The Wayless Way (Jn. 10:1-10)

This is my next to last (or penultimate) sermon at MCC United Church of Christ.

I want to share this week, lessons that my life have taught me and hope that they may be useful to your own spiritual journey.

The imagery of gates is used in today’s reading of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. And that the gatekeeper opens the gate for his sheep. Jesus continues on: He calls his sheep by name and leads them out, and the sheep will follow him because he knows them by name. But the disciples don’t get it. So, Jesus explains that he is the shepherd and that he is one who enters the gate as the shepherd. Jesus continues by saying, “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and pasture.”

In other words, Jesus is the gate of salvation, the entrance for the sheep and for other sheep who do not belong to his flock. Before I try to unpack the image of Jesus as the gate, I want to talk about a major frustrating but ultimately rewarding spiritual experience that happened to me more than thirty years ago. It shaped the direction of my life and gave me the freedom and the grace to move in unexpected ways.

I made a Zen Buddhist retreat at the Spencer Abbey, A Trappist monastery—under the direction of Joshu Sasaki Roshi, a very stern and non-smiling Zen teacher. In a private audience, he gave me a mind riddle or koan to figure out. He took his walking step and hit the floor and said: “You hear the sound: God hears the sound. How do you experience God? Go and meditate.”

Zen Roshis give mind puzzles such as the sound of one hand clapping or show me your face before you were born. In my return audience with the Roshi, I answered, “God is the between….” I thought that was not a bad answer. But the Roshi said, “No, go meditate.” All weekend I tried to answer the mind puzzle, but failed. The Roshi kept stating, “Too much thought.” At the end of the weekend, I went for a final meeting Sasaki Roshi, and I confessed I did not know. He smiled and said, “In the sign of the cross, how do you experience God? Same answer…” The question became life search: “How do I experience God? Where is God?”

It would be years before I experienced an answer. What Sasaki Roshi was doing was pushing me beyond word and concept to direct experience of God. He jolted me out of conceptual understanding to a path of grace, awakening me to new possibilities and openness. This questioning search is different from a calculating mind. A calculating, rational mind is always resisting, trying to find an argument based on its preconceived ideas and opinions. What did I learn? What is the answer?

I am ready to share my answer. Listen to the description from South African theologian Albert Nolan, it is pertinent to my experience:

The inner work of personal transformation is like a creative work of art rather than like a planned step-by-step journey along a mapped-out of road. There is no path that is forever fixed…It is, rather, what Meister Eckhart calls a “Wayless Way.”

The answer is the Wayless Way in which I learned to become open, inclusive, and attentive to life within me and around me. Eckhart’s metaphor of the “Wayless Way” recognizes that all people are called to God; God is inclusively available to everyone, but each person’s journey is distinct from others. You and Christ determine your trajectory of the Wayless Way and the possibilities are limited by your imagination and lack of mindful openness.

I was accepted at Harvard University to follow the Wayless Way of Christ as I engaged in Buddhist Studies. There I became a Buddhist Christian and discovered the path of compassion. Christ preached, “Be compassionate as Abba God is compassionate.” (Lk. 6:36) And Buddha and his followers taught the path of compassionate action. Compassion was the path of grace for myself. I realized that Jesus, God’s Christ, was greater than the church and even greater than Christianity. Christ was found in other religious traditions, and I found myself open to follow the Wayless Way, a path with no fixed direction that I could map out. It was the path of the Spirit opening, awakening, and transforming through grace. I learned that when Jesus spoke of taking up your cross and denying yourself, Buddhism stressed letting of ego-centeredness. Both stressed other-centeredness or interrelatedness of grace. The Wayless Way was enriched and widened beyond my imagination. The Wayless Way is openness to God’s grace here and now! My answer is to the koan is mindful openness to the risen Christ.

Matthew Fox understands the spiritual dimensions of grace surrounding us as creativity.

Creativity is intimate because it is most truly, spontaneously, and totally. It is also intimate because it is the Spirit through us in so profound a way that Eckhart says God “becomes the space where” we want to act….it is a place, a space, a gathering, a union, a where—wherein the Divine powers of creativity and the human power of imagination join forces. Where the two come together is where beauty and grace happen and, indeed, explode. Creativity constitutes the ultimate in intimacy, for it is the place where the Divine and the human are most destined to interact.

The answer was “mindful openness” to be found in each incarnated moment, in sound of a walking stick and experienced every time I made the sign of the cross. God was neither the sound nor the sign of the cross. But God was experienced in the momentary sound when I experienced it with a heart of prayerful awareness or was mindfully present in making the sign of the cross. prayer. Buddhists names this Buddha nature, and I name it God’s presence.

Mindful openness has guided me to a progressive vision of God’s inclusive love and Christ’s radical inclusive ministry of unconditional love in the open table. I find God’s grace in the most unlikely places as I become aware of Christ’s presence. My mission has been and is find to find God and Christ in everything.

The koan that Christ gave me for my life is today’s gospel saying. “I am the gate.”  But in reality, it is the koan Sasaki Roshi gave me. While my Catholic tradition as youth claimed: “There is no salvation outside the Catholic Church.” I intuited that it was wrong. “What about faithful and good Protestants?” The Protestant answer that there is no salvation outside of Christ also presented a problem to me. “What about good non-Christians who live such moral and faithful lives than many Christians?”

That original koan that Sasaki Roshi propelled me into doctoral studies at Harvard, and it was through everyday experience of the classroom with non-Christian brothers and sisters that I mindfully realized Christ was not a gate excluding other people of faith. Later I celebrated eucharist as a Catholic priest, and a Hindu female student and a Japanese Buddhist student came to communion. As a priest, I was supposed to deny them her communion because they were unbaptized and non-Catholic. But how could I deny any human God’s grace? It was not mine to deny but only to make accessible. So, I began to practice an open table.

My experience of the Wayless Way was so involved in coming out as gay after ordination. I hid who I really was from all except God and Christ. I found acceptance as “beloved” of God. God loved me as a gay man, and I was an original blessing and creation. As I came out, my family and church told me that I was excluded from God.

However, I continued to find Christ as God’s unconditional love for me as a gay man as I discovered Christ’s love for non-Christians. It was there as God was found in the sound of the Roshi’s stick. Once I opened myself; my life was complicated with Frank Ring, another Jesuit. And I fell in love with him. I did not know what to do. “How could I be a priest serving God’s people and love Frank?” I struggled with this life dilemma, and I realized that it was the same koan that the Zen master gave me. In prayer and discernment, God answered my open mindfulness consistently over a year, “You called to be both priest and lover!” And I left the Jesuits to follow the path of Christ as both priest and lover. I lost friends and family over the decision to follow Christ in the gay community. God becomes the space where I wanted to act and live. The result is that you have no idea where you will end up in following Christ: North Hollywood 13 years ago and now Petaluma.

I hated the 1980s and early 1990s because they were saddest and most painful years of my life. Along with many here, I experienced loss on an unparalleled scale, hundreds of friends to HIV/AIDS. I loss Frank and my brother to AIDS on the same day. What did the churches do? Few cared for the people I loved; many of the churches turned their backs on people living with AIDS. Where was the compassionate Christ? Not in the churches that turned their backs on gay men living and dying with AIDS.

I found the sound of the walking stick striking the floor in the undiscovered grace and heroic love in the lives of many who died of AIDS and those who loved and cared for them. I was one who loved and cared. Christ was found with suffering ignored by many Christians. Meister Eckhart’s words –“God becomes the space where we want to act.”—became real. God becomes the space where I responded compassionately and fought for my brothers. I joined ACT UP, and I realized that ACT UP was more a real church than Christian churches. It was God’s space, and I chose again to act in God’s space of compassion. Members of ACT UP fought for justice from a spirit of compassion and love for their friends and loved ones. Outsider space again was where Christ was present. I was open to discovery of the presence of Christ outside the church. I wrote Jesus ACTED UP in four months out of anger at the churches and compassion and love for Frank, my brother Bill, and my many friends whom churches excluded. Never have I been so intensely and passionately inspired than during those four months of writing.

When I first came to MCC Greater St. Louis to do a workshop, I attended service. I heard the MCC invitation to the open table. It was the joyful invitation of the loving God who was present in the sound of the Roshi’ s stick, which brought me to study other religions and see the grace of God within them, which, in turn, helped me to realize the grace of God in my coming out and love, and which helped me to hear MCC’s open invitation at table and become a MCC clergy. It was the on-going discovery of God’s presence.

The invitation to the open table each Sunday deepened my understanding of the radical inclusive message of Jesus and his ministry of compassion. I led to a wider vision of God’s inclusiveness of the Earth and envisioning the community of life as part of our church.

Jesus Christ is indeed the gate of divine inclusiveness and unconditional grace. But the living Christ is not a narrow gate as many want the Christ to be. Jesus Christ is the gateless gate—the divine and inclusive space where we want to live and act. In other words, Christ is the gate whose infinite width and inclusive openness is beyond human imagination, whose love and compassion are boundless, and whose presence is universal and found in places of exclusion. Many non-Christians hear the voice of the shepherd, and they enter the same gate as you and I but travel a different path.

In todays’ scripture Christ announces, “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and pasture.” I want to paraphrase a Zen koan to end:

God has no gate,
A thousand roads lead to God.
When people pass through Christ the gateless gate,
they freely walk between heaven and earth,
they walk the path of God’s inclusive grace,
ever infinite, widely inclusive, and unimaginable discoveries
outside all boundaries.

Jesus the Refugee

Immigration and refugee settlement continues to be one of the most politically polarizing issues in America during the 2016 election cycle and the recent president’s executive order to ban immigrants and refugees from seven countries to enter the United States. I am not neutral on the President’s ban on immigrants and refugees. There are many issues that involved, from the targeting Muslims as a religion and the impact it has on families and business in the US. In addition, his ban places a death sentence on LGBT refugees from the seven countries that were targeted.

We have a banner on the church that reads, “Immigrants and Refugees Welcome,” with the image of Mary carrying the infant Jesus and Joseph leading the donkey to Egypt. Ironically, Joseph was displaced to Nazareth from Bethlehem, and he comes to Bethlehem for the census and cannot find shelter as a native son. Now Rev. Al Sharpton tweeted, “Before you head to church today, remember to thank God for his son, Jesus a refugee who fled to Egypt.”
But the response from fundamentalist Christians to this tweet: “They went to pay Taxes in Egypt. They went home. YOU need to pay your taxes and learn Bible!” Fox slammed Sharpton similarly for using Jesus to tackle the Trump ban.
Now to those who claim that Mary and Joseph went to Egypt to pay their taxes, there is no scriptural evidence from the Gospel of Matthew. After the visit from the Magi, an angel appeared in a dream and warned Joseph: “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child to destroy him.” (Mt. 2:13) Fleeing to Egypt to avoid death is not going to Egypt to pay taxes. This is really “fake” truth or invention of alternative truth to support the ban by racist Christians.

But after the birth of Jesus, Mary with child in her arms and Joseph flee from the persecution of Herod the Great, who dispatched his soldiers to Bethlehem, to kill all male infants from age 2 and under. At the heart of the gospel story, when Mary and Joseph took their infant son Jesus and fled to Egypt, they became refugees. They journeyed as refugees to Egypt.

Joseph took his family and fled to Egypt. There they lived lives as aliens, outsiders. They didn’t speak Demotic, the language of 1st century Egypt, and they were relegated to the most menial of labor. I am awed by the depth of their pain and suffering of refugees. There is often loneliness and strangeness of living in a foreign country that places a strain on immigrants and refugees. Jesus’ parents experienced what it meant to be refugees from violence and seek re-settlement. It is part of the gospel to proclaim Jesus the refugee. Jesus was an alien and refugee, and later an outsider.

Our biblical heritage is full of stories of the chosen people as immigrants and refugees. Abraham migrated from the city of Ur to Canaan, seeking a better life and opportunities. Jacob and his sons and their families migrated to Egypt due to famine, and a couple centuries later, the Hebrews under the leadership of Moses fled slavery and oppress in the Exodus. Ruth migrates with Naomi from Moab to Canaan, and Ruth a foreigner becomes the great grandmother of King David. Many Hebrew families were forced into captivity and go into exile by the Babylonian conquest. The exile was a forced migration and resettlement. The Hebrew and Christian scriptures are full of migration and refugees.

I would argue creatively that God’s incarnation in Jesus is also migration from God to humanity—God with us. As I mentioned in the birth stories of Jesus, Mary and Joseph fled Bethlehem to Egypt to save the life of Jesus as an infant. They were refugees in Egypt.

Now listen to this story of Maria: Maria, a refugee from a different part of the world, perhaps Syria, was 20 years old when she also had to flee a step ahead of soldiers.

My husband woke me in the middle of the night. He told me we had to leave right away. He had a warning that soldiers were coming. We could take only what we could carry. I wrapped the baby to keep him warm. We walked for days. Later, we heard what the soldiers did: they killed all the boy babies in our village. Where we live now, the food and the language are strange. My baby is growing up without knowing his home country. Built isn’t safe to go back, not yet.

This story sounds very close to the story in the gospel of Matthew and the flight to Egypt of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. I am horrified that the holy family as well as Maria, her husband, and child could be turned away from our country and not granted political asylum. The holy family would now be turned away by homeland security and to go back to Bethlehem.

In our country, we welcome immigrants with green cards, except from the banned seven countries where the Trump administration designated. There are, at least, 12 million undocumented migrants in the United States, and there are nearly two million dreamers, those who were brought to the US as children by their families. They made no decision on their own to cross into the US legally, and the Obama administration asked those dreamers to register. They are terrified at the new administration targeting themselves for deportation. Or those who have crossed the southern border from Central America, fleeing for their lives. We welcomed several refugees from San Salvador, who fled for their lives because they were gay. They were threatened and beaten up for being gay.
Numerous Christian churches and Jewish synagogues have adopted Syrian and other refugee families in their relocation to the US. Refugee families migrate from their home countries from the circumstances of war, oppression, and poverty. All of us, unless descendants of Native Americans, are immigrants. How many Europeans and other nationalities migrated to the US because they were persecuted? Many Europeans came to North America because of religious persecution and oppression while others came for economic opportunities. But they not learn from their experience and appreciate the indigenous people in North America. We displaced many Native Americans from their lands and forced them to live on ghettoized reservations. And now we displace them with oil pipelines. And in the future, are we prepared for the hundreds of million and even billions of human beings who will be climate refugees.

I am the a 3rd and 4th generation descendant of immigrants to the US from both sides of my parents. I suspect that many of us here this morning could claim the same. My Greek grandmother and her sister came from the Greek island of Samos through Ellis Island. They were both unable to read or speak English then. But on Ellis Island were written the bold words of Emma Lazarus:

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door! (Emma Lazarus)

The American ideal, enshrined in these words at Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, are embodied in our scriptural tradition of welcoming the migrant and the refugee. Do we dare look upon those strangers, refugees and immigrants welcome them with the value and love that God has for them? Or do we fall into the hysteria and exclusivist vision of rejection espoused white nationalist and racist Christian churches intertwined in a holy union of nationalism with hatred and bigotry? For remember Christ’s words, “Truly I say to you, just as you did not do to one of the least of these, so you did not do it to me.” Do we dare to reject Christ in the face of the immigrant and the refugee? I will never reject the Christ in the refugee and the immigrant. My roots and your roots go back to our ancestral immigrants and refugees.

As you listened to the various scripture verses read antiphonally by Layne and myself, we realize that our religious ancestors in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures were often migrants and refugees.

Jesus teaches us how we individually and collectively treat the least of our sisters and brothers–who are now refugees and immigrants– is the way we welcome and treat him. In the world’s refugees, we encounter the refugee Jesus.
In an article on refugees in the Dictionary of Christian Ethics, Roy Branson observes that:

While Christianity affirms the importance of the individual stranger, it also values community. The sanctuary movement [that is, the historic practice of offering sanctuary to those fleeing danger] not only draws attention to the exile but also to the cities of refuge. As in designated Old Testament towns, and in British and European cathedrals into the 16th century, security from retaliation and injustice must be provided … The theme of exiles and pilgrims as the chosen of God, who must in turn welcome the stranger, is so strong a theme in biblical faith that it creates a presumption in favor of admitting the immigrant, granting asylum to the refugee, and treating the alien as an equal.

The church consists of “foreigners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11). It was a church of independent women, slaves, various ethnicities, and different classes that came to together as Christians. They were outsiders and from many cities. Many LGBT folks have been treated as foreigners and exiles. The same Christians who do not welcome us, usually do not welcome refugees and exiles; they are outsiders to be feared and shunned. These Christians express an amnesia of their biblical heritage. But they ignore God’s preferential care for the outsider, the foreigner, immigrant, and refugee. One UCC clergy, Rev. Matt Fitzgerald, involved in a Syrian family re-settlement program at St. Paul’s UCC in Chicago, observed:

The people of Saint Paul’s know what it is to be ‘a stranger in a strange land…Therefore, our church has a strong, clear, continually rewarding spirit of hospitality. Welcoming a Syrian family felt like an extension of who we are, rather than a new direction or a risk. Our simple act of Christian hospitality looks bold because of President Trump’s anti-Christian executive order. In a time like this, all the church has to do is be the church for our light to shine brightly.(Supporting the Stranger, KYP)

Like Jesus, we know what it’s like to be outsiders. Many of us have been targeted and excluded as outsiders, despised for sexual orientation or for gender variance. In the world’s refugees, we meet Jesus Christ the refugee. We must reject the racism of the Trump ban, the fears building the wall, and any deportation force that takes away our neighbors. It is not acceptable to surrender to policies based on fear and racism,

“Blessed are the poor…..” Mark 10:17-27

The recent visit of Pope Francis unmasked a distorted Christianity in our country. Fox Entertainment, known as Fox News, had commentators highly critical of the Pope’s ideas for caring the poor, the homeless, immigrants, and the vulnerable. The sad part was that they had no idea where Francis was getting his ideas and that most everything spoke and did was based in imitation of Jesus in the gospels. A sizeable number of folks identify themselves as “salvation” Christians, who understand that Christianity is about their personal and individual salvation. It is all about them, failing to consider the needs of their brothers and sisters in dire need. They seem to divide the world into the saved and unsaved. Or the way I envision it an exclusive country club of the saved.

I learned as a young man in the Jesuit seminaries, much like Francis who has a similar Jesuit background, about “God’s preferential option for the poor.” What does this really mean? It originates from Christians who have witnessed extreme poverty around them and the fact the words “the poor” and “poverty” appears in the Bible over 2000 times. When you add words such as orphans, widows, eunuchs, barren women, the oppressed, or any one that is vulnerable, this increases the number of people for whom God cares. I learn as a teacher that you had to repeat any important idea three times for students to remember it. Here are thousands of times that the scriptures mention God care for those people at risk. Yet Christianity has been distorted into a salvation religion, and care for the poor has seriously diminished or has become alien concept. God attempts to communicate that we are siblings and God’s children. We are part of God’s family.

I heard the term “preferential option for the poor” for the first time in 1968 in seminary where I became aware how often God and/or Jesus call our attention in the Hebrew scriptures and the gospels to the poor around us.

I learned through a number of lessons in my life that poor people do not want to you be poor but to empower them to escape the extreme poverty within which they find themselves. The poor and the vulnerable indicate the location where God is to be found. If there is any doubt, Jesus is quite clear, “whenever you do something for the least of my family, you do it for me.” Jesus invites us to see him in the poor.

Today’s gospel addresses the “salvation Christians.” The story of the young rich man illustrates clearly the divide. The rich man asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds to him, “You know the commandments.” The rich man responds, “All these have kept since my youth.” I hear a sense of emptiness in the words of the rich man.

Jesus invites him: “one thing you lack, Go your way, sell whatever you have and give it to the poor…” Jesus has invited the young man to follow him, to move from a salvation oriented style faith to faith in the presence of God’s companionship of empowerment or the reign of God. In other words, Jesus invites him a discipleship of service to and compassion for the poor, the outcast, and the vulnerable.

The young man is not able to leave his wealth and give it to the poor. The story presents two different and completely conflicting practice of religion: salvation and Jesus’ mission. If your practice is only for your own salvation, you have missed the mark entirely. Jesus empowered his disciples, later the movement which became his church, as a church that serves the poor and vulnerable.
Jesus points to an alternative path, empowered companionship in the presence of God. He teaches, “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is companionship of empowerment. Blessed are you who are hungry, you will be satisfied.” If God values the poor, what does that mean for us? What does mean to the mission of the church? Jesus’ church is defined its mission, and its mission to serve the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalized, the outcast, those who are at risk. In 1 Jn. 3:17, the author writes, “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

There is so much evidence from the Bible that God cares for the poor. Leonardo Boff, who writes about the preferential option for the poor, says “the church of the poor, for the poor, with the poor.” This mission is the primary purpose of the church. It is what Jesus understood as the companionship of empowerment that we identify with the poor and those at most risk. It is the place, where we find God amidst human suffering.

I read a wonderful article by Albert Nolan, a South African priest and theologian. He wrote a wonderful book, Jesus before Christianity. I did a book study years ago on his book at this church. He affirms that there are four stages of a Christian spirituality in serving the poor.

1) There is the stage of compassion. Think of the last homeless person you experienced and felt their suffering. Compassion is the starting point when we personally identify with the suffering of the poor and want to alleviate that suffering. That compassion grows as we are exposed to the poor and their living conditions. When I was a Jesuit seminarian, I was sent to work in the inner city of Bridgeport, CT, and later to India where I witnessed such poverty in India unimaginable to a sheltered middle class youth from a small town. Nothing can replace immediate and personal contact with the poor: the conditions, the dirt, smells, the desperation in people’s eyes, the malnutrition of adults and children, the resulting illnesses. Compassion grows, and we learn a little more why Jesus instructed his disciples: “Be compassionate as your Abba God is.” Our compassion leads to action. Jesus realized that the poor make the real presence of God and Christ. Service to the poor is service to Christ.

2) The second stage begins while we may serve the poor. We start with questions. “Why are they poor? What structures and conditions in our society lead to poverty? Is there anything we can do?” Poverty is structurally caused by corporations and governments. It is produced by an economic system that enriches the very wealthy and impoverishes many. An example: large US corporations bought farm lands in Mexico dirt cheap. It displaced the farmers who no longer had any means to support their families. Many traveled across the border to find means to support their families. This is one example, and there are many more. The Bible consistently narrates how God is angry at oppression of the poor, the plight of widows and orphans, and those socially at risk. What would Jesus say and do about these structures that diminish the lives of people? The biggest banker in Jesus’ time was the Temple in Jerusalem. He called the Temple institution a “den of thieves” and acted up, throwing down the money tables, releasing the animals, and stopping the sacrifice of animals and work in the Temple. Jesus was executed for this ACT UP demonstration. We may find ourselves angry like Jesus at the causes of structural poverty in our society.

3) The third stage, Nolan, says come eventually when we discover that we cannot save the poor and the homeless. We come to grips with the humility of our service to the poor. Albert Nolan writes, “When one is dedicated to the service of the poor it is even more difficult to accept that it is not they who need me but I who need them. They can and will save themselves with or without me, but I cannot be liberated without them.” We may save our souls when we realize how much we need the poor to remind of us our mission. Salvation will be attained, but it is secondary to the mission of care and love.

The poor generally have little chance of changing their condition without others. But they also know what to do, and this may surprise and deflate any notion that we are here to rescue the poor. What we learn that Jesus’ authentic church stands at the side of the poor, to assist the poor in envisioning escape from poverty and empowering them to do so. We are called to be at the side of the poor. Jesus announced the reign of God as companioning with the poor, the outcast, and those without hope. Companioning is an awesome gift of extending God’s grace. We create social relationships to help growth. He adds at this stage we discover,

God wants to use the poor, in Christ, to save all of us from the madness of a world in which so many people starve in the midst of unimaginable wealth. This discovery can become an experience of God present and acting in the struggles of the poor. Thus we not only see the face of the suffering Christ in the sufferings of the poor but also hear the voice of God and see the hands of God and his power in the political struggles of the poor.

4) The fourth stage comes from our disillusionment. There is a tendency to romanticize the poor. The poor are afflicted with many of the same issues and faults as we have. The poor are not saints; they are people suffering from at least the burdens of poverty, illness or mental illness. Nolan writes, “As Christians we will experience this solidarity with one another as solidarity in Christ, solidarity with the cause of the poor. It is precisely by recognizing the cause of the poor as God’s cause that we can come through the crisis of disillusionment and disappointment with particular poor people.”

What these four stages of Christian spirituality in serving the poor points out that we discover many things about poverty and the poor, but we also discover much about ourselves. This knowledge is good to understand in order to serve and care for the poor. We discover why Jesus uses the saying inviting us to take up our crosses because service has always its challenges, but it also has its moments of God’s grace.

Christ’s church carries on the mission of feeding the poor, assisting the homeless, clothing and caring for those in need. We remember Jesus’ words when throwing a banquet: “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Christ’s church does not build a wall to keep migrants and refugees out of our country. It does not demonize migrants as rapists, violent, and murderers. It does not let people drown in the moats, electrocuted by our electric fence, or drown in moats that we built between San Ysidro on the US border and Tijuana.

Christ’s church does not oppose the Affordable Care Act, with now 18 million previously uninsured Americans.

Christ’s church cares for the Earth vulnerable to predatory humans, corporations, and governments.

Christ’s church does not discriminate against God’s children. We all are siblings, children of God. Black lives matter. But we go further when we as church declares, All life matters.

Paul speaks about the sacrifice in following Christ:

…whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ, Jesus My Lord. For his sake I suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…Phil 3:7-8

Christmas Message 2013

I just signed an op-ed piece with a coalition of Los Angeles religious leaders entitled “Giving Thanks for the Gift of the Sun.” LA has some 300 days of sunshine, but less than 2% of the power is generated from the sun. I am aware that we will hold a Solar Night on the evening of January 8th at 7 PM at our church for faith communities, businesses, and home owners to help reduce energy usage and move to become a carbon neutral space. Ideas from Christmas and the Feast of the Magi spark the crazy conflation of the gift of the sun and the gift of Christ because another solar event heralded the birth of the Christ child. Both the sun and Christ are gifts from God.

Some Christians, drawing from an ecological perspective of God, view Christmas celebration of the birth of Christ as environmental hope for our present century. I have begun to read the gospels from a “green” perspective as well. Christ was born into a world when the poor needed hope at the time of oppression and suffering from the Roman Empire. We have been accustomed to view the birth of Christ during the Pax Romana, the Roman Peace. This was a Roman propaganda myth, for the period was anything but peaceful. The Roman legions maintained the power and exploitation of the peoples of the Mediterranean world. The Empire generated a religious theology that cultivated Augustus Caesar as the “Son of God Apollo.” No power could stand against the military, religious, financial, and political power theology of Rome with the divine Emperor Augustus.

And in Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to a child in a cave with animals present. The cave in Bethlehem was not only at the margins of the Roman Empire in an obscure province; it was at the margins of the margins—stable with domestic animals. A light shone above the place of Jesus’ birth, and shepherds and the magi traveled to witness the wondrous flicker of light.. The child would grow up to proclaim God’s liberation and our potential to claim God’s reign. God’s reign, unlike the Roman, would champion the poor, the slaves, the marginalized, and the social outcasts Jesus reminded the poor and the marginalized that God’s power was measured in vulnerability, love, compassion and peace. God’s reign stood against the Roman Empire, and it would challenge the Empire with a revolutionary message of love, unconditional grace, forgiveness, and non-violence as its weapons to combat brute violence, coercive power, and greed..

The new Roman Empire crosses the Earth and dominates itself. It is what I call the fossil fuel industries and corporations that have few checks and balances. Fossil fuel companies have co-opted even liberal legislators in California into believing that fracking is safe, even though there is danger of contaminating the water table.

Most of Los Angeles energy and much of the world’s energy comes from fossil fuels whose dirty carbon emissions have contributed to global warming, extreme weather events, wildfires and droughts, extinction of species, and impact the health of people and animals alike. Our greed for fossil fuels continues to grip humanity with a short-sightedness and consumer greed that will impact life severely this century.

But many churches are, likewise, complicit in their guilt with the fossil fuel empire. They turn a deaf ear to the cries of life and the Earth at the reckless exploitation and harm of the Earth’s weather systems wrought by the fossil fuel empire. Their focus is “Forget ‘Save the Earth’, save your soul.” They support the climate change deniers by denigrating God’s creation and Earth and viewing global warming as having little importance. This is true of many church leaders, including our own in MCC. The United Church of Christ has taken the prophetic stance of encouraging all church properties to reach carbon neutral in 2030.

Our Christmas candle, representing Christ, shines brightly during the day and energized from the sun. I come to work and look at our 90 solar panels, and I am aware that they generate clean solar energy for ourselves and others. They take the abundance of sunlight to generate more clean energy. It becomes for me a parable how God’s extravagant grace works in the work. And I can’t help look at them, thinking that Christ is the light of the world. But I would reframe in environmental terms–Christ is the Earthlight, God’s greening power.

On Christmas Eve service, when we light our candles and sing Silent Night, we are proclaiming our hope to bring the sun light of Christ into our church, our homes, our city, our nation, and our planet to challenge the fossil fuel empire that governs our planet and creates climate change and upheaval. Christ is the Earthlight, generated from God’s sun. God’s greening power (viriditas) of God, is an extravagant and gracious energy bringing life and sustaining life through Christ the Earthlight and the winds of the Spirit.

My wish for Christmas and hope for the New Year is a greener Christianity, a greener world challenging the fossil fuel empire with a revolutionary spiritual movement spreading the message Christ the Earthlight. Join me to work on your family, your neighbors, your faith communities, your businesses to help make 2014 a greener year for Christ. Abandon the outdated theologies that proclaim “Forget ‘Save the Earth’ save your soul.” Embrace greening grace of God’s life this Christmas and have hope that together with God we can lessen the ravages of climate change for 21st generations.

Merry Christmas and Green New Year.