are taken by military helicopters to a newly discovered, skull-shaped Pacific island. After the helicopters are destroyed by the gigantic gorilla of the title, the scattered survivors encounter further monsters and learn more of the island’s history during their struggle, inspired by Apocalypse Now (1979), to reach their extraction point before the appointed time. Among their discoveries is an isolated human tribe that, according to an American pilot stranded there during World War II, identifies Kong as their god.

Like Godzilla before it, much of the conflict in the film derives from the problem that, upon discovering that such monsters exist, some of the human characters want to destroy them all while other characters recognize that the titular monsters are beneficial to people, at least insofar as Godzilla can fight other monsters far more effectively than human weapons can and Kong defends all the island’s inhabitants, including the people, from the predatory, reptilian Skullcrawlers. In one scene in Kong, the surviving soldiers, who are hungry for revenge against Kong for killing their compatriots, almost come to blows with the civilians who only want to escape with their lives, while in another the civilians, having recognized Kong’s nobility, initiate a Mexican standoff in an attempt to defend the gorilla from the soldiers who are attempting to burn him.

Given that the natives identify Kong as god, I couldn’t help but notice that there’s a potential sliver of real world religious metaphor in that conflict. Two groups of people who ostensibly have the important things in common (they all come from the world outside of Skull Island and all want to get back there) part ways and almost kill each other over their different interpretations of god’s intentions: the soldiers see Kong as an oversized Vietcong, an enemy combatant who killed Americans and thus must be killed in turn, while the civilians see him as a king justifiably defending his home and dependents from potential threat. Like the people in Kong who struggle to come together to join the island’s god in fighting the Skullcrawlers, we in the real world fight one another, even Christian against Christian, over different understandings of God’s character, instead of joining with God to combat the real monsters of the world: violence, injustice, hunger, oppression, disease, climate change, etc.

Our inability to come together in the face of such ills is especially frustrating because, in Scripture, we have already read the ultimate spoiler: the monsters that would divide us from the love of God and one another have already lost. The God who defeated death also beats everything else that separates us from God. We spoil the ending every time we recite the Creed, celebrate with a Eucharistic Prayer, or otherwise remember Christ’s death, resurrection, and future second coming. Satan and Death and all those forces that sow hate and fear to prevent people from loving and serving each other as Jesus commands will be thrown into the lake of fire. Our failure as humans to unite against these monsters does no more than delay God’s final victory over them; one would hope that these spoilers in Scripture would galvanize us to join with God instead of feeding each other to the monsters.

But as those who at least occasionally visit the geekier corners of the internet are aware, not everyone responds to spoilers the same way. There are those who deliberately seek out spoilers as a way to whet their appetite; some folks happily go to the movies to witness the visual spectacle even after reading and dissecting a bootleg copy of the script (if you’ve enjoyed a movie that you saw after reading and rereading the book on which it was based, you’ve experienced something similar). But there are also folks who simply cannot find pleasure in the movie if they’ve already been told that, for example, Samuel L. Jackson is the villain or Bruce Willis is already dead.

As a story, Holy Week has been spoiled to the point that even folks who’ve never set foot in a church (and never intend to) know that the sequence of events from Palm Sunday through Good Friday ends with Jesus’ resurrection. And with regard to Holy Week, many Christians react to those spoilers in the second way, having no interest in watching the story unfold but wanting only to join in the Easter celebration at the end. Perhaps these are the same sort who, knowing God will win, find more pleasure in conflict with other people than in joining God to fight monsters.

But for me, and I hope for you as well, when it comes to Holy Week I have the first kind of response to the spoilers. We don’t attend the services of the Triduum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil) for the plot (just as I didn’t see Kong: Skull Island because I was interested in the story). We go to bear witness to what we already know we will see, in this case not the fun mayhem of a giant gorilla taking down a squad of helicopters, but what Jesus gave out of love for us. We take the time each Holy Week to bear witness to Christ’s love as expressed in washing his disciples’ feet and serving them his body and blood, in facing betrayal by his friend and whipping by his foes, in dying on a cross and rising from the grave. And by doing so, we can then bear witness of that love to others.

So I encourage you to spend extra time at church on April 13, 14, and 15, experiencing the story of Jesus’ Passion even though it has been spoiled for you many times over, because it is through reliving that familiar story for ourselves that we can share it in loving and serving our neighbors.

 

The Rev. John Adams

In memoriam: Jon W. Nelson

Jon Nelson, photo from Kearney Hub

Former Diocesan Stewardship director Jon Nelson died recently in Estes Park where he and his wife Bev had lived for a number of years and where their son Tory owns and manages a restaurant.  In his shirt pocket in the days before he died, the prayer list he kept literally at his side.

 

Jon was a person of no few contradictions. He was buried from an Anglican church in a liturgy very reminiscent of the 1928 Prayer Book but highlighted by music Jon had chosen from Cursillo.

 

Jack Ford, former priest of this Diocese, preached the homily, and in it he noted that “Jon was a teacher . . . both in the classroom and in the way he endeavored to live his life.” He also noted that Jon learned across his life to “wisely channel” his energies into “helping others and growing things”—which is also a pretty good definition of a teacher.

 

Often in concert with his good friend and later Stewardship Director Ken Anderson, Jon directed his teaching/helping ministry to the betterment of his former parish, St. Luke’s, Kearney, and the Diocese of Nebraska. For the parish, this included founding Kearney’s Jubilee Center, first operating out of St. Luke’s basement and, as it outgrew that, becoming today’s flourishing center for assistance with food and clothing, a ministry in which the parish is still a strong partner.  For the Diocese, this included making the Sower Fund not only a hallmark of Diocesan stewardship but also a builder of our Diocesan fellowship.

 

Ken Anderson recalls being Senior Warden and receiving from Jon an envelope containing the Sower $2.00.  He had no idea what to do with it, so he stuck it in his billfold until he could ask around for ideas. The $2 remained forgotten until well after that year’s projects…but it still grew in a way—it grew in Ken’s conviction when he found it that we should all be “sowing”—he has been ever since and thinks somewhere he still has that two-dollar “reminder.”

 

Together Jon and Ken were stewardship directors for about 3 decades, and often offered weekend Stewardship Seminars in parishes.  One early function was to dream—dream of what you would like to see in your parish.  Then participants were to put a dollar figure on each dream.  They soon saw that most of their dreams didn’t so much require dollars as commitment, so the upshot was not only better stewardship but better ministry.

 

Fr. Ford also noted that Jon could on occasion be opinionated. This may be evident in an “editor’s note” in the May 1991 Nebraska Churchman (former name of the Nebraska Episcopalian): “We regret that composition errors mangled Jon’s column last month. Herewith we reprint it in it’s [sic] entirety.”  Wouldn’t it be great if someone had kept the letter that prompted that apology! We wonder if “mangled” was the editor’s word or Jon’s. In any event, the column went from a small corner of the April issue to a whole half page for May!

 

What Jon was insisting on in that article illustrates both Jon’s teaching and his caring.  He wrote,

 

If we remember what is really important about the Church we can begin to develop some new principles of stewardship in relationship to our church building . . . We are not being very good stewards of our church buildings when we allow access only at certain times (and in some cases seemingly only to certain persons) . . .  I am a realist . . . but  . . . there has to be some solution . . . available.

 

The solution at St. Luke’s, where Jon had no little influence, was an entryway open 24/7 from which the interior of the church was visible but inaccessible, an entry where anyone could enter and pray and transients could find a place of rest.  In the history of that entry, no one ever used it to break into the church and it was only once used as a toilet.

 

“Just who are we trying to keep out?” Jon challenged. “Sinners? But isn’t that who a church is for? . . . Would God object if a shivering transient slept in your church building . . . or would He rejoice?”

 

Jon’s legacy might be well-summed up in one Sower story…a parish received its two-dollar bill and someone found a basket with a handle at a garage sale selling for $2.00.  They bought it, went home, and filled the basket with cookies. The cookie-filled basket was delivered to someone with a note asking them to repeat the process, so the $2.00 grew each time and a new basket of cookies circulated as it did.  A good story of what goes around, comes around!

 

Jon’s affiliation may have changed but it remains a fact that one of his principal legacies was to the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska and its congregations.  We suspect that legacy was simply the work of one sinner beloved by God and many of us and with whom God now rejoices.

 

Fr. Chuck Peek and Ken Anderson
Lent 2017

The Prayer of St. Patrick

The Prayer of Saint Patrick

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.
I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth and His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.
I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In preachings of the apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of virgins,
In deeds of righteous people.
I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.
I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me;
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who desires me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a multitude.
I summon today all these powers between me and evil,
Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts our body and soul.
Christ shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that reward may come to me in abundance.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every one who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

 

St. Patrick of Ireland, 5th Century

Poetry Corner: To Keep a True Lent – Robert Herrick

To Keep a True Lent

Is this a Fast, to keep
The Larder lean? And clean
From fat of veals and sheep?

Is it to quit the dish
Of flesh, yet still
To fill
The platter high with fish?

Is it to fast an hour,
Or ragg’d go,
Or show
A down-cast look and sour?

No: ’tis a Fast to dole
Thy sheaf of wheat
And meat
Unto the hungry soul.

It is to fast from strife
And old debate,
And hate;
To circumcise thy life.

To show a heart grief-rent;
To starve thy sin,
Not bin;
And that’s to keep thy Lent.

 

Robert Herrick, 1648

Greetings from Sandra Squires, United Thank Offering Board President

Newly approved UTO design

It is that time of year when many of you prepare for your parish UTO In-gatherings, and I thank you for that. The images to the left give you some ideas about how people have promoted UTO.

It is with gratitude and sadness that I share with you that Kathy Graham has resigned from the position of UTO Coordinator in Nebraska because of health reasons and an expected move. She has been Nebraska UTO Coordinator since 2013 and has done great work here. We will miss her, and thank her. Until she can be replaced, I will fulfill that role. I will drop a bill in my blue box in thanksgiving for Kathy’s service.

Happenings
Since our meeting in North Dakota, much has happened with the Dakota Pipeline. I know some of you believe the President did the right thing to allow the pipelines (Keystone and Dakota) to go through contested land and others do not. I think we still need to pray for the people of Standing Rock Reservation, the safety of their water and grieve with them over the intrusion of their sacred sites. Likewise in Nebraska, we need to pray for the protection of our people and our land with the resumption of the work on the Keystone Pipeline.

UTO Blue Boxes–how to get one, how to use it, collecting the money, and where does the money go?

  • How do I get a blue box? Ask your priest or UTO parish coordinator for a blue box. If you can’t find a blue box, let me know and we will get you one. I have many stored in my garage in Omaha.
  • How do I use the blue box? Put it in a prominent place where you will see it every day. I have a tray with change right next to my box so I don’t have to dig through my purse. Add giving to your blue box during your prayer time. Something great happens, thank God and, put money in the blue box.
  • Where does the money go? Take your money to church for the Ingathering Sunday. Don’t have an Ingathering Sunday? Send it directly to the diocesan office to Beth Byrne, and tell her it is for UTO.

Every penny given to UTO is given in grants. 2016 funds will be given in 2017 in grants. Likewise, everything collected in 2017 will be given away in 2018. Questions? Contact me at sksquires@cox.net.

 

Bear from UTO blue box, made by UTO Coordinator, Central Pennsylvania

UTO display at St. Andrew’s Omaha

From the Bishop: Lent 2017

Bishop J. Scott Barker

Bishop J. Scott Barker

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
          – The Collect from the Fifth Sunday in Lent

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ –

I recently read a scientific explanation for the phenomena that human beings experience the passage of time as moving more and more swiftly as we age. The gist of the explanation for this had to do with the cumulative time a human spends on earth. When we’ve only lived ten years, the passage of an eleventh year comprises (nearly) 10% of the time we’ve been alive, and so feels to us like a substantially bigger deal than the passage of a year at age fifty, when 365 days is equal to only 1/50 of our lifetime. While I am surely not doing justice to the well-reasoned explanation that I read about why “time flies,” I hope you’ll take some re-assurance from the fact that virtually everybody has the shared sense of time moving at increasing speed over the course of a human life…and that there are smart people out there who can explain to us exactly why this is the case!

The season of Lent offers an invitation to disciples the world over to slow down in the midst of the “swift and varied changes of the world” and to adjust our pattern of living to help us lead lives of greater intention, deliberation and faithfulness. Too often we’re merely reactive to the highs and lows of a given moment, and so find ourselves swept along by forces that are out of our control and by events over which we have little influence. It would seem that this is particularly the case for many of the folks in our Church and in our world right now.

As followers of Jesus we need not be unsettled or undone by life’s trials. While it may be true that we are quite limited in how much we can actually control our lives, it is within our power to determine how we will respond to what life brings us. And our chief means of so doing is to constantly turn towards Christ in our lives, and to let the assurance of his graceful presence be our moment-to-moment guide. Jesus himself models this way of being in the story of his temptation in the wilderness, where rather than seek to control the dangerous situation in which he finds himself (by fighting back or running away for instance) he simply keeps his heart and mind fixed on God’s presence and companionship, feeding back to the evil one only the words that God gives him to speak.

As you work and pray your way through Lent, I hope you’ll keep the story of Christ’s wilderness temptation in mind. We don’t take on the various disciplines of this season so much to take control over our lives, but rather, to live in such a way that we are called constantly back to the reality that we are never alone. Despite our “unruly wills and affections” and despite all the “swift and varied changes of the world”, it is within our power to fix our hearts on Jesus Christ, and so by setting him as our guiding star, to find true joy no matter what trial or temptation the world might throw in our way.

Welcome to the season of Lent my brothers and sisters in Christ. May you keep it well and holy.

 

Faithfully Yours in Christ –

+ Bishop Barker

The Eggplant: Lend Me Your Ears

The Rev. John Adams

The Eggplant: February 23, 2017 – Lend Me Your Ears

 

When I was in Seminary, one of the lessons repeated in many classes and contexts was that to be a good pastor is to be a good listener. As a priest, both members of your parish and others will often tell you about things going on in their lives, and your first instinct is usually to identify the problem and propose a solution. To be a good pastor, we were told, you must unlearn that instinct and simply hear people out; sometimes they do want your advice or a theological interpretation of their troubles, but often they just want you to hear them, because others in their lives or the world at large seem not to be listening.

This lesson comes back to me during this week every year; on the Last Sunday of Epiphany, we always read the story of the Transfiguration, in which God’s voice tells the disciples present to listen to Jesus. One of my mentors, a retired Methodist pastor, asserted that “listen to him” was the most important part of that reading and that any Transfiguration sermon not emphasizing it was doing the congregation a disservice.

While I am not inclined to go that far, I do agree that listening is as important a skill for every Christian as it is for clergy. In general terms, listening to our neighbors is an easy way for us to love them, requiring only our time and attention. To love those we encounter and treat them with the respect they are due as fellow children of God, we must listen to them seriously. In more particular terms, Jesus identifies himself with the poor, oppressed, and disadvantaged (Matthew 25:31-46 for example), so listening to such neighbors of ours today is one way we can follow the command to listen to Jesus here and now.

This Saturday (weather permitting), some of us Episcopalians from the Nebraska Panhandle will be engaged in such listening. Widening our Circle, a day of prayer and sharing organized by The Rev. Tar Drazdowski and led by Brother James Dowd, is an opportunity for us to listen to our neighbors on the Pine Ridge Reservation and exchange stories with them directly rather than repeating the narratives about their lives that we often hear in the media.

Exchanging stories with neighbors whose experiences are very different from ours helps us to recognize our common humanity rather than fixating on the ways in which we differ (religion, gender, race, sexuality, nationality, etc.). Exposure to more perspectives expands our appreciation of God’s creation and guides us to love our neighbors who are not ‘like us’ just as God loves them. Such listening can also illuminate ways in which we or our forebears have failed to show such love.

Probably my favorite author at present is N. K. Jemisin, who writes fantasy from a Black female perspective. Her first published novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, is set in a world reshaped by an ancient war among the gods; Bright Itempas, the victor, enslaved his surviving enemies and handed their chains to his priesthood, who conquered the world using the power of their divine captives. Jemisin tells her story from the perspective of Yeine, a young woman from the ‘barbarous’ fringes of the empire who finds herself summoned to the capital and thrown into the vicious political machinations of the ruling family and fallen gods scheming for freedom.

Besides being an intriguing story engagingly written, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was an eye-opener to me as a male Christian of European descent. As the novel progresses, it’s revealed that the war of the gods was primarily between Itempas, god of the sun and proponent of order, and Nahadoth, his brother who embraced night and chaos. The empire blessed by the former resembles the colonial expansion of western Christianity insofar as, in the name of religious devotion and the bestowal of order, it believes in conquering a people and then reshaping their religion and culture into the mold of the conqueror. Yeine’s experience as a conquered person partially exposed to both her own culture and that of the empire bears disconcerting parallels to the experience of Black Americans, Native Americans, and others who are not of European descent, particularly in the ways she is not accepted by her powerful family even when she does succeed in conforming to the capital’s expectations of her.

This story, this fictional version of the attitudes and dynamics that govern race relations in reality but which I often fail to notice, proved indispensable in helping me listen to my neighbors at a time when they were describing things so far beyond my experience that, even listening, I could not comprehend. But even when we find it difficult, we must listen to Jesus by attending to our oppressed neighbors, lending our ears to their voices and our eyes to their stories. Because we are called to love our neighbors, I encourage you to take the time to listen attentively, and to seek out the stories of those who look and act and think differently from you, so that in understanding their perspectives, you may come to love them as God does.

 

The Rev. John Adams+

Five Marks of Love – Free Lenten Offering from SSJE

 

The Society of St. John the Evangelist, an Episcopal monastic community, is offering “Five Marks of Love” as a free individual or group Lenten devotional. Below is their invitation, including a link to the materials:

 

This six-week series invites us to observe and reflect on the ways in which the Divine Life expresses itself in and through us; individually and in our faith communities, as well as in the world around us. Week by week we will explore each of the Anglican Communion’s five “Marks of Mission” (Tell, Teach, Tend, Transform, and Treasure) through videos, questions, and exercises designed to help us speak clearly and act truthfully, motivated always by hearts marked by God’s love. We Brothers of SSJE believe that the Marks of Mission are actually “Marks of Love,” signs that God’s love is making its mark on us, and through us, on the world in which we live.

We are eager to share with others our experience that these Marks of Love are not a list of tasks to be checked off; rather they are signs that our life is rooted and grounded in the Being of God. Therefore throughout the series, we will reflect not on what we should do, but on how we should live. We will draw on our own monastic spirituality to suggest how we all can balance action with contemplation, so that our words and deeds proceed from the deepest places of our hearts, where God dwells.

This series is designed for use by individuals and small groups. Small group facilitators are invited to download the series facilitator’s guide to help you encourage participants to discuss and learn together. For individuals, be sure to check out the workbook and online video content, which will guide your own exploration. All materials and videos are free online and as downloads at 5marksoflove.org.

By the series’ end, we hope you will feel ready to offer yourself, body and soul, to God’s Mission, and to live for God’s glory.

Yours in Christ,
David Vryhof, SSJE
Director of Formation and facilitator of “5 Marks of Love”

Ask a Priest – What is the “Prosperity Gospel?”

 

The basic idea of the Prosperity Gospel is found in scripture: “If you follow in my ways, I will prosper you.” For example, in the Book of 1 Kings 3:14, God says to Solomon in a dream, “if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” Hint: Solomon breaks those commands in future verses.

 

I think there are some key problems with prosperity gospel theology, and we can talk about them using the example of a square and a rectangle. Here’s a quick logic lesson!

 

Consider this: “If an object is a square, it has four sides.”

 

We know that’s true. It’s pretty basic. But it gets troubling if you flip it: “If an object has four sides, it is a square.” That ISN’T true! We can think of rectangles, or parallelograms, or rhombuses, or that four-sided thing one of the kids drew on the back of a worship bulletin after getting back from receiving Communion.

 

But there’s a trick that logicians know: if you reverse it AND add a “negative” to both sides, any true if/then statement will stay true! (This is called a “contrapositive”)

 

So with our phrase above: If an object does NOT have four sides, it is NOT a square.”

 

True again, right? Once you assert the “if” part, the “then” part always follows.

 

The problem is that if you perform the same move on the key thought in the prosperity gospel, you get into trouble really fast.

 

Here it is: “If you follow in my ways, I will prosper you” becomes “If you are NOT prospering, then you do NOT have faith.”

 

This is troubling in all sorts of ways. One is that if you take it to mean literal earthly wealth, it immediately condemns the poor … who Jesus repeatedly instructed us to love and serve. Another is with illness, or natural disaster: if you believe that the faithful will be prospered by God, then anyone who becomes sick, or is afflicted by a natural event, must not be faithful either … and because the prosperity gospel teaches that this is God’s will, that means they “deserve” their afflictions and sufferings

.

We also know all sorts of examples of people who are suffering or oppressed because of the actions of others. Our chief example is surely Jesus, who is tried unjustly by Rome and the Pharisees alike, and given over to great suffering. Far from being faithless, Jesus is faithful even unto death, and death on a cross. This is in spite of his incredibly human moment in the Garden of Gethsemane, in which he voices his longing that this punishment would pass away from him.

 

But if the prosperity gospel gets us to answers that seem to be in such tension with the rest of the faith, what IS the good news that scripture has about God’s love for all who love God? Why do we see bad things happening to good people?

 

One answer about the good news is from Psalm 139: there is no place on earth we can go where God will not be with us. This means, to me, that God doesn’t abandon Jesus on the cross, and that God doesn’t abandon us if we are sick. God isn’t only near to the healthy, or the wealthy, or the powerful. God is with each person in the world. As a fellow hospital chaplain said to me in the year we served together in west Chicago, “Everyone’s first in line with God.”

 

When people cry out their pain, it helps us find the places where God enters in. This is true in grand ways, such as Exodus 2:23, and it is true in small ways, when we can find peace and love even in the face of hardship.

 

I do believe that God is faithful to those of us who walk in God’s ways … I just also believe God is faithful even to those who don’t. Jesus didn’t offer forgiveness from the cross to those “who walk in God’s ways” … he offered forgiveness to those who “do not know what they do.”

 

That might be the central moment in all human history for me. If someone ever asks me “when I was saved,” I usually refer to that.

 

Meanwhile, we are called to be comfort and community to one another – not only to those whose prosperity (in health, wealth, or human power) seems to indicate that they have a miraculous life, and perhaps even one blessed by God, but to those who seem not to be prospering. The poor, the sick, the refugee and the powerless – these are all our sisters and brothers in Jesus Christ, and if we want to know where God’s love for a hurting world is, we might try starting with what we ourselves can do.

 

May God draw us ever more into that love,

Fr. Benedidct Varnum +
St. Augustine’s, Elkhorn

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