Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."
Before we rush into Advent
and Christmas we give pause this Sunday – Christ the King Sunday – to reflect
again on who Jesus was and what his life meant to the world.
In our on-going Sunday night
adult education group we’ve come to know that the Book of John was written
nearly two hundred years after the death of Jesus and far from recording
historical accounts of his life it reflects theological understandings of his ministry
Sadly, as the latest of the
Gospels, it also reflects the reality that by this point in history the early
Christian community is becoming separate from the Jewish community that Jesus
was apart of. With this separation comes
persecution of early Christians and the narratives of Jesus death change in
ways that blame the Jews more directly as a people for the death of Jesus, when
the Romans where truly responsible.
Knowing all this we can sit
back from our vantage point and see how it was that Pilate must have been
confused about Jesus.
This lowly son of a carpenter
was actually wildly popular with the Jewish people and word had reached Pilate
that some referred to Jesus as King.
King? No, must have thought Pilate, not this man in
rags who travels from town to town preaching about love and acceptance, whose
message of radical hospitality upset the old guard of the established religious
order who had come to serve as collaborators with Pilate and his Roman occupiers. Jesus welcomed foreigners and unclean people;
he kept company with women and tax collectors.
This was no king. Kings are like
Pilate and Caesar, clothed in the best fabrics and men to be feared because of
their authority and ability to exercise that authority with the armies at their
sides. Jesus preached non-violence. How could this Jewish peasant be a king?
When Jesus preached about the
Kingdom of God his words were a direct challenge to Roman authority. The Roman Empire was based on the accumulation
of wealth and power to serve the needs and interests of the emperor. A peace of sorts was maintained throughout
the empire – it was said a citizen of the empire could walk from one end to the
other without fear of be accosted – but it was a peace maintained by fear. Those on the margins that demanded more for
their communities – more food, more freedom to worship, more freedom to
practice their own culture – were brutally suppressed. Jesus reached back to the words of the Hebrew
Prophets and reminded the Jewish people that such a world was not what God had
intended. No, God wanted a world where
everyone shared in the bounty provided, and where the least of these in society
came first. In the Kingdom of God,
Pilate – who wielded his authority for the benefit of the empire and not the
common good – had no place.
The church too quickly forgot
the lessons of Jesus. When Constantine
converted and declared that Christianity would be the state religion of the
Roman Empire the Christian faith became perverted. At that moment, the church became an agent of
the state and church officials collaborators once again. The movement that Jesus envisioned was nearly
But the embers of the fire
continued to burn in the hearts of some.
Some men and women who heard the story of Jesus and who were fortunate
enough to read his message for themselves kept alive the idea of the Kingdom of
God in the midst of the Roman Empire, and the empires that followed. Over the centuries Christians have, following
in the footsteps of Jesus, worked to heal the sick and to care for the
poor. Some Christians have become great
voices for freedom of oppressed peoples.
Others have lead or taken part in non-violent revolutions for social
We spend too much time in the
Christian church debating what happens to us after we die and not enough time
talking about how to improve the world we live in. Jesus was never obsessed with death and
salvation the way he was obsessed with building up the Kingdom in the here and
Here’s a question to
consider: Do we want to build up our
membership? If the answer is yes, the
question becomes why and how. Numbers
for the sake of numbers does nothing to advance the goal of building up the
Kingdom. Larger numbers might create a
better sense of community or create a social club but that cannot be out
goal. We need to aim for something
larger. We need to be evangelists for
the Kingdom and work to increase our membership by drawing in people who
recognize that we actually stand for something.
We pride ourselves on being
places where all points of view are accepted.
But I also agree with Martin Luther King, Jr. who once preached at
Riverside Church that: “…I agree with Dante, that the hottest places in hell
are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their
neutrality. There comes a time when silence becomes betrayal.”
There are too many great
moral issues being debated in our community today – in our state and the world
– that require the attention of the church.
These issues – whether it be the coming debate over marriage equality or
more life threatening issues concerning global climate change – that demand
that we not be silent but take stands, not just as individuals but as a church
What would Pilate think of
us? This is a serious question. If we dropped Sunnyside Church and University
Park Church through a time warp and into Pilate’s time would we been seen as a
community that was at all threatening?
Or could we easily be ignored? Are
we speaking out as a church on the important issues of our time as churches or
are we sitting in silence – perhaps acting as individuals, perhaps hoping
someone else will do the work we are all called to do?
Jesus knew who he was. He didn’t need a title or throne or crown to
tell him that he was God’s son called to proclaim the Kingdom. We need to struggle a bit with who we are, I
think. It’s time.
We need to be marching
alongside workers at Wal-Mart calling for livable wages.
We need to be demanding of
our President and our Congress a carbon tax and other measures to dramatically
shift the way we all live to save God’s creation.
We need to be demanding of
our local community permanent funding sources to create affordable housing and
standing with those facing foreclosure.
And Sunnyside Church and
University Park Church should be the first churches to Oregon to publically
endorse a ballot measure calling for marriage equality in 2014.
If we do these things and
more, we can stop being the church of Constantine and start being the movement
of Jesus. We’ll be controversial. New people will come to worship with us and
others will mock us. But at least we
will know who we are and can say that we are faithfully responding to the
teachings of Jesus in our time and place.
A new report shows a drop in the rate of abortions in the United States. The reason? Family planning and the availability of contraception. Reducing the number of abortions is a cause most people of faith share but not all people of faith believe women should have access to contraception - some believe such access should be difficult or even illegal. Such thinking increases the need for abortion. Groups like the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice work to promote contraception. We need more voices joining with RCRC. At the same time, faith communities need to be fighting hard for quality sex education in our public schools and to be providing such education in our churches. A great resource for churches is the Our Whole Lives curriculum developed by the United Church of Christ and Unitarian Universialist Association.
Sunnyside Church and University Park Church are progressive and Reconciling Congregations in the United Methodist Church. Preaching Christmas Eve will be The Rev. Chuck Currie, a minister in the United Church of Christ, who serves as the minister of both congregations in an ecumenical partnership. Rev. Currie is a contributor to The Huffington Post whose ministry has focused on opportunity and hope for those living in poverty, and for the civil rights of all.
University Park Church, located at 4775 N. Lombard, worships Sunday morning at 9:30 am. The congregation is known as a place of radical hospitality and has been a beacon of justice for the LGBTQ community.
Sunnyside Church, where worship is held each Sunday at 11 am, is the home of the Common Cup Family Shelter, and has long been involved in the fight to end homelessness. The congregation also hosts a community meal program, a neighborhood “swap shop,” and Camp Fire programs.
“My contention has been and still is that even in the midst of war, deep global poverty and environmental chaos caused by humanity, the message of the Prince of Peace is as relevant today as it was over 2,000 years ago,” writes Rev. Currie. “What happened on the day Jesus was born? God broke through into the world again -- but this time not with the force of the Big Bang or some other cosmic event -- no, this time it was with something even more powerful: the miracle of the birth of a child filled with promise and hope. Both that miracle and the message that this child preached as an adult, born first homeless and poor, is what Christmas is about.”
2012 has not been an easy year. We lost my mother, Judy Bright, to cancer in
April at only 62 and during that time I was diagnosed and treated for a cancer
of my own. Despite these difficulties
there is much to be thankful for. I’m
thankful for the honor to serve God as the minister of both Sunnyside Church
and University Park Church here in Portland, to study on-line and on-site at
Chicago Theological Seminary (and for the grace they have shown me this year)
and for my family and friends who have lifted me up during challenging times.
In the Hebrew Scriptures we find Psalm 100:
1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
2 Worship the Lord
come into his
presence with singing.
3 Know that the Lord is God.
It is he that made
us, and we are his;*
we are his people, and the sheep of his
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with
Give thanks to him,
bless his name.
5 For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love
endures for ever,
faithfulness to all generations.
In this spirit, I give thanks for all the many blessings I
have. Despite the injuries suffered over
this year it is hard not to feel overwhelmed with blessings as Liz and I watch
our daughters grow and as I become closer with the parishioners whom I am in
It goes without saying that 2012 has been a difficult time
for many in our nation and the world. I
give special thanks to those who find in their faith the courage to work for
justice and the common good. And I pray
for a better tomorrow for us all.
Talk radio around the nation long been the domain of strident conservative voices. Many of those voices have used racism, homophobia and overt sexism to draw in listeners. In Portland, KPOJ has been the alternative. KPOJ has been opinionated and passionate but in ways meant to draw our community together instead of tearing it apart -particularly with their local talent, people like Carl Wolfson and Thom Hartmann. I've enjoyed many times over the years being a guest on the station to talk about religion and public issues (as recently as Election Day). KPOJ is one of the only stations willing to air religious viewpoints that are moderate or progressive. What you get on the other stations is the Religious Right 24/7. Portlanders responded by listening and making the station profitable. All that changed right after Barack Obama was re-elected. The station, owned by Clear Channel, changed formats. Gone was progressive talk and there was FOX Sports (in a city that already has two other radio stations devoted full time to sports). Now Portlanders are crying foul and I'm one of them. Visit savekpoj.com and tell Clear Channel that you want progressive talk back on the air. A great community like the City of Roses deserves a great radio station like KPOJ.
I will offer prayers for Mayor-elect Charlie Hales, Commissioner-elect Steve Novick and newly re-elected Commissioner Amanda Fritz at my churches this Sunday.
Our prayers will also be extended for all in Portland -- particularly those who have engaged in the democratic process this year. Such work makes our community stronger. I look forward to working with the new City Council on issues such as growing poverty and crucial community needs in both North and east Portland. This is a time for all Portlanders to come together for the common good.
I know from Hales' previous public service that he will make Portland proud.
Over the course of the last few years I have felt increasingly concerned that my endorsements of political candidates, particularly at the local level, have negatively impacted my ability to speak as a minister on the issues most important to the church. I’ve always made it clear that endorsements are my own and do not represent the churches I serve but that line is to thin. Frankly, my endorsement of political candidates has never mattered much. But I recognize that as a member of the clergy that my voice can carry weight on some of the important moral issues we face. That is where I can make a difference.
I’ve preached before that when we align the church with one candidate or one political party, we risk becoming an agent of that cause instead of an agent of God. Scripture teaches us that we are called by God to be loving critics of the conventional wisdom, not agents of the state.
And it is in that task -- calling the political leaders of our day to account -- that there can be no negotiation. Scripture teaches that we have a responsibility as a people of God to be actively involved in the life of the world. That means that the role of the church is sometimes to lift up difficult issues and put them before the public. That is what abolitionists in our churches did during the era of slavery, that is what civil rights marchers did in our churches during the Civil Rights Movement, and that is what our churches are doing today in calling for economic policies that help reduce poverty and lift up children. Those of us who are followers of Jesus have a special responsibility to speak out on issues related to peace and justice.
No one can accuse me of ever going easy on a candidate I’ve endorsed. After all, I’ve been a loving critic of the policies of President Obama and local officials here in Oregon when I felt it important.
Still, it concerns me that too many people link me these days with politicians instead of the causes I believe should be the focus of my ministry.
Therefore, moving forward I will not be offering endorsements, at least in local elections where the connections are so close. Instead, I will focus on the issues that have always been important to our churches and to me – particularly fighting poverty and the battle for equality – and will happily work with political leaders that share those goals and will hold those that do not to account in the best prophetic tradition of the church.
Paul Ryan said today that President Obama compromises "those Judeo-Christian, Western civilization values that made us such a great and exceptional nation in the first place." Ryan is wrong, of course. It is a sad and desperate religious attack against a faithful Christian from a politician who cannot debate on the issues. Our politics should be better.
President Obama & Rev. Chuck Currie, July 2012
Now I've endorsed President Obama because of his values. He cares about the "least of these" in society. Barack Obama believes that we are our brother's keeper, our sister's keeper. That is why he has fought for health care reform - long a goal of America's churches. The president is a good steward of our environment, God's creation, and we need that to combat climate change. President Obama also believes deeply in religious freedom and honors the religious pluralism of our great nation. He doesn't see faith as a tool to tear people apart but as a way to bring people together.
Election Day will matter. But people of good faith can come to different conclusions about how to vote. I agree with the philosophy advanced by President Obama. I believe his policies will continue to advance the common good and that the policies advanced by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan - which helped create the crisis we face today - are morally troubling. We ought to debate the issues. What I find most distateful is when politicans misue faith as a political weapon. It should not be done.
Views expressed here represent the perspectives of Rev. Currie, as well as reader participants, and may not represent the views of the United Church of Christ’s national offices in Cleveland or any local UCC congregation. External links made from this site should not construe an endorsement. Rev. Currie has no more editorial control over such content than does a public library, bookstore, or newsstand. Such external links are made for informational purposes only.