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“The Gift of Diversity and the Sin of Injustice: What is our calling?”

(Scripture passages of Matthew 2:1-12, Luke 4:18-19, and 1 Samuel 3:1-10 are below)

Today our service has two themes. One is the theme of human diversity, and the other is the theme of justice and injustice. We celebrate diversity, but we mourn the fact that, with differences, injustices are often inflicted upon some groups of people by other groups of people.

The first reading from Matthew is about the wise kings, or the Magi who went to see baby Jesus. These magi were not from the same culture as Jesus’ parents, Mary and Joseph. We do not know the ethnic identity of the Magi, and we also do not know their religious affiliation. They came to see Jesus from a far distance, so we can assume that in lifestyle and worldview they were different from Jesus, Mary and Joseph. To present the life of Jesus in the Bible by starting with the visit of these people who were different from Jesus, underscores, right from the start, that Jesus is for everyone, not just for those who resemble me or behave in a certain way, or hold a particular belief, or possess certain talents or skills. No, Jesus is for those in one’s own culture and for those from other cultures. This is the underlying message of the story of the Magi.  And it is a powerful reminder that in God’s world diversity is valued. God is the creator of everyone; people who look, act and think like me, and people who don’t look, act, or think like me. If God loves all people, then there is no reason why I should not.

We don’t know a lot of details about Jesus’ life between his birth and when he started his ministry. But one we do know is that Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt soon after Jesus was born in order to escape King Herod’s order that all Jewish baby boys under the age of two should be killed. So, another detail that is given in the life of Jesus is one that highlights an injustice and an abuse of power. Herod was using his position of power to protect himself against what he thought was a threat; that a Jewish baby would be king and usurp his position. Again, it is striking that the story of Jesus that is told in the Bible for all to read begins with a recognition of diversity and a concrete instance of injustice created by people in our world. Clearly the diversity is valued and the injustice is mourned.

This passage in Luke is one of the first words that Jesus speaks publicly after starting his work as an adult. After Jesus was tempted in the desert for 40 days by Satan, he started teaching and preaching in the towns. When he got to Nazareth which was where his father, Joseph, had been living, he stood up in the synagogue and read this passage from the book of Isaiah about bringing good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed. Again, it is significant that one of the very first things Jesus says in his ministry addresses the unjust situations people live in. Jesus is saying, ‘these injustices will be no more!’

And when you continue reading through the Gospel stories, you see that all of Jesus’ career was about bringing healing and justice to people and restoring their dignity as human beings regardless of their gender, wealth, social status, abilities, and even faith perspectives. One of the longest dialogues that Jesus has with any individual in the Bible is with a Samaritan woman, and Samaritans were known to worship differently than the Jews.

Throughout history there have been many faithful people who have tried to imitate the life that Jesus led on earth by bringing good news to the poor, release to the captives, healing the sick and working for freedom for the oppressed. There have been many people that have recognized that certain groups in our societies suffer great injustices because others don’t appreciate, or are threatened by human diversity. This week at NMH we celebrate the life of one such person, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. MLK was a person of faith who felt a calling to work for justice. We are grateful for such individuals for two reasons; one, their lives have made the world a better place and more in line with God’s hope for humanity, but two, their lives inspire us to realize there is much more work to be done and that God also calls us to respond from our own positions in life in ways that are available to us.  

The story of Samuel reminds us of this. Samuel was a young boy who had an experience that anyone can have at any time in life, regardless of age. Samuel gets this sense that he is being called to do something but he is confused because he can’t figure out where the voice is coming from! We can have this experience, and we might today, or in this coming week, as we are inspired by MLK’s life and legacy, and feel that we, too, are called to do something, but we may not know where the voice is coming from. Samuel didn’t ignore the voice, but tried to understand what it was about and he was persistent with asking for help from Eli, his priest and teacher.  We can be persistent, too, in trying our best to understand and respond to the calling we might be hearing.

That is what it means to be faithful; it is to be persistent with the questions that we are called to wrestle with, and to be willing to follow through with our eyes on the prize, which is God’s justice and peace for all people, those who look, think and act like me, and those who do not look, think and act like me.

(Scripture Passages taken from the New Revised Standard Version)
Matthew 2:1-12
2In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” 7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Luke 4:18-19
18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

1 Samuel 3:1-10
3Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. 2At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3the lamb of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 5and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. 6The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 9Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”