Thursday, November 03, 2005

The England Journal: Sermon

This is the sermon that I was planning on teaching the Sunday we were in Loughborough, but ended up using it as the basis of the discussion on Wednesday night. It's pretty long, but I would be interested in the thoughts of the blogworld on it.

We’re going to look at three different Scriptures today, from all over the Bible, but you’ll be able to see some relation between them as we go through them.

The first one is in 2 Kings 7, and to give you some context here. Samaria is in a famine and on top of that a city in Samaria is being besieged by the Arameans. Prices have risen so high that the Samaritans are paying the equivalent of five pounds of silver for a donkey’s head to eat, and let’s remember here that donkeys were unclean. So here we have a famine and they’re under siege by Arameans. And into this story, we come to verse 3 of chapter 7.

2Ki 7:3 Now there were four men with leprosy at the entrance of the city gate. They said to each other, “Why stay here until we die?

2Ki 7:4 If we say, ‘We’ll go into the city’—the famine is there, and we will die. And if we stay here, we will die. So let’s go over to the camp of the Arameans and surrender. If they spare us, we live; if they kill us, then we die.”

2Ki 7:5 At dusk they got up and went to the camp of the Arameans. When they reached the edge of the camp, not a man was there,

2Ki 7:6 for the Lord had caused the Arameans to hear the sound of chariots and horses and a great army, so that they said to one another, “Look, the king of Israel has hired the Hittite and Egyptian kings to attack us!”

2Ki 7:7 So they got up and fled in the dusk and abandoned their tents and their horses and donkeys. They left the camp as it was and ran for their lives.

2Ki 7:8 The men who had leprosy reached the edge of the camp and entered one of the tents. They ate and drank, and carried away silver, gold and clothes, and went off and hid them. They returned and entered another tent and took some things from it and hid them also.

2Ki 7:9 Then they said to each other, “We’re not doing right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves. If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us. Let’s go at once and report this to the royal palace.”

To give more context to this we have to understand the condition of lepers. They were the outcasts of society. Worse than dogs. Worse than Madonna. So bad that they had to live outside the city gates. They were untouchable. They had to yell “Unclean!” anytime anyone came near them. And things were so desperate for them that they were willing to go to the enemy that was putting them under siege them to beg for food.

However, the most important thing to notice is their reaction when they discover the Arameans are gone. At first they are selfish and greedy. They eat and drink and hide things. But then, it’s as if their eyes are opened and they realize the problem with what they’re doing. They’re not sharing good news with everyone who can benefit from it. So they go back to the city.

Now, the obvious lesson we can take from this is that we should not be greedy with our faith. That we should share with everyone we come in contact with. As Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary, use words.” However, I’d like to look at this from a slightly different perspective. I want us to look at the focus. The lepers, the outcasts. These are the ones bringing the good news back. And with that we have to note the prominent position that the poor, the downtrodden, and the marginalized play in the Kingdom of God.

One of the primary components of the Kingdom is that it works completely differently from the power structures of this world. In this world, the rich, the strong, the mighty are the ones that have the power. In the Kingdom, it is the ones who are weak, the ones who are dependant, the ones who are the least of these. This is a critical component of the Kingdom because it causes us to realize that all the ways that we try to create power for ourselves, whether in business or relationship, have no bearing in the Kingdom and have no eternal significance.

Philip Yancey, in The Jesus I Never Knew, says that God seems to have a special preference for the poor and the downtrodden. In fact if we look at the people that God has chosen to bring His message through it seems to be a who’s who of people that you wouldn’t expect.

Here we have the lepers and I think we’ve covered them. Both Saul and David were not the ones expected to be the King of Israel. As we get into the New Testament, the list gets even more unlikely. The book of Philemon shows that slaves like Onesimus prominently figure into Paul’s picture. The book of Philemon leaves no doubt in this. Tax Collectors who were considered collaborators with the Roman empire join with Jesus in spreading the good news. Look at Zaccheus and Matthew. Women are used in the spreading of the kingdom from Mary Magdalene telling the disciples about the empty tomb and the risen Jesus, to the woman at the well running back to tell the village about this man that knew more about her than he could have possibly known, even to Jesus’ mother Mary. I mean think of it, one of the first people in the world to know and to understand what the coming Kingdom of God would mean was a teenage Jewish girl in a backwater of the Roman Empire.

And let’s ponder that fact for a second. Jesus is the only person in human history that could choose his parents. And whom did he choose? Did he choose to be the son of Augustus Caesar the Roman Emperor of the time? Did he choose to be the son of the High Priest of Israel? Or even the son of Herod? No. He chose two Jewish people, not even from Jerusalem, who were obviously poor, as we see from the sacrifice they make at the temple in Luke 2:24. Had they had the money, Mary and Joseph would have sacrificed a lamb instead of two doves.

This is even further reflected in Jesus’ first public teaching in Luke 4:14-29.

Lk 4:14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.

Lk 4:15 He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

Lk 4:16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read.

Lk 4:17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

Lk 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

because he has anointed me

to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to release the oppressed,

Lk 4:19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Lk 4:20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him,

Lk 4:21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

We see here the statement that God has come to bring good news to the poor and the downtrodden and oppressed. And it’s obvious that the people of Nazareth had no issues with what Jesus says here, because verse 22 says that the people spoke “gracious words” about him. They were oppressed by the Romans and here was Jesus saying that this Scripture (quoted from Isaiah 61) was coming to pass with him. And to them this meant that the Romans were going to be overthrown and the Kingdom of David would be restored; in other words, a physical Kingdom.

But then look at verses 28 and 29:

Lk 4:28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.

Lk 4:29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff.

Huh? What happened in the intervening verses to make the people of his hometown so angry that they would want to kill him?

Verses 24 through 27 give us the answer.

Lk 4:24 “I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.

Lk 4:25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land.

Lk 4:26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.

Lk 4:27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

What does Jesus say that makes them so angry? He includes Gentiles in salvation! He includes people who were not of Abraham’s covenant in the prophecy from Isaiah! If his coming was heralding the overthrow of the Gentiles how could Gentiles participate in the Kingdom?

This is another one of the misunderstandings about the Kingdom that people had during Jesus’ life and continue to have today. In Mark 10, when James and John ask for them to be at Jesus’ side in the Kingdom, they’re not asking about spiritual positions; they’re asking about places of physical power. Even after the Resurrection, the disciples still don’t understand. Acts 1:6 shows that the disciples are still thinking that the Kingdom is going to come physically. Only after receiving the Spirit in Acts 2 do they understand the truth: the Kingdom of God is a spiritual reality that has physical manifestations.

The good news of the Kingdom of God is about surprise. It’s about unexpectedness. It’s about God being available to everyone and it’s our responsibility to be aware of that and be a part of that mission. We have to be about preaching the good news to the poor, we have to be about all of these people Jesus mentions here, because that is a part of our mission.

We have to be willing to die to ourselves and go places that we might not be comfortable and befriend people we might not normally befriend. There is such a tendency for Christians to insulate ourselves against the world to avoid being “contaminated” that we forget the primary mission Jesus gave the disciples before he ascended in Matthew 28:19. “Go and make disciples of all nations….”

Notice that he says “Go!” Not bring them somewhere. Go to them.

Because honestly, that’s what he did for us. He came down from where he was. He came down from his place in glory. The beautiful passage in Philippians 2 tells this story:

Phil 2:5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Phil 2:6 Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,

Phil 2:7 but made himself nothing,

taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

Phil 2:8 And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

and became obedient to death—

even death on a cross!

Phil 2:9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,

Phil 2:10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

Phil 2:11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

If this was the attitude of our Lord to us, how can it not be ours to others less fortunate than us, especially if we are supposed to be Jesus to the world? May God give us the strength and the courage and the dependence on Him to do His work in this world. May He give us the dependence on Him and the dependence on each other for this work.

For those that have ears, let them hear.

Final Thoughts

1 comment:

amanda said...

weirdness. i picked up 'searching for god knows what' to attempt to finish and i was at the same spot that quoted that philip yancey guy in your post.

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