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Sunday, March 2, 2014

Step out of the Crowd (Obadiah 1:10-15)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

            Ukraine now has a Baptist pastor for a president in an amazing turn in the series of extraordinary events there.   Government corruption led to protests, which led to government troops violently cracking down on the protestors including killing of many.  The now deposed president is wanted for mass murder. 
            During the height of the tensions, we in America saw the stunning pictures of Orthodox priests standing in the line of fire.  These Christian clergymen saw their home country torn apart by deadly violence.  Their response, as men of God, was to stand right in the middle of it and pray.  When people were being killed, they came alongside them, put themselves in harm’s way, and looked to God for help and for hope.
            No one was doing that last fall in the locker room of the Miami Dolphins.  In professional football, the largest human beings are the offensive linemen.  They typically stand 6 and a half feet tall and well in excess of 350 lbs.  They are behemoths.  They are Goliath-big.  We would not think such a giant could be bullied, even by his peer.  It happened.
            Jonathan Martin, a lineman as big and presumably as tough as the rest, was the victim of hazing and bullying by his teammates.  Other linemen hurled racial slurs at him – language that would qualify as horrifically offensive.  In NFL locker rooms, it is thought that this destructive, belittling conversation is harmless banter.  But deep down, Martin was harmed and he didn’t know how to defend himself.  He was having terrible problems.
            His teammates who were not involved stood by and watched.  They either did not notice that Martin was deeply troubled.  Or they noticed, but did not care.  The three teammates who were verbally harassing him piled on.  After Martin left the team searching for psychological help, many commentators blamed him.  The commentators, mostly former players themselves, said the locker room is a tough place and the only way to survive is to the stand up and fight the tormentor.  That’s the culture of the NFL, they said.  Martin, by telling what happened and telling it outside the locker room, broke some insider code.  He, the victim, was to blame.
            One commentator though disagrees.  Mark Schlereth played a dozen years in the league on the offensive line.  First, he was on a Super Bowl winner with the Washington Redskins and was a part of their legendary offensive line known as the hogs.  Then, he won two Super Bowls with Denver where their success was largely tied to the line’s aggressive blocking.  By all counts, Schlereth is an NFL tough guy.
            He takes issue with the voices blaming Martin for his victimhood in the Miami bullying situation.  Schlereth tells of times early in his own career when veteran linemen defended him.  He talks of incidents later when he was the veteran.  He noticed a younger player being harassed.  He sensed that the younger player was unable to verbally and psychologically defend himself.  So, Schelereth confronted the tormentors and shouted “Enough!”  And it was over.
           
            Clearly these are two very different accounts.  In one, we see riled protestors falling under the gunfire of Ukrainian government security troops.  Priests armed with only their Bibles and prayer books stand in the line of fire.  They get involved. 
            In the second situation, a young man, a second year NFL player, is unable to deal with the culture of vulgarity and harassment in the locker room.  Most onlookers, his teammates, idly sit by saying nothing, professing ignorance.  The tormentors, who are also his teammates, harass and intensify the verbal abuse.  And one veteran says it is a total lie that people didn’t know he was troubled.  The other Miami Dolphins knew.  They just chose to not do anything.
            We live in a world that drips red with sin.  Sin manifests in numerous ways.  One of the ways we sin against each other is by hurting one another.  People injure each other physically and psychologically, and when a person is hurt by another’s force, the victim is always injured emotionally.  The emotional wounds run the deepest and cause the most damage.  It is often life altering destruction.  This is so whether we are talking about one individual bullying another or a group of people persecuted by another, more powerful group.
            When sin pollutes the world in the form of injury inflicted by one person onto someone else, by a powerful group onto a more vulnerable group, there is always a third party in the story – those in the watching crowd.  In the case of the prophet Obadiah, Edom was the third party.  Obadiah’s word from the Lord God is a word about how God reacts to the actions of the third party – those watching.
            The setting is the 6th century BC, the decades after Babylon invaded Judah.  Babylon destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC.  Judah’s army was annihilated.  King Zedekiah was executed.  The wealthiest and most powerful of society were taken from Judah into slavery.  They would remain in exile in Babylon, modern day Iraq, for 70 years.  The Jews not taken were the poor, the landless, the aged, and the disabled. 
            Obadiah’s prophecy is a word against Edom because of Edom’s reaction to what happened to Judah.  Judah and Israel were the Jewish kingdoms, made up of people descended from Jacob, the son of Isaac, who was the son of Abraham.  Edom was the nation to the east of Judah.  The Edomites descended from Jacob’s twin brother Esau.  They were close cousins to the Jews.  Yet the relationship between to the two people had always been full of strife.  So when the Edomites watched Babylon overrun and thoroughly wipe out Judah, they were thrilled.  The Edomites laughed and taunted and celebrated as Judah was ravaged.
            All the while, God was watching Edom as Edom kicked Judah when Judah was down.  Obadiah speaks God’s word against Edom – a word from God against the crowd staying uninvolved, refusing to help when someone needs helps.  This is God’s judgment on anyone who takes advantage of another’s misfortunes. 
            God clearly says, “The day is coming when I, the Lord, will judge the nations” (Ob. 1:15).  This idea of a day of judgment runs through the Bible from Old Testament into the New.  It is something to hope for and something to dread.  For those in right relationship with God, nothing could be greater than the day of the Lord.  The prophet Joel says, “In that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, the hills shall flow with milk, and all the stream beds of Judah shall flow with water; a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord” (Joel 3:18).   Peter, speaking in the books of Acts and quoting from Joel, associates the Day of the Lord with Jesus.  He was the promised one.  When we put our trust in Him, even though we know we are sinners, we are forgiven.  He makes us new, free of sin.
So we need not fear judgment.  The Day of the Lord, besides judgment is also the day of resurrection and His second coming.  All our New Testament hopes come to fruition.  Between now and then, we remember that as forgiven people, we are to live as Jesus lived.  We are to forgive others.  We are to love all people.  And we are to go out of our way to show compassion, help the hurting, and come alongside people who are being put down.  Whether it is the bully’s victim, Ukrainians crying out for freedom, or orphans going hungry, the people of God are responsible to help.  When we say we follow Christ – we are among the people of God.
The word of God in Obadiah is to all who do not help, but rather do the opposite.  This prophet singles out the Edomites who rather than come to Judah’s aid instead stepped on Judah’s throat.  God’s people were already beaten.  God had allowed it, allowed Babylon to ruin the temple and enslave the Jews.  It was punishment for sin and punishment for neglecting the poor.  Now Obadiah comes along to say just as God punished Judah, God’s wrath will rain down on Edom because Edom laughed at Judah. 

10 You were cruel to your relatives,
    the descendants of Jacob.[e]
Now you will be destroyed,
    disgraced forever.
11 You stood there and watched
as foreigners entered Jerusalem
    and took what they wanted.
In fact, you were no better
    than those foreigners.
12 Why did you celebrate
when such a dreadful disaster
    struck your relatives?
Why were you so pleased
when everyone in Judah
    was suffering?
13 They are my people,
    and you were cruel to them.
You went through their towns,
sneering
and stealing
    whatever was left.
14 In their time of torment,
    you ambushed refugees
and handed them over
    to their attackers.
Edom’s sin is clear – “You were cruel … you stood there and watched … you went through their towns stealing.”  God’s response is just as clear.  “The day is coming when I, the Lord, will judge the nations.  And, Edom, you will pay in full for what you have done.”  I have been reading the Contemporary English Version.  The NRSV is even clearer in its rendering of verse 15: As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head.” 
We are reminded of Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats.  The sheep were invited to inherit the Kingdom of God while the goats were condemned to eternal punishment.  Why?  The sheep fed the hungry and visited the sick in hospitals.  Jesus said whenever they did that, they were, in essence, doing kindness to Jesus himself.  Conversely when the condemned goats wondered why they were banished from the Kingdom forever they were told that in this life they had neglected the poor and hungry, they had left the homeless on the street and refused to help.  Their refusal to extend kindness amounted to withholding love from Jesus.  It is not enough to avoid evil.  We must proactively seek out the poor and the brokenhearted.  When in our travels in the world we happen upon hurting folks, we must go out of our way to help them.
Even non church goers have heard of the Good Samaritan.  In Jesus’ story, a Samaritan man happens upon a beaten Jew.  Jews hated Samaritans and Samaritans likewise disdained Jews; but not this one.  The Good Samaritan stopped on a road known to be frequented by gangs of thugs and thieves.  He helped the wounded man, paid extended care, and, pledged to return to see how the man fared.  He went the extra mile just to help.  That’s what Christ followers do.
We remember these teaching of Jesus.  We remember the hope in the prophecy of Joel as it pertains to the Day of the Lord.  Consider these things in contrast to God’s harsh words in Obadiah.  Obadiah is challenging.  The main story is Judah and Babylon, King Zedekiah and King Nebuchadnezzar.  Edom is side story; definitely not the front page. 
However, most of us don’t live life on the front page.  Most of us spend most of our time in the crowd.  Edom’s cruelty toward Judah and the Samaritan’s kindness toward the fallen Jew are two options for the crowd.  Which option do we choose?  Which way do we respond to the world?  Our answer determines how we will experience the Day of the Lord.  It is a day to hope for or a day to dread.  How you and I as members of the crowd respond to the world around us indicates what the day will be like for us. 
Reading the Bible and believing what we read leaves us with this: the Day of the Lord is inevitable.  It will happen.  We don’t know when, but there is no doubt.  A second conclusion we cannot avoid is the lives we lead are tied to how we stand before God. 
Our church fills me hope.  When HillSong hears of people who are struggling we respond.  We sponsor poor children in Ethiopia and go to visit them; or to Romania or Uganda or Haiti or South Africa.  We give our money to give a hand up to people in our own town who are just one paycheck away from eviction.  We build wheelchair ramps because we know Jesus saw physical disability as a sign of Satan’s hatred of God and humanity.  We participate in the Crop Walk because when we help feed the hungry Jesus considers it as if it is done for him.  Our church is involved in all this for the right reasons.
The orphan crisis; the plight of the handicapped; these and the other concerns – these are not ours, not directly.  We are the watching crowd.  But we know that God is watching right along with us.  God not only sees the child suffering in poverty.  God sees how we react to the child suffering in poverty.  God will help that child with or without us.  Whether we are in good standing with God has a lot to do with how we react.
As I said, I consider the hearts of the people here and I have great hope.  We are not Edom as Edom laughs at Judah.  We see Judah in rags, starving, and we help Judah get new cloths.  We help get food into Judah’s hungry belly.  I am so grateful to be part of this body of believers.
I close by asking, are you part of it?  Have you, as an individual, received forgiveness of sins and received Jesus into your heart?  If you have not, today is the day.  Do not let the moment pass.  Receive Christ.
If you say, ‘yes, I belong to Jesus,’ then, are you looking at the world through lens of compassion?  Is your compassion driving you to do things, both intentionally and spontaneously, to help people up when they have fallen?  How you answer this reveals how much you understand what it means to follow Jesus.  And it is an indication of how you will fare on the Day of the Lord.  Be part of it.  You’re in a church full of opportunities to help Judah, to feed the hungry, to house the refugee.  Step out of the crowd and into the work of the Kingdom.  Do it today. 

AMEN

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