Prince of Peace (8:30am)
Topic: Strength & Kindness Scripture: John 14:27–14:27, Micah 5:1–5:5a
From a website of Jewish humor, accidentaltalmudist.org comes this story:
A poor Jew finds a money clip with $700 in it. At his synagogue, he reads a notice saying that a wealthy congregant lost his money clip and is offering a $100 reward for it. He spots the owner and gives him the clip. The rich man counts the money and says, "I see you already took your reward." The poor man answers, "What?" "This clip had $800 in it when I lost it." They begin arguing, and eventually came before the rabbi. They both state their case. The rich man concludes by saying, "Rabbi, I trust you believe me." The rabbi says, "of course," and the rich man smiles. The poor man is crushed. Then the rabbi hands the clip to the poor man. "What are you doing?!?" yells the rich man. The rabbi answers, "You are, of course, an honest man, and you say the clip you lost had $800 in it. Therefore I’m sure it did. But if the man who found this clip is a liar and a thief, he wouldn't have returned it at all. Which means that this clip must belong to somebody else. If that man steps forward, he'll get the money. Until then, it belongs to the man who found it." "What about my money?" the rich man asks. "Well, we'll just have to wait until somebody finds a clip with $800 in it..."
Micah burned against abuse of the weak and vulnerable, by the high and mighty. He roared at priests who took advantage of the flock and at judges who sold out to a corrupt establishment. Tax schemes that shifted massive wealth from those who had far too little, to those who already had far too much, came under his prophetic blast. “Alas for those who devise wickedness and evil deeds on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in their power.” Why did they do it? Because they could! It was a primitive display of dominance. Micah described the horrifying outcome of systemic selfishness. “The women you drive out; from their children, you take away my glory forever.” The staggering injustice of it all was an insult to the moral God, the ethical God of Israel.
Did Micah offer hope for this bleak scene? He foresaw that after much pain, a new day was coming. Israel, though crushed, would be remade in God’s image. God would create a strong nation, whose character would be its power, and whose renewal would reflect its fairness. From little Bethlehem would come a different kind of leader, a shepherd to nurture the flock, who would rule in the name and Spirit of God - not mouthing words to please a constituency, but walking the walk, and living the life.
This One from God would bring peace at last, not by conquest and suppression, but by doing the right thing, the decent thing, and the respectful thing. Life would become a celebration of God’s goodness, not a scramble for supremacy over others. People long held down would find their voice and speak their truth to power.
From our seven-year-old, we often get reports of life at school. One day not long ago, she told us that a boy at the after-school program had used a swear word against another student. What was the swear word, we asked? “It was the "S" word,” she said. We all agreed that wasn’t good. Then something prompted me to ask, “What is the "S" word?” Without hesitation, she said, “It’s ‘shut up’ of course.” We were relieved and amused, glad it wasn’t the other "S" word. Then I began to think about it. The other "S" word can be useful at times, and highly descriptive of what sometimes comes out of the mouths of people, prominent and otherwise. Martin Luther, and some of the Old Testament prophets deployed that word strategically on occasion to drive home their theological points.
Perhaps the more offensive "S" word by far—or two words—is “shut up.” That "S" word is used to keep people down and keep them quiet. It is the favorite expression of bullies and dictators the world over: Shut up! Do as you’re told!” Women, children, and men are deciding they will no longer shut up about things that have been perpetrated against them. For too long they have been told to keep quiet, and not say anything, or they’ve been intimidated into silence. Now they are finding their voice. They know the risks, and they know that speaking out could destroy them. But they’re stepping up anyway.
We are called to be followers of the Prince of Peace, who was born in little Bethlehem. In our homes, and our places of work, how can we nurture an atmosphere of love and respect for women, children and men? How can we recognize bullying and predatory behavior in all of its devious forms? What should we do when we see it? These are questions for a conversation that we should consider as citizens of that new country in Christ.
Some time ago a church member loaned me the book “Wonder.” Now it’s been made into a movie. Leslie and I saw it over the weekend. If you buy a ticket, be prepared to go through the wash, rinse, and spin cycle emotionally. We were deeply moved and totally exhausted by the end. I won’t reveal the story, but it illustrates the change that happens when people stand up for each other, and stand with each other.
The Prince of Peace is on the way, from small beginnings. By how we treat each other, will we make that gift of peace real in human life?