Samaria and Samaritans figure prominently in the twin books of Luke and Acts, at least when compared to the other gospels. The Samaritans are not a stand-in for all despised or marginalized groups of people. For Luke, the incorporation of Samaritans into the church represents one step in Jesus’ renewal of the whole people of God.
Who Were the Samaritans?
The Samaritans, you will recall, were Judah’s separated brothers and sisters, at least in part. After the death of King Solomon, the people of Israel divided into two nations: Israel in the north, with its capital at Samaria and Judah in the south, with its capital in Jerusalem. Assyria conquered the northern kingdom in 722 BC, sending the leaders of Israel into exile and importing foreigners to settle among the remnants of the population. By the time of Jesus, Samaritan and Jewish religion had diverged as well. Jesus, however, did not look at the Samaritans and see only half-breed heretics. He saw them as estranged brothers and sisters, whom the Lord would enfold into a renewed and reconstituted people of God.
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2 Thessalonians 1:3-12
Relief for the Persecuted
In the first chapter of Second Thessalonians, Paul seeks to encourage a persecuted church to persevere in faith. To that end, he promises the church two things: God will permanently relieve their suffering and he will bring their persecutors to justice.
“Someone needs to be accountable for killing my child,” a mother pleaded on the local news this week. People want those who have painfully wronged them to face justice. Every day, it seems, the press carries stories of families who demand that offenders “pay for what they’ve done.” This is true on a community level as well. Holocaust survivors still seek punishment for those who tortured them in concentration camps nearly 80 years ago. Minority communities still want violent racists who terrorized them decades ago to be punished in a court of law. They want the same thing for officers of the law who abuse them today. Justice often demands some form retribution.
Persecuted Christians long for justice as well. The author of Revelation records this vision: “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?'” (Revelation 6:9-10)
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The prophet Jeremiah was in prison and the army of Nebuchadnezzar was besieging Jerusalem. The citizens of Jerusalem were starving and disease was running rampant. The situation looked hopeless and the people were desperate. Soon the city would be burned, its walls destroyed and its citizens dragged a thousand miles across the desert to the land of Babylon.
It seems to me that buying real estate would be the last thing on anyone’s mind. So why in the world would the prophet Jeremiah decide to buy his cousin’s field in a village outside Jerusalem, a part of the country then occupied by a foreign enemy? Why, indeed?
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Those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.
Luke 20:34-36 (// Matthew 22:30 // Mark 12:25)
Jesus’ ethic around sex, marriage and family is rooted in both God’s creation of this present age and in his promise of new creation in the age to come.
Jesus affirms the vision put forth at the very beginning of the Bible in the Book of Genesis: God made men and women to live together as equal partners in unbreakable bonds of lifelong sexual and emotional intimacy through which succeeding generations are born and nurtured. This is the “one flesh” of which Jesus speaks in Matthew 19:4-6. This is the way of blessedness and happiness.
Marriage is one of God’s good gifts. Nevertheless, it is not for everyone. The sexual and procreative relationship of marriage is a this-age phenomenon. In the age to come, Jesus says, we will be “like angels” who do not marry. Presumably, Jesus is not announcing bad news for the blessed: “Tough luck folks; no more sex in heaven.” On the contrary, it suggests that human intimacy in the age to come will transcend even the intimacy of marital relations. The joys of heaven may be difficult for us to envision, but we can be certain that God will make our lives more complete when Christ gathers us to himself in glory.
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Luke 15:1-10 – The Parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin
God is looking for you
In World War I, illustrator James Montgomery Flagg produced the iconic recruiting poster that we’ve all seen. Uncle Sam is looking intently at the viewer and announcing, “I want you for the U.S. Army.” More than 4 million copies of the poster were printed from 1917-1918, helping to man the Army with 4 million soldiers to fight the war. The Army continues to look for men and women to fill its ranks. The total Army needs to add over 120,000 men and women to its rolls in 2019 in order to achieve the mission it has been given by the nation.
Similarly, the United Methodist Church is looking for a few good men and women (to borrow a Marine slogan) to fill the ranks of its clergy. Specifically, it is looking for young clergy. Like the denomination itself, the clergy are graying. The Young Clergy Initiative is a $7 million fund created by General Conference to increase the number of young people called to serve as elders and deacons. The institution needs them to survive.
Jesus tells us that God is looking for us, too, but his purpose is rather different. Jesus isn’t looking for us because he needs us to do something for him. Rather, he wants to do something for us. He is looking for us simply because we are lost, we are in peril and we important to him.
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