Us, not Them
Here, not There
Now, not Later
A Sermon by Doug Sloan, Elder
Terre Haute Central Christian Church
Sunday, May 6, 2012
I want to begin by thanking Dianne Mansfield and Phil Ewoldsen for their participation in a very important and successful meeting that took place yesterday, Saturday, May 5, 2012 at Central Christian Church in Indianapolis. This congregation [Terre Haute Central Christian Church], through its board and elders, is one of four congregations [now five] sponsoring a resolution to change the ordination policy of the Indiana Region. Elders and representatives of those four congregations met with the pastor and an elder of the Oaktown congregation, which has deep reservations and sincere concerns about the resolution. The meeting was serious – most of the time, we are talking about a gathering of Disciples – and spiritual. I came away from the meeting feeling hopeful. New ground was broken and a path was cleared for similar conversations elsewhere in the region that involve congregations with the same reservations and concerns as Oaktown.
Also, I want to thank my wife, Carol, for “encouraging” me to stop and think and – in this case – step back ten yards and punt. I can’t help wondering how much better off the history of the church and how much easier Christian theology would be if Paul had been married. Imagine the difference there would be in all of Christianity if Paul had been married to a woman who had looked at him with equal amounts of disdain and concern and said, “Paul, honey – KISS.*”
Being family is not always easy.
My father was quiet and laid back. My mother was gregarious and active. My younger brother, Dennis, was a jock. I was not. In high school, I was in choir, plays, and on the speech team. Dennis ran cross country and played trombone in the band – with band, especially marching band, being more for social enjoyment than satisfying any musical ambition.
Dennis also liked to ride his 12-speed bicycle. Dennis and his riding buddies thought nothing about jumping on their bikes and pedaling from New Castle to Muncie and back between lunch and supper. Muncie is approximately 25 miles north of New Castle – a round trip of a good 50 miles. You have to understand, they would return from these little jaunts with no signs of having exerted themselves.
One day, a trip was planned to our Uncle’s house on the southwest edge of Muncie – and I decided to join them. How hard could it be? The trip to my Uncle’s house was a great ride – we took county roads and stayed off the state highways. We had a nice visit with our Aunt Marjorie and Uncle Kenneth and our cousin Joy Ann and her boyfriend, Phil – and the girl who lived next door to Phil.
Well, the time came to return home. We jumped on our bikes and started pedaling home. A few miles south of Muncie, it happened – my lack of experience with long-distance bicycle rides caught up with me and hammered me with the great-granddaddy of all leg cramps. Every muscle in both legs, above and below the knees, tightened into an unbreakable searing knot. Whatever fantasies I ever had about being “the man of steel” – this wasn’t it. The ride came to a screeching stop in front of someone’s house – to this day, I don’t know who those poor people were. Dennis knocked on the door to ask to use the phone to call our parents. Meanwhile, I had hobbled to the porch to get out of the sun where I promptly collapsed in excruciating pain which I expressed without restraint at the top of my lungs. Eventually, my father arrived and took me and my bicycle home. I never took another bicycle trip with my brother – and my brother has never harassed me about it or held it against me.
Being family is not always easy.
I hear that it has been this way for a long time.
When King David died, the crown went to his son, Solomon.
When Solomon died, the crown went to his son, Rehoboam.
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is the author of an encyclopedic book titled, “Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History.”
Rabbi Telushkin has this to say about King David’s grandson:
“Rehoboam has three bad traits; he is greedy arrogant, and a fool.” (p. 84)
From I Kings 12, here is a summary of what happened after the death of King Solomon. King Solomon had imposed high taxes and forced labor to build the temple. After the death of Solomon, the people approached Rehoboam and asked, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now, therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.” Rehoboam told them he would have an answer for them in three days. His father’s advisors, who are older, suggest kindness and moderation and thus gain the eternal allegiance of the people. The younger advisors, who had grown up with Rehoboam, suggest a ruthless denial of the request. Rehoboam listens to his younger advisors. When the people return in three days, Rehoboam informs them that he will be even tougher than his father. And the people said, “We’re outta here.” [Hoosier translation of the original Hebrew] Ten of the twelve tribes form their own kingdom and Rehoboam is left with the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The ten tribes name their kingdom, “Israel.”
208 years later, Israel is destroyed by Assyria.
136 years after the destruction of Israel, most of Judah is exiled to Babylon.
Here is the rest of the story. When the Assyrians destroyed Israel, some of the people escaped to Judah, formed their own province in the north of Judah and called it Samaria.
Take a breath and change gears – we are jumping to the United States in the 1860s. Think about the animosity between the North and South just before the Civil War. Now, think about that animosity between the North and South and no Civil War. Instead of Civil War, there is only the constant animosity. That is the relationship between Judah and Samaria in the first century during the ministry of Jesus. Back to the United States; what kind of stories do people in the north like to tell about southerners? What kind of stories do people in the south like to tell about those damn yankees? It was the same way between Judah and Samaria. Remember the animosity and the stereotyped jokes that had to have existed the next time you hear the story of the Good Samaritan or the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.
NRSV John 4:7-21
A Samaritan woman came to draw water,
and Jesus said to her,
Give me a drink.
(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)
The Samaritan woman said to him,
How is it that you, a Jew,
ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?
(Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)
Jesus answered her,
If you knew the gift of God, and
who it is that is saying to you,
‘Give me a drink,’
you would have asked him,
and he would have given you living water.
The woman said to him,
Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep.
Where do you get that living water?
Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob,
who gave us the well,
and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?
Jesus said to her,
Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,
but those who drink of the water that I will give them
will never be thirsty.
The water that I will give
will become in them a spring of water
gushing up to eternal life.
The woman said to him,
Sir, give me this water,
so that I may never be thirsty or
have to keep coming here to draw water.
Jesus said to her,
Go, call your husband, and come back.
The woman answered him,
I have no husband.
Jesus said to her,
You are right in saying,
‘I have no husband’;
for you have had five husbands,
and the one you have now is not your husband.
What you have said is true!
The woman said to him,
Sir, I see that you are a prophet.
Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain,
but you say that the place where people must worship
is in Jerusalem.
Jesus said to her,
Woman, believe me,
the hour is coming when you will worship the Father
neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
[END OF SCRIPTURE]
Two interesting observations about this story.
The first observation is this: Jesus would go the synagogue of whatever village he was visiting. The custom of the day was to invite such a visitor to participate in the worship service. This gave Jesus the opportunity to share his message. Yet, only a couple of stories exist about his synagogue visits. All of the other stories about his ministry – about the teachings and interactions of Jesus – take place outside the synagogue.
The second observation is a question and a challenge: With whom did Jesus interact? Go home and explore the four Gospels; start with Mark, then Matthew and Luke, and finally John. With whom did Jesus interact? Here is a hint: anyone. The early church heard this message and followed it.
NRSV Acts of the Apostles 8:26-40
Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip,
Get up and go toward the south
to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.
(This is a wilderness road.)
So he got up and went.
Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch,
a court official of the Candace,
queen of the Ethiopians,
in charge of her entire treasury.
He had come to Jerusalem to worship
and was returning home;
seated in his chariot,
he was reading the prophet Isaiah.
Then the Spirit said to Philip,
Go over to this chariot and join it.
So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah.
Do you understand what you are reading?
How can I, unless someone guides me?
And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.
Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.
The eunuch asked Philip,
About whom, may I ask you,
does the prophet say this,
about himself or about someone else?
Then Philip began to speak, and
starting with this scripture,
he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.
As they were going along the road,
they came to some water;
and the eunuch said,
Look, here is water!
What is to prevent me from being baptized?
He commanded the chariot to stop,
and both of them, Philip and the eunuch,
went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.
When they came up out of the water,
the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away;
the eunuch saw him no more,
and went on his way rejoicing.
But Philip found himself at Azotus,
and as he was passing through the region,
he proclaimed the good news to all the towns
until he came to Caesarea.
[END OF SCRIPTURE]
The eunuch, because of his incompleteness, would not have been allowed to participate in certain acts of worship at the temple in Jerusalem and there were parts of the temple where he would not have been allowed to enter.
Both of these stories were clear messages of inclusiveness to and by the early church. Additionally, a very clear attribute of the ministry and message of Jesus and the conduct of the early church was that ministry and message occur out there, not in the synagogue. While ministry and message are public, they are not to be overtly offensive, not in-your-face abuse, and they do not demand change as a requirement to hear the message or to receive ministry. Change can occur and it happens through the resurrection and transformation that is experienced when the ministry and message of Jesus is embraced and internalized.
We speak of being children of God, of being in the family of God. We speak of how this includes everyone, that it is a global perspective. We gladly talk about having an open table where all are invited. Really?
We are open and affirming – we welcome anyone regardless of sexual orientation. What about the homophobic? They, too, are children of God.
We happily talk about welcoming all regardless of race, color, or ethnicity. What about the racist, the Neo-Nazi, the KKK? They, too, are children of God.
We would welcome attorneys, judges, police officers, prison guards – anyone involved with law enforcement. What about the car thief, the burglar, the robber, the home invader, the child molester, the rapist, the murderer? They, too, are children of God.
Would we welcome the invisible people? The illegal immigrant, the homeless, the people who have chronic mental illness and are receiving little or no mental health service? They, too, are children of God.
Being family is not easy. There are 4 terrible prices to be paid if we truly accept and embrace this radical ridiculous notion that there are over 7 billion of God’s children on this planet.
1) If we accept each other as real brothers and sisters, then we are going to have to overlook a lot – and that includes stupid disastrous bicycle rides. For example, just in this room, it means affirming that in our worship service, there are no mistakes. [I have lost count of how many times this act of grace in worship has saved my butt.] When applied globally, the price to be paid is: There is no “them”, only us.
2) If we accept that we have 7 billion brothers and sisters, then we lose “there.” The Republic of Congo is not there, it is here. Syria and Iran and Pakistan are not there, they are here. Mexico and Venezuela are not there, they are here. They are as much here as we are in this room.
3) If we accept that we have 7 billion sisters and brothers, then we lose “later.” If Dennis phones from his home in Churubusco saying that he has an emergency that requires me to be there, I’m outta here. I know – We know – that the same is true between many of us in this room. It should be true for all of us who are here – all 7 billion of us. How do we respond “now” [?] – because “later” doesn’t exist.
4) The most terrible price to be paid is that in the presence of evil, we cannot be silent and still. In the presence of evil, we are called to shout, “This is wrong!” and we called to move against it. Evil exists. Evil is when a person is murdered, abandoned, or excluded from their rightful place in life because of prejudice or ignorance. Evil is when people are treated as “them” “there” and we decide that their need for justice or compassion can be dealt with “later.”
Consequently, if we accept that we have 7 billion siblings – and if we accept that “we” are “here” “now” – then we are going to settle our differences in vastly different ways. We are going to settle our differences as family. We are not going to settle our differences as winner-take-all antagonists and not as an act of conquest. We are going to change the way we intervene in conflicts and feuds – and we are going to intervene. We are going to change the way we intervene in harmful practices such as genocide and slavery and exclusion based on prejudice and ignorance – and we are going to intervene. We are going to change the way we intervene in the oppressive practice of living in empire instead of community – and we are going to intervene.
Being family is not easy.
My apologies to those who have already heard this story. I am telling it again because it is the only one I have to end this message.
At one point during his short troubled life, my son, Chad, was arrested and incarcerated in the Greene County jail. Having neither the emotional nor financial resources to pay his bail, I rationalized it as an example of “tough love.”
At 4 o’clock in the morning there was a knock on the front door. There stood my brother, Dennis, with Chad. Chad had phoned Dennis, who at the time lived in Muncie. Dennis had made the 3-hour drive in the middle of the night, from Muncie to Bloomfield, and bailed Chad out of jail and brought Chad home, and then Dennis made the 3-hour drive back to Muncie.
My question to Dennis was something along the line of “What were you thinking?”
My brother’s response to me was “What else was I to do? He’s family.”
Being family is not easy. The Good News is that there is no other way than – all of us here and now – be the family of God living in the Kingdom of God – and respond to each other one-to-one with generosity and hospitality and healthy service – and as a community provide justice and compassion – and that we be and live and share the Kingdom of God by embracing and exuding the unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God.
* In this case, KISS = Keep It Short and Simple