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Sermons from Moorpark Presbyterian Church

What Goes Around

by Pastor Dave Wilkinson

Obadiah 1-4, 10-15

December 2, 2007

       We had two kinds of fights in my neighborhood when I was about ten years old. 

       We had messy but mostly harmless fights.  These seasonal fights involved putting firecrackers into mushy apricots, lighting them, and throwing them in the air above each other’s heads.  (Okay, the boys out there are listening now!  But do not try this yourselves.  We were highly trained professional.)

        We also had fights that had a lot more potential for bodily injury.  These were the fights with green walnuts that took place in Steve and Jim DeBenedetti’s four acre orchard near our house.  We didn’t have snowballs in Northern California .  We used what we had.

       These walnuts weren’t the lightweight things on the Christmas sideboard.  These were the unhulled originals.  The throwing was done at a distance and there were plenty of trees to hide behind.  But if they hit, they hurt. 

       One time I somehow found myself alone facing four opponents. One the other boys suddenly ran my direction and yelled, “The teams aren’t even!  I’m on your side!”  But just as soon as he got within a few feet of me, he reared back and launched a walnut right at my leg.  That one hurt!   Then he ran away laughing toward his own side. 

       The God of Battles, guided my arm.  My pursuing walnut curved so it struck him full on the side of the face.  He fell to the ground crying.  The other boys were angry and upset.  But in my secret ten year old heart, I felt he had gotten about what he deserved.  Treachery had been repaid.  At ten years of age, I would have been a pretty fit candidate for a remake of Lord of the Flies.         If I had known Obadiah, I would have quoted it in Pulp Fiction style:  “As you have done it will be done to you.  Your dealings will return on your own head!” 

        What goes around comes around.  That’s the theme of the Book of Obadiah – the shortest book in the entire Old Testament. 

         The focus of this brief prophecy is the country of Edom .  The people of Edom are descendants of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob.  The people of Edom are rich from all the trade that goes through their land between Egypt and Arabia .  They feel safe from attack in their rocky fortress.  So Obadiah says, “You who live in the cleft of the rock, in the loftiness of your dwelling place.”   

       If you go to Jordan today, like Indiana Jones did in The Last Crusade, you can take a tour bus to the marvelous city to Petra – carved into the living cliffs.  Petra was founded as the Edomite capital of Sela.        

          Israel and the Edomites have had a spotty history – just as Israel and the Jordanians continue to have today.  David conquered the Edomites and Israel ruled Edom through the reign of Solomon.  But despite this rough history, there is an expectation of a kinship relationship between the peoples.  All their fights are family fights. 

       This is what makes the behavior of the Edomites so shocking when the City of Jerusalem is destroyed by Babylon .  Rather than give the refugees sanctuary, the Edomites abuse them.  They rejoice when they see the distress of the Jews.

       The Edomites aren’t the destroyers.  They don’t have the courage or the strength.  Their chosen role is the role of the jackal that follows the lion and hopes for a share of the kill.  The Edomites follow the Babylonian lion waiting for a chance of loot.   

       So God pronounces through Obadiah: “Because of violence to your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame – as you have done, it will be done to you.  Your dealings will return on your own head.”

       “What goes around comes around” doesn’t sound like a fit subject for an Advent sermon.   But it really works for Hanukah.  Obadiah leads to Hanukah which leads to Christmas. 

       Back in 1978 there was a TV show called Connections.  James Burke, the narrator, showed how one thing leads to another in surprising ways.  For example, one episode traces the invention of plastic to a certain kind of 17th Century Dutch cargo chip – which makes sense when you think about it. 

        Well there are Biblical connections too.  You are gong to have to follow closely here but I can promise you an a-ha moment at the end.  So in my best James Burke style, let me say that it’s now 160 B.C.  Some 400 years after the destruction of Jerusalem , the Jews are back on top – at least in the region.  Under the leadership of the Maccabees, the Jews defeat the Selucids who are trying to take away their religious freedom.  They win their political independence and recapture Jerusalem . That leads to the rededication of the Temple that will be celebrated beginning three days from now at Hanukah.  

        “At this time of year in days of yore, Maccabees our Temple did restore.”  All we need now is a dreidel. 

        Now the sad thing is that the Jews then turned around and did to others exactly what they had fought against for themselves – not remembering that what goes around comes around.  Arab tribes had pushed the Edomites out of their homes in the cliffs.  They resettled in an area south of Hebron in a region that came to be called Idumea or land of the Edomites.  Then one of the Maccabean kings, John Hyrcanus, conquers Idumea. And the first thing he does is to force the Edomites to accept Judaism and become circumcised ...” A war for religious freedom degenerates into a war to deny religious freedom to others.

       But sin always ends up costing you in the end.  Obadiah taught it and the Jews later learned it for themselves.  In fact, the sin of religious bigotry – forcing the Edomites to convert -- cost the Jewish people big time.  For just a hundred years later, when it was time for the Romans to chose a king to govern their client kingdom of Israel, whom did they chose?  This is the a-ha.  They chose a man who professed Jewish faith but who wasn’t actually Jewish at all.  They chose Herod the Edomite who became known as Herod the Great – the King when Jesus was born and the murderer of the babies of Bethlehem and many others.  Can I hear an amen?  Can I at least hear an a-ha?

       That’s connections.  That’s what you get when you betray your own history.  When the persecuted becomes the persecutor, what goes around comes around.  Obadiah becomes Hanukah becomes Herod.

        But that’s when we get the great surprise of Christmas.  In God’s grace, Herod leads to Jesus.  And in Jesus, God breaks the cycle of “what goes around comes around” and gives us Christmas grace.   For what goes around isn’t the only thing that comes around.  Christmas also comes around.

        Christmas is about peace.  Christmas is about hearing the command of Jesus that we love each other as He has loved us.  Christmas is about breaking the grim cycle of unbrotherly behavior that brought so much trouble to both Edom and Israel and also to me.  If I could, I’d take back both the vengeful walnut and the satisfaction it brought me. That hit only led to more hits given and received.  Apricots are much better.

       But we can’t break the cycle on our own.  We can only love with vulnerability when we know how deeply we have been loved.  We can only love as He loved us when we really know how He loved us.  That’s why we come to the Lord’s Table.     

       Christmas comes with the beautiful reminder that we no longer reap what we sow. 

       Christmas doesn’t mean that sin no longer has consequences.  There are always consequences.  It’s like the man in Arkansas a few years ago who died from a rattlesnake bite – after he and a friend decided to play catch with a rattlesnake.  There are always consequences. 

        But God says “I will take the consequences upon Myself.”  In a reversal of Obadiah God says, “As you have done it will be done to Me.  Your dealings will return on My own head.”  “This is my body.  This is my blood.  This is forgiveness.”  And God now calls us to His Table at the very beginning of Advent so we won’t ever forget it.