Monday, April 6, 2009

Jesus is a Redhead

Today was dress-up day at the high school where I work, as is every Wednesday. Wednesdays are sacred and require ties and full dress shirts, because on Wednesdays we have chapel. This one, in particular, had my muscles liquefying and my glands on overtime because today I was the keynote speaker.

I got roped into this through the old bait-and-switch about a month ago. Dawn, the school counselor, was looking for a number of folks to share briefly something God has done to reveal Himself to them, and I agreed to be one of those people; partly because she asked me nicely and partly because I love telling other people what to do with their lives (it takes the focus off of my problems). I was all set to share this little tidbit when Canada descended upon us and they called school off.

I was off the hook… until yesterday, when Mr. Jameson, one of the Socials teachers at the school, came into my room and said Dawn had gone off for the week and left him in charge of chapel today and would I speak in chapel. I said yes, and he said “bythewayeverybodyelsebackedout, soyou’retheman” and rushed out before I could tackle him.

What could I do – I swallowed the bait and got ready. This morning right beforehand my knees were starting to knock and my palpitations were palpitating, so Mr. Jameson said I should talk as long as I wanted and he’d fill in the rest. I got up there and apparently I am not as afraid of public speaking as I had thought, because I pretty much talked the whole time. Apparently the Good Lord also looked with favor on me despite my arrogance and ego and chose to do me a good one, because those kids were riveted and afterwards one of them told me that I was unofficially voted the best chapel speaker of the year.

This undoubtedly says more about them needing to hear what I had to say than with how I said it, but since it seemed to resonate, I thought I’d go ahead and transcribe/paraphrase/expand/contract the gist of it for your general consumption. Here ‘tis.

- - -

Good morning. It’s really great to be able to be here to talk to all y’all all at one time. This is uncomfortable and awkward enough for me as it is, so I’m going to ask the back two rows to stand up and come down here to the front and fill in some of this empty space. That’s right, don’t be shy.

[they awkwardly rose and trudged forward]

Thanks.
I am going to take this opportunity I’ve got here this morning to talk to you about two things (that are really just one thing – but I’ll get to that). First, I am going to talk to you about the time I literally saw Jesus with my own two barenaked eyes.

[tee hee – I said barenaked]

And the second thing I’m going to talk about is sodomy.

[here the students and teachers awkwardly looked about]

In a lot of ways, I’m just like most of you guys. I, too, was born right around here, and just like you I look like I belong at this high school.

[fairly hearty laughter here, because although I am twenty-nine, I look like I’m around eighteen]

Unlike you, I was raised in a third world / developing nation. My parents were missionaries there, support workers helping to translate the Bible into indigenous languages. Peru is a rather poor country, but when I was first there in 1980 it was even worse, with corruption at all levels of government and widespread terrorism creating a whole lot of instability and inflation. By way of analogy, you could spend two bucks on a loaf of bread one day, and the next time you went in it would cost you twenty. Peru is a fair bit more developed today, but I think the average wage there is still somewhere around three dollars a day.

Just like you if you were to go on a mission trip, however, I was cocooned with money. I could see the poverty around me, but I couldn’t taste it. I couldn’t enter into it and really feel what it was like to be poor.

Let me tell you two little stories to illustrate this.

I remember we had a favorite restaurant we loved to go to, called Orlando’s. It was a barbeque place and the chicken was absolutely divine. Peruvians are amazing at that sort of thing, and we loved it (there’s a Peruvian Barbeque place just up the road called Genaro’s – check it out, it’s amazing!). It wasn’t a restaurant like you’re used to here, though. It was made of wood and had log-beams for ceiling joists and a thatched roof, and it was open all around the outside with screens. The windows were low to the ground, and I remember looking through those screens and seeing little kids my own age, maybe five to ten of them, lined up all along the windows.

Their arms were stick thin, some of them had distended bellies from worms, and some of them had reddish hair, because that’s what happens sometimes when you’re malnourished. They were hoping for the scraps from our table – even just the bones so they could take them home and boil them up and get some nutrition from the marrow. Kids just like me. Only different.

I remember also I had a dog, a little black cocker spaniel. Things were less regulated there – we didn’t have any leash laws, so Blackie would wander around the missionary center where I lived. He had a routine he followed, and one day I decided to see what it was. I followed Blackie as he followed our garbage truck, up the dirt road and out through the gates; out to where we dumped our garbage. When we got there I saw children, kids my own age, with hooked sticks they were using to poke through our garbage – through my garbage – looking for anything they could use, or sell… or even eat.
In Matthew 25, Jesus is separating the sheep from the goats – you all know the story, or have heard the Cake song “Sheep go to heaven, goats go to hell”. Anyway, he tells some people they’ve ignored him when he was hungry and thirsty and in prison and alone, and they’re like, “Whoa, wait a minute Jesus. We never did that!” and he says, “Whatever you didn’t do for the least of these, you didn’t do for me”.

Folks, when I was looking out through those screens at Orlando’s, I was looking at Jesus. When I watched those kids poke through my garbage, I was seeing Jesus. Jesus is hungry and thirsty and alone. Jesus is starving to death.

I firmly believe that when Jesus said “I will never leave you nor forsake you”, he wasn’t just saying this in a mystic spirit way, he was saying, “I am going to be here in the flesh, as a person, and whenever you find your faith is faltering and you doubt the whole shebang, just look for me and I’ll look back at you through the eyes of the poor and underprivileged.” Listen, guys, I’m just like you. It’s been a struggle for me to make sense of my faith, to reconcile what I believe with all the information and with how I think about the world, but what always makes sense to me and brings me back is this: that Jesus is here, in the flesh, ready to love me in person.

Jesus is here, folks, and Jesus is hungry. Jesus is thirsty. Jesus is starving to death while America spends 450 billion dollars a year on Christmas. Do you get the irony of that? Fifty million children die every year of malnutrition-related illnesses and we’re spending billions and billions on ourselves to “celebrate his birthday”!

That’s sick – and do you know what else is sick?

Imagine some girl sitting up on this stage behind me at a big banquet table heaped up with all sorts of food. Jesus is sitting on the floor next to her. His arms are like matchsticks, his hair is a chalky red, and maybe is nose is running because he’s crying so hard – because he’s hungry. This rich girl at the table, she’s ignoring him, though. She’s actually complaining because she hasn’t got the type of jam she prefers for her toast! Now, aren’t you going to look with disdain at that girl? Isn’t that sick?

Well, imagine Jesus is out in the foyer. The girl can see and hear him, but he’s quieter and she goes on eating and complaining. Don’t you have some contempt for this girl? For me, she isn’t just getting on my nerves at this point, she’s making me angry.

Now Jesus is back over at the high school building. He’s over in my room, in the art room, and he’s doing the same crying and everything, and every hour someone is calling over to her three hundred dollar iphone and saying, “Look, I’d love to feed this kid but there’s just no food over here. Isn’t there some way you could bring some food?” And this despicable girl just goes on stuffing her face. Folks, that despicable girl is us… which is a perfect transition to talk about sodomy.

You all know what I mean by sodomy. And you know about Sodom, how God destroyed Sodom for its wickedness – but does anybody know why God destroyed Sodom? Does anybody know why we call homosexuality “sodomy”?

[At this point, my newly developed Teacher Echolocation Power zoned in and located one of the basketball players who’d said, “it’s gross”. I pointed at him.]

You say because it’s gross?

[He raised his hand and nodded, owning it]

All right, well, let’s look at why the Bible says God destroyed Sodom. There are a few places, like when God is talking to Abraham, where God said that Sodom was super duper wicked, but there is only one place where he says specifically why he destroyed it.

Ezekial 16:49&50 says, “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me.”
Let me read that again.

[and I did]

No mention of homosexuality there. So why do we call homosexuality “sodomy”? Well, I’ll tell you why. We focus on a sexual issue that most of us don’t deal with (ignoring our own, perfectly socially acceptable heterosexual screw-ups) so we can completely ignore the fact that the entire story is pointing right at US.

I was asked to come up here and share something God has done to reveal Himself to me – what has caused me to really know and want God, and I have to say that Jesus has revealed Himself to me most clearly in the faces of the suffering and it is that sort of God – the kind that promotes an upside-down kingdom that’s not after power and control but instead self-sacrifice and humility – it is that sort of God that I’ve fallen in love with and want to serve with the sacrifice of my own life.

So my challenge to you today is to stop paying lip service to Jesus, to stop pretending that because you say a few words or hang out with the right people or don’t do this or that that it means you are a follower of Christ. It is easier to stuff a camel through the eye of a needle than it is to get an upper-middle class person from south Charlotte into heaven! Is that hard? Yes! It’s impossible, really. Except, nothing is impossible for Jesus, if you’re willing to go seek Him out and love Him.

I could sit here all day and tell you what you need to do – to give your money here or there or do this or that – but my challenge to you is to use some of that abundant creativity I see in my classes and go out and look for Jesus. Love Jesus. And get ready for the abundant life for which you were made.

That’s about all I have to say. Any of the kids in my classes can tell you that I’m not really all that comfortable with public prayer. It’s not something I like doing and it’s something I’m still thinking through. Nonetheless, there are times when there is something I believe in so strongly that I just gotta pray it out. So God, inspire these kids to seek you out here in South Charlotte and around the world. Don’t let them be satisfied with pretending. Don’t let them let anyone look down on them because they are young, and don’t let them look down on themselves because they are young, but instead get them to just shake up their families, their town and their world by following the real you wherever you lead them. Amen.

- - -

That was it, give or take a few inside jokes and the sort of grammatical errors and mumblings that tend to happen whenever I talk instead of write. Mr. Jameson stood up and said, “I was going to tell you a story, but I don’t want you to leave here thinking about anything but what Mr. Barkey just said, so it looks like you’re going to get a little break before your next class.”
He prayed again (lots of praying goes on at my school), and that was it.

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