Bible Reading 1 Timothy 2:1-6a
One of today’s themes is captured in Paul’s instructions to his trainee, Timothy, when he writes…
- 1 First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, requests, and thanksgivings be offered to God for all people; 2 for kings and all others who are in authority, that we may live a quiet and peaceful life with all reverence toward God and with proper conduct. 3 This is good and it pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants everyone to be saved and to come to know the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one who brings God and human beings together, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself to redeem the whole human race. (GNT)
A nun who works for a local home health care agency was making her rounds when her car ran out of gas. She walked to a nearby gas station to borrow enough gas to get the car to the station for a fill-up. They told her someone was already using their only loaner can, but she could use it if she was willing to wait for a while. But her client schedule was tight and her car wasn’t that far away so she decided she’d go back to the car to see what she could find. She spotted a bedpan. She took it to the station, filled it with gas, returned to the car and began pouring it into the tank. As she did, two men walked by unaware of what I just told you. They only observed a nun pouring the contents of a bed pan into her car, and they exclaimed, "Now that is what I call faith!"
Things are not always as they seem to be. We may seem stranded without hope; but with grateful faith, we can be fueled with the power of God's presence. One of the questions raised in today’s two Bible texts are -- in what are we placing our faith?
Displaced and Lost
We can start finding the answer by looking at two groups of displaced and lost people in our two texts.
Of course, we do everything we can to avoid such things. It is in part why we are creatures of habit -- what’s the saying -- a place for everything, and everything in its place? Everybody living that at home? [Not a single hand]. If your car keys are always put in the same place, you won’t lose them. I can’t tell you how many times I got in my car and the fob was still in the house so I couldn’t start the car. If you habitually brush your teeth, barring genetic influences, you probably won’t lose them. But life isn’t always routine, and choices are sometimes beyond our control… that’s why while I was waiting for my order at a drive-through window the other day, I noticed my phone was my car’s fender…well, that is not “everything in its proper place” so a better example is when I go to the big parking lot stores, I park in essentially the same area so I don’t have to remember where I park each time. But every once in a while, due to an extraordinarily busy time, there are no spaces left -- or now with Walmart’s pick-up service, my area is a lot more cramped than it used to be and it is harder to find a spot. Not bad if it is a quick trip in and out of the store, but if I am in the store any length of time, I may forget to where my car was displaced. Have you heard those studies about how much time people spend doing things? On the basis of at least one survey, can you guess how long the average American spends looking for misplaced things in a year? [24 hours. 100 hours.] Pretty good guesses. This survey says 2 ½ days year. And how much do you think average Americans collectively spend annually in replacement costs? 2.7 billion dollars a year replacing things we can no longer find.
Source: Pixie Lost & Found Survey conducted in October 2016 using the world's largest panel provider, Survey Sampling International. The survey analyzed findings of a representative sample of over 1,700 people.
I remember a couple years ago I parked at the downtown Traverse City Meijer (that is a huge story with a huge parking lot). I was there to pick up a few things before going to my hotel for the night. It was dark out, my car was a fairly dark color, and like here, there are a ton of high trucks, vans and SUVs. compared to my relatively short Subaru. I was sure I parked where I normally parked when I worked in that area and went to that store – at least I thought I did. I picked up a few things that took a little longer than I thought. I went to the area where I thought my car was but I couldn’t see it anywhere. I walked up and down and through that large parking lot (bigger than the one at Walmart – back and forth and up and down with increasing intensity and increasing certainty that someone must have run off with it. Of course, the car knew exactly where it was the whole time -- it was resting and at peace. I was the one who felt displaced, lost, and helpless.
Do we ever feel exiled?
But in a much more serious way is our first group of people, the 10,000 or so Judean exiles taken away to Babylon. These people, like me in the parking lot -- were anxious to find what they were looking for. They listened to prophets who told them what they wanted to hear -- that in no time at all, they would be back in Jerusalem, their own homes, their own people, and to God’s earthly residence -- the Temple. And because they heard and believed these optimistic words that they both desired and demanded, many adopted a policy of non-cooperation with the Babylonians and perhaps even helped create and participate in internal conflict with the Empire, in which some of them were executed and /or imprisoned. They placed their faith in their own fantasies, and re-labeled it God’s will, and sought to accomplish that will by either taking it into their own hands and/or trying to force God’s hand.
The second group is discovered
- 11 As Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, he passed along the borderlands between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into one particular village he was met by ten men with virulent skin diseases who stayed at some distance from him. Luke 17:11-12 (NTE)
Do we ever feel excluded?
Many translations use the word generic word leprosy, which in Bible days was a broad term for a variety of skin disorders. The standard rule was the same -- they were put under quarantine, sometimes necessary - but in a day without protective masks and such, it was devastating to the one placed under that rule. While the Bible doesn’t in its Law name distances, at least one authority ruled that, if you were upwind of a healthy person, they must stay 50 yards away. Think about how far that is – half a football field…
But unlike those in Babylon who placed their faith in a victorious rebellion, when these men saw Jesus -- don’t ask me how they could see him 50 yards away, but they not only knew who he was, they knew what he could do.
- 13 ‘Jesus, Master!’ they called out loudly. ‘Have pity on us!’ Luke 17:13 (NTE)
- 14b ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were healed. Luke 17:14b (NTE)
- 15 One of them, seeing that he had been healed, turned back and gave glory to God at the top of his voice. He fell on his face in front of Jesus’ feet Luke 17:14b (NTE)
- 16b and thanked him. Luke 17:16b (NTE)
When we go to a restaurant, we expect good service. When it doesn’t happen, some people broadcast it to everyone who we think might listen -- never thinking about what that person may have experienced that day that caused the sub-par performance, and what we could have done to make their day better. But when the expected service is given, even surpassed, these same people often never give it a second thought - broadcast wise or sometimes even tip wise. The Psalmist reminds us to
- Bless (affectionately, gratefully praise) the Lord, O my soul, and forget not [one of] all His benefits— (Psalm 103:2 (AMPC))
Now Luke drops the bombshell.
- 16c He was a Samaritan. Luke 17:16c (NTE)
- 17 ‘There were ten of you healed, weren’t there?’ responded Jesus. ‘Where are the nine? 18 Is it really the case that the only one who had the decency to give God the glory was this foreigner? Luke 17:17-18 (NTE) (emphasis added)
But they would not have mixed simply because of they both lived near the borderland. As you’ve probably heard people expand on the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jews would have little to nothing to with Samaritans and vice versa. They were not tolerant of each other for too many political, national, racial, and religious differences. Of all the people in that group, the Samaritan would be the least likely to thank this Jewish healer, Jesus.
What we learn from this is that common misfortune breaks down all other normal barriers. They forgot they were Jew and Samaritan and thought only of their mutual need, just as a flood or fire or snowstorm will drive animals to congregate safely and peacefully together when under normal circumstances, they would be predator and prey. And if we are willing to see it -- our common need for God should drive away any other barriers.
So for the Trekkies among us, Tom and Neelix were having a very difficult time getting along. Then they were sent on a mission together and they could not hardly stand to sit in the seats of their vessel together, they were so angry with each other. But then the weather caused serious problems as they were trying to land, and they forgot about their differences so they could work together so they could survive. They survived the crash, but the toxic atmosphere forced them into a cave, and in that cave, they came across a baby which was growing weaker by the moment. So, they switched from a mutual need for survival to a mutual mission to give this baby aide in its distress… (Star Trek Voyager – 2:7 Parturition) It doesn’t always have to be a mutual problem that builds bridges and binds people together across quote-unquote “natural” boundaries. It can also be a mutual mission.
Lost and Displaced
So now we go back to our first group who we left waiting in Babylon. Let’s review -- The exiles are dragged off into a foreign land, living as outcasts inside unfamiliar boundaries. Their mutual troubles left them bound together -- but united together only with themselves -- and so they participated in Babylonian internal struggles. They did it because they expected the Empire would collapse and they were going to help that along, and then they would soon be on their way back to Jerusalem and their Temple I no time. Two years was the prediction. They surrounded themselves with motivational speakers that would encourage them to keep fighting the good fight.
Nebuchadnezzar had appointed Zedekiah as their “puppet” king. He was allowed to rule Judah as long as he kept the peace as a loyal subject nation of Babylon. Jerusalem had its own share prophets stirring up false hopes encouraging rebellion. King Nebuchadnezzar was not happy about all of this.
- 1 This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. Jeremiah 29:1 (NIV)
Understand that what he writes them is as shocking as what he spoke to those in Jerusalem -- (and those in Jerusalem ended up throwing him in jail for what he told them.). I won’t read the letter, but I’ll give you the upshot of it.
God brought them there
First, he reminds them that their presence in that foreign land was part of God’s plan. Therefore, to rebel to get home quickly is to rebel against God’s timing and plan.
Live normal lives
Secondly, they were putting life on hold until they could get home because they thought it would be just a short time. Jeremiah says don’t do that, it will be 70 years (v 10) before God plans on bringing you back home. You are place there by God and under his protection so that you can thrive safely and in peace in the known world’s most powerful empire You need to get on living your life as normally as possible, farming, marrying, raising families -- you are not going to be back in your generation, you need to do these things so you can make your life there stronger and more populous for the sake of your grandchildren. Don’t mess it up by getting the Empire to turn on you and weaken you. You must become stronger and stronger.
Then Jeremiah drops on them their bombshell… for they were used to going to the Temple and praying for the peace of their nation and vengeance against outside threats.
Seek the peace and prosperity of your captors
Seek the peace. And prosperity of Babylon, for as it goes for them it will go for you. There is a popular phrase which was expanded by a stand-up comedian whose name eludes me. He says in the home, men have a choice -- they can be right, or they can be happy. Happy wife, happy life. That’s the phrase. Staying beneath the radar is way of expressing the kind of the practical advice being given here. If Babylon is content, and you are not aggravating them, they will probably not bother you, but if you aggravate them and draw their attention to you, you’ll become an itch that they will have to scratch -- they’ll be much more likely to come after you if that is the case. So, the better it goes for them, the better it will go for you.
But this wasn’t only practical self-serving survival interest being advocated here -- this is a whole new way of understanding faith -- what it means to live trusting in a world-wide universal God -- a faith that went beyond traditional borders and boundaries -- with two tremendously (in those days) cutting-edge applications for them. We don’t think about them much now, but it was a radical shift in thinking then.
God is with you
(1) First, God wasn’t restricted to the Temple, nor the traditions and the patterns of Jerusalem, he roams all the earth and these displaced and lost people could find and worship him even by the waters of Babylon. He is with us no matter what situations in our life seem to hold us captive.
(2) And secondly, If God is God of all and God is love -- then what does that say about how we treat others? … In full fruition, it led to Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:44, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you". We find that easy to say, but not so easy to practice. In Jeremiah's time it was not easy even to say. The Jerusalem that refused to listen and jail Jeremiah did indeed attempt a rebellion about a decade later which led to a 2 year siege of Jerusalem (which means they surrounded and cut off their supply flow), and led to additional destruction, rampant misery, and another wave of exiles removed from the city. How much better off they would have been had they listened to Jeremiah and cooperated with the powerful God who had made this plan and was using it to fulfill his purposes. And their bleak future could have turned much differently.
Years ago, a sociology professor assigned his class to interview 200 boys who lived in the worst part of the city and asked the students to predict what their future was going to be like. They saw the conditions of their life and they guessed 90 % of them would end up in prison. Twenty years later, he sent another class to track them down and see what happened. They found 180 of them, and only 4 of them had ever been in prison. After a thorough investigation, they found that 100 of them were heavily influenced by the same high-school teacher, Sheila O’Rourke. The story doesn’t say so, but if they were all from the same terrible exile-like neighborhood, it would only stand to reason that these 100 in turn influenced many of the others… thus the teacher probably indirectly influenced many others too. They finally found her down in a nursing home and asked what she did to have such a profound influence. She was puzzled by the question. She said, “All I did was love every one of them.” [26th Street Church of Christ Homepage, mupfc.marshall.edu. Retrieved February 25, 2004.]
And Jesus concludes by saying to what his society says is supposed to be his hated enemy,
- 19 ‘Get up, and be on your way… Your faith has saved you.’ Luke 17:19 (NTE)
Closing Prayer Lord, we want to make the most out of life by a relationship with Jesus -- not only for what he can do for us, but what he can do for others through us, making not only our lives, but bringing all lives into a better place as we give ourselves to you and your amazing love that makes a way for us in every part of our life. Amen.
Closing Hymn # 256 (vv 3,4,5)
Closing Blessing Now go into your week knowing that God is going with you to make you stronger and stronger as he makes a way for you and delights us with his amazing love.