Strangers In Our Own Land

A Sermon for Proper 28: Isaiah 65:17-25, Canticle 9, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19

 

I don’t remember Monday and Tuesday of this past week. I was not surprised that Mrs. Clinton received 33% of the Arkansas votes and Mr. Trump 61%, or in Mississippi county that Mrs. Clinton received 43% and Mr. Trump 53% (AR Secretary of State). I never expected Mrs. Clinton to earn 228 electoral college votes and Mr. Trump to earn 290 electoral college votes to win the presidential election (Google). I expect that some of you are as pleased with the results as I am concerned. You may have read Wednesday’s post in which I shared how I found some release of my fear in Philippians 4:6

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

You may also have read Friday morning’s post where I retract my release. Not because I no long place my trust in God and God alone, but because I was reading of violent, vitriolic behaviors of both Trump and Clinton voters towards people they believe were now the enemy. I cited the Old Testament law on how to treat the alien, which also means stranger. The law says to love them as you love yourself (Deuteronomy 10:19, Leviticus 19:33-34). And I believe this applies to everyone who is demonizing the other because of a vote they cast, or a vote they think the other cast, or because they are somehow different than themselves and that difference is a threat. All of this is still swirling around in my head and in my heart, and I had no idea how to address it this morning except that I am called to speak.

Our Bishop posted a letter, which I emailed to everyone that the church’s calling is to set the moral guideposts. There are copies of his letter on the table in the hall. What I am discovering is that today’s reading provides us a guide for planting those posts. We begin with the collect for the day where we prayed

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.

The Episcopal tradition is that the burial rite is an Easter service that seeks to move us through our loss and reconnect us to the resurrection promise of new heavens and a new earth. Tuesday’s election is about loss. Many people who voted for Mr. Trump did so because they have known decades of economic loss and the social status associated with it. Many of those who voted for Mrs. Clinton did so because in the last decade they have begun to see liberty and justice our pledge says is for all but has excluded people of color, those from foreign lands, Native Americans, women, and those of the LGBT community. The church’s calling is to, by our actions, share with them the Easter promise revealed in Jesus’ resurrection.

Isaiah’s prophecy, delivered in a time of retching national loss, gives voice to God’s promise to create new heavens and a new earth. Verses 21 – 23 makes references to houses, vineyards, fruit, children, and prosperity. It is a reference to the current economic injustice that shall not endure (Bratt). As I have mentioned, there are some voters who have suffered economic injustice as they were left behind in our country’s economic transformation over the last 20 or 30 years. The trade policies and technology, which shifted jobs, in themselves are not evil. The injustice is that “We the people” (as we name ourselves in the Constitution) did not ensure that no one was left behind. Many were, and many of them voted Tuesday. The reading ends:

Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking, I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; … They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.

I have to confess my notes by the side of that reading say “God, please hurry up!”

Canticle 9 begins

Surely, it is God who saves me. I will trust in him and not be afraid. For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, * and he will be my Savior.

It fits well with Paul’s admonition, I mentioned earlier, to lift all our concerns to God. It is a reminder that violence, even against violence, begets only more violence. It is a reminder of the tragic failure of Israel when they talk Samuel into anointing a king for them “to go before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:20). By the end of the third king’s reign, the Israel had been divided in two, and it was never restored. To this day, ten of Israel’s twelve tribes are gone. Of course, the failure was Israel’s turning away from God as their defense and stronghold. No one, no King, no president, no governor, no business leader, no one can fight for us, and only God will stand with us until we walk upon a new earth.

Of course, there are always those folks who try and convince us otherwise. Late night TV is, well it used to be, I don’t see late night TV so much anymore, late night TV is full of ads for products that do amazing things for only $9.99, “but wait ~ there’s more!” Today our computers, tablets, and smartphones are one endless stream of highly sophisticated targeted messages luring us into the same trap. Some news analysists are concerned about the trend towards Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms as the primary source of news. And yes, they have an economic benefit in the existing system, however; they have a point in that anyone on social media can post anything and there is no hope of any kind of fact checking. There have been instances in the last couple of years of a traditional news outlet not following good journalism standards, but they are few and have been called out, and there have been consequences, ask Rolling Stones. Another trap of social media is that you are more likely to be bound to those who already think like you, why else are you ‘friends.’ The result is that you are rarely exposed to thoughtful expressions that challenge your beliefs. And my experience is that when my belief is challenged is when my belief deepens and grows. This is a long way of saying I hear Jesus warning

 Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, `I am he!’ and, `The time is near!’ Do not go after them.

 in Paul’s caution

to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us.

In part, a role of the church is to ensure that followers are formed in the traditions handed down from 1st century until today. That includes reshaping ancient traditions grounded in ancient social norms, so they reveal the same truth in today’s social norms. Jesus is very clear there is no other savior than Jesus, and anyone who says otherwise will lead you off the way. And here I will admit this can be very difficult because it is not uncommon for one church community to interpret ancient scripture in today’s social norms in very different ways from another church community and both believe the other is leading to idleness. Jesus warning continues

When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately. … Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

It sounds frighteningly relevant. Jesus goes on to say “Don’t worry, be a witness.” Once again we are back to the graveside, back to Easter, back to the resurrection promise, where all our hope lays. There is no promise that there is no danger, that there will not be treachery and persecution and death. Nonetheless, there is the assurance of a new earth. Now this does not mean those who suffer from injustice etc. should lay down and just wait for God to get here. It does; however, provide an interesting source of strength to stand up against the evils of this world with love, listening hearts, helping hands, accepting manners receiving the stranger as one of our own, for we too are strangers in our own land.

I am intrigued by the movement for people to wear a safety pin. The origins go back to WWII Dutch resistance; more recently it is used to quietly show victims of domestic violence that you are a safe harbor (DaddyBare) (Workowski). Now it tells people you are safe for aliens, women, LGTB folks, those of color, those who are economically dispossessed, by the election results (Durando) (Kearns). However, to be of God that safety should also extend to all those who have suffered economic injustice from changing economic structures. This is one of those hard teachings from scripture that all people are people of God and that God loves them no matter how much they frighten us. The moral guideposts we are called to set lead the way to one people, by Jesus, under God, with liberty, and justice and shalom for all.


Post Script

My reading Saturday bed time, and Sunday morning revealed that people are stepping up. Both Democratic and Republicans are stepping in to protect those who are being harassed or assaulted. In North Carolina the State GOP and Trump campaign disavowed a KKK rally. All signs that we cam love the stranger and trust in God to be  the source of strength,


References

AR Secretary of State. http://results.enr.clarityelections.com/. n.d. <http://results.enr.clarityelections.com/AR/58350/163701/Web01/en/summary.html&gt;.

Bouzard, Walter C. Commentary on Isaiah 65:1725. 13 11 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Bratt, Doug. Proper 28 Isaiah 65:17-25. 13 12 2015.

Crouch, Frank L. Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13. 13 11 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

DaddyBare. Safety Pin. n.d. 12 11 2016. <http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread734244/pg1&gt;.

Durando, Jessica. usatoday.com. 11 11 20166. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2016/11/11/safety-pins-brexit-donald-trump-election/93639074/&gt;.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 13 11 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 13 11 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

google. http://www.google.com/search. n.d. <https://www.google.com/search?hl=en&authuser=0&site=webhp&source=hp&q=2016+election&oq=2016&gs_l=hp.1.0.0i131k1j0l2j0i131k1j0j0i131k1j0l3j5.1126.1778.0.4593.5.5.0.0.0.0.214.707.0j4j1.5.0&#8230;.0…1c.1.64.hp..0.4.492.0.TplZJsJVP7o#eob=enn/p//0/0///////////>.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. Proper 28 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13. 13 11 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-18c/>.

—. Proper 28 Luke 21:5-19. 13 11 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Kearns, Landess. The Incredible Reason You Might Start Seeing Safety Pins Everywhere. 11 11 2016. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/safety-pin-trump-brexit_us_58251b53e4b0c4b63b0c11a9&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher. 13 11 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4706 1/3>.

Liggett, James. “The Penultimate – Proper 28(C).” 13 11 2016. Sermons that Work.

Lose, David. Pentecost 26 C: Joy in November. 13 11 2016.

Ruiz, Gilberto. Commentary on Luke 21:519. 13 11 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Workowski, Jamiet. twitter.com. n.d. 12 11 2016. <https://mobile.twitter.com/jamietworkowski/status/796959673584906240&gt;.

 

 

A risk to believe, a risk to act, a risk to be a steward.

A sermon for Proper 28

Judges 4:1-7, Psalm 123, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Matthew 25:14-30

Today is the last of the semi continuous readings from the Old Testament until next year’s season after Pentecost. The story continues with the Books of Judges, which is the story of Israel following God as they swore to do, even after Joshua told them they couldn’t. The short version of the story is that Joshua was right. Judges is cyclical set of stories:

  • Israel quits following the promises they made and does what is evil in God’s eyes.
  • The Bible says “God sells them to …” whichever King is available.
  • When the oppression grows too much, Israel cries out, and God raises up a Judge,or military leader, who frees them from oppression.
  • All goes well until the Judge dies and Israel falls back into her wandering ways.

Over time things get worse and worse. Israel’s behavior is worse. The consequences are harsher and harsher. Their reformed behavior, after being rescued, is less and less in line with the covenant both Moses and Joshua establish for Israel. By the end of the book, it is clear the Judges system is a failure. The next step in the Old Testament story is the establishment of Kings.

What we hear this morning is only the introduction to the story of Deborah as Judge. The rest of chapter 4 completes the story, including Barak’s leading Israel to victory over Jabin’s much more powerful, chariot lead army and Jael, the Kenite, who kills Sisera, Jabin’s commander, with warm milk and a tent stake. It is a gruesome story. It’s also unusual, in that neither Deborah, Barak, nor Jael are a judge as all the others are; though collectively they are. It’s unusual that not one, but two women, one of whom is not of Israel, play a prominent role in saving Israel from oppression. And it’s a bit unique, in how it parallels the Exodus story of God leading Israel out of the oppression of slavery by throwing Pharaoh’s army of chariots into confusion. (McCann 6351)

I’ve two take-aways from this story:

  1. It’s amazing what we can do when we work together.
  2. The patience and commitment of God; this is the fourth cycle of Judges, and despite Israel’s deplorable behavior God continues to honor the covenant. (Hoezee)

There is a third piece; when you look at Judges as a whole, the status of women represents the overall health of Israel’s society. (Jaconson, Lewis and Skinner) From here on the treatment of women declines greatly, as does the health of Israel’s social mores.

One more bit. Charles Hoffacker writes:

“The Parable of the Talents” is not really about money or abilities. It’s a story about trust, a story about risk. Life is the same way. What turns out to be important is not money or abilities in themselves, but our decision to use them in ways that show our willingness to risk and to trust. (Hoffacker)

The difference between the first two servants and the third is that one and two reciprocate the trust  their master puts in them and therefore can risk putting the talents given into their stewardship to work. The third does not trust the master, and is therefore not able to risk the talent given into his stewardship. Deborah and Barak exhibit trust in God’s call and are able to risk taking on Jabin’s far superior iron chariot based army. It’s possible Jael, the Kenite, exhibits the same trust; remember the Kenites are Moses’ father in law’s tribe and know something of Israel’s God. Jael risks trusting God and is a major player in freeing Israel from oppression.

One last thing before I finish;  I expect you noticed I referred to the servants in Matthew’s parable as stewards. I hope you did, because these two bible stories together reveal a little discussed dimension of stewardship, risk. Throughout the bible it is a risk to believe in God. There is always some other god’s people round about who will dismiss you or seek to do you some sort of harm for your belief in God. Throughout the bible God asks people to act;  Abram is asked to leave the home of his ancestors, Moses is asked to take on Pharaoh, Joshua is asked to lead the invasion of Canaan, Deborah and Barak are asked to take on Jabin, David is asked to be King in Saul’s stead, Mary is asked to be the mother of God incarnate, and Joseph is asked to ignore social custom and be the human father to Jesus. All of them accept, all of them risk themselves by acting. Making a stewardship commitment is far more than making a promise to give so many dollars to this or that church. To be a steward  is to risk believing in the living creator God, incarnate to us in Jesus, and continually present to us as the Spirit. To be a steward is to risk acting from the moral imperatives that arise from that belief. To be a steward is to risk being a part of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. To be a steward, to commit time, talent and treasure to continuing Christ’s ministry proclaiming the Kingdom of God, is a life defining risk. So, make your commitment prayerfully, discerning God’s call. But more importantly, make your commitment trusting that God has destined you for salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, so no matter our state we live with him.  (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10)  Amen.


References

Hoezee, Scott. Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Judges 4:1-7. 16 11 2014. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php&gt;.

Hoffacker, Rev. Charles. Sermons that Work. 16 11 2014.

Jaconson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 16 11 2014. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx&gt;.

McCann, J Clinton. Judges A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING. Ed. James Luther Mays and Patrick D Miller, Jr., Old Testament Editor. Vol. 7. Louisville: John Knox Press, 2002.

Olson, Dennis. New Interpreter’s Bible – The Book of Judges Introduction, Commentary and Reflection. Vol. 2. Abingdon Press, n.d. 12 vols. CD.