Some identities have been formed by social exclusion, the emotionally numbing experience of an enduring sense of not belonging.
Things got so bad in the nation of Israel that parents sacrificed their children to idols. What level of desperation and depravity would lead anyone to sacrifice their children in this way?
Unfortunately, this sort of abuse is common also in our age. The sacrificial system just looks a little different than it used to.
For some children, their parents have sacrificed their identities as unique individuals to the image of the perfect Christian family. But, if that is one’s idol, God will not stand for it and he will topple that idol and the kingdoms, empires and castles of sand that people build will eventually lie in ruins. The children will be taken into captivity by a foreign empire. They will long to return home. All they will want to do is to be able to go back to the land where they belong and rebuild their home, to find the love that they never had, to experience an intimacy with the fathers who had turned their backs on their own children. But memories fade and people forget their losses and grow numb to their pain. Still, the words that will ring in their minds may be those last hurtful words that can never be taken back, words like, “You were my favourite.” Past tense. But the children just remember how their fathers never really knew them. These fathers never took the time to listen.
Religious parents are still committing that same sin of idolatry. They sacrifice their relationship with their children and grandchildren to the image of a perfect Christian family. When their image of a perfect family or church community are at risk, parents sacrifice their own children and grandchildren to the fires of their idols. Their children look for relief for their familial rejection by finding friends and family wherever they can find them. They find a sense of belonging with those who share their experiences. They hang out with the “wrong crowd” in rebellion against the confining rules and arbitrary and unpredictable anger that generally confronts them when others are determined to control and to enforce conformity to an unachievable standard of perfection through emotional and physical coercion.
The unforgivable sin is the transgression of fracturing the image of the perfect Christian family, and the parents forbid anyone to love their children, unless they are able to bless the union as holy before God.
Parents blame each other for what has gone wrong. They coerce their spouses into dealing with the issues. The best solution they can devise is to exclude their children from the family and tell them that they do not belong, that the disease that their God gave them was a punishment for not worshipping the family idol and adhering to its oppressive laws and regulations, the very laws that the parents break every day, in the forms of anger, hatred, judgment and condemnation. These are the sins of idolatry, hypocrisy and self-righteousness. They stain their perfect image by their own slavery to a deceptive and worthless idol.
These people use the Bible as a weapon to encourage hatred against their enemies. They hate the non-Christians, the LGBTQ community and the apostates who welcome them. They hate those who are against Israel, against Christians, those who are against the chosen few. They rage against them. And they hate their child’s spouse and their children. When they do not accept them, they hate their very own child. Because their child’s family are part of their child. The two partners have become one flesh. But the parents have actively tried to divide them, and they may have succeeded, through a death of a thousand cutting words.
The Way of Love
But I have heard of a place where God’s people have two laws: to love God and to love people. That’s it. We are not saved by law but by grace, not by self-righteousness but by love.
The God of the Bible
When people go through the motions, they turn the Bible into a God. But the book cannot save you. Only Jesus can save.
I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.
You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
Religious parents have been so busy all their lives seeking the favour of their God through all these religious activities and good deeds that they sacrificed the love of their family to their God of self-righteousness.
The Role of the Prophet
I am sorry to be so blunt and brutally honest, but I don’t take the significance of my name, Stephen, lightly. I can spot a Pharisee who doesn’t understand his own self-deception and poverty. I see the Sanhedrin all around me condemning me and picking up stones to kill me. All I want to do is fall asleep and end this nightmare.
I am telling you, those who call yourselves Christian, but do not resemble your Christ:
“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him — you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”
You crucify Jesus by crucifying your own children for the sake of your sense of religious superiority. You have made your children the least of these in your own family.
For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
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.
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. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.”
Oppressed, Fatherless, Widows
Who are the oppressed? Who are the fatherless? Who are the widows?
Your own children, they are the ones that your family have marginalized by your judgmental self-righteousness.
Now, I believe you have heard us crying out in pain.
Here is the vision I have for what we could be doing in the “promised land” that God has granted this family called the church. This family has wealth that it has squandered. But there is still time to redeem it if this family is willing to listen – not to proselytize, not to judge, but to listen and to love.
God has given us a choice. Will this family be a family of exclusion or inclusion, of division or unity, of rejection or belonging, of animosity or love?
You have abdicated your responsibilities as parents to love your children by listening. Until you accomplish this, don’t bother going to worship your idols and offer your sacrifices. God won’t listen to your prayers until you show mercy.
Jill Rowe of Oasis UK offers the antidote to exclusion in this talk on inclusion.