"HB2 AND BALAAM" -- DR. RICKY A. WOODS
We live in a complex world and so many of the things you and I face are new. My grandparents could have never imagined a world of smart phones with text messaging and instant gram when they used a party line telephone. For those of you who do not what a party line was it meant you shared your phone line with another person and if you picked up the phone and they were on it you could ease drop on their conversation.
We live in a worldwide economy where we are not competing with just the person next door for employment and opportunity to have a meaningful career but we are competing with people around the world. (That’s one of the reasons I think neighborhood school assignment does more harm than good but that is not what this sermon is about.)
We live in a world where the new thief is not stealing our belongings but holding our information hostage because computer hackers have gotten control of valuable and personal information about us.
We live in a world where we are more threatened by a mosquito than we are by a missile.
Our world is indeed complicated and causes us to have to discern issues that are not always black and white but shades of gray. Such as cheap gas or lost jobs in the energy sector. Lower taxes or diminishing critical governmental services. There are so many things that are not as clear as they used to be.
However there is one thing that the Bible is very clear about and that is how God frowns upon those who are in positions of power using that power to oppress others. The Bible is very clear that you and I do not get to decide who God chooses to bless or declare that they somehow or another they ought to be outside the scope of God’s care and protection. Every time persons have tried to play God by keeping something away from someone else they came to an awakening that reminded them they are not God. George Wallace declared segregation today, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever but Wallace found out he was not God. Male dominance sought to hold the suffrage movement back by declaring a woman’s place was confined to only two rooms but the men found out they were not God. Industrialists did all they could to keep labor from organizing to gain better pay and better working conditions but industrialists found out they were not God. God has declared that he makes the rain to fall on the land of the just and the unjust alike. God has declared that he makes the sun to shine on the land of the just and the unjust alike. There is a fairness and mercy to God that exceeds human ideas and encompasses so much more because God’s ways are not like our ways.
One would think that our state leaders would be aware of all this history before passing HB2. One would think that a nation that proclaims itself as the champion for democracy and human rights around the globe would pause before passing a bill that makes discrimination legal.
One would think that the Bible-carrying persons who champion HB2 would take a minute to read the Bible. If they read the Bible they just might find the story of Balaam and see that it is more than a Sunday school lesson for children about a talking donkey. Balaam enters the biblical narrative in Numbers 22 as Israel is making its way toward the Promised Land. The movement of the people toward their destiny has made the neighboring nations concerned. The status quo has been interrupted and the idea of migrants moving through their land--even if temporary--is disconcerting. Therefore the Moabites and the Midianites come to Balaam and ask him to place a curse on Israel because whoever Balaam blessed was blessed and whomever he cursed was cursed. It is the plan of these leaders to gain Balaam’s assistance to be able to drive out the migrants passing through their land. The leaders are so controlled by their fears that they do not know how to be rational.
First the migrants were not planning on staying but were only passing through. They seem to be spending a lot of attention on what at best was a short term and temporary problem that would have worked itself out on its own if simply left alone. Second they are awfully paranoid about what they believe the land could handle as if they were in control of what God had created. God has a way of ensuring that what he has provided will be sufficient for whatever we encounter. If there are more people in the land, God can send a harvest to meet the need. Where there are somethings in life that we must do such as till the soil and plant the crop, only God can give the harvest. I heard of stories in my youth about larger families on a farm and how every time the family grew the harvest needed to care for them grew as well. In like manner every time someone left the family, the harvest was not as larger as in days gone by. The Lord of the harvest does not provide souls alone for the kingdom but he provides a harvest of material blessings to meet our needs.
Balaam responded to the request of the special interest group by saying I will have to see what the Lord says and whatever God says that will be my answer. Thank goodness that Balaam had enough sense to know that just because the special interest group wanted it, it did not mean God wanted it. I will have to inquire of the Lord and whatever the Lord says. I am not going to be presumption and think that I know what the Lord wants before I ask him. Whatever the Lord says I am open to but just because you suggested it or even offer me money to do it does not mean I will do it. Whatever the Lord says.
Oh, beloved, we need more of this kind of thinking in our actions today--whatever the Lord says. We ought to stop trying to get ahead of God or suggest to God we know his business better than him. Whatever the Lord says. Balaam gets as answer from God when he inquires and the answer is you are not to curse this people for they are blessed. Here is the whole point of it all--I do not know who God has determined he will bless or the reasons for God blessing them. All I know is that God does not leave it up to you and me who he will bless. In the words of my grandmother, “That is God’s business and we have too much business of our own that needs tending to try to do ours and God’s.”
The Lord blesses who he wills and so often it makes no sense to others. “Jacob I love but Esau I have rejected.” Jacob the trickster, the deceiver, the thief? Yes, Jacob. “Joseph will be my source of deliverance for Israel.” Joseph the brother sold into slavery, lied on in his master’s house, forgotten in prison but he will deliver Israel during the famine? “Moses will lead my people from bondage to the Promised Land.” Moses the one who grew up in the oppressor’s house, who murdered a man and became a fugitive from justice, who married a foreign woman? This is the man you will use to lead a nation? “David is a man after my own heart”. David the adulterer who had a man murdered to cover his affair with his wife? He is the one you have chosen to be Israel’s greatest king? Mary, a village pleasant girl engaged to be married, is the person you blessed to bring the savior into the worl?d Jephthah, the son of a prostitute, is the leader you used to judge Israel and lead it against the armies of the Amorites? Paul was right. God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. If there is anything the Bible tells us over and over again, it is that you and I do not get to decide who the Lord will bless, how God blesses them and why God blesses them.
The officials came back to Balaam again after hearing his first refusal to curse the people and this time offered him great honor and whatever else he desired to curse those God has already told him are blessed. It finally takes a talking donkey to keep Balaam safe from doing what he had already been told not to do. It should not take a miracle of a talking donkey to realize that there are lines in life we should not cross. We should not take away the opportunity for people to make a living wage and call the bill a bathroom law. HB2 makes it illegal for local municipals to enact a living wage. We have Mecklenburg County employees who work every day who are eligible for food stamps. We should not take away people’s right for legal regress in the courts because we disagree with their lifestyle. Justice is supposed to be blind and there is to be equal protection under the law--a cornerstone principal in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
We should not be claiming our great concern for the welfare of children as a reason for HB2 when we continue to defund education, refuse Medicaid expansion, keep countless children suffering in poverty and allow local prosecutor’s discretion on whether to charge children as young as 10 in adult court. There are some lines we ought not to cross.
The story of Balaam closes with a frustrated king who thought he could curse those God had decided to bless. In fact, the king’s efforts to curse them only multiplied the people’s blessing. I do not know about you but I am so glad that God can bless whoever he wants to bless and even when others are trying to get in the way my God can make a way. That is the story of the church and that is the story of scripture and that is the story of God and why I trust him. Because blessings are never the work of lawmakers but the work of the Lawgiver our God. He will do just what he said and great is his faithfulness, morning by morning new mercies I see. It is so. So let it be forever and ever and evermore.