Sermon October 31, 2021 by Rev. David Hodgson

The Long Walk Home

I have selected a translation of my text by James T. Martin in the Cambridge Bible Study Series because I think it better captures the smug nature of those who use condescending arrogance to intimidate and silence their critics in order to distract public attention from the crimes they themselves have committed.  (October 31, 2001)

“Then the Danites turned round and said to Micah, ‘What’s the matter with you?  Why have. you come after us?’  He said, ‘You have taken my gods, which I made for myself.  You have taken the priest and gone off and left me nothing.  How dare you say, “What’s the matter with you?”’”                                                       Judges 18:24-25

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From before the dawn of our sacred history ~ where superstition often mingled with religious reverence ~ there was an honest man named Micah.  He was known far and wide as a religious man because of the way he turned his home into a private sanctuary.  He built at altar and adorned it with sacred treasures he made by hand to help him focus his meditations;  and he even hired a priest to be his resident chaplain.

Well, as you heard from God’s account of the crime, one night thieves broke into his house and stole his sacred treasures, abducted the priest (or more precisely, promised him a more lucrative assignment and if he would sell his soul by participating in their crime) and then moved on into the night well-satisfied with their criminal activity.

Micah, however, was not about to be intimidated by thieves nor silenced by critics, and set off after them with moral outrage.  He was not alone, for some of his neighbors agreed to follow along behind for moral support, for they lacked the moral outrage that Micah felt because they themselves had not been robbed.),  For Micah, however, he was determined to see justice done by holding the thieves accountable for their crime and demanding return of his treasure.

I met him there, in the dark of night as he took a courageous stand for justice.   Somehow I’m always drawn to those who find the courage to take a strong moral stand.  We bonded almost immediately, drawn together by the experience of moral outrage; but when the thieves, smug with arrogance, began to mock him, my blood began to boil, and I knew that God had brought us together in this moment of scripture because we had more in common than either of us had imagined.

Their strategy was one of denial and intimidation.  “What’s the matter with you?” they said with chiding condescension ~ implying that the real problem was not the theft of sacred treasure but Micah’s emotional instability!  They were trying to give the impression that  they were somehow being victimized by his fury.  “Why have you come after us?” they said, feigning ignorance of the crime they had committed, while also arrogantly claiming the high moral ground against one they considered to be a nuisance.

Micah’s response was spot on!  And I was so proud of him, because he not only spelled out the injustice with clarity and conviction, but he addressed their smug posturing that was intended to intimidate and to silence him.  “You have taken my gods, which I made for myself.  You have taken the priest and gone off and left me nothing!  How dare you say, ‘What’s the matter with you?’”

There we stood, side by side in the pathway of life demanding the return of stolen sacred treasures.  But so much more than that ~ for he was demanding that sacred space be forever off limits to the angry and the powerful, demanding that religious freedom be protected from any and all who would desecrate sacred treasure!

Was justice done? you ask.  No!  They denied justice without acknowledging that a crime had ever been committed.  They simply called our attention to the six hundred armed men who were surrounding us, and said, “If your voice is ever heard in our camp these men will destroy you!”  In other words, if you continue to prosecute us in public space for this alleged injustice, we will silence your voice, destroy your reputation, persecute you in the public eye, and then take your life away from you!

That’s when we began the long walk home ~ justice denied, our spirits broken.   “It’s bad enough,” he said to me, “that they stole my sacred treasure, but when they dared to pretend that they were the victims of my wrath ~ as though to imply that righteous indignation was emotional instability ~ it was like adding insult to injury!”  I nodded in agreement, as we walked thoughtfully toward the dawn of another day.

“What about you?” he asked.  “Have you ever had your sacred treasure stolen?”  Caught off guard by the question I was about to say no, but then I began to realize the immense nature of the crime that has been committed against my sacred tradition.

“Yes,” I had to admit, “the theft of sacred treasure ~ the symbols of my faith ~ has been going on in my world for years.”  He seemed strangely comforted by the realization that he was not alone with that injustice ~ a misery loves company kind of response.  And then he asked for details about the  sacred treasures that thieves have taken from me.

“Well,” I replied, “they were not stolen from my house, but from the common life of all.  For example, they stole Bibles from school rooms across the country and denied to all children the opportunity to prayerfully acknowledge God’s presence as an indispensable part of education.  These were faith-formation experiences for me in my youth ~ acknowledging God in public space.

This time he nodded to show he understood the crime, for while the experience was not taken from me it was in fact stolen from my grandchildren, and their lives will be forever impoverished by that crime.

“Anything else?” he said, as we shared the long walk home.  “In time,” I said, “they stole the Ten Commandments from every courtroom in the nation, removing any sign that there may indeed be an authority greater than their own.”  He seemed to appreciate the gravity of my situation, as I had acknowledged for him in his situation.

“Today,” I said, “they no longer steal under cover of darkness but in broad daylight, and in the name of some higher level of moral purity and social enlightenment.”  As we walked toward the dawn other examples of treasures stolen from my sacred experiences of God began to trouble me.

“They stole all references to divine providence from political discourse and documents and ridiculed the notion that my nation was under God for judgment and for mercy.  Then manger scenes were stolen from public spaces, denying the story of spiritual liberation because it contradicted their narrative of political liberation.   Now,” I said, “crosses are being taken away from public spaces because they do want to rob the world of any evidence of the sacrificial love of God.

Then, reflecting upon his abducted priest, I mused:  “And now they are even trying to replace God as the spiritual authority for the priesthood by insisting that a priest promote their narrative or risk losing the tax exemption for churches.  It may not be the same as your stolen priest, but it sure feels that way,” I declared.  “But for all their efforts,” I added, “they cannot take from me my faith in God, for I have been blessed with countless experiences of God across the years ~ experiences that have awakened great faith in me ~ and that faith can never be stolen!”

We bid farewell at a fork in the road.  He set out for his house and I made my way back to my home.  But by that long walk home I realize that I have come to realize that there is a strange new countenance in me ~ and it is clearly a gift from my new friend Micah.  I am no longer intimidated by those who stole from public space the symbols of my faith, because they cannot invade the sanctuary of my heart.

And like Micah I am ready to stand alone before God to challenge this grave injustice to the sacred history of God.  And as I draw closer to home I find myself practicing the lines I will say to the face of evil in my time ~ grateful for their familiar ring:

“You have taken they symbols of my faith.  You have tried to hijack the priesthood, but I am left with a faith you cannot touch!  How dare you say to me, “What’s the matter with you?”

David Hodgson

Peoria Presbyterian Church

October 31, 2021