Wednesday, March 17, 2010

2 Kings 17:24-28 Lions, Samaritans, and Fear! Oh My!

Well, I preached at the Wednesday Evening joint service "Wade in the Water," at All Saints.
What you see here is the sermon as written, not exactly as preached, because you know, you double space these things to leave room for the Holy Spirit.
One of the best part of the nights was when I had people amening right and left--then I got to the line, "I believe this so strongly that at one point it almost made me leave Christianity!" Utter silence... so I asked, "am I not getting an Amen for that?"

Having grown up in Wyoming, it feels funny when people on the East Coast talk about nature.
Frankly, I don’t believe they’ve ever been in it. Their descriptions feel so bloodless, so sapped of power, and I would go so far as to say sapped of meaning, that I don’t believe they’ve ever seen the wild.
It is like they had only seen nature through the eyes of Walt Disney. It is like Bambi and Thumper are their only experience of the wild. It is like they really believed that birds would fetch Snow White’s slippers.
And it has taken me a while to realize why. It is because they’ve never been in the wild. No. Druid Hill Park, or Patterson Park or Park Heights, don’t count as the wild.
Friends, I want you to know that I’ve seen nature. I’ve been in the wild. And the wild can kill you!
I’ve looked into the golden eyes of a mountain lion lounging on a rock. I’ve seen a baby bear and smelled the rot and decay of a momma bear coming up to defend her child.
And I can assure you that being between a mother bear and her cub is not where you want to be!

And you know, while bears are dangerous, there are some precautions you can take to be safer.
For example, it is important to wear bear bells so they can hear you coming. That way you won’t startle them. Because you really don’t want to startle a bear!
And it’s also important to have Bear Mace with you, because Bear Mace it is one of the few things that might stop a bear if it charges you.
Of course, these precautions are only precautions—they don’t necessarily work in every situation.
You see, they say you can tell the difference between a brown bear and grizzly bears by looking at their scat. (explain scat? A predator’s poop)
Brown bear scat is filled with berrys, nuts, and small rodents.
Grizzly Bear scat is filed with bear bells and bear mace!

I say all of this because I must admit when it comes to Lions I could just as well be an East Coaster. I don’t know much about wild lions. I don’t know what it was like for the first generation of Samaritans that we read about in today’s lesson. I don’t know what being terrorized by lions is like.

But I want to make sure we don’t Disney-fy today’s lesson—this isn’t the Lion King.
There will be no: “Look, Simba. Everything the light touches is our Kingdom.” There will be no: “Hakuna Matat.”
Because tonight I want to talk about how our Baptismal vocation is, “to serve all people following the example of Jesus Christ.”
I want to talk about what this vow means for the Samaritans and for all those who fear lions.
What this vow means for the Samaritans and for all those who fear lions.

Let us pray:
Lord God. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight. May they remind us of your gracious gift to us in Baptism and its fruits of service and comfort for all people. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Imagine all of these Easterners—Babylonians, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim. They’ve been kidnapped by the Assyrians and transported far from their native land, dropped off, and made to colonize Samaria.
Its sort of like what the British did with their prisoners in the late 18th and early 19th century—they dropped their criminals off in Australia.
The difference of course being that the Assyrians dropped off their Prisoners of War—not their criminals—in parts of the world that they occupied.
I’d imaging things started off fine for these Easterners. They occupy the houses of the original inhabitants—the Israelites—who had themselves been kidnapped and moved elsewhere by the Assyrians.
These Easterners likely start to farm, and re-establish trading routes, and generally get the things done that need to be done for ghost towns to be enlivened again.
But after a time—once a rhythm gets established. Once the unknown becomes known—they get bored. They begin to wander farther afield. They begin to check out the back woods of Samaria.
And maybe that is kind of fun at the start. They feel like genuine woodmen—like Johnny Appleseed before Johnny Appleseed existed.

But then, like some horror film—this new adventure goes sour. People start disappearing.
Perhaps the Assyrian officials begin by trying to cover things up—I mean what’s one more or one less Avva to an Assyrian? But then, I imagine, after a while, there are survivors who tell their story.
They tell of giant golden cats stalking them—playing with men the way house cats place with mice.
So the authorities get wise. They start sending people out wearing Lion Bells and packing Lion Mace.
Imagine it—these folk wandering through the valley of Jezzrel—the jangling of their Lion Bells echoing through the valley as they went. These folk clutching their Lion Mace until they get within the city limits of Meggedo.
But all this does, in the end, is change the content of Lion scat. It begins to contain mace, bells, and bits of Babylonians.
So, in desperation, as a last resort, they find an Israelite priest and bring him back to Samaria. These Easterners convert to some form of what will eventually be called Judaism, in order to protect themselves from lions. They convert because they are afraid of lions.

And you all are looking up at me, and down at your bulletins, and back up at me and wondering, “Isn’t this called “Wade in the Water?”
“What the heck does this have to do with our baptismal calling “to serve all people following the example of Jesus Christ.”?”
You think to yourself, usually—at these things—the preacher at least took the time to find a Biblical passage that involves water!

Well, I’ll tell you what this has to do with our covenant calling found in Baptism! These Babylonians, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim stay in Samaria. They become Samaritans.
And that doesn’t sit will with the rest of the people in the land. The rest of Judaism resent them.
They call them “Lion Jews”—that is L-I-O-N, not L-Y-I-N-apostrophe.

They resent these late comers—these people who are faithful only out of fear.
I would go so far as to say that Samaritans became, for their neighbors, the Eternal Other. They become the Eternal Other—the person you define as not you.
You know, “I may have a drinking problem… but at least I’m not a Samaritan.” “I may be out of a job, but at least I’m not a Samaritan.” “I may be a sinner, but at least I’m not a Samaritan.”
The Samaritans were a continued thorn in the side of Jerusalem—an unnatural addition to the family. The in-law that you really can’t stand—the houseguest that just doesn’t go away.
The person who has slept on your couch for so long there is a sweat stained imprint of them embedded into the upholstery.

Do you remember the most insulting thing ever said to Jesus? “You are possessed.” At least that’s the part we remember—because we read that as blaspheming the Holy Spirit.
But the full quote, found in John 8:48, is, “Aren’t we correct in saying that you are a Samaritan, and are possessed by a demon?”
Oh, yes, these Lion Jews were bad news, they weren’t the kind of people you want to associate with, talk with, or break bread with.
But Jesus has a different spin on these Lion Jews, these descendants of those Easterners who wandered around with Lion bells and Lion mace.
Jesus tells a story—a very famous story—in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor.”
Jesus tells a story about a man in distress—robbed and alone, bypassed by his own people—helped only by a stranger, by a Samaritan. Jesus is saying in no uncertain terms, “The Samaritan, the Lion Jew, is your neighbor.”
When Jesus heals and cleanses ten lepers the only one who thanks him, is the descendants of these Assyrian Prisoners, a Samaritan.
When Jesus stops at a well to drink he gets into an extended conversation—with a woman—scandalous enough—I know—but not with just any woman, with a Samaritan woman!
Not only that! This woman goes to all her Samaritan friends and tells them that the Messiah showed up, and they come and see.
Lets compare that to what happens when the Apostle Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah. He then spends the rest of the gospel backtracking from that statement until the cockcrows and the Christ is Crucified—but this Samaritan woman—this Lion Jew!—oh, she goes out right away and tells everyone about her conversation with Jesus!

We are to serve ALL people following the example of Jesus Christ. All people—our neighbors—not just the Priest and the Levite—but also the Samaritan—not just the elderly church lady in the in apartment next to you, or the nice Pentecostal on the 3rd floor, but the young men who get drunk and pump up the bass and play Nas and Street Sweeper Social Club until 3am every Saturday night. Because they’re my neighbors too.
We are to serve ALL people following the example of Jesus Christ. All people—because it is those who we treat as farthest from the gospel that see it most clearly. It is those who don’t expect their leprosy to be cleaned that will rejoice when it happens.
We are to serve ALL people following the example of Jesus Christ. All people—because conversations with Samaritan women keep us honest—sometimes more honest than we can be with our own flesh and blood. And that refreshing honesty is infectious!

You see I believe in my heart of hearts that serving all people is central to Christ’s message and to the very meaning of his existence. I believe that expanding the borders of the kingdom of God. Recognizing the full citizenship of Samaritans—is the gospel of Jesus Christ!
I believe this so strongly that at one point it almost made me leave Christianity! For you see, I was on board with Jesus’ kingdom plan—with trudging through Galilee on the way to Golgotha picking up the neer-do-wells, losers, outcasts, sinners, and Samaritans for the journey.
But, when I looked out at the church I didn’t see any of that. I didn’t feel any Galilean wind rippling the calm tides of our baptismal pools. I felt that Christ had called for the Kingdom of God and the Church showed up.
And you know who I blamed? The Apostle Paul! I did not believe his testimony that Jesus Christ had came to him after the resurrection. I knew Jesus and I knew he didn’t want women to be silent in the church. He didn’t want to strengthen Roman family structures. He didn’t want formalize structures of authority.
But, the more I beat my head against Paul and spilled my heart out to Jesus I realized something. All those things we accuse Paul of—sexual repression, patriarchy, and all sorts of malarkey—were secondary to Christ’s calling on his life.

His calling was to bring Gentiles into the kingdom—to bring us on the journey. Us Lion Jews, holding tight to our Lion Bells and clutching our Lion Mace for all its worth. Us Samaritans stuck in a strange land fearful of lions.
It was finally Paul’s magnificent words, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus,” that shown through as a light in my dark night of the soul.
I finally realized if it is true that this Radical Rabbi from Galilee who supped with sinners and Samaritans was raised from the dead and sits at the right hand of God.
If the cross of Christ filled the whole cosmos and the resurrection revealed God’s risky yes to all people—then Paul’s messy and dangerous ministry to gentiles—his improvisational-free-style form of, “serving all people following the example of Jesus Christ”—while flawed, was still faithful!
We’re all here—all of us who are non-Jews—because Paul served all people following the example of Jesus Christ.

Now I know that “the mind can only comprehend what the seat can endure,” but please come with me a little farther.

If we are to serve all people following the example of Jesus Christ we really need to serve ALL people. Samaritans, as well as all those who clutch Lion Bells and Lion Mace so tight their knuckles crack.
We need to remind them that they don’t need to fear Lions, because we serve the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.
But, more than that, we need to remind them
—and remind ourselves… because I’ll admit it, I sometimes fear lions more than God and want God to be my Lion Bell and Lion Mace—
we need to remind all the world of what John the Revelator found out about the Lion of God as he wrote the book of Revelation on the Island of Patmos.
Do you remember?
Do you remember John’s powerful vision?
John stands with an angel, fearing that the full revelation of God will not happen because there is no one powerful enough to open up the scroll. This so distresses John that he weeps.
But then it is powerfully sung to him, “Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
And he turns to see this Lion. This powerful character—this king of the beasts—this Lion Bell and Lion Mace guaranteed to succeed against all animals in heaven and on earth.
And John turns!
--And behold, “a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered.”--
Conquest, powerful revelation, salvation itself, is effected by a slain lamb that has rose again.
Oh yes, sometimes we spend so much time worrying about lions.
And we spend so much time worrying about who is in and who is out—that we forget that God is not a carnivore! God is not a carnivore!
Our baptism is death with Jesus and resurrection with Jesus. It is an unconditional yes from Jesus. It is the grace of Jesus.
Our Baptism is entering into the messiness of life with Jesus. Serving Samaritans with Jesus. Comforting those who come to God out of fear with Jesus.
Our baptism is stepping out into the wild world—not into Disney world, but into the wild world—with Jesus.
Our baptism is stepping out into the wild world with Jesus amongst lions. Our baptism is stepping out into the wild world with Jesus amongst Samaritans. Our baptism is stepping out into the wild world with Jesus amongst fear!
Lions, Samaritans, and Fear. Oh my! And Amen.

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