Fake news

There’s a term being used a lot today called “fake news,” which refers to a false story with harmful consequences if believed.

Surprisingly, even in Jesus’ day, something like this was going on. Jesus was teaching in the temple, saying things the religious insiders didn’t like. When they sent in troops to arrest Jesus, the troops came back without him. “Nobody ever spoke like him,” they said. “You fell for fake news,” came the reply.

Frustrated by their inability to have Jesus arrested, the religious insiders set a trap. They brought to Jesus a woman they’d caught in adultery. The punishment for such a crime was stoning. What would Jesus do?

“Go ahead, stone her,” was Jesus’ shocking answer. “But the one who is without sin, you throw the first stone.”

The woman was guilty, but Jesus was the one they really wanted to stone. In shifting the anger of the crowd from the woman to himself, Jesus had taken an enormous risk.

After the crowd had left, Jesus told the woman, “No one has condemned you, neither do I. Go and leave your life of sin.”

Jesus saved her without condoning her behavior.

In a polarized world, Jesus continues to defy those who want to use him for their cause.

The religious leaders believed the “fake news” that they had a corner on the truth.

The woman believed the “fake news” that she could sleep with anyone she liked without consequences.

Jesus took both the wrath of the religious elite, and the pain of the broken woman on himself.

Jesus is always something else, something other, something more.


Did Jesus really say that?

Jesus and the disciples were far from home when a strange, troubled, pagan woman approached. She was screaming for Jesus to heal her daughter. The disciples wanted to send her away, but Jesus said nothing. Then the woman fell to her knees and pleaded, “Lord, help me!” Jesus’ reply was as troubling as anything he ever said: “It’s not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”

Yes, Jesus really called her a dog.

But the woman was undeterred. She said, “Yes Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Jesus, amazed by the woman’s faith, healed her daughter.

The Christian faith is nothing if it’s not realistic. It’s not sentimental. It’s not chicken soup for the soul. It’s not pie in the sky. Jesus was a real person, born into a real, hard world inhabited by Jews and Gentiles who hated each other. Until Jesus healed the girl, he was doing what every other Jewish man would have been expected to do in the same situation.

Of course pagan women were dogs. Everyone knew that.

What if Jesus was testing? What if he was testing the disciples to see if they would show mercy? What if he was testing the woman’s faith?

As I was writing this, a hurting person came to the church door looking for work, bus fare, hope, anything.

All I can say is that the world is still real and hard.

If Jesus was testing, I’m not sure I passed today.

Glimpse of the kingdom

This week I happen to be preaching on the story of Jesus engaging the “woman at the well” in a town in Samaria. For this meeting to take place, Jesus had to cross racial, religious, cultural, and even gender barriers. When the disciples found Jesus talking to the woman, they were shocked. Yet the meeting transformed the woman and her town.

Last Tuesday evening, I helped greet about 140 folks who came to take part in the weekly meals we’ve been serving through our partnership with our friends at Outreached Arms. There were about 100 guests who came to eat and about 40 volunteers who came to serve.

It was a glimpse of what Jesus was doing that day so long ago.

An executive from England in town for a corporate meeting spent the evening chatting over a meal with the homeless from Pittsburgh.

A company president so enjoyed engaging the guests that he forgot to have anything to eat himself.

Volunteers who spanned three generations served guests who spanned three generations.

Some guests who came to eat helped serve.

Others stayed late to clean up.

Lawyers and engineers stacked tables and chairs.

First time volunteers from the suburbs came because they had heard what God was doing here. They experienced the wonder of sitting down with the downtown homeless, and discovered they had more in common than they imagined.

It was a glimpse of the kingdom.


Led by the Spirit

Over and over and over, God tried to get through to Peter. “Go to Cornelius’ house.” God sent visions. Cornelius sent messengers. Finally, the Spirit told Peter to get up and go.

For his entire life, Peter had been steeped in the conviction that the Jews were God’s chosen people, and that being faithful to that identity meant staying away from Gentiles like Cornelius. But God was making it possible for anyone, not just God’s chosen people, to have a relationship with the creator.

So of course it was hard for Peter to grasp that God was doing something new.

I think something like that is going on here and now. Our culture has been running away from church and organized religion for a long time, but God hasn’t given up on his people. God still wants to have a relationship with us, and so he’s making that possible through our relationships with others.

The meaning and impact of this movement of the Spirit is just as radical and just as hard to comprehend for many of us today as the Spirit’s direction was to Peter. We’ve been steeped our whole lives in our convictions about what church is supposed to look like.

People are suspicious of churches and church programs. They’re wary of making commitments, being asked for their personal information, and being asked to join. People crave authentic relationships. They want to be part of making a real difference in the lives of others.

The church must shift from administering programs to building relationships. We’ve got to make it our job to greet people and invite them to lunch. We’ve got to volunteer. We can’t expect to make a difference by showing up at a meeting and lending our opinion.

Like Peter, it’s hard for us to grasp that God is doing something new. But I’m convinced that God wants to reach out to the world not through programs, but through us.

Peter finally got it. Will we?