God’s Favored Folk
Based on Ex 33:12-23, 1Thess 1:1-10, Mt 22:15-22
I know that we are supposed to treat everyone the same, but truth-be-told, my maternal grandfather was my favorite. We were close from the moment I was born, and I still think of him often. I carry his name with me as my middle name, and that side of the family has always said that I favor him in looks and demeanor. Grampa kind of set the standard for me…he was the first college graduate and professional person I knew; he was the dentist in the town where I was born. He was married to my grandma for more than 60 years, and was active in his United Methodist Church in leadership, Sunday school and in choir; he was a hunter and fisherman as well. He was a great mentor and friend and he always had time for me. He was especially supportive after I decided to go to Pharmacy School and become a health professional like him. We knew each other by name and shared deeply in both good times and bad – he helped set my moral and spiritual compass. That relationship revealed to me (I now see looking back) how it is that we are supposed to live as God’s most favored folk. Let us seek our God in a moment of prayer…
God creates humans in the image of God and fosters our growth into that likeness. The Almighty has inspired humans to write about their relationship and understanding of God, and how that relationship has evolved over time. The humans then gathered those writings into a collection that we know as the Bible. These God-inspired stories tell of a people who were chosen – who were known by El Roi (the God who sees us) and who were favored above all other people. Even when humans faltered and sought other Gods, El Olam (the everlasting One) stayed constant. The Bible tells us of how that grace has seen God’s favored people through all the evils that the world has created and has conquered every one; how God will ultimately win. Being chosen by Immanuel is truly the difference between mere existence and final victory.
Yet, we live most often as if we are not only most favored, but also entitled. We live like spoiled children, as though we are owed everything that God gives to us, rather than being grateful for each and every blessing given by Jehovah-Jireh (the One who provides). We are unrepentant and often unaware of the great gifts that are bestowed on us each day – for the very day itself. It is no wonder that a Google search which starts with the words, “Why are Christians so…” and then puts in a letter of the alphabet yields a litany of things that people observe about many who follow Christ. I have included the link in my sermon text so you can find it on our website, in case you want to watch this four minute YouTube video. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-ATdnew_x4&list=RDS-ATdnew_x4&t=4) It is not a pretty portrait of how many folks who profess “most favored of God status” have been observed to behave towards each other, towards God and towards the rest of creation.
What do our scriptures have to teach us today about our most favored status and what is expected of us? We once again find Moses interceding on behalf of the Israelites in Chapter 33. He’s back on the mountain for another set of Ten Commandment tablets and to try to convince God that God’s statement about consuming the people is not the right path. Moses reiterates to God that because Moses is known to God by name AND that he has found favor with God, then God should continue to lead God’s chosen people – and in so doing, make the Israelites unique from the other folks on the earth. As a bonus, God grants Moses’ prayer request to see God’s glory (or goodness) and Moses gets to see God’s backside. This is the kind of favored relationship that Moses has with God – very close and personal.
Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians is the oldest manuscript of the New Testament, written right around 50 C.E. This pre-dates the Gospel of Mark by about 20 years. In this letter, Paul is writing to a people of whom he is very fond. He notes in verse four that he knows God has chosen them because they received the Word of God with the Holy Spirit and in full conviction. They had become examples of faithfulness throughout all of what is now present day Greece. This is known not just to Paul, but to people from other places as well who look to those believers from Thessalonica as ones to be imitated. Truly they are among God’s favored folks.
In the Gospel according to Matthew, the Pharisees thought that through their education, training and status as Temple leaders, that they were favored by God. However, there was this roving prophet, Jesus of Nazareth, and his disciples who were causing all sorts of issues – and helping all sorts of people (the same people that the Temple was marginalizing). So they sent some of their students and some Herodians along to trap Jesus into saying something that was against the law – so they could bring charges against him and publicly discredit him. They told Jesus that they knew he didn’t play favorites, but treated all persons impartially. Jesus, in your opinion as a good Jewish rabbi, they said, “…Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not…?” (verse 17, NRSV) Now, Jesus knew what was in their hearts and did not take the bait. Give what is right to the emperor, but also, give to God what rightfully belongs to God, was His answer. It begs the question, however…what rightly belongs to God?
The simple and straight forward answer is…we do! When we are acting like God’s favored folk we have three scriptural examples of what can happen. We discern from Exodus that we will have God with us where ever we wander – and that we may be offered a glimpse of the glory of God. From the Thessalonian letter we understand that when we accept the Word of God wholly and completely, then we seek to imitate those acting in a Godly manner. When we do that, the world begins to notice how different we are and other people want to know more about what it is that we’ve discovered. It becomes contagious (which is why this new Jesus movement developed into the large religion that it is today). Finally, when we get in close relationship to God, where God knows us by name and we know God’s name, then we are able to discern how to act and how not to act.
This moral compass that guides us is a gift from God. The whole of the biblical narrative from the error of Adam and Eve until the final word in Revelation is all about how God acts and reacts to redeem us from our repeated apostasy and return us to right relationship with God and all of creation. It is the masterwork which shows us, in sometimes uncomfortable and gory detail, how we as humans try to always live apart from God – and how God continues to call us back into union. Once we realize that we are favored folk in God’s eyes and heart, then we can begin to understand God’s patience and persistence in reclaiming and restoring creation. When we begin to understand the overarching and all-encompassing love of God, we can come together as a favored people who are called apart from sin as a human condition and a form of imprisonment.
God’s great in-breaking of the kingdom with the incarnation of Jesus the Christ means that we have been set free from the burdens of our sin and our fear of death. Thus, we have a moral obligation to serve God as a community set apart from the world. As Jesus rightly notes, we are to be in the world, but not of the world. Our call, therefore, as God’s favored folk is to live in such as way so that when those who are not Christians encounter us, they know that we are similar but significantly different. That we wield a power from God that is unique because it is for people, freedom and unity. Not the familiar and ubiquitous power of empire which only seeks to subject and control others. We need to live fully into this counter-cultural power so that when people do a Google search on “Why are Christians so…” they will find words like, service-oriented, loving, kind, compassionate, empathic, friendly, welcoming, focused on social justice and equanimity, honest, etc. Traits that reflect the goodness of God which is in each and every one of us. It is time to recapture that spirit that the ancient Thessalonian church had – when it shone with the glory of God and profoundly influenced a portion of the Roman Empire. As God’s favored folk, we can and must do the same to the empire we live in. God knows it is time to do just that. Amen!