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Hoisted On Their Own Petard

Stories
Contents
“Hoisted On Their Own Petard” by C. David McKirachan
“Who’s Responsible?” by C. David McKirachan
“Good for What?” by Frank Ramirez


Hoisted On Their Own Petard
by C. David McKirachan
Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22

I had to look up the meaning of ‘Petard.’ If you dig into Hamlet, Shakespeare has Hamlet letting those who would betray him, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, carrying a letter instructing the English king to put Hamlet to death. Learning of the plot to kill him, Hamlet contemplates how to turn the tables against them: "For 'tis the sport to have the enginer / Hoist with his own petar; and't shall go hard / But I will delve one yard below their mines / And blow them at the moon." Hoist is the past participle of hoise, an earlier form of the verb hoist, "to be lifted up," while a petar or petard is a small bomb used in early modern warfare.  Well, now we all know. Use it. They’ll all think you’re smart. To tell the truth, most ministers are geeks, scholars, interested in an angle of learning and its fine points. So wear it with pride. You are intelligent. You’re an expert. Now use it to preach the Good News.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. Esther and Haman. This story is worthy of a first rate soap. It drips of sexuality and melodrama. But a lot of that stuff works for people because it isn’t far from their own experience. In this case it offers a warning of justice to those who seek to let their desires justify their means.

I was in the process of leading a congregation out of its doldrums into a ministry that was exciting and fun. It was working. And as is the case in almost any situation, there were those who, for various reasons, didn’t like it. There was one individual who was tangled in too many issues to go into at the present moment, but whose wife came and warned me that he was ‘obsessed with disgracing you and making sure the church doesn’t do what you want it to do.’ I was never clear if she meant the food bank or the youth group’s mission projects or the growing inclusiveness of the ministry or the adult spiritual retreats or… She indicated that he’d gotten this way after his job had taken a difficult turn. She was worried about him and the church. I assured her the church was fine. I wasn’t so sure about him.

He got the idea to attack me on patriotic grounds. The flag was not in the sanctuary for long stretches of time. The worship committee had done its homework and had recommended that we remove and replace the flag at ‘appropriate times’ during the church calendar. He figured I was vulnerable because of that. Without telling any of the church leaders, he started a petition to bring me up on charges because I did not honor Old Glory. After all, we didn’t have the outside flag lit appropriately at night, or take it down and put it up when we should. So he started calling folks who he thought would support him, sign his petition, and they’d all confront me at the annual meeting. Joy!

An obvious choice for a call was a vet, a Marine, who’d served two tours in Vietnam. For this guy, the flag was holy, made so by the blood of his buddies, some of whom he’d held as they died. He suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. His wife used to call me and tell me “John’s on his rock.” I’d drop whatever I was doing and go to their house, take a beer from her and go into the woods behind his house to his rock, where he’d be sitting with his beer, and his fatigue hat, scorched by shrapnel, stained by sweat and blood. We didn’t say much. We drank our beers and sat together.

He called me Coach. He would tell me, warn me in August that Giants season was coming, to please forgive him for his absences. He had season tickets. “Coach, this is my Sabbath. I won’t forget about God. And I won’t forget about you.” I’d take him scriptural studies and outlines for the sermons.

So this was the guy that my adversary called to set me up.

John, the Marine, called me at 11 one night to ask me what I wanted him to do to the adversary. My wife says I have too many friends like that. I told him to speak to the motion if it came up at the annual meeting. “That’s all?” I told him I trusted him and I trusted the Lord and I trusted God’s justice. “Okay Coach. But I think that’s a weird play to call in this kind of a game.”

The day of the meeting came, New Business came, the Marine put up his hand, and he gave a speech about how the Coach, that is I, had saved his life. He was caught by the horror of war. I loved him enough to help him see another way to live. Then he said, “I know some are worried about the flag being taken care of the way it should be. I love this church and its ministry, so I figure I’ll volunteer to put up and take down the flag everyday. That’s one less thing the Coach should have to worry about.”

My ratings went through the roof. My adversary wasn’t Haman, and I definitely wasn’t Esther, but you get the drift.

Semper Fi!

Amen.

* * *

Who’s Responsible?
by C. David McKirachan
Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29

In every community there is never an absence of someone who wants to make trouble. No law or rule can eliminate them. Some people seem bent on finding something, some way of upsetting the best laid plans. It may be as simple as grumbling, complaining, nay saying. It can be as ugly as attacks, emotional, procedural, even threating. The writer of Numbers calls them ‘rabble.’ Those who have come along, even participate in the life of the community, but are unwilling to make peace and good will a priority.

Labeling them with a pejorative term helps to justify the priorities of the community and to protect the nice folks, the good folks, the ones who don’t make trouble. This does not accurately describe what is going on nor is it necessarily helpful to the ongoing health of the community.

As pastor of a church that tended to express its intimacy through arguing around the table, I became rather used to it. As pastor I often became the focus of the conflict. My salary, care of the manse, new projects I sponsored, all became good reasons to nay say, to complain, to make trouble. Sometimes it wasn’t fun, but the energy in the church was high and it was growing spiritually, numerically, and programmatically. The senior high group was part of that growth. We were on a 10-day mission project doing construction for the poor in another state.

One day after lunch a few of the adult advisors came to me complaining that people who were critical were putting my ministry in a box labeled wrong or worthless. These supporters came to me shaking their heads. “Something needs to be done. You need to talk to them. They have no right to criticize you.”

I confess that I was pooped from shepherding a bunch of senior high students through long days and nights. I was also tired of having people throw eggs at me for doing my job. That confession aside, I came down hard on these concerned supporters.

I asked them, “Was I there when these folks said the negative things about me?” Obviously not. “Were you there?” Obviously they were. I told them that the problem wasn’t the few who had all these nasty things to say. I told them that the problem was that these good people were acting like a bunch of wimps. They were depending on me to fight for them and myself. That’s called a conflict of interest.

I went on to remind them that we were all in the same community. It wasn’t us and them. It was us. We needed to stand up for what we thought was right and that wasn’t talking about people when they weren’t there. That wasn’t Christian. We needed to let our lights shine rather than put them under a bushel, to quote a well-known source. God’s ministry didn’t depend on me. It depended on them. They were the body of Christ. If they thought the community was worthwhile, then they needed to stand up for it.

Too often we blame others for the negative things that happen around us. We shake our heads and blame the politicians, the police, the culture, the old people, the kids. But we are the ones who are caring enough to stand up for the right, aren’t we? There’s an old saying, ‘If you’re the only adult in the room, act like it.’ This isn’t only true in the church, it’s true in our society, in our daily interactions. If we believe in peace, we need to be peace makers. If we don’t approve of bullies, we should stand between them and their supposed victims.

Is this fun? Of course not. Is it risky? Of course. It was for our Lord. There is another saying, ‘If we come to a crossroad always choose the one shadowed by the cross.’ Don’t ya love that kind of thing? I’d rather be popular. I’d rather be left alone. I’d rather win. Oh well. Such is our faith.

That day after I told them to stop whining to me about something they needed to deal with, I went for a walk, said a prayer, and went back and apologized to them. I apologized for telling the truth harshly. They cried and we hugged and life went on.

That’s part of our responsibility, taking responsibility. It’s part of the job, the Christian job.


* * *

Good For What?
by Frank Ramirez
James 5:13-20 and Mark 9:38-50

It happens at a lot of weddings. Either the bride or the groom or both discover that the expensive rings they bought that fit so well at the jeweler suddenly won’t go past their knuckle. Why?

Salt.

People get nervous and eat a lot of salty snacks and fast foods in the days leading up to the wedding. The good news is that the ring usually fits just fine immediately after they’ve been pronounced husband and wife because the stress levels go down and people relax.

If we have high blood pressure or cardiac problems one of the first things we’re told to do is cut out the salt. Salt is treated like a poison that robs us of our health. People feel especially virtuous if they eliminate all salt from their diet.

Which is impossible, of course, and even dangerous, because, as Jesus tells us, “Salt is good.” This might seem counterintuitive in our age when salt is plentiful and finds its way into just about any processed food, but for much of human history the problem was that people did not get nearly enough salt.

Salt is essential to the body’s health. Without salt, we die.

Salt was so valuable it served as a form of currency. Roman legionairres were often paid in salt. When we save money we speak of salting it away. Wars were started over salt. So was Gandhi's campaign of nonviolence to achieve India’s independence.

Salt has played a part in transportation. Some of our highways today follow the paths first forged by animals in their search for salt licks, and later by both Native Americans and European colonists who followed those same paths! Around the world trade routes were opened to move salt from one locale to another.

Salt is everywhere. We gargle with salt water for various mouth and throat ailments. Salt helps us make ice cream. You can use it to safely scour your cast iron skillet. It’s vital in food production, food preservation, food preparation. You don’t just pour salt out of a shaker, you also salt your food when you add a scalding red-pepper based hot sauce!

And salt has become so inexpensive that during the winter it is used in many places to melt ice on highways. And if your congregation is in a northern climate you probably have a container of rock salt near the church’s front door to de-ice the sidewalk!

The Chinese were alarmed when some of those mining salt in their home country many hundreds of years ago suddenly fell dead without any sign of sickness or injury. Their study of this situation led to the discovery of natural gas, which in turn led to channeling natural gas in bamboo pipes in order that, once lit, it could be used to evaporate brine and produce more salt!

Some of these stories come from a wonderful book by author Mark Kurlansky, titled Salt: A World History! It’s an exhaustive and exhausting history of the way salt has guided human history in more ways than we can imagine.

But the early Christians knew from their own experience that salt is good, not only for preserving food, but preserving fellowship. Dried fish from the Sea of Galilee was an important source of protein in the diets of both Jews and Gentiles, and it was a food they could both eat -- together! Both cultures had different ways of preparing meat to be served at the table. Pagan temples served as a way on inspecting meat. Once offered to a god the priest would examine it to determine if it was wholesome enough to sell in the marketplace. Each culture looked on the way the other prepared meat as ritually unclean.

But fish was fish. So as the faith spread into the Roman Empire both Jews and Gentiles could come to the common table, their communion table, as long as bread and fish, preserved by salt, was what they ate.

This is why we see bread and fish, both dependent on salt, in early Christian artwork depicting communion, rather than the lamb we might expect with a meal associated with Passover. Salt played an important part in bringing different cultures together in Christ! Salt was -- and is -- very good!

(Want to know more? See Mark Kurlansky’s book Salt: A World History. For more on the way fish brought Christians together see Inculturation of the Jesus Tradition by Graydon F. Snyder.)


*****************************************

StoryShare, September 30, 2018, issue.

Copyright 2018 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to the StoryShare service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons, in worship and classroom settings, in brief devotions, in radio spots, and as newsletter fillers. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to permissions@csspub.com or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.

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