Monday, January 07, 2008

“It is Not Enough to Kneel and Pray”

Matthew 2: 1-23

Epiphany Sunday, Year A, Jan 6.

A quote came across my e-mail this week. From the Christian Science Monitor, an article about the terrible recent events in Kenya quoted a local priest who was trying to get his parishioners to resist tribal urges, and act for God. He said this in a rally in a park that was organized to protest the appearing election fraud that allowed the majority tribe to maintain its hold over the government. : "It is not enough to kneel and pray," he says. "We tell parishioners that whatever they do, they must do something that will affect peace somehow."

It might be difficult for us, here in this area of the world, to understand exactly what is going on. We have not had tribal warfare in this area of the country ever since the Revolution. Then, it was a mess, with whites fighting Native Americans, settlers from Connecticut fighting Pennamites (ones from Pennsylvania), and American colonists fighting the British. All at the same time. It’s been two hundred years since we’ve had trouble even remotely like what Kenya is suffering through. And were there ministers and priests saying to those settlers, as Sullivan began his march up the river to New York, cleansing ethnic Indians as he went, that "everything you do in these times must affect peace, somehow"? I don’t know; there probably were, since Quakers were so populous in Pennsylvania. They apparently had little effect, however.

Desperate times call for specific measures. Sometimes there is no sitting back and watching. God acts for the benefit of the world, and those who stand to lose materially in the kingdom to come react in self interested, evil ways. The ruling tribe in Kenya, when threatened, have acted much in the way that Herod did all those years ago. And the Christian response is to do more than kneel and pray.
It was magi from the east who came to Jerusalem looking for the King of the Jews. Their reasons were certainly news to the current king, Herod. He was not aware that he was to be replaced. He was not aware that there was any problem. He just knew that he was king, he was serving Rome well, he was getting rich, and though there were occasionally squabbles with the local Jewish population, it wasn’t anything that he and his soldiers couldn’t handle.

The magi probably didn’t know they were stepping into a political mistake. They were theoretical sorts, all full of knowledge about the skies and of prophecy, but not exactly your most astute political operators. It might not have occurred to them that coming to a king and saying "hey, we've come to honor your replacement!" might be a little problematic.

Of course, the one they are coming for was Jesus, the baby, just born. During Advent, we named him as being the son of an unwed mother, living in an occupied territory. But the magi showing up also reminds us that he is one searched for by the wise, wish as dead by kings, saved and protected by God, and led by prophecy. No ordinary disadvantaged child, this one!

The Magi look for the child, find him, honor him, give him their gifts, and then "warned in a dream", leave by another road. They don't show back up at the palace, and when Herod realizes this, his plan to kill the usurper to the throne goes by the wayside. Time to go to plan B. He kills every kid in the Bethlehem area who is two years old or less. Not just the male children, but all of them. And so it is done, but Jesus escapes through his father Joseph having a dream telling him to run to Egypt.

See, this is the way it is. Good is all over this world, and those who are threatened by it seek to destroy it. We are the people of God, and it is our responsibility, even in our sinfulness, to stand against those who would destroy others for their own gain. It is in His name that we must act to stop the massacres and oppressions of these days. There are people who stand against the powers of the world, and it is our call to stand with them, in the name of the baby who was threatened by a king, and in the names of all the children who died because they were from the wrong town and were the wrong age.

It was not God's will that those children die that day. It is not God's will that anyone dies violently. God acts for the good of the world, and evil responds in its own self interest. God knew what Herod was capable of, but Herod's order to kill the children was Herod all by himself. God chooses the poor over the rich. God chooses the oppressed over the privileged. The rich and the privileged respond out of their own self interest in evil ways.

It is our call to stand with the poor and the oppressed. We are the people of God, and it is our call to stand with those who are in harms' way. And the Kenyan pastor is right--it is not enough to kneel and pray. We must stand between power and its victims. Christians today stand between Jewish soldiers and Palestinians, wearing red baseball caps. Christians today stand between armies and the tribes of Darfur. Christians today stand between hunger and the people of Appalachia. Christians today stand between AIDS and the children of Africa. And American Christians stand between their own need to be powerful, to defend their lifestyles, and the incessant call from Christ to lay aside their privilege and serve the world in his name.

It is not enough to kneel and pray. Whatever we do must affect peace somehow. We must act, and as Christians, it must be in the name of the baby who was born, and in the names of the babies who were killed when evil lashed out in self interest.

Where do you stand?

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