The election of 1800 was as ugly, and rancorous as the one we are experiencing this year. It was the election James Callender accused John Adams of being a senile hermaphrodite. It was the election Aaron Burr nearly stole from Thomas Jefferson. In 1800 electors did not specify on their ballots whom they were choosing as President and Vice President. Thus Jefferson and Burr both ended up with 73 electoral votes. Burr, who was supposed to be Vice President, would not yield and tried to steal the election. The election was thrown into the House of Representatives. It was the Federalists, and particularly Alexander Hamilton who decided the election by moving their support to Jefferson.

            Hamilton, in a series of brief letters to Federalist members of the House, offered two reasons for supporting Jefferson. The first was that although the Federalists disagreed with Jefferson politically, they could admit that Jefferson was seeking the greater good, whereas Burr was only seeking power for Burr. The second reason Hamilton gave was that he was convinced Jefferson, would “venture less” than Burr.* To Hamilton, Jefferson would do the least harm.

            If I do vote for a candidate on the ballot this November (instead of writing in a name), this will be my criteria – which will “venture less.” Thinking back, I find this has been my criteria in 6 of 9 elections in which I have had the privilege to vote. This is a bit discouraging. The institutional decay in our nation seems to require bold action.

            We are constantly reminded of the vast gulf between the leadership we need and the leadership we get - by rising crime rates, crumbling infrastructure, lead poisoned tap-water, increasing income disparity, domestic terrorism, and racial unrest. More than anything else, mass shootings remind us how ill prepared we are to face evil.

            The mass shooting in Orlando last weekend produced 100 casualties and 49 dead. It is hard to imagine such carnage being carried out by 1 shooter. The Sandy Hook shooting still haunts me, because that shooting took place in an elementary school and most of the victims were children. How can we protect our children? How does one explain any of this to a child?

            In a brilliant piece Fred Rodgers did in the wake of 9-11, he encouraged kids to “look for the helpers” whenever something bad has happened. There are helpers around doing all the good they can when tragedy strikes. Taking his advice, we should be heartened by the hundreds in Orlando who lined up to give blood. Lines stretched for blocks, as people patiently waited to do something good.

            It is a great evidence of the good in us, of God in us, that when evil strikes a mighty blow our impulse is to find a way to assert goodness. We feel the need to do something good now, as an act of defiance – as a way of shaking a fist in Satan’s face.

            Jesus teaches us that goodness needs to be an action, not merely a reaction.

            So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the law and the prophets. Matthew 7.12

            The “golden” rule demands action. It is about what we do. It makes each of us responsible for asserting goodness daily – not just making a token response when evil seems to have triumphed. Jesus is telling us to “venture more,” to do the good we know to do as soon as we know to do it. James says plainly, “So whoever knows the right thing to do, and fails to do it – for him it is sin,” (James 4.17).

            There are no verses in the New Testament that encourage us to confront evil with an angry rant (or tweet, or posting, or mass-email).

            The New Testament tells us we must assert goodness every day. We must meet every challenge to goodness with a response characterized by “gentleness and reverence” (I Peter 3.15). We must not be numbered among those who say and share hateful things, only to be surprised when others act on those same hateful impulses.

            We assert goodness. We venture more.

*The Founders on the Founders, edited by John P. Kominski, University of Virginia Press, 2008, pp.86-88.

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The asterisk (*) before a verse marks the stanza that may be omitted, if necessary, without materially affecting the continuity of thought.

                        -Forward to the 54th edition of Great Songs of the Church

            Each year I pick an old hymnbook off the shelf and sing through the songs (not all at once, mind you, but over the course of the year).  This year I pulled down an old, 1974 edition of Great Songs of the Church.  I like to remember the old songs, and they will only be remembered if sung. Hymn #4 in this hymnbook is “Alas and Did My Savior Bleed,” and as I was singing this hymn I noticed an asterisk by verse 2. At the bottom of the page there was an asterisk attached to the words “See Note in Foreword,” so I did. The note from the foreword is the one mentioned above.  This is a six verse hymn in the 54th Great Songs hymnbook, which some song-leaders might think too long. And so instead of just leading verses 1, 2, and 5 the editors have chosen which verse may be deleted without “materially” interrupting the continuity of thought. That word “materially” sounds lawyerly and makes me immediately suspicious.

            The verse chosen for omission is the line: Was it for crimes that I have don he groaned upon the tree? Amazing pity, grace unknown, and love beyond degree.

            I happen to like this verse because the phrase “groaned upon a tree” is so evocative.  The editors of Sacred Selections, and Christian Hymns must have agreed because they include verse 2.  In these once ubiquitous hymnbooks the song only has four verses, and both omit the same verse, verse 4: Thus might I hide my blushing face while his dear cross appears; Dissolve my heart in thankfulness, and melt mine eyes to tears.  I guess if you’re going to cut a verse this would be the one. As a guy, I think it’s a little weird to sing about “my blushing face.” Also, I get a little squeamish thinking about eyes melting into anything – ouch.

            And yet, the last verse begins with the phrase But drops of grief can ne’er repay the debt of love I owe….. and without verse 4 you don’t know what “drops of grief” we’re singing about.

            My point is this: All the verses have to be there.  We may not use them all, all of the time, but we need to know them all – and I am not talking primarily about hymnbooks – I’m talking about the Bible.

            I play favorites with verses. There are some I continually return to, and some others I rarely mention when I preach. I always (always) mention John 3.5 when delivering the invitation. I like this verse because it comes from the mouth of Jesus.  But Galatians 3.27, Acts 2.38, I Peter 3.20 and several other verses would serve as well or better depending on the situation. I also find I return for personal study to the passages I like. Any of the Gospels, I John, Ecclesiastes, Ruth, the Psalms – these I read over and over again. I hate to admit that I really have only a cursory knowledge of Jeremiah or Ezekiel. I would like to say, in the words of James, “My brethren, these things ought not to be this way,” (3.10).

            Let us all remember that any omission “materially” affects the continuity of thought, and that ALL scripture is inspired by God, and thoroughly prepares us for every good work (II Timothy 3.16-17). Let us be committed to listen to the whole counsel of God – not just the verses we like.

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The stone which the builders rejected became the very cornerstone.  Psalm 118.22 (I Peter 2.7)

A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense....Isaiah 8.14 (I Peter 2.8)

            In I Peter 2.4-10 the apostle tells us there are two ways of rejecting Jesus: to reject Him after consideration, and to overlook Him altogether and stumble. Both are fatal.

            The larger passage begins in 1.22 where Peter reminds us that we mortals have been given immortality since our souls have been “purified.” He continues in Chapter 2.1 to tell us that since this is the case we have to move forward and build a new life. We must put away old habits and like “newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the world.” In 2.4 he tells us that we begin building this new life by laying a cornerstone. A cornerstone sets the line for all three dimensions of the house we are to build, and establishes as well the soundness of all the construction that follows. We receive a cornerstone from God Himself, Peter reminds us (2.6, quoting from Isaiah 28.16). This stone is “carefully chosen,” and “precious.” Of course the cornerstone is not an actual stone, it is a “Him” (v. 4) - it is Christ.  In verse 7 he tells us that only those who believe will perceive the value of the stone. Those who do not believe can be divided into two categories: those who consider then reject the cornerstone, and those who overlook it and take a tumble.

            Peter then quotes the two Old Testament passages cited above. In verse 7 he quotes Psalm 118.22, which states that the chief cornerstone was rejected by the builders. Some will truly consider all that Jesus teaches and reject Him anyway.  In verse 8 he quotes Isaiah 8.14 which describes the stone as a cause of “stumbling,” and “offense.” These two words are interesting. The word translated “offense” is the same word translated “stumbling block” in I Corinthians 1.23. It originally described the tripwire or spring of a trap. The word “stumbling” describes tripping over a stone or impediment in the road. Both words describe the unexpected – the surprise that causes a fall. Some will completely disregard Jesus to their own demise.

  In the New Testament we see Jesus rejected in both ways. Some consider Him carefully and say, “This is not the Messiah we’re looking for.” The various groups which made up the religious establishment in Jesus’ day - Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, experts on the law, the priesthood - all rejected him in turn, after investigation.

            Others – Pilate, Herod, even Saul before his conversion (see I Timothy 1.13), overlooked Jesus. Their unbelief was a result of willful ignorance.

            Which rejection is worse? One could argue that to really examine the evidence and then reject Him is unthinkable. Only a truly obdurate and rascally person would do that. One also might argue that showing no interest in the truth at all is a greater act of disrespect than learning it and rejecting it.

            Rejecting the stone either way results in downfall. To discard the one true cornerstone for something inferior is to build a house that will not stand. To disregard the stone is to stumble over it to our own destruction.

            We recognize more readily the former. Those who name Jesus and reject Him are more visibly opponents of the Gospel. But any of us who go through an hour, a day, a year, a lifetime without giving Him any serious thought (although we may give Him a lifetime of lip-service), have rejected Him just as thoroughly. Our demise will be thorough as well.

            The passage concludes by reminding us who we are. Quoting Deuteronomy 10.15, and Hosea 1.9-10, Peter reminds us we: a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession. We once were “not a people,” but now are the very people of God. Once we “had not received mercy,” but now we have. This is a lot to consider, and accept. Let us do both – every day.   

                                                                                               

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    The word “ghetto” comes from the word “geto” or “copper foundry.” It was the name of a Venetian island on which such a foundry was once located.  In 1516 the Jews of Venice were removed to this Island.  During daylight hours the Venetian Jews, so vital to the economic life of the city state, were allowed to circulate among the general population. But at the end of the work day, the Jews were required to return to the island, and the gated enclave assigned to them there.* The result was that the Jews of Venice, in their walled enclave, enjoyed a cleaner, safer existence than their free-range, gentile counterparts. Their culture thrived, their families prospered. In their separation, though, they had little cultural influence on their city. They certainly made no proselytes – not that any were trying.

            The Venice ghetto is separated from the Warsaw ghetto Hitler established by four and a half centuries and by a gulf like the one that separates heaven and hell. Both were products of antisemitism and hate, but the Venetian ghetto was an experiment in co-existence while the Warsaw ghetto was a tool of genocide.  If a person had to choose which ghetto to call home the choice would be an easy one.

            But should one want to live in any ghetto?

            The Venetian ghetto had many attractive qualities. It put a wall between Jews and a culture hostile to them. It allowed them keep their culture unpolluted, their streets unpolluted, their families unpolluted. For the Venetians, the ghetto allowed them to benefit from the talents of their Jewish population without having to socialize with Jews.

            Many of us Christians rather enjoy such an existence.

            I’ll never forget the day, back in Rome, Ohio, that I first recognized the Christian ghetto. We had received, at the office, one of those phone books that include only “Christian” businesses. The cover advertised a new section which featured “Christian” dance and fitness classes. One could find “Christian” waltz classes, line-dance classes, swing-dance classes, pilates classes, yoga classes, even tango classes (probably not the “Argentine” tango, but who knows?). In that phone book one could find the walls of a Christian ghetto. I have no doubt the publishers of the phone book just wanted to get information out, and help Christian businesses. What happened, though, was that many Christians found it helped them live within walls that kept the “Gentiles” out.

            The Christian ghetto is this insulated space we create for ourselves.

            First Century Christians neither had access to such space, nor did they seek it.  Jesus said, Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father who is in Heaven (Matthew 5.16). He prayed to the Father on our behalf, they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask that You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one (John 17.14-15).

            Peter, who heard Jesus pray this prayer, instructs us: Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that on account of the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may, on account of your good deeds, glorify God on the day of visitation I Peter 2.12.

            Both Jesus and Peter draw a connection between our being among non-Christians and God being glorified. Nowhere does the New Testament envision this glory being generated in  the Christian ghetto.

            Mel Hurley, David Binkley, Alfred Huff, and Jack Powers these last three weeks all made this very point – and quite independently of each other. I detected in these sermons not a coincidence but a theme. It is a theme God makes clear in His word. As Jesus said, a city on a hill cannot be hidden (Matthew 5.14). The world would love us to go politely behind the walls of our ghetto and keep to ourselves. We often find that appealing too. Life in the Christian ghetto is certainly easier. But it is not what God has in mind.

*From “The Eviction Curse,” by Patrick Sharkey, in The Atlantic, June 2016, pp. 34-35

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The Jews answered and said to Him, “Do we not say rightly that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” John 8.48

            The Jews are violently enraged at Jesus in John 8, so much so that they try to stone him. Jesus has made clear He is the Son of God - that He is God. Jesus has so thoroughly answered their arguments the only tools left to them are name calling and violence. They call Jesus a Samaritan, and say he has a demon. He has been accused of having a demon before, but being called a Samaritan is a new charge. Why would they say that? Earlier in the confrontation the Jews clearly acknowledge that Jesus is a Galilean (John 7.52). Of course calling Jesus a Galilean is a way of calling him a “hick”. Calling him a “Samaritan” seems to be a way of hurling a greater insult at Jesus.

            John has already told us Jews have no dealings with Samaritans (4.9). The racial hatred and strife between the two peoples was intense and real. When they tag Jesus a “Samaritan,” they are not just pulling an awful name off the shelf. Jesus does have dealings with the Samaritans. He spoke at length with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well, and spent two days in her village teaching the people (John 4.1-42). He also told stories about Samaritans who were moral, noble and caring (Luke 10.25-37). We have heard enough racial slurs to know why they call Jesus a “Samaritan.” He is, to them, a “Samaritan-lover.”

            Of the two charges they make against Him – that he is a Samaritan, and has a demon – Jesus answers only the second. He makes no comment on the first. “I do not have a demon!” He answers the second charge in verses 49-51, “I honor My Father…I do not seek my own glory.” But to the charge of being a Samaritan he answers not a word. Why?

            It might be that Jesus refuses to dignify a racial slur with a response. Some evil, like racial prejudice, is based in stupidity, and stupidity has to be subverted. “Do not answer a fool according to his folly lest you be like him,” (Proverbs 24.6). You cannot wrestle in the mud with anyone without getting muddy yourself. One must stand up to evil, but stupidity has to be subverted.

            It might be that if they are actually calling Jesus a “Samaritan lover,” no answer is necessary, because He is.

            Or it might be that Jesus makes no response to the charge because it is true. I am not arguing that Jesus has Samaritan DNA in his cells. His lineage is more solidly documented than any Jew of His era (see Matthew 1, and Luke 3). But the Bible makes clear that when Jesus hangs on the cross as our atoning sacrifice, He hangs there as a Jew, a Samaritan, a Gaul, a Hun, an Ethiopian, a Malay, a slave, a free man, a man, a woman.

For He Himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins; and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world.  I John 2.2

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ.  Galatians 3.27-28.

“We were right when we called you a Samaritan,” the Jews taunt Jesus. As we read that passage in David Binkley’s fine class on the Gospel of John last Sunday, I wished I could have been there and said, “Yes. Yes you are. You are right. And if you knew why you are right, you would finally understand.”

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