About Me

My photo
Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

Popular Posts

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Land of the House of Omri--Part 2
Psalm 146
1 Kings 16

In times like these, we must listen to Jesus’ warning to “Watch out, beware the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” The Pharisees and the Sadducees were the two most powerful factions of the political life of Palestine in Jesus’ day. They disliked each other and tried to gain advantage over one another. But they also made sure they worked together to see that no one else could challenge their joint hold on power. The third parties, like the Zealots or Herodians, were either has-beens or not-gonna-bes, in their eyes. So when they challenged Jesus as recorded in Matthew 16, they were willing to work together to try to keep him down. It says they came to him asking for a sign. But he knew they represented the house of Omri. So he challenged their power in his response.

He told them he did not need to give them a sign and had no intention of doing so. He told them there were all kinds of obvious signs about what God was doing in the world that they should be looking at and talking about. He reminded them in front of the crowd that they knew how to look at a red sky and depending on the details, predict whether it would be fair weather or stormy weather. They had plenty of skill at interpreting signs. But they had closed their minds and hearts to the signs of the times, the signs of what God was doing right in front of them. They were satisfied with the house of Omri. They were not looking for the paths to greater justice and mercy. As far as Jesus was concerned, if they couldn’t see what is as plain as the back of their own hand, then they must be blinded by their hardheartedness. He says that only an evil and adulterous sort of people ask for more signs than the ones they already have. And he told them to go back and think about the sign of Jonah, then see what happens. And he walked away.

His disciples were confused, and they asked questions that hurt his feelings. He explained his point to them, and they sort of figured out he was talking about what the Pharisees and Sadducees teach. But they seem to have remained somewhat confused. They had not figured out for themselves what God was doing in front of their faces. On the other hand, the Sadducees and Pharisees claimed to be the ones who know all about God, but they refused to see what God is doing.

We in the church can respond to God in both of these ways. On our good days, we can be like the disciples, muddling along, getting confused, thinking we knew what was happening and suddenly realizing we just don’t get it. Church people too often hear people talking church talk and assume that means that they are working for the Kingdom of God. Both of the last two presidents of the United States have been experts at this form of manipulation. Pres. Clinton portrayed himself as a devoted Baptist Christian. Pres. Bush portrays himself as a devoted Methodist Christian. People get caught up in this appearance and this image, and they say, “Isn’t it wonderful to have a devoted Christian in the White House?” The fog of words and images gets in the way of the signs of the times.

Where is the money getting spent? Whose taxes are getting cut and whose tax bills are growing? Where and why are the bombs being dropped? Who is training our young people to commit acts of torture? These are the signs of the times. But we keep getting hung up on whether we like the person in charge or whether the president or congress says nice things to us and makes us feel good. Watch out, and beware the yeast of the Democrats and the Republicans. Beware the yeast of the Baptists and the Methodists. Look at the neighborhoods of this city. What are the signs of the times? Do not put your trust in princes.

The church can also become like the Pharisees and Sadducees. We can get so self-righteous, so sure that we are living just like God wants us to live, that we miss the signs of the times. We can hide the sins of our lives and magnify the sins of people who are not in our churches. We can attack those people who do things we aren’t doing while we ignore our own sins of omission. We can strain at a gnat, and ignore the weightier matters of the law such as justice and mercy. We make our short list of sins that we find easy to avoid, and then we leave off the list the sins of a society, a war-making machine, an economic system of exploitation that is destroying the lives of young people, the poor, the elderly, the sick, the mentally ill, and the prisoners. Where are we Mt. Level folks in this story? Are we the Pharisees and Sadducees? Lord, help us here.

Well clearly the Bible warns us against trusting in worldly rulers, princes and kings, presidents and governors, generals and commissioners. So what kind of leader does the Bible teach us to be? What kind of leader does the world need? What kind of leader do churches need? Jesus continued the tradition of Samuel and Jeremiah when he talked to his disciples about leadership.

The conversation happened when the disciples started getting eager to see a kingdom come about with powerful people bossing the rest of the people. They started wondering who would get the highest ranks. One couple of brothers and their mother came up with a plan to lobby Jesus for favors. They asked if they could be his top assistants, on his right hand and his left. Jesus was appalled. He asked them a challenging question, which they did not understand. He asked if they could be the kind of leader he was. They had not figured out that the way he had been with them was the way he would continue to be with them; they still thought he had been playing the role of the meek and mild Jesus as a way of biding his time until he could rise up and become the head person in charge and throw his weight around. So they said, in all their humility, “Yes, Jesus, we can be like you and do what you do.” They were eager to be in charge.

But Jesus answered them by pointing out that they really did not understand what he was saying, again. He assured them that in due time they would bear the same burden of leadership that he was to bear. But in the meantime, he told them to forget about all this foolishness about who was second in line to be in charge. All the disciples got angry about it. I think some were angry because they did not think of asking Jesus first.

Then he got everyone’s attention to make a point. He said, “The Gentiles have a way of leading that is not the way you should lead. Their rulers act like they have absolute power. They demand absolute loyalty. They treat everyone else as their servant. You are not to be that kind of leader. The way I am is the way you have to be. Leading is by serving. Whoever wants to be great must become great through service. Whoever wants to be first must act like the last and serve everyone else. That is who I am. That is what I have been doing. That is what I will continue to do, even to the point of giving my life for others.”

The gospel of John tells us that he went on to act it out for them soon. At the table of the last supper, he put aside his garments and wrapped himself in the garment of a slave. Then he took a bowl of water and a towel, knelt before them one at a time, and washed their dirty, stinking feet. When he finished, he said that they were to imitate him in this way, serving one another.

So we don’t need leaders who act like tyrants and just expect everyone to do what they say. We don’t need to let politicians treat us that way. We need to teach them to be public servants. We need to move them in the direction of serving those great needs that God is revealing to us as the signs of the times. Shouting condemnation on thieves and drug offenders, throwing them in jail to warehouse them and have them become a low-wage, locked-up labor force is neither justice nor mercy. What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God? Our leaders must learn to serve. We must hold them accountable. Voting is one way to do that, but just voting will not do the job. We also must help them be accountable to the people throughout their terms of service. The world is not as it should be. Our calling as the church is to discern the movement of God and help the world understand how it needs to be changed.

But how about our own leading? What kinds of leaders must we be? Jesus has told us to be servants. So we can’t let our families become the house of Omri. A family is not a place for people to form factions, manipulate and dominate. Divide and conquer will lead to disaster in the family. God has no role for a tyrant in the family. We do not lead by lording over one another. If we cannot find a way to talk with one another in loving ways, to work together in mutual submission toward fulfilling the calling of God, we have missed out on why God has brought us together.

Leading in the family is service. There is no place for violence. When the guys on the job say you have to hit a woman now and then to let her know who is boss, then say “Get thee behind me Satan.” That is a temptation to sin. It is not the word of God. When the women in the coffee room say, “She must have brought it on herself,” say “Watch out, and beware the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” If you can’t see that using violence to build love is wrong, you are blind to what Jesus has done. The path to loving relationships is through loving actions. If you want to lead, you must learn to serve. If someone can’t lead without violence, then he or she is no different from the ones who crucified our Lord. It must not be so among you, for to be great you must serve.

To be continued . . .

No comments:

Baptist Bloggers
Powered By Ringsurf
Christian Peace Bloggers
Powered By Ringsurf