Friday, June 23, 2017

Israili Chainsaw Massacre - Judges 19:22-28, Matthew 23:23-24


Judges 19:22-28
While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, "Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him."
   The owner of the house went outside and said to them, "No, my friends, don't be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don't do this disgraceful thing.  Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But to this man, don't do such a disgraceful thing."
   But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go.   At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight.  When her master got up in the morning and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold.  He said to her, "Get up; let's go." But there was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home.  (NIV)




            The Book of Judges is one of those books of the Bible that we do not read often, and yet, we are familiar with several of the stories in that book.

 

            We find Samson in the book of Judges.   You remember him – the strongest guy in the Bible.

 

            Gideon is also there.

 

            But most of the stories in Judges are ones we don't remember well, because Judges is a book we don't often sit down to read or study.

 

            Because we do not read the book of Judges very often, when we do read it we are absolutely shocked at what we find.

 

            If you were going to pick the strangest story of the Bible, then the top ten finalists for that honor would have to come from the book of Judges.

 

            It is in Judges you find the story of dainty little Jael. While a warrior who was on friendly terms with her husband was asleep, she took a tent peg and a hammer and drove the peg into his head.  She drove it all the way through and into the ground.

 

            Just as children of our age sing songs of Lizzy Borden who took an ax and gave her father forty wacks, so did the Song of Deborah sing about Jael being the Most Blessed of Women, and (unlike her victim) the Most Blessed of Tent Dwellers.  Hopefully no wives here will get any ideas from Jael!

 

            Then there is Jephthah, who vows before going into battle that if he wins the war, when he gets back home to the farm, he will sacrifice whatever he sees at the gate of the house.  He wins the battle. When he goes back to the farm what he sees at the gate of the house is not a goat or a cow.  It is his daughter.

 

            He sacrifices her.

 

            Then there is Jair.  His story takes all of one verse of the Bible.  We are simply told he had 30 sons, who rode 30 donkeys and who ruled 30 towns.  There must have been more to it than that, but who knows what it might have been.

 

 

            But the strangest story of all is the one that closes the book of Judges.  It is about a man who had a concubine.  A concubine was something like a wife, but not quite. She was something like a slave, but not quite.  She was something like a mistress, but not quite. Well, this concubine gets fed up with the man and leaves him and goes home to Daddy.  The man follows her and convinces her to come back to him.  After a few days, she agrees.

 

            But that's not the end of the story.

 

            On the way home, they stay in a stranger's home. That night, a gang of violent men come pounding on the door, yelling, "Bring out that man, we want to have sex with him."

 

            The owner of the house yells out to the gang, "That is a disgraceful thing to do.  You can't treat this man like this. But I have young daughter, why don't you take her instead."

 

            The men are not interested in the girl and begin to get angry. So the traveling man takes his concubine, and without asking how she feels about it, he throws her out the door.  Then the traveling man and the owner of the house go to bed and sleep, while outside the house, the gang rapes and abuses the woman.

 

            But that is not the end of the story.

 

            At daybreak, the gang leaves the woman.  She struggles back to the house. The door is locked and she just collapses at the door.  The men inside the house wake up and according to the Bible this is what happened: "When the master got up in the morning and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold.  He said to her, 'Get up; let's go.'  But there was no answer."  The woman is dead.

 

            This is a baffling story. 

 

But that's not the end of it.

 

            This strange story gets stranger as the master takes the body home. Once there, he does not give her a funeral.  Instead he takes a knife and mutilates the body.  He cuts off her arms and legs and sends pieces of her all over Israel with a description of what has happened. And he sends a message along with the body parts asking, “Ok tribe, what are you going to do about this?”

 

            As a result, an army of 400,000 men gather and decide to destroy the Tribe of Benjamin.  Now if you are wondering what the Tribe of Benjamin had to do with this, it was in the boundaries of that particular tribe that the woman was raped and murdered.

 

            There is then a series of battles and all of the members of Tribe of Benjamin are killed, except for 600 men who hide in the hills. To insure that the Tribe would be destroyed, it is agreed that it will be forbidden to allow any survivor of the Tribe of Benjamin to have a wife.

 

            But that is not the end of the story.

           

Israel begins to regret what it has done.  The Tribe of Benjamin is on the verge of being wiped out.  After all, there are supposed to be 12 tribes of Israel, and here they are about to destroy one of the tribes.  There are supposed to be 12 tribes, but there is about to be only 11.

 

            So they make peace with Benjamin, which is now a tribe of 600 men who have no wives.  It is illegal to give these men wives, so what does Israel do?  They throw a party.  And they don't give the men wives, they let them kidnap some innocent women, to be dragged off to be wives for the tribe.

 

            NOW it is the end of the story.  Just like that – that is the way it ends.

 

            I read a good bit of Science Fiction and as I read this story, I feel that I am reading something out of Science Fiction.  It is not because of some scientific technology in the story, but because of the alien-ness of this event.  It is so alien, it feels as if it must have happened on another planet.

 

            What kind of story is this?  At first it feels like a love story in which there is a man whose lover leaves him.  He goes after her.  But no, its not a love story, because whatever this man feels for the concubine it certainly is not love that he feels as he throws her out the door to meet her fate.

 

            It is a violent story, with rape, murder, even genocide.

 

            It is difficult to know exactly what this story is all about.  It is so alien to our way of thinking.

 

            Then again, maybe this story and the behavior of its characters is not so alien after all. They may be more like us than we would like to admit.

 

            When you strip away the outer layers of the cultural differences and work your way to the heart of the story, what you have is a people in search of justice. That's all.

 

            There is no justice in their land.  More than anything else, they want to see justice.  That's all.

 

            It is a commendable thing to want justice.  It may be that this is the ONLY commendable thing that you can say about any of the people involved with this event. They want justice.

 

 

            If there was justice, then a man traveling far from home would not be attacked by a threatening gang.  So in search of justice, the man stays behind the safety of a locked door and throws out a woman to the crowd.

 

            But - If there was justice, then a woman would not have been treated that way - like worthless property to be thrown into the hands of a gang, like a piece of meat thrown into the jaws of a hungry animal.  So in search of justice, the nation of Israel goes out to destroy an entire tribe of people.

 

            But - If there was justice, a tribe of people would not face extinction.  So in search of justice, their neighbors stand by and let the survivors kidnap women to serve as their wives.

 

 

            These people in this story are all searching for justice, which is commendable, but they are so perverted in their understanding of what justice is, that they simply continue to make this story worse and worse and worse.

 

            These people are looking for justice, and are unable to find it. The obvious reason as to why they cannot find justice is that they don't know what justice is. They would not know justice if it were staring them right in the face.

 

            You want to find some justice in this world? Wonderful. The first step is to discover out what justice really is.

 

            This long biblical story presents a wonderful case study of three common misconceptions we have about justice.

           

            The first misconception is that justice is something that protects YOU.  In the story, the man is threatened.  In a sense of what is just, he protects himself, stays behind the locked door as he throws the woman outside to meet her fate, while he goes to sleep.

 

            The purpose of justice, so he thought, was so that he would be protected.  That is not what justice is.  But that is not so alien a way of thinking.  WE sometimes think about justice in that way.

 

            We think that if there is justice in the world, we will be protected from all harm.  Forget about the poor, forget about racial hatred, forget about the fellow lost a job yesterday. If there is justice in the world, protect ME, and my freedom and my job.

 

Justice means God watches over me.

 

Now that is not true, but it is not that far from the truth.  Justice is not God watching over ME.  Justice is God watching over ALL of us. 

           

In Judges, the people thought that justice was a way of getting protection for yourself. So the man in Judges feels it is right to throw the woman out to the gang to be raped and murdered, as long as he is able to lock the door, climb into bed and feel protected.

 

Justice, must be for all, or it is perverted.  The traveling man in Judges had a right to be protected, but so did the woman.

           

If we want justice for ourselves, fine, but let's make sure that we do not gain it at the expense of another.  As we work for justice for us, let's work for justice for the poor in our community, for the illiterate, for the powerless, for the other person. Not just for us.

           

            The second misconception many people have about justice is that they have the impression that justice means permissiveness.

           

The Tribe of Benjamin becomes the focus of the anger of the rest of their neighbors not simply because the rape and murder happened within their boundaries, but because the Tribe of Benjamin let it happened and did nothing about it.  The purpose of justice, so Benjamin thinks, was permissiveness.  That is not such an alien way of thinking.  WE sometimes think that this is what justice is.  It's your thing, do what you want to do.

 

Permissiveness is not justice, but it is not too far off the mark.  Justice is not permissiveness, but mercy. The two are not the same.

 

Mercy and justice go hand in hand. But mercy is not permissiveness. Mercy does not permit someone to move into the future unbridled, doing whatever he or she wants to do. Mercy reaches backward into the past and heals our broken souls of our past disobedience.

 

In the New Testament Lesson from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus rebukes some of the people listening to his sermons because they give great importance to some articles of the faith, but very little to justice and mercy.

 

Justice – you cannot have it without mercy.

 

The third misconception many people have about justice is that it is the same as revenge. 

 

In the biblical story, the nation of Israel decides to destroy the tribe of Benjamin.  Revenge, they think, is what justice is all about.  Again, this is not so alien to our way of thinking.  You push me, and I'll shove you.

 

Some people don't see a difference in the two – punishment and revenge.  What is the difference? 

           

Revenge is getting even. Revenge is inflicting hurt.  Revenge is done with a sneer and a fist, with meanness in one's heart.

           

Punishment, however, is meant to build up. It is intended to help someone move beyond their mistakes and errors.  It is done with a love in one's heart.

           

This God, who is often described in the Bible as a heavenly “father,” is a God who loves justice.  Now, admittedly the image of God as Father is stretched too thinly if one thinks of a father who is absent or abusive.  But when a father conducts himself appropriately, we have excellent images of God.  I remember my father punished me more than a few times.  I don’t remember him ever seeking revenge against me.  And yet, so many of us confuse punishment as the same as revenge when it comes to justice.

 

This story from Judges is confusing.  At first glance you just want to ignore it.  Go to something simple like the Beattitudes or something.  But here it is in the Scripture.  And when you take a deep look, you find that it portrays humanity at its worst moments.  It is a story of perverted justice. 

           

You want to find some justice in this world? Fine. The first step is to find out what justice really is.  Strip away the misconceptions and find the truth to what justice is about. 

Justice is not for you, but for all people.

Justice is not permissive, but it is mercy.

Justice is not vengeful or angry, but  it is disciplining punishment.
 
 
Copyright 2017. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved
 
Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.

 

 

CHANGE - Ezra 3:10-13; Hebrews 13:6-8


Old Testament Lesson                                                                    Ezra 3:10-13

 10 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the Lord with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, according to the directions of King David of Israel; 11 and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord,

“For he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”

 

And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 

12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away.

New Testament Lesson           Hebrews 13:2-8                      

 

So we can say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper;
    I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?”

Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

 

 


 

          In Ezra, our Old Testament lesson for today, something interesting is going on.  Something exciting.  They are rebuilding the temple.  It was destroyed 66 years earlier, but now they are rebuilding it and they have laid the foundation.  So they have a great worship service.  The priests are in their finest vestments.  The choirs are signing.  The musicians are playing their instruments.  The young are shouting with joy. 

 

          But – the Bible says “many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house.” 

 

          It is so easy for people to say, “Back in my day – things were better.  We had a better temple.  We had better music.  We had better worship.  We had better fellowship activities.”

 

          Everything in life changes.  We need to get used to that, and we should rejoice at many of these changes.

 

 

You know what happens when an organization or an individual refuses to change?  It dies.

 

          AT&T – anyone know what those initials mean? 

 

          American Telephone and TELEGRAPH. 

Telegraph? 

Who sends telegraph messages today?

I have one telegram in my scrap book.  I was 7 years old and a man came to the door and when my Mom and I answered it, the man said, “Telegram for Master William Maynard Pittendreigh.”  It was from my Dad sending me a birthday greeting from New York because he had to be there on business on my birthday.

No one sends telegrams anymore.  Western Union stopped in 2006. 

And no one refers to little boys as “Master” so and so – people haven’t done that in decades.

 

But AT&T – American Telephone and TELEGRAPH - is still a large company, earning $42 billion in revenue in 2016.  AT&T was founded in 1885, but it changed and adapted.  Along the way they understood that they were not in the telegraph business but the COMMUNICATION business.  Instead of telegraph machines, today they are into cable television, cell phones and internet technology. 

 

          They changed and adapted.

 

          On the other hand, there is the Kodak company.

 

          Back in my day, Kodak ruled the world’s photography culture.  Back in my day, I took photographs with a camera that held a roll of film.  I would then take the film in my dark room and developed the negatives.  When the negatives dried I put the negatives into an enlarger and projected an image on paper, then dipped the paper into a developing solution then a solution of fixer and let that paper dry.

 

          Those days are gone.  Very seldom does someone take pictures with film.  It’s all digital.

 

          Today, I take a picture with my telephone and in an instant I post it on Facebook and people all over the world can see it.

         

          Do you know what company invented the digital camera?

          Kodak.

          But after they developed the digital camera in 1975, the company dropped it because they were afraid of change.  They felt threatened, so they tried to keep change from happening.  "Kodak's Last Days". nst.com. February 5, 2012. Retrieved March 14, 2012.

 

          Kodak is still a good company, but it is not the company it once was.  In 1988 the company employed 145,000 people.  Today it is about 6,000.  In 1999, the value of its stock was $80, earlier this week it was about $9. 

         

          You can change, or die. 

 

          Things change in our families. 

          Change happens at work and in school.

          Things even change in the church – believe it or not!

 

In Ezra, things were changing for the community of faith. 

Without getting too bogged down in the history, let me give you a brief summary. 

The people of Judah were invaded.  They rebelled.  They lost and were exiled in the land of their invaders.

Decades go by.

The time comes when politics change, and the people of Judah are beginning to be allowed to return home.  That brings us to the book of Ezra.

 

Big change!

 

The people who go back to Jerusalem find that it is not what they expected.  They grew up hearing stories of this great Temple of God, and they find it destroyed.  In the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, the people begin the work to rebuild the Temple.

 

They could have easily sat back and done nothing about rebuilding the Temple. But they are willing to create change.

And as they rebuild the Temple, it is not the exact same thing as the former Temple.  It is new.  It is ----- different.

And when the foundations are laid in our Old Testament lesson, the younger people are thrilled, but the old dudes – they are in tears. 

They remember the way it used to be.

Oh the way it used to be.

The choir was so much better back then.  Now they sing these new songs. 

The curtains look like this now, but back then they looked different.

Change!

How do you deal with change?

 

First, accept it! Deal with it and move on!

 

In Ezra the people did not have much time to settle in once they returned from Exile.  They had about two months.  Maybe three.  They could easily have said, “Wait, you ask me to help building the Temple, let me build my house first.  Let me put my children in the best schools first.  Let me get adjusted to things.  Then call me in 18 months and I’ll help rebuild the Temple.”

No – they got right to work.

Earlier this week, I was talking with someone about the book and the movie, “Hidden Figures.” 

That is the story of some very smart folks who worked to put the first Americans in space.  They were human computers.  Before the age of the IBM Computer, these people had to do calculations with pencil and paper.  The story is particularly interesting because they were women and they were African American, and in the 1960s that meant they had a lot of obstacles placed before them by an unfair society.

But they overcame them.

One day, one of the supervisors discovers that NASA is installing a new IBM Computer.  She knows that she will soon become obsolete. 

Change is in the air!

She could have sat back and accepted things without taking action, but no, she embraces the change.  She teaches herself computer programming.  She teaches this to all of her team.  So that when the change takes place, they can work with computers.  They embrace the change and become part of it. 

 

          The second thing we can learn from Ezra is that you can handle change best if God is in the midst of the changes.

In Ezra, the people in his day accept change by beginning with God.  The first thing they did was to build the altar.  This meant they could make sacrifices and have worship.  They put God first.  They were not just building a monument to the past, they were building a relationship with God. 

          Whatever change comes in your life or to your church, put God first. 

          When you see changes happening in your church, you might be inclined to reject it because it is change!  But put God first.  If it is God bringing the change, you had better embrace that change.  It is one thing to resist change, but don’t be the one who resists God.

          Same thing with changes in your life.

          Getting married?  Put God first.

          Planning retirement?  Put God first.

          Starting college?  Put God first.

 

A third thing we can learn about embracing change is that it is important to have an unchanging anchor in your life.

 

In a world in which everything is changing, you have to have some anchors in your life that never change, that keep your life stable.

 

The problem is that many of us pick the wrong anchor to hold onto. 

 

For example, at one time, most Christian churches sang only from the Book of Psalms.  These were the divinely inspired hymns and people refused to sing any other songs.

Then came Isaac Watts.  He took the words of the Psalms and rearranged them and created brand new songs.  “When I survey the Wondrous Cross,”  “Joy to the World,” “Alas! And did my Savior Bleed.”

The response of some churches was division.

People wanted the old songs and others wanted the new ones. The church was changing back in 1700, and the church was changing.  Music was changing!

And as in any time of change, people needed some unchanging anchors to hold onto.

The problem is, many of them chose the old music they had grown up with as the unchanging anchor.

Bad choice.

Music was changing whether they liked it or not.

 

The only thing that does not change is God.

Of course you need something in your life that does not change – but the only thing in life that does not change is God.

 

In the New Testament, Hebrews tells us that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.

 

God never changes – so cling to God and God alone as your anchor in the storms of change.

 

As for music, it changed.  Some churches began to sing the songs of Isaac Watts and other contemporary music of the 18th Century.  Some churches held fast to the old music – and where are they now?  Can you find a church that only sings songs from the Old Testament Book of Psalms?  No.  They died out in my great grandfather’s time.

 

Change – it is difficult.

But you have to live with it.  Because like it or not, things do change.

But in the midst of change, hang onto God who never changes.  Let God and God alone be the stability in your life.

 

And now unto God the Father,

God the Son,

And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.

Copyright 2017. 

Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh

All rights reserved

 

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.