Scattering and Lifting
December 16, 2018
Rev. Fritz Nelson
Text: Luke 1:47-55
I want to start today with a story. It’s an old story – not as old as the story of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus – but old, none the less. Our setting is mid-evil England, around 1150 AD. Our characters are Robin Hood, the noble outlaw who lives in Sherwood Forest with his band of merry men; Sir Richard of the Lea, a down-on-his luck knight; the Lord Bishop of Hereford, a powerful churchman who struggles with his vow of poverty and the Prior of Emmet, the head of a local monastery who also struggles with his vow of poverty.
It’s a beautiful spring day when Robin Hood divides his band into two groups and sends them out of the forest with the goal of replenishing their treasury. One group, led by Robin Hood, are hiding by the side of the road when a man comes slowly riding over the hill toward them. He was a good strong knight, but sorrowful of face and downcast in demeanor. His clothes indicated his rank but no chain of gold, such as knights usually wore, hung around his neck. He wore no jewels, as most knights usually did. He rode slowly – his head bowed upon his breast and his hands drooped on either side, clearly preoccupied with grief.
Robin Hood and his men stop the knight and, after finding he has nothing to steal, take pity on him. As he goes with them into Sherwood Forest, Sir Richard tells how a series of unfortunate events had stripped him of his wealth, required him to take out a large, high interest loan from the Prior of Emmet, and how he was about to lose all his land if he couldn’t come up with $400 in three days.
Meanwhile the other band comes upon the Lord Bishop of Hereford, who was traveling through the area with a party of priests and several pack horses laden with cash and other valuables. They stop the bishop and invite him as well to dine in Sherwood Forest.
After an evening of grand entertainment and feasting, Robin Hood has his men take inventory of all the Bishop’s possessions. Some of the items are for use in individual parishes. These the band doesn’t touch. Other, far more luxurious items, are for the bishop’s personal use. These the band divides into thirds – a third for the bishop, a third for them and a third for the poor. Finally they come to the cash, collected as rents from farmers on church owned lands. This too Robin Hood divides into thirds. Finally Robin Hood takes that which was collected for the poor and gives it to Sir Richard, sending him out of the forest with armed escort, so he might pay his rent and save his land.
“He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.”
As Mary sings those words at her kinswoman Elizabeth’s house, she is in the lowest state of her young life. She’s pregnant and won’t reveal the father. Her pregnancy has caused her to become “tainted goods,” without value to her family, a black mark upon her community, an adulteress deserving of death. She is the lowly one of whom she sings. But she rejoices, for she knows her God looks with favor upon those brought low, embraces those whom society discards.
Another ancient story – this one even older than the story of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. This one about a people who had gone to a strange country in search of food and, generations later, found themselves stuck there as slaves. As the burden of their bondage increased, they began to cry, to groan, and their cries for help rose up to God. God looked upon them, took notice of them and decides to come down from the heavens to deliver them from the hands of their task masters.
The wise men learn a king is born and go to Herod’s palace to honor the child, but he is not there. He’s in a house, in the small town of Bethlehem, with ordinary parents like you and me. God has never been attracted by riches. The Israelites don’t earn God’s favor by going to Egypt and building wealth. It’s their cries that make it up to heaven. It’s their suffering that causes God to intervene. The same with Jesus. He’s not born into the palace. He doesn’t curry favor with the priests in the temple or make himself known in Herod’s court. He hangs with those abandoned by everyone else. Fishermen and tax collectors, the sick, prostitutes, the poor, highway bandits hung on a cross.
If Robin Hood ever existed in real life he was probably little more than a popular, flamboyant thief yet in folklore he becomes much more – a champion for the common man, a person who puts the rich in their place, a Jesus type figure with much looser morals and a more accurate bowshot.
Just as Robin Hood challenged the unjust economic systems of 10th century England, Jesus continues to challenge us. We place our own value in the stuff we own and the power and influence we wield. We idolize those who turn one dollar into ten and structure our economy to support those who “generate wealth.” We’re culturally programmed to win friends and influence people, to race to the top, not to hang out at the bottom – at the bottom where Jesus hangs out, at the bottom among the sick, the hungry, the refugee, the disenfranchised, the despised, the rejected, the enslaved whose cry for liberation reaches up into heaven.
God looks with favor upon the lowliness of his servant. He reaches down. He comes down. For only from the bottom can he turn the world.