Good News for the Neglected

Link to Service Bulletin

Rev. BrianGrubn

On the 15th of May, in the Jungle of Nool,

In the heat of the day, in the cool of the pool

He was splashing, enjoying the jungle’s great joys When Horton the Eletphant heard a small noise

So Horton stopped splashing and looked toward the sound, “That’s funny,” thought Horton, “there’s no one around.” Then he heard it again, just a very faint yelp,

As if some tiny person were calling for, “Help!”

“I’ll help you,” said Horton, “but who are you, and where?” He looked and he looked, he could see nothing there

But a small speck of dust floating past through the air

“I say,” said Horton, “how confusing, I’ve never heard tell of a small speck of dust that was able to yell.

You know what I think? I think there must

be someone on top of that small speck of dust. Some poor little person who’s shaking with fear, that he’ll blow in the pool, he has no way to steer.

I’ll just have to save him, because after all, a person’s a person, no matter how small. A person’s a person, no matter how small.

So gently and using the greatest of care,

the elephant stretched his great trunk through the air And he lifted the dust speck and carried it over

and placed it down SAFE on a very soft clover.

It turns out there’s not just A person on the dust speck, but an entire world filled with creatures called “Who’s” and the Mayor of Whoville is the one calling out for help. Horton promises to serve and protect the dear Who’s, but then disaster ensues. As Horton tries to expalin to the other jungle animals what’s going on, they don’t believe him, or they think that he’s wrong.

“Why that dust speck is as small as a pin. A whole world on that, why there never has been!”

The climax of the story comes when Horton has been restrained and the intolerance of the entire jungle has reached a fevered pitch, and the animals are about to take the clover where Whoville rests and destroy it in a boiling pot of Beezlenut oil! Horton pleads with the Who’s to raise their voices, to prove they exist! So the entire tiny planet of Whoville starts shouting, “We are here! We are here! We are here!” And the question remains all the way to the end…will anyone hear their cries?

It’s been said that the earliest form of prayer in human experience was the desperate cry for HELP! All forms of crying out, whether we are begging for help, or mercy, or change or relief…they are our way of pleading with the world and with the God who we can never see, and yet we trust with our very lives, “I am real! I matter! I am here! I am here! I am here!”

Hagar offered such a plea. She was a slave woman to Abraham. When God had yet to deliver children to Abraham and Sarah as promised, Sarah had the idea that Abraham should lie with Hagar and let her produce an heir. Well that’s just what they did, and Hagar birthed Abraham’s first son, Ishmael. But after Sarah eventually gave birth to Isaac, just as God had promised, she suggested Hagar and Ishmael be dismissed, lest they share in Isaac’s inheritance. Abraham obliged, sending them on their way early in the morning–presumably so there would be as few witnesses as possible–with a loaf of bread and a skii of water. When the water was gone, Hagar left the boy in the shade of a plant and wandered a bit away so she would not have to watch her only son die of thirst. And as she lay dying, betrayed and excluded, she cried out to God, to the universe, to anyone who might listen, “We are here! We are here! We are here!”

And God heard her cry. And water was provided. And God promised to make Ishmael a great nation of his own.

In Jesus’ lifetime, the entire nation of Abraham’s descendents were crying out to be seen. Israel had been conquered by the Roman Empire, who installed King Herod to rule over them. In an attempt to win the support of the people, he instituted major building projects, including rebuilding and expanding the Temple in Jerusalem. These massive, expensive

projects required taxes to pay for them, so he taxed his own people mercilessly. Despite being Jewish himself, many of the policies he passed during his reign were antithetical to Jewish Law in the Torah. An entire countryside of poor Israelites cried out for food, for relief, for rest, for God to send the Messiah and put an end to this nightmare.

And God heard their cries. God showed up, in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. He taught them, he healed them, and fairly early in his ministry, he commissioned his 12 top disciples to go 2 by 2 into Jewish towns and proclaim, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” When he sends them out to deliver this good news, he gives them some

strange-sounding orders, in Matthew 10: 9, “take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff.” In his commentary on Matthew, Stanley P. Saunders suggests that Jesus is ordering his disciples to carry out their mission by means of “sign-acts.1” Sign-acts were how Jewish prophets visually announced their message. So the 12 were sent out to serve the people of Israel, to preach the Good News, not just with words, but with visual cues. “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! So we display our radical trust and dependence upon God by taking no money, carrying no luggage, we don’t have an extra coat or even shoes on our feet. We rely on nothing in this world, except God, the One Great Creator and Ruler.” God takes care of even the sparrows, and, friends, you are “worth more than many sparrows…You are here, you are here, you are here. God sees you.”

The last time I was here, we talked about the social discipline window. It’s a way of understanding some basic options humans have for how to treat one another. We imagined along this window two lines: a line of authority that goes up, a line of support that goes out. You can have a punitive approach to government, increasing authority over people’s lives and bodies, doing things TO them. You can have a permissive form of government, doing things FOR people through supportive measures. God’s way of ruling is revealed to be Covenental, offering and receiving increasing forms of mutual accountability and support, which is power WITH people.

1 Theological Bible Commentary, edited by Gail R. O’Day and DAvid L. Petersen, p. 301

God sent out prophets to show that the Kingdom of Heaven was approaching, to overcome the crooked king of Israel…a revolution that took place at the kitchen table, in simple acts of neighborliness, in the every day life of God’s people. While their known form of Government preserved its power by doing TO them…laws, policies, taxes, violence…Christ initated the reign of a Divine Government that flourished through shared power. God, the Ultimate Ruler, desired to live with the people.

The stories of Hagar & Ishmael, the stories of 1st Century Israelites, they illuminate the systems of exclusion and privilege that commonly hold societies together. hold authority over as many as possible, support a select a few, and everyone else just gets excluded, ignored, dehumanized, in short, NEGLECTED (bottom left hand corner). These are the folks we do not notice. These are the human beings who are considered not quite deserving of their humanity. These are God’s Beloved children who we exclude and oppress because it benefits the larger system to do so.

These are people who have to mount extreme, brave efforts of public protest to try and become visible to the rest of us, just so someone might hear them scream, “WE ARE HERE! WE ARE HERE! WE ARE HERE!”

This morning we have Good News for the Neglected: God hears your cries. God sees you. Whether you are neglected by society, or neglected by your neighborhood, or neglected by your children or your spouse…God sees you. God hears your cries. God offers to go through this life, WITH you. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

When we read about miracles in the Bible, there are really only 3 ways of understanding them: either 1) God overturns the laws of nature to do something supernatural, 2) they didn’t happen at all, they’re just good stories, or 3) the real miracle is that people in need become aware of possibilities for life they never noticed before…and by receiving that possibility into their lives, they are able to live in new ways.

Maybe God magically produced a little pool for Hagar and her young son…or maybe the voices of the angels called Hagar’s attention to resources that she could not see through her desperation and anger. Perhaps the 12 Apostles were given special authority to do things that ordinary humans aren’t able to do…or perhaps they were ordered by

Jesus himself to pay more attention to the needs of the neglected, and simply serve them.

We are living in a time of deep neglect. It’s not just neglect of certain groups of people anymore. There is an escalating epidemic of loneliness in our country that affects all of us, but especially straight, white men.

There is an escalating wave of mental health crises among our young people. Life expectancy is plummeting for all Americans, due to “Deaths of Despair,” indicating that life is becoming unbearable for more people, most of them white, most of them middle class or below middle class.

Life doesn’t seem possible for them, they feel excluded and betrayed, overly burdened…so they choose to take their own lives…many times indirectly…by neglecting our health as we feel society has neglected us.

So hear me…LOOK…this Good News for the Neglected IS Good News for EVERYONE: God hears our cries. God desires to walk WITH us. We cannot transform political or economic systems to “do better” overnight. But what we CAN do is practice RECEIVING God into our lives…to practice living WITH God…to truly understand that the Kingdom of Heaven is AT HAND…available on Earth as it is in heaven. In our willingness to RECEIVE this Good News…new possibilities become visible for everyone.

A person’s a person no matter how small. It’s possible that we all get to heaven when we learn to care about, to love

and to serve the smallest of all. May it be so.