Wednesday, December 31, 2008

How We Come Home May Be As Important as That We Come Home

This week's scriptures are Jeremiah 31:7-14 and Ephesians 1:3-14, 2:4-10.

In the latest edition of the Christian Century magazine is a vigorous discussion about the right of Israel to the land in Palestine. The various writers range from those who believe that the right of Israel is based in a promise from God which over rules everything else; to some very thoughtful discussion of God's call to treat its neighbors as though they too were Israel.

This argument might be simply academic if it weren't for the fact that a great deal of American policy toward Israel has been affected by the theological stance of both Zionists and conservative Christians. And it becomes an even more important discussion in light of the current military retaliation by Israel in its attempt to destroy Hammas.

The problems of Israel and Palestine are incredibly complex. And I am not wise enough to have a solution to this centuries old problem. But I would suggest that any viewpoint about the current situation that ignores the radical disparity in military capacity between Israel and the areas being attacked (i.e. the age and quality of the weapons); as well as the practice of the Israeli army in bulldozing Palestinian homes in south Gaza and their impact on the political situation in the region is both politically and theologically naive.

The rhythm and flow of Israel movement in and out of exile is part of the scriptural basis for the discussions noted above. It is also the context for our Jeremiah passage which is a promise of homecoming and restoration. The Ephesians passages are similarly Paul's claim that the believers had been chosen by God to be raised up as an example of God's great mercy. The pattern to the discourse is similar: once we were seperated/exile; now we are brought home from the places (geographically/spiritually/emotionally) to which we have been scattered. This is God's action in the historical moment.

The danger for all of us is that we can come to view and interprete these passages as a kind of triumphalism....a sign of opposed to expressions of God's mercy that call us to a quality of life with our they Palestinians or folks who live around the corner on Cape St. Claire.

Let me push this a little further. During the holidays many of us are reminded of where we came from. We go home to see family, we recieve Christmas cards, we make phone calls. Some of those memories warm our hearts. Some of them are not pleasant at all. Some of our memories have to do with how far the pains of our past may have taken us into destructive or harmful behaviors...and how long it took us to come back to health and spirituality and relationship.

I'm going to maintain that the quality of our homecoming...whether it is Israel's desire for a homeland or your and my connection/re-connection to our family of origin....has a great deal to do with how we treat the 'neighbor' we find there.

We can come home as though it's something we're entitled to and bring all our bitterness and rage and desire for revenge with us; and we'll sour the very moments that we once prayed for. We'll bomb villages, snip at relatives, and make ourselves miserable in the way that only a good resentment can. Or, we can follow the guidance of scripture. We can see all our neighbors as like ourselves. Loved by God....searching for healing....on their journey home too.

Family systems theory talks about how intergenerationally a family can be trying to heal an old wound over and over and over again. The patterns repeat from one generation to another. Just as Israel went out into exile again and again, these families repeat the patterns of illness and addiction and pain.

Maybe the trick, internationally as well as interpersonally and intrapersonally, is to see our 'home' as gift. To respond in gratitude. To live, not out of entitlement but out of blessing. Just like the Israelites were told when they brought in their crops to "leave something for the sojourner, for you were once sojourners in Egypt"...maybe we are told 'respond with compassion to those who move you to resentment; for once you were resented, yet God came to you in compassion.'

What would this new year be like if our lives were marked by that kind of biblical obedience?

Hope to see you Sunday.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great sermon, Stephen! The idea of "charis" as antidote to the problems of control is very interesting and thought-provoking. I'll have to dwell on that for a while.

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