Friday, March 22, 2013

Who Will Go To Bree?

Some time after the destruction of the one ring—which you can read about in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings—Middle Earth’s new king, Aragorn, who had led the forces of good against the evil Lord Sauron, made it known that he wanted to visit The Hobbits of The Shire. So Sam Gamgee, mayor of Hobbiton, the largest village in The Shire, proclaimed a great feast. There would be fireworks. There would be pie eating contests. There would be excellent pipe weed on the house. Best of all, though, there would be plenty of food: tables full of meat and potatoes, red wine and bread, as much as any hobbit could eat or drink—which was to say, quite a bit. All because King Aragorn and his Hobbit friends had won a great victory.

Anyway, Mayor Sam Gamgee—a hobbit, who had with his dear friend Frodo, played a large role in the victory over evil Sauron himself, though that is another story for another time—Sam Gamgee proclaimed a great feast. There was only one problem. King Aragorn wanted Shire hobbits to invite humans from the village of Bree to join them.

Now, humans and hobbits had together, with the help of assorted elves, dwarves, and wizards, worked together to defeat the evil, odorous, Mordorous Sauron. So, said King Aragorn, hobbits and humans should nevermore live in suspicion of each other, as they did in the dark days of the War of the Ring. No, from here on in, said Aragorn, hobbits and humans would comfort each other; they would speak tenderly in each other’s villages and proclaim that their hard service had been completed and that the dark cloud of Sauron had been lifted. Henceforth humans and hobbits would deal with each other justly and walk humbly together in obedience to King Aragorn.

So Sam Gamgee proclaimed the feast. Everyone in the Shire was to come. Even the humans who live in Bree. The problem was that no hobbit in all the Shired dared be an ambassador to Bree.

Go to Bree? No way! Bree wasn’t even in the Shire! Bree was over the Brandywine River, beyond the East Farthing and Buckland, way on the other side of the High Hay Hedge, beyond the old forest—in the world maybe, but certainly not part of their Hobbiton world.

You see, most hobbits were born cowards—Sam and Frodo, Merry and Pippin being the notable exceptions who proved the rule. When it came to adventure they wanted to be left alone to read Left Behind, which was about as much anxiety as they could take. Hobbits liked nothing better than cocooning in their hobbit holes. So in all the Shire, even though the Hobbits feared King Aragorn, not one was found to take to the hiways and byways to make an appeal on Aragorn’s behalf—“come to the feast, you humans of Bree, and be reconciled to hobbits.”

Not one. After all, going to Bree meant living large. Going to Bree meant walking on water—or at least over it, on a bridge and out of the Shire. Going to Bree as an ambassador for King Aragorn means taking a—however miniscule—risk. So who was Mayor Sam Gamgee to send to Bree? Send you, perhaps, to Bree? Could you be an ambassador for Aragorn?

I mean, how many people do you know that are “Mister” or “Madame Ambassador?” In all of our Shire, Canada, only about two hundred people are so honored. Being an ambassador is a big deal. In fact, if I think about it, I personally know one recently retired American congressman, and two Ontario MPPs. I’ve sat down for a cup of coffee with Amway’s Richard DeVos once, and he told me about how, hours before he met with me he had tea at the White House with George Bush and his mother Barbara. I even know three people who shook hands with pope John Paul. So, I know some big shots—but I’ve never met a real flesh and blood ambassador!

But let me tell you something. Being an ambassador for Steven Harper--as special as that might be (or not)--is nothing compared to being an ambassador of the Lord of heaven’s star-fields and earth’s ocean depths. Being an ambassador for King Aragorn is nothing compared to being an ambassador on behalf of the King of glory, the LORD strong and mighty, the LORD who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.

Now, I need to stop here for a moment before my excitement carries me away. I understand that the way I just described God, using Biblical language and allusions, is a bit much for some of us. We recognize that such language about God is actually metaphorical, and that whoever and whatever God really is, God isn’t a white-haired King sitting on a throne.

Still, close to the heart of the gospel is this idea that whoever, exactly, God is, what God hopes and dreams for us is that we will make this world a garden of shalom, a place of love and compassion, justice and mercy that would make Jesus, our model for being a divine ambassador, proud.

We are God’s ambassadors of reconciliation, says Paul in 2 Corinthians 5. In fact, being ambassadors from God to all the Shires of this world is exactly what Christians do for Jesus. And like all ambassadors, you are an ambassador whatever you do, wherever you go. It isn’t just a job, you see—it is your profession, it is what you do with your whole lives—it is your reason for being.

Whether you’re in your hobbit hole or at church; whether you are taking a break at work or sitting down for a cold one at the nineteenth hole with some golf buddies; whether you are making an big energy purchase for your industrial conglomerate or just recycling CD batteries—in each case, you are an ambassador of the exact kind of reconciliation that Jesus was an ambassador for. As an ambassador, you are someone who isn’t hobbled by an earthly point of view, says Paul, but someone who is a new creation, who has put hobbit cowardice and fear behind him or her, someone who is ready and eager to live large even when it is scary to do so.

Of course, ambassadors need certain skills. For example, and perhaps most importantly, ambassadors need a words, like Moses needed Aaron and like Gimli the dwarf needed his axe.

It is through listening to the Word, after all, that we come to know Jesus and love his way, even though we have not personally seen his wounds. It is through the Word that the Spirit grabs our heart and bends our wills, even though we never felt the flames of fire on our heads.

And then with the Word lit within us, we can speak our own words after wherever we find ourselves. Using words we can urge our government to replace its CF18s with pruning hooks, and urge terrorists to trade their bombs for watering cans. It is through words that we can warn the world, as the White Wizard Isaiah did, long ago, that it is folly to put our trust in horses and chariots, and—like most Hobbits, to spend our time chasing after worldly goods and comforts rather than justice and peace for our neighbor. Only words—confirmed by our actions and lifestyles--can convince our neighbors that there is an ironclad law of God written into the very structure of Middle Earth—and that is that grace wins.

This is the meaning of life—to let the Word live in us so that we live out the word, so that the love we speak about isn’t just a boast, but an in out of the cold reality.

But back in the Shire and the rest of my story about the visit of King Aragorn. As I said, no hobbit could be found who would go to Bree as King Aragorn’s ambassador of good tidings. So finally, in desperation, Sam Gamgee asked the only hobbit he could even imagine might be willing to go. Sam asked a little hobbit woman, Annie Agon to go. After all, she had more than a little Brandybuck blood in her.

And Sam Gamgee said, “Annie, I know other people think you’re a fool, being a swimmer and a dieter and nonsmoker. I know that people think lowly of you and because you’re brave enough to test the Brandywine River. Hobbits tell me that you’ve even been known to invite visiting rangers to your hobbit hole for tea and crumpets. You’ve spoken up for Tooks who have been wronged and laughed at Grima Wormtongue by giving him your larder when all he wanted was the coat off your back.

So, Sam Gamgee said, Annie Agon, I know you ain’t much—but you’re just the one to be an ambassador to Bree and invite those humans in; invite them to our great feast. Being Aragorn’s ambassador doesn’t mean that you are going to change Shire history all by yourself or make trolls and ogres shake in fear. But you have the Aragorn’s word! You have good news! Go!

And then what was Annie Agon to do? Rise to the occasion, deliver the good news, and have an adventure? Or for that matter, what are we to do? Mind our own business? Go along with the rest of the Hobbits to get along? Or make our lives’ work living and speaking the good news that evil has been defeated and we can love?

What shall we do? The people of Bree are waiting.

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