Monday, 14 January 2019 00:00

"ICE in their Hearts" - January 13, 2019

“ICE in their Hearts”

Matthew 2:1-23

A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley

January 13, 2019

University Baptist Church

Minneapolis, MN

Herod’s Henchmen

            My name doesn’t matter. Well, it matters to me, but I don’t want you to know my name. I did something awful and it follows me. It’s in my nightmares and it consumes my daylight hours, especially when I see children.

            I got a plumb job in the government. It was a way to keep my family fed. It provided me with some safety and security. I was hired as one of Herod’s Henchmen. At first I believed in what Herod was trying to do. He built big buildings. Huge buildings. Jerusalem was a shambles, left over by centuries of war. Herod the Great refortified the city. He put people to work in the stone mason trade. He rebuilt the temple mount and he built walls. Lots and lots of walls. And things were great at least on our side of the wall. You see, Herod had a weakness. He could not stand anyone opposing him. On the threat of death, he would not stand for any opposition to his huge projects. He instilled fear in the people of Judea. He never really carried out his threats. He had hirelings to do it for him. That’s where my story took a turn.

            Herod’s paranoia was so strong that he saw threats everywhere. Foreign dignitaries were colluding with the unwashed Hebrew underclass. When the people insisted on welcoming outsiders, outsiders who were threatening his pureblood sensibilities, he threatened to kill all male babies. Just like Pharaoh of old. I should have warned more of the families. But if I did, he might have my children killed.

            I was only able to warn one family. They fled in the night. But then we had to do our worst. Kill or be killed.

            Now I come before you, a broken man. I am not asking for your forgiveness. That’s too much. I’m asking for your understanding of what this kind of life can do to you. Who knows, maybe the child who I helped flee will grow up to usher in a new kind of Kingdom.

The sermon

            We know this story so well.

            The three kings, the Magi, as they are called, followed a star and came to worship Christ Jesus. They gave him gold, frankincense and myrrh. And for a moment, the whole world stood in awe of the wonder of the birth of the Christ child who would make us free. But even as the wise men were kneeling in worship of newborn life and of newborn hope, King Herod was preparing to make sure history remembered him, not some poor homeless child.

Listen to what Matthew says about their encounter with Herod. The Magi ask him, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” Herod should know. After all for all intents and purposes, he was king of the Jews, although he hadn’t been born king. The king had to be descended from David. Herod was not and we know from the begats of Matthew, chapter 1 that Jesus supposedly was descended from David. The audacity of foreigners saying to the King, “Where’s your successor, we’ve got gifts for him.” That’s not what you do in the capital city. You give gifts to the king in charge if you know what’s good for you.

But the Magi had an epiphany. They saw who was really in charge. And they would not be satisfied with the tired old rules of Herod’s brutality. There’s a new king in town and even the international community saw Herod for what he was. The old ways of might makes right were no longer going to fly.

Hear this: the first people to believe and worship Jesus, according to Matthew, were wise people from a different country. Foreigners. Outsiders. People of a different race, class and religion.   Their gifts, their traveling tariffs took on new meaning. Gold came to represent Jesus’ royalty. Frankincense came to represent his divinity. Myrrh signified his humanity.

The Magi chose not to collude with Herod.

When his plan to determine the baby Jesus’ exact whereabouts was foiled by the wise men’s returning home without betraying Jesus to the government, Herod instituted plan B. He sent out his troops into the little town of Bethlehem and they murdered every single child under the age of two in hopes of killing the one whom he though might take his power away. Joseph, being warned in a dream fled with his family to Egypt until Herod died.

Jesus, the anti-Herod who was hailed as the real king of kings and Lord of Lords, wielded a different kind of power.

The slaughter of the innocents is one of the most disturbing stories in the Bible. No one who reads this passage can truthfully say that religion and politics do not mix. From the very beginning of Jesus’ life, he was an enemy of the state. King Herod actually foreshadows the feelings of the Jewish leaders and Pilate about Jesus. They feared he was going to take over and therefore must be stopped.

But part of the message of the Gospel is that such meanness is not the last word. There is a new order in town and it inspires people to do audacious, risky and courageous things all in the name of God who wants a better life for all of us.

Today, people fleeing their homelands are dying. Rather than welcome them in and find a place for them amongst us, we build a wall, we separate children from families, we allow people to die in the deserts. It’s as if there is ICE in our hearts.

ICE, not only stands for freezing water, but Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE agents are like Herod’s Henchmen from long ago. Doing the bidding of a leader who calls himself great.

It is a war for the soul of the nation. And like all soldiers, they have to suspend a bit of their humanity in order to carry out their orders.

Rita Nakashima Brock has begun to study and support people who have come out of the military. Very often their transition to civilian life is rocky to say the least. They try to compartmentalize the piece of themselves that had to do inhumane acts. Many suffer from Post traumatic stress disorder. The suicide rate among veterans is alarmingly high. Many join law enforcement without adequately dealing with their war-trauma, leading to predictable outcomes. Their souls are broken. So Brock and others are embarking on a field called soul-repair. How do we re-integrate these broken people into our lives, into our churches? How do we thaw out the ICE that is in their hearts?

How do we build a bridge between ourselves and them when a wall is so much easier?

It starts by remembering that even the meanest henchmen of Herod are God’s children and have been corrupted. A part of their soul has been ruptured. Our work as healers us to help them repair their souls.

The Bible says that Joseph was warned in a dream to flee to Egypt. What if it was one of Herod’s henchmen that warned the Holy family. Could God not have sent a supposed enemy to be the curator of God’s redemption? What if something of liberating humanity broke through their icy hearts?

We don’t know if Herod’s henchmen were the ones to warn the Holy Family. We don’t know if others were warned. I kinda hope they were. I hold out hope that someone found the courage to warn them. The person giving subversive notice could very well be like an angel coming to Joseph at night.

And we can be part of that warning network, that group that smuggles people out of harm’s way.

Offering them sanctuary when they need it most. Because it’s what a Christian does.

History is filled with stories of redemptive people who have stood up to bigotry and hate and offered hope instead. Could you do the same in this new year?

Here is one such story. I think about this as the bell choir prepares to visit Sweden in about a year and a half. It’s a true story that happened 75 years ago in the fall of 1943 in Denmark. (I played and sang this on guitar. Here’s the original—and better—version of the song)

Denmark 1943 by Fred Small: