“Please my Lord, give her the living boy; certainly do not kill him!” v.26
The audio for this morning includes not only Pastor Lentz’s sermon, but songs and music from South Africa, Argentina, Cambodia, New Zealand, and Sweden, all taught and led by by guest song leader, Global Music Specialist Amanda Powell.
I have gotten very confused trying to get my brain and heart around the issue of health care in America today. I agree with the overwhelming consensus that our system of health care needs fixing. I even heard Bill O’Reilly, the commentator on Fox News, say that something needs to be done with our health system. Talking heads can haggle over how many, really are uninsured but I have heard and read the figure that 46 million Americans do not have adequate health insurance. Even if it is half of that, that still seems way too many.
I remember so clearly when my brother Peter was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 28. He was out of college, between jobs, and had no health insurance. If the National Institute of Health (a government run organization) had not been running a study of Hodgkin’s disease and accepted Peter as a patient, I suspect that all the financial savings of my parents would have gone for his care and the present reality of Mom and Dad’s rather comfortable (but well earned) life style would be very different. And as these things trickle up and down – life might have been very different for me too. For I might have had to stay home and work for to support them and the path of my life’s narrative might have been very different. Who knows?
And I know story after story of people who are out of work, uninsured, so overwhelmed by the realities of getting food on the table and living in the pockets of concentrated poverty in our urban cores and in our suburban cores too, that it seems to me that simply out of thoughtful compassion, economic justice and the bottom line of doing business, doing nothing is the wrong choice.
But I am neither a legislator nor an expert on any of the particulars. I am however a Christian and I have been thinking, hard – about how this is a faith issue – how the Bible speaks or prods us to consider these large social and political issues that confront us now, such as health care, climate change, or same sex marriage.
Now I am not one of these preachers who thinks that there is a particular scripture passage for every problem, or that when the New Testament was being formed, and before that when the prophets and the priests and the story tellers were bringing the Hebrew scriptures into being, that they foresaw in the 21st century that the United States of America would be facing such a crisis…and such an opportunity.
But I do believe that thinking biblically and praying profoundly as Jesus would want us to, agitates us to thinking large, and imaginatively and not to be afraid of challenge and change. After all, you and I are made in the image and likeness of God. And being made in the image of God means that we have quite a stake in image-ination…. imagination.
And also, I believe that there is a grand narrative that runs from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:2.1 For those of you unfamiliar with the Bible and its books, it means that from the first words of the first book (“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth”) to the last words of the last book (“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen”, which means “so be it.”). And this grand, overarching narrative stream, or the “river that runs through it” and undergirds our life, so to speak, is always and everywhere about expanding the circles of grace, expanding the benefits of faith.
And while it is true that faith is personal and we must count the cost, and number the enemy troops before we march in to battle, the narrative of the Bible all but screams that grace is to be dealt out in community, and faith is lived publically and generosity and taking risks that fool the wise are defining characteristics of the Kingdom of God, of which you and I are called to be a part of and witness to and extend to others.
The parable in Matthew 25 when all the nations of the world come before the throne of God and Jesus lays down the kingdom ethic, “What you do to the LEAST of these my brothers, you do to me,” comes down to “Did you feed the hungry, did you clothe the naked, did you give a drink to someone who was thirsty, did you care for the sick (v.36), did you welcome the stranger, did you visit the prisoner?” And that it is the nations that are held accountable, not individual persons, really startles me.
There seems to be no doubt that in God’s eyes the true soul and heart of any nation is measured not in military might, or in security, or in economic power but by how the marginalized are treated and, what services are given to the least.
In Matthew 7:12 Jesus says, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” This is the Golden Rule.
And so it seems central to the teachings of Jesus both on a macro, and a micro level – both on the national and individual level – that our greatest care is not for what we can get and keep for ourselves but what we can give to other, and to whom we can extend the boundaries to include.
The Hebrew prophets only undergird what Jesus says to us: God takes particular care for the poor and those who fall through the cracks. And the prophets suggested that it was BOTH a religious and political issue and both practical and moral.
I don’t presume to know how these few biblical verses practically shape legislation. But I believe that Christians – both Republican and Democrat – need to move their faith into the public arena.
And in my opinion, shaped by scripture as I read them, it seems to me to be in our national self-interest to see this moment in time as a chairos moment – a moment of opportunity to extend the benefits and to offer to others what we ourselves have, to sacrifice for the common good, and to uphold our constitution’s first principals that all people are created equal and have the natural rights to the pursue life, liberty and happiness.
The blessing of democracy is that we are in this together. We know from our history that at first African Americans and women didn’t get to pursue life, liberty and happiness in the same way that white men did. But we change and include. I believe and I hope that what we are going through now is a divine working out of extending welcome, grace, hope, health, and happiness to more and more.
I believe we have a Christian common cause (as Republicans and Democrats) to push for reform, to press for extended care, to even pay a little bit more so that others might live more fully. These are righteous pursuits. It sure beats invading other countries.
And I believe that another piece of this current confusion that people of faith and goodwill must speak to – in fact, we may need to shout it out – is that negative language, personal attack, and making this health issue about an individual is wrong. When Rush Limbaugh makes even a fleeting comparison to Hitler – it trivializes the Holocaust and demeans the Jews. Christians must say No, there is no defense for such rhetoric. And when Sarah Palin drops the word “evil” that is wrong. “Evil”? Really? To seek to give more people health care? Really?
Whatever the flaws in the legislation, to call something “evil” is pretty heavy. To see the world, or the politics of our nation through the lens of such conspiratorial mistrust is not a Christ-like attitude. For us, as disciples of Jesus, conspiracy theories and fear is not an option. Slander is not a Christ-like ethic.
There was a letter in the Plain Dealer last week by Senator Vonovich. He recognizes the need and agrees with the broad outline of reform. He is concerned, typically, with issues of economic responsibility and stewardship. But he was not hateful, he did not name call. I hope he is at the table. The CEO of Whole Foods, John MacKey has some pertinent questions – he writes about them in the Wall Street Journal.
And so a very practical and faithful thing to do, is to shut off the damned radio and the TV. Whatever show you watch these days…if there is a pursuit of trivializing substance in the form of cheap humor, cynicism, manipulation through fear, turn it off. Read several newspapers. Be willing to risk your opinions with others with whom you might disagree and practice what we want to be held accountable to – hospitality and hopefulness.
You and I must stem the tide of hate, fear and mistrust that is expressed in certain corners of our population and given 24-hours-aday so-called news attention. You and I are followers of Jesus Christ, who laid down his life both for the sin of the world, but more importantly to show God’s love. And if you and I don’t show a better way, who will? If we don’t speak to these things now, when the real time comes to fear, we won’t recognize it because we have trivialized it away.
Philippians 4:8 is a good guide, I believe, for Christian living. Listen:
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing these things and the God of peace will be with you.”
Please, if you find yourself dwelling in fear, mistrust and cynicism, ask for forgiveness. If you hear others expressing opinions that are fearful, mistrustful, cynical, or down right hateful, in love call them on it and seek to get deeper; what is really going on?
The text for today was the well-known story of the wisdom of Solomon. He spared the baby by deftly manipulating the situation. He executed justice by not executing the baby.
It was this story that drew my attention this week and made me wonder: Are we going to grasp the opportunity to spare babies, and insure young people, and help the elderly, and extend the benefits and bring life, or are we going to let it all die, because we have made so-called “perfection” the “enemy of the good,” and we don’t want our political adversary to win and it is more entertaining to be partisan?
This is what is before us – fairness, justice, equity. It is worth our prayers and action.
Now I know that this sermon may have made some of you uncomfortable; maybe even angry. I hope that the choir, the friends you have made, the mission work of this church, some hymn we sang together today will soothe you a bit. If you want to express your opinion, let’s make an appointment, or re-gather the Values group, and practice what we preach.
But no matter the sermon, we have sacrament today. Sharing the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, who welcomes all, and forgives all, and loves all, with all: both the “dittoheads” and I don’t know what they call followers of Olberman or Glen Beck, both Republican and Democrat, both liberal and conservative, and all the other divisions that we place upon ourselves. At the table we are one, despite all, and this can save us. Indeed, it already has.