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October 18, 2020 

 

TWENTIETH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST 2020 A

Our Old Testament lesson starts out, “This is what the Lord says about Cyrus, his anointed one:  I have held him by his right hand so he could conquer the nations ahead of him, strip kings of their power and open doors ahead of him so that the gates would not be shut.”  King Cyrus was powerful and had God’s blessing.  He amassed the largest empire that had ever been constructed to that date.  But the more amazing fact for our purposes today is that he wasn’t a Jew—he wasn’t one of the CHOSEN PEOPLE—and yet he was—chosen by God, that is!

There are a couple of ways to look at this bit of history.  We could just say that God used this Cyrus to bring about the outcome that God wanted done—kind of the way I use my puppets to tell my children’s sermon—where I control the narrative—I give the characters their words and actions.

I prefer Option #2.  That’s where God sees a wise and caring ruler and gives him support and encouragement and guidance to expand his empire.  Cyrus didn’t just come in, conquer nations and use them for his own benefit, unless that benefit was to learn about their cultures and beliefs.  

Cyrus respected the Jews and their God, Yahweh, who required his subjects to live by moral laws that treated people with respect and love.  Instead of being threatened by the Jew’s desire to get back to their homeland, Cyrus not only helped them on their way, but worked to retrieve some of their sacred artifacts for their Holy Temple.

Before we wonder why God used this OUTSIDER—THIS CONQUEROR, let us not forget that the CHOSEN ONES were part of the OUTSIDE WORLD at one time.  Let us also not forget that God seems to be regularly bringing in people who were outside to be chosen to do God’s bidding.  Let us definitely not forget that when God created humanity in the first place, there were not 2 kinds of people created, the Insiders and the Outsiders.  They were all God’s children—just as we are all God’s children.

Truth be told, the leaders of God’s Chosen People when they were conquered and taken into exile, did a good job of EARNING THEIR DEFEAT!  It is much easier to get conquered when the ruling class uses and abuses their subjects.  The will of the people was broken.

Cyrus did not just MAKE history.  He also STUDIED the laws and customs of the people that he conquered and found things he could learn from them.  He treated his new subjects well, so they were much less likely to rebel against his authority.  It’s amazing how much better groups of people get along when their common bond is respect and friendship, instead of fear and punishment!  

By my way of thinking, God chose Cyrus because Cyrus chose God—our God—the creator of us all.  So we could do much worse than to follow Cyrus’ example and look for common ground among the nations and peoples of the earth.  What these Old Testament stories are telling us is what we, today, need to RELEARN, that it’s a lot easier to get along with people who are outside of our personal, cultural, or national COMFORT ZONE, when we treat them with respect and cooperation than when we treat them with disrespect and pit ourselves against each other as adversaries.

What is true among nations is also true among smaller groups of people.  Look at the way Paul describes the Christian community of the Thessalonians.  Their faith is active.  Their love is working hard.  Their confidence from their Lord, Jesus Christ, is enduring.  The principals of building community is the same whatever our size.  There is no jealousy and all are welcome.  

Sadly, in the Gospels we find out what happens when various religious or political parties see each other as adversaries bidding for ultimate control, and IN THE NAME OF GOD, NO LESS!  Instead of learning from Jesus, the Pharisees try to trap him so they can get rid of him.  

“Tell me Jesus, do you vote for Caesar or God?”  They are banking on Jesus splitting the vote, so he will get all the people fighting each other, with Jesus caught in the middle.  But Jesus doesn’t see one set of laws for politics and another set of laws for godliness.  The way we approach our taxes, our societal obligations, should be based on the same principles as the way we approach our obligations as children of God.

October has arrived.  The voting has started—but not just in our country.  There are worldwide elections going on right now concerning healthcare, the environment, border issues, economies, wars, and democracy.  I recommend following Cyrus’ example and I vote for God.  I vote and pray that in this world all of us call our home, that we vote to learn to mutually respect and work with each other as friends and partners, not as enemies and adversaries.  Because if we don’t then we will be left to our own devices, and we have a lot of not so great history to tell us how that worked out!

And all of those who learned from Cyrus and God said…AMEN!