As you might know, Christine and I took a trip to Virginia last week. Walter Brueggemann was the speaker this year at the School for Leadership Training that we attended. Walter is a semi-famous Old Testament scholar, and talked at length about God and Money; how we organize our lives and how we view our resources.
It was a good conference; we learned a lot and you’ll probably hear more about it in the coming weeks.
But in all honesty, I probably learned more about putting our faith in God’s provision on the way down and back than I did in the sessions, and I’ll tell you why.
It’s because we had some car trouble on the way down, and we were forced to depend on the kindness of complete strangers to finish our journey.
We had been on the road a good while, we had already come through some isolated parts of West Virginia and Maryland where there really aren’t that many gas stations or other signs of life, and we had covered quite a bit of ground where traffic was really light because of it being Sunday.
I’m telling you that, just so it’s clear that our trouble could have come at a point in the journey where help would have been much harder to find.
Most of the trip down was pretty uneventful, until we got to Winchester, which is a small city about an hour away from where we were going. That’s when the oil light on our dashboard started to blink consistently.
That was concerning enough, but then I noticed that the temperature gauge for the engine was climbing higher and higher with every passing second.
I’m no mechanic, but I know enough to know that wasn’t a good sign.
So I pulled over, and to make a long story shorter, as I was checking out the situation, a guy stopped to help us and told us there was a 7-11 just a few hundred yards off the exit we were near.
By then the engine had cooled somewhat, so I started it up and drove it to this 7-11, pulling in just as it was about to hit the red zone again.
See, we had run out of oil; at least it was dangerously low. Apparently our car has developed a small oil leak, and it’s started using a little bit of oil, and with all the driving we’ve done in the last few months, it never occurred to me to check it.
So, I bought some oil and was putting it in at the 7-11 when a random stranger happened to be walking by and offered to help. It just happened he was a mechanic, and one of the nicest guys you’d ever hope to meet in a situation like this.
He took his time with us, and patiently walked us through everything he thought had probably happened. He listened to the engine, helped us fill the radiator, since it had spewed at least some of its contents when the engine got too hot, and told us what to do when we got where we were going.
He was patient and kind, and made sure no warning lights were still on before letting us go.
He blessed us beyond our expectations.
(and it just so happens his name was Patrick!)
Now, I’m not completely sure that that story relates to Melchizedek, or to our theme of evil, sin and brokenness, but I think it does.
We didn’t ask him if he was a Christian, but we were obviously enjoying Christian fruit.
Patience, kindness, and generosity were growing in this guy’s life in a dramatic way.
He ministered to us right where we were.
And I had been primed with this story about Melchizedek in my head, so I couldn’t help but make some connections.
Both “Patrick” and Melchizedek blessed unsuspecting strangers who didn’t earn their blessing and who didn’t even ask for it.
Both “Patrick” and Melchizedek brought a sense of peace and wholeness to a situation that was otherwise tense…or you could say ‘broken’.
In our situation, our car was in a broken state, and it was rapidly becoming more and more ‘broken’.
It wouldn’t have taken much more at all to break our car beyond repair, leaving us with a useless heap of metal and glass.
Likewise, in Abram’s situation, he had just come back from something like a Vendetta. His nephew Lot had been living near Sodom, and the king of Sodom had been defeated in war, so at least some of the people who lived there, like Lot, were carried off.
It’s kind of how they did it back then. Sometimes instead of invading a territory and settling it with your own people, the conquering king would carry off the wealthy or the educated or the powerful people in your land.
It was a way to ensure that you couldn’t rise up too quickly from your defeat, and at the same time it enriched his own kingdom back home.
So Abram hears about what happened to his nephew, and he goes out and joins the Kings in battle to save his family from captivity.
And I’d like to suggest that it was a broken way to achieve what he did.
Here in chapter 14, Abram looks a lot more like a worldly king than he does God’s chosen servant.
He looks a lot more like the problem than the solution…just like all of us do from time to time.
And the problem is much deeper than the violence he carries out.
What’s really broken in this story is the whole worldview that promotes war-making as a possible solution in the first place!
It’s a broken concept, like the idea that a car will run just fine with no oil in the engine!
Yes, in a way, Abram is successful in what he did.
He violently defeats the enemy and brings his nephew home.
But if I’m reading this story right, there’s more here than a simple story about military success, or a nice little moral about rolling up your sleeves and doing the “right thing” when your family is in trouble.
It has to do with the king of Sodom…the king who lost Abram’s nephew in the first place.
And it also has to do with the king of Salem; also known as the king of peace; the “righteous” king of peace; and you can read Hebrews 7 if you’d like to see where all that comes from.
Abram comes back from this battle, and the king of Sodom comes out to greet him.
And the king of Sodom does what kings do.
He tries to strike a deal.
Abram just conquered the people who conquered the king of Sodom; he just proved that he was fit for kingship himself, you know?
In the natural pecking order of our world, the strong devour the weak.
That’s just as true today as it was all the way back here in Genesis chapter 14.
This story could have been written yesterday.
So, the king of Sodom comes out to meet Abram and he’s looking to strike a deal. “You take the goods, I’ll take the people!”
In other words, let’s form an alliance, or if you prefer to call it a covenant, let’s form a covenant together.
You see how that works?
The king of Sodom is like every king, queen, prime minister or president that has ever lived…he’s mainly interested in maintaining the status quo; maintaining a life of power and accumulation.
It’s a broken system.
And when you’re in that broken system, success only takes you further down that broken road!
Abram could have been, literally, a king of kings after that successful battle.
But that’s not what God had in mind.
See, I think these verses about Melchizedek are strategically placed in this story.
Have you ever met a stranger who intervened in your life with a blessing?
Before the King of Sodom has a chance to strike a deal with Abram, Melchizedek the mysterious king of Salem and priest of Most High God intervenes with bread and wine.
Abram responds to this blessing and this priest by giving a tithe; a tenth of all he took goes to the righteous king of peace.
Abram finds his way deeper into God’s story through Melchizedek, this mysterious guy that we know very little about.
He responds to the blessing with a tithe that connects him and his descendants to this righteous king forever.
And it all started with bread and wine.
What comes from this encounter is a powerful ‘no’ to the broken system that’s in place.
Abram isn’t just saying “no” to kingship when he turns down the offer.
He’s saying there’s a better way, and it comes through bread and wine.
Now, I realized too late that what I’m saying this week would have made a really good communion sermon.
God’s intentions for creation become known most fully in the bread and wine.
In the Lord’s Supper, we enact most boldly the alternative to business as usual in this broken world, and that part isn’t just a symbol.
Through bread and wine, the church enacts the covenant and proclaims the reality of our Lord’s death until he comes again. We proclaim through communion that there is a different way; where we break the cycle of accumulation and isolation, where we know our neighbor and where we are known by our neighbors.
Communion is the practice in which we set aside our petty agendas for advancement or power grabs, and celebrate for that moment in time, that salvation has come to this house; our house; the house of God; and in repeating those moments day in and day out, we are being formed into whole people.
Jesus is our king. He is our president. And he is so. much. more.
I was thinking about all that as I was finishing this sermon yesterday, and then I realized that maybe it’s more fitting that we’re having a potluck today!
In sharing our bread, we make a similar proclamation; that we worship and follow a God of abundance who asks us to share when we’re tempted to hoard, and who calls us to the table, to enact a humble hospitality after the order of Melchizedek; the order of Jesus who is the Righteous Prince of Peace and our high priest forever.
Millersburg Mennonite Church
P.O. Box 16
288 E Jackson St
Millersburg, OH 44654
Phone: (330) 674-7700
Fax: (330) 674-7700
Pastor: Jamie Rye
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- Songs and Stories of Peace, Hope, and Justice — Anthony Brown