Yes, we are our brothers’ (and sisters’) keepers


The following is the text of my homily delivered at Revoice 19 in St. Louis, MO, on Saturday, June 8, 2019.

Genesis 4:1-16

1 Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man.” 2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. 4 And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

6 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

10 The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

13 Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”

15 But the LORD said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. 16 So Cain went out from the LORD’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

It would seem to the modern reader that everything is well and good in this scenario. It seems to this modern reader that not much has changed in the way siblings treat one another. Each brother has a focus in his work, each brings to the Lord a portion of the results of his labor. There’s some teamwork going on, there’s no indication in the text that there’s sibling rivalry.

Yet God does not look on Cain with favor. What does Cain do? He doesn’t examine his own heart, make changes to himself or to his sacrifice. He doesn’t fix the problem. He takes it out on Abel, the brother he thinks is making him look bad. After all, we look pretty good when there’s no one around to compare us to. But solitude is not the solution to an unacceptable heart.

In Matthew chapter 23, Jesus is addressing the leaders of the Jewish people, and he invokes Abel’s name in reference to righteous blood sacrifices of those past prophets whose righteousness before God cost them their lives before their ethnic and religious brothers:

Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started! “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town.And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.

Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

In this passage, Jesus prophecies the end of himself and his disciples— as righteous blood sacrificed on the alter of comfort and tradition and self-righteousness. How often today do we sacrifice our brothers and sisters on the alters of comfort and convenience and nuance and linguistics? How often do I post a zinger to Twitter or Facebook, only to respond to the immediate conviction by asking, “Am I my brother’s keeper? Look, Lord, he brought that on himself…”

Throughout Scripture, Abel’s name is synonymous with faith. He is the illustration presented by Jesus himself of one who sacrificed by faith, only to be sacrificed for his faith.

And his faith still speaks to us, lo these thousands of years later. In Hebrews, we see Abel listed first in the great Hall of Faith of Chapter 11.

Heb 11:1-4

1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

4 By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.

But is Abel our example? Are we to be faithful to the point of death, just like Abel? Oh, no, says the author of Hebrews later in chapter 12. Abel is a type, one who points to THE faithful sacrifice.

Heb 12:22-24

22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable because of his faith. Cain’s was unacceptable because it wasn’t what God asked for. Cain wanted to do it his way. How often, when I want things my way, do I betray both Father and brother? How often do you seek first your kingdom, hoping God will bless it along the way?

Cain asks God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” And throughout the rest of the Bible, we see the Lord answer, “Yes, Cain, my people keep one another.”

Joseph keeps his brothers in time of famine, even though they wanted to kill him, but instead showed him mercy by selling him into slavery.

Ruth and Naomi keep one another beyond the requirements of the law. Ruth and Boaz are King David’s grandparents. I can only imagine the loyalty and care he saw growing up.

A loyalty beyond family that led to him cutting a covenant with Jonathan that was stronger than life, one that he fulfilled by taking in Jonathan’s disabled son and treating him as better than family for the remainder of his life.

Samson kept his people from the Philistines by sacrificing himself to ensure the destruction of their enemies.

Queen Esther kept her people from destruction by risking her own life before King Ahashueras, in order to beg for their lives.

Nehemiah kept the nation of Israel by asking King Artaxerxes for his blessing to return to the promised land and rebuild the City of God.

We see it lived in the life of the One who still sits on the throne, who had a tender friendship with one so trusted that Jesus left his mother to John, who in turn cared for Mary for the remainder of her years. As we see in Proverbs, “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

That One, the god-man Jesus, told his disciples the night before his crucifixion, “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.”

His command is not to know the Law. Not to protect the Law from those who seek to water it down. He doesn’t command us to be theological gatekeepers, determining for ourselves and for one another who’s in and who’s out, who’s right and who’s wrong. The Lord is our defender, and I don’t think He needs our help defending Himself. But He show us by his words and His actions, that He expects us to be the keepers and defenders of those who are weaker than us.

I particularly appreciated a tweet from Carlos Rodriguez who recently pointed out, in reference to the woman caught in adultery who was brought to Jesus in John chapter 8:

Jesus commands us to love one another as He has loved us, which means overlooking a multitude of sins in order to show a better way. Does this mean we throw out the Law and simply live by love, whatever that means? In the words of the Apostle Paul, may it never be so!

But Jesus and Paul are both infinitely more confident in the work of the Holy Spirit than in any work we can do. They know that as we put one another ahead of ourselves, as we keep the weak and lonely and marginalized, as we protect the widows and orphans, as we lift up the weak and the weary, bearing one another’s burdens, we will keep the Law. After all, love and obedience are the Spirit of the law. But just as the Pharisees were often confounded by Jesus’ treatment of the Law, perhaps we struggle because Jesus doesn’t respond in the ways we expect him to respond.

Perhaps keeping our brothers and sisters means we overlook disagreements in secondary or tertiary theological points, continually returning to the Gospel as our plumb line and unifying belief.

Perhaps keeping our brothers and sisters means speaking up for those who are marginalized in our places of worship, welcoming them in instead of asking them to first conform to our standards of behavior or appearance or terminology or theology.

Perhaps keeping our brothers and sisters simply means getting out of our comfort zones and doing something completely unheard of, for the sake of chasing someone down with the love of Christ. Perhaps we simply meet needs and love well and let the Holy Spirit convict people, walking through it with them and guiding as needed.

Perhaps keeping our brothers and sisters means you don’t take the bait in a Twitter war and instead DM that person with an invitation for coffee or a phone call.

___________________________________

I’m the oldest of 15 siblings, counting the foster kids who came through my parents’ house over the years. And being my siblings’ keeper often meant meeting needs— keeping them safe, mediating discord, keeping them clean and fed, comforting them when they were hurt, making sure they didn’t die. Today, keeping our siblings means we have each other’s backs when hard times come up. We offer advice as peers, not rivals; we seek the best for one another and for our offspring. We call one another out, but we will FIGHT someone who comes against one of us unfairly.

How does that look in your life? Who are you keeping? For some of us, the more important question is: Who is keeping you? Who are the friends willing to lower you down before the Savior of the world so he can heal your body and your soul?

Who looks out for you in the struggle of this world? Who helps you bear your burdens so you walk in the truth that Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is light?

This is how the prophet Isaiah described being a keeper and not being a keeper in the first chapter of his prophecy:

Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.

When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!

Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong.

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.

“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.

I imagine the Lord still begs us today to put down the trappings of religion in exchange for picking up the keeping of people in our own neighborhoods.

Singer/songwriter Rich Mullins penned a song entitled Brother’s Keeper, and the chorus goes like this:

And I will be my brother’s keeper

Not the one who judges him

I won’t despise him for his weakness

I won’t regard him for his strength

I won’t take away his freedom

I will help him learn to stand

And I will, I will be my brother’s keeper

May this be our commitment to one another, that we will indeed be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, helping one another along this pilgrim road to the Promised Land. And may we continually hear the blood of Abel crying out for the righteous, that we may never grow callous toward those who need to be kept, because, in reality, those who need keeping are each and every one of us.

Advertisements

Some Thoughts on Jesus and Abandonment


John 6

66 From that moment many of his disciples turned back and no longer accompanied him.

67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “You don’t want to go away too, do you? ”

68 Simon Peter answered, “Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life.

69 “We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

70 Jesus replied to them, “Didn’t I choose you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.”

71 He was referring to Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son, one of the Twelve, because he was going to betray him.

Jesus knew betrayal and abandonment, deeply and personally. Yet He chose to love.

May we see Him in the pain and abandonment we all experience at times in life, clinging to His comfort and the Comforter, to know healing AND the Healer.

Because He continued to choose love, even having experienced abandonment and ANTICIPATING betrayal, He still loved His disciples to salvation.

Have you ever thought about that? That Jesus knew what Judas was planning, yet conitinued loving him fiercely, perhaps hoping Judas may just come to believe?

That’s hope; knowing in your Godness that he would betray, but in your humanity hoping he would not.

I hope that I can begin seeing life more that way, having the realistic perspective to know people WILL hurt me, yet having the love of the Father in me that compels me to love anyway.

(Art Credit: Jesus Returning The Keys To St. Peter Painting by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres)

What if the Dukes of Hazard were Black?


Thought experiment (in case you’ve ever wondered, “What in the world is she thinking???” Here ya go.):

Listening to and learning from my black friends and family members about how they walk through the world has been quite a humbling a process for the last couple of years (Realizing the most basic answer was “different than how I do” was the first step in the process).

After the conversation my (black) sister and I had yesterday about staying together while she was pushing my (white) daughter in the shopping cart so as to avoid an unnecessary police or security encounter, I thought about the benefit of the doubt that I’ve enjoyed my entire life.

I thought about examples like news reports using white suspects’ yearbook pictures but black suspects’ mug shots. Or headlines describing black folk “looting” after Hurricane Katrina, but white folk “salvaging” after Michael.

Then I thought about the society of my childhood. So I did a little thought excercise:

“Imagine if ___________ was black,” and I inserted famously mischievous white characters and thought about the difference in storyline the racial change would necessitate.

Here were the first three off the top of my head.

1. Zach Morris, Saved by the Bell: Behavior problem, menace to the classroom, sexual harasser of female students; expelled to the system alternative school or in juvenile detention.

2. Dukes of Hazard: Incarcerated, because they’ve “been in trouble with the law/ since the day they was born.”

3. The McAllister Family, Home Alone: parents arrested for child abandonment, family separated, kids sent to foster homes. And since it happened a SECOND time? Probably moving from reunification to permanency.

My conclusion was that, in general, white people get the benefit of the doubt concerning intent, and black people are assumed to be doing the worst.

This, of course, is not universal, but when, as a white kid, you grow up with the understanding that breaking the law is ok if you’re “never meaning no harm,” it makes sense that our current culture exists.

What other storylines would be vastly different had the characters been people of color?

Of Tests, Lifetimes, and Eternity


I’m the testing coordinator at the school where I work. That means I oversee all the standardized testing and test prep and Advanced Placement courses we offer. AP exams numbers 17 and 18 are this morning and then we’re done! What a crazy two weeks it’s been.

Administering thousands of standardized tests has been a stretching experience for this girl with test anxiety, but struggling with tests has been helpful for encouraging students with their own test anxiety. Knowing how big a test can seem means I can help put it in perspective a bit for a student who is flipping out over the PSAT or ACT and all that those test scores represent (one’s worth or identity, a whole lot of scholarship money…).

My perspective of tests is definitely better at 38 than at 18, but there are still stressful times when “Don’t screw this up, B,” can become the dominant thought. In those moments, taking thoughts captive and making them obedient works the same as with anything else: “Seek excellence, not perfection. It’s important, but it’s not eternal.”

Nothing has pounded that thought home for me more than what happened yesterday morning as I was hurrying into the church where we do our testing.

In front of the entrance sat a hearse, and the people from a local funeral home were moving a flag-draped casket from the hearse onto a wheeled cart. There was a visitation and funeral scheduled, and they were taking that person to church for the last time.

As I approached, I saw there was no one with them to hold the door open, so I shifted the box of AP materials to one hand and opened the door with the other.

Standing there in silence, watching them reverently move into the building, I could see my students standing there, watching this take place while waiting for their exams, and I thought, “These tests? They’re not eternal. But the students taking them? They are. Focus on the eternal.”

It’s so easy to get caught up in the temporal, the day-to-day stuff that keeps us distracted and overwhelmed and stressed out. But moments like that, starting your day by pausing for a flag draped casket, are bittersweet reminders that this world will fade away. The people walking it, however, will not. As a former student once observed in her graduation speech, “Education and awards are for a lifetime, but people are for an eternity.”

Invest in the eternal.

Trading Up


Since announcing that I am leading a workshop at the Revoice conference in St. Louis this coming July, I’ve gotten quite a bit of pushback, both from liberal Side A Christians (those who affirm same-sex marriages/relationships) and those with conservative Christian positions who believe ongoing same sex attractions are an unbecoming discussion for anyone claiming the name of Christ.

Both extremes on the spectrum of opinion concerning Christianity and homosexuality bring to mind CS Lewis’s quote from his book, The Weight of Glory:

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

For the one side, they will only be pleased if everyone either becomes like them or affirms them.

On the other, they will only be pleased by a solely heterosexual world.

If your goal is for someone to either actively express or suppress their sexuality, you are far too easily pleased.

Both are simplistic and hurtful desires that would lead to a significant population of people who both desire to be faithful to an orthodox sexual ethic while still maintaining that, as they grow in holiness, they are not simultaneously moving toward an increasing heterosexuality. To be attacked by both ends of the theological and ethical spectrums concerning anthropology and sexuality makes for an inevitable defeat in a two front war.

So here I hope to briefly explain this middle ground position that neither denies my God nor myself as He created me.

For most Christians, “The statement, “I’m gay,” leads people to assume one is apostate, having traded in their faith for sexual relations with the same sex.

But stop for a moment and flip that scenario. When someone tells you they’re straight (although, most heterosexuals don’t “come out” as such, so…), do you automatically assume they’re sexually active? I should hope not, and I would encourage you to do the same for LGBT+ friends and family when they are brave enough to share their story with you.

I don’t (at least not intentionally) make that assumption. But I do assume certain ways in which they will interact with others and the world around them.

Our sexuality is not our identity, but it does, to an extent, serve to express our embodied existence in a particular manner.

Same for Christians who identify on the LGBT+ spectrum (sexual minorities). For many, this is a way of explaining how one sees and interacts with the world, not who one is sleeping with.

This conversation led my thoughts not only to Lewis’ quote above, but also to the Kingdom parables of Matthew 13.

For, you see, Jesus is that treasure found buried in a field, that highly sought after pearl. And if denying natural sexual attraction allows me to gain the lover of my soul, the one whose love is better than this very life, than it is worth the cost.

But Bekah, you may say, you can have both! Look at all the happy gay Christians! It’s a new era of love and acceptance.

To that, I say, “Read the Word, friend.” To gain the treasure, the man who found it had to sell all he had in order to buy the field. He gave up possibly his life savings, which, to the onlooker, could have seemed preposterous. But what he gained? Well, it was worth his life, his soul.

Because your love is better than life, my lips will praise you.

Better than life, and all life has to offer.

But Bekah, you may say, “That’s not fair that you deny yourself (or others) that One Great Love of your Life. That makes me sad for you.”

To that I say, “If God so chooses to bring a man willing to board the crazy train (or struggle bus– pick your metaphor) that is the Mason household, I would be honored and grateful.

If God chooses to send a committed friend willing to make a pledge like Ruth to Naomi, or like the covenant sworn by David and Jonathan, and comes alongside to live and love and press me and my kids closer to Christ, I would be honored and grateful as well.

I could have one or the other, but I can’t have it all. Because no person is meant to be anyone else’s everything. That is Jesus’ place in my life, and he’s doing just fine in that role. So much so that, if he never sees fit for either scenario above to come to fruition, I have an amazing support system of friends and family to love me and my kids and we are enough.

But mostly, He is more than enough.

So to those who say we shouldn’t acknowledge gayness or same sex attraction and also claim Christ, I challenge you to consider that this: This aspect of my life is the one God uses most consistently to draw me to Himself, to point out my weaknesses and my need for Him.

Why in the world would He be so cruel as to take away the thing that most deeply presses me into himself?

Predators, Survivors, Heroes, and a Savior


Tonight I am thankful for a woman who said, “No more.”

Who told her story until she was believed.

Who empowered other women and girls to share their stories of abuse, to begin to find healing.

I am thankful that she spoke in court today, calling names, both giving an account and holding other accountable for their actions and inaction.

I am thankful that she asked a judge, “How much is a little girl worth?” And then asked her to sentence their abuser thusly.

I am thankful also for a judge who allowed her courtroom to become a classroom, teaching the world the right way to hear and affirm survivors of abuse.

I am thankful she allowed them all to speak, and to do so for as long as they needed to speak their peace.

And I am thankful that Judge Aquilina answered Rachael Denhollander’s question with the answer, “I just signed your death sentence.”

Because, a little girl is worth everything.

But mostly I am thankful that Rachael shared the Gospel, that in that moment, she declared the only One who can truly give everything did so for us all.

I am thankful that she extended human forgiveness to her abuser and shared with him that God extends forgiveness to even those who prey on children for their own pleasure. But she not only forgave, she also sought justice from the court, because the same God who grants forgiveness to the repentant also declares that millstones be hung about the necks of those who cause little ones to stumble. You see, justice and Love are not mutually exclusive. The two go hand in hand. God’s Love is His justice, and His justice is revealed in His Love.

Rachael Denhollander is a powerhouse, and Judge Rosemarie Aquilina is a hero. May Larry Nassar be forgotten, but may the voices heard this week in that courtroom never be.

Take the time to watch Rachael speak in court. You will be both devastated and empowered.

(Photo Credits: Heavy.com and Daily Mail)

Singleness and Submission


Singleness has been the subject of a lot of my conversations lately. Currently I’m part of a book launch for my friend JoyBeth Smith. The book is called Party of One: Truth, Longing, and the Subtle Art of Singleness. The book is fabulous, as is its author.

And while I’ve loved the book, I have loved the launch group’s Facebook group almost more. The people there have become some of my favorite with which I interact. Brilliant, sassy, wise, honest… and best of all? They’re inquisitive. And the questions? No. Holds. Barred.

It’s been the best of conversations about singleness, from the mundane to the concerns of utmost significance. And then today, a link to an article I wrote last year for Boundless was in my Timehop. Reading it for the first time in 52 weeks, having spent significant time considering singleness and marriage and how those two do and don’t relate to one another, I was surprised by how little I would change the article if I had it to write again.

So, what say you? How do singleness and submission go together?