Saturday, January 21, 2012

Where Do You Stand?

Epiphany Sunday, Year A
Matthew 2: 1-12

Preached January 8, 2012 in the Center Moreland Charge

There was once in Kenya 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 in places like this. We have not had tribal warfare in Northeast Pennsylvania ever since the Revolution. Perhaps you might say that the tensions between labor and management were tribal, or the ethnic tensions between Irish and Welsh, between Italians and Irish, between everyone who is already here and Hispanic who are now migrating here, may constitute tribal warfare, but that is perhaps a little bit of creative metaphor. During the American Revolution, 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 suffered four years ago, what the Sudan and Ethiopia are suffering from now.

Religion is a part of it, economics are a part of it, but there is also a strong tribal component. Then, as now, I’m sure you could find ministers preaching war and extermination, supporting Sullivan as he marched upriver from Wilkes Barre to exact revenge on the Native Americans who had attacked settlers in the Battle of Wyoming, but I am also sure you could definitely also find ministers and priests saying to those settlers, as Sullivan began his march up the river to New York, burning villages and killing Indians as he went, that "everything you do in these times must affect peace, somehow"?

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 of God, the one that is to come, react in self interested, evil ways. Ruling tribes, wherever they are in power, act much in the way that Herod did all those years ago, when a threat is perceived. 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 asking where to find the king that has been born would sound to Herod as "hey, we've come to honor your replacement!" They were, I guess, a little clueless, and what they did proved to 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, wished 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, as we talked about last week. 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 the name of Jesus 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. It is not God’s will that anyone dies. 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 have 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. Christians today occupy parks, sleeping in tents, and seek to call American big business to account for their excesses. 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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