December 10, 2016
1 Samuel 2:1-8
The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
Over and again in Scripture, God expresses divine concern for “widows, orphans, and strangers;” women who had lost husbands, children who had lost parents, and foreigners who were not native Israelites. What did each of these three groups have in common? Each was vulnerable. Each had no reliable means of income. Each had the potential to be socially invisible and thus marginalized.
God has a preference for people like this. So it was no surprise that ancient Jewish society had laws giving these people some advantages. None of Israel’s laws necessarily changed the social standing of these individuals. Rather, the law recognized that the needs of these folks might very well go on and on—they were poor and would likely remain at a modest financial level even if the law were followed.
Still, because God desires to see all people flourish, God commanded that Israelite society be a community of sharing, of compassion. Debts were not to remain forever, foreclosed property was eventually to be returned to the family that had to forfeit the land in the first place, farmers were to purposely leave a bit of grain when harvesting so that gleaners could come through and find plenty of leftovers with which to make bread.
However, we know Israel’s story well enough to recall that as a society, they mostly failed. The rich got richer, the poor got poorer. Widows and orphans were marginalized; resident foreigners were abused and ignored. Israel forgot—whether intentionally or unintentionally. Factors such as these contributed to their punishment and eventual exile.
One doesn’t have to dig deep to find similarities with ancient Israel and our current society. The tensions in our present polarized political climate are inordinately high, fueled by deep-seated racial divisions and immense economic inequality.
Societies do not fail because evil people are doing evil deeds. Societies fail because good people are so focused on themselves and what they want, that the good that needs to be done fails to get done. It is to be so focused on what we want, so focused on what we are trying to achieve, so focused on partying and shopping for Christmas, that we do not see the needs of persons near us We fail to hear the subtle cries for help that are all around each of us, each day. To quote Martin Luther King, “For evil to succeed, all it needs is for good men to do nothing.”
Our mission as people of God is to be people who draw no distinctions. We do this by refusing to draw boundaries, by refusing to exclude people from the fullness of life that God promises.
We do it when we welcome all people into our churches. We do it when we work to ensure that all are fed, and clothed, and housed, and cared for when sick. We do it when we work to transform unjust social structures. We do it when we fix any system or practice that treats anyone as undeserving of a full life.
It is the commitment we make when we affirm our baptism at confirmation:
To proclaim the Good News of God in Christ through word and deed.
To serve all people, following the example of our Lord Jesus, and
To strive for justice and peace in all the earth.
It is the kind of commitment to which Christ continually calls and recalls us, commitment of self, with a passion that becomes the power of Christ’s kingdom breaking into our lives in this time and in this place. The coming of Christ means to transform the world, saving all who are in need.
Let streams of living justice
flow down upon the earth;
give freedom’s light to captives,
let all the poor have worth.
The hungry’s hands are pleading,
the workers claim their rights,
the mourners long for laughter,
the blinded seek for sight.
Make liberty a beacon,
strike down the iron pow’r;
abolish ancient vengeance:
proclaim your people’s hour.
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Hymn #710]