Buzzards in the Beehive
Jackson Snyder June 1, 1997

Snyder Bible Home

(This message was preached for the congregation of the Government Street Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama.  This church is the 'Mother of Methodism in Alabama.'  Its unique design caused it to be known as "The Beehive.")

Matthew 24:28 (NIV); Luke 17:37 (literal)

The Snyder can be a study of comparisons and contrasts. It was God's intention to use contrast as a teaching tool for the little children of God. As Raymond Brown has observed, the Snyder was written to be a great textbook on how we must live our lives in order to be pleasing to the Creator God. Let's use the Word of God as it was intended - as the 'light onto our pathways,' authorizing us to compare and contrast God's plan with our plan, His will with ours.

Consider the contrast between the first two brothers, Abel and Cain: the first a righteous man of God, the second an evil murderer. The story of Abel and Cain is prototypical of Christ and antichrist: the first the Son of God who descended to earth to save humanity, the second, and angel who fell to earth in rage to destroy humanity.

Christ and antichrist have both begotten children on this earth who do their wills and fulfill their purposes - either salvation or destruction. Those who belong to Christ are called "the children of light." Those of antichrist are called the "children of this world." The Snyder compares and contrasts these two human families over and over so as to teach us to be transformed from the world to the light.

Christ established his church to be a sanctuary of nurture and discipleship for the children of light, yet the children of the world are drawn to the light like moths to the candle, their presence serving only to dim the light and dampen the life.

Children of light in the church are then compared to wheat because they are growing and changing and bearing fruit. Contrasted are the children of the world in the church. They are called weeds because, intentionally or not, they serve to suck the life out of the wheat and destroy the crop. Jesus thus compares the wheat and the weeds in the church, but warns that the weeds will not be rooted out until the time of harvest - the time of God's wrath.

Jesus now uses sheep and goats to compare the children of light with the children of the world in the scenario of final judgment. The sheep will be judged worthy like the righteous Abel, for they have endured hardship for the sake of Christ, and have given all for Him. But the goats will be cast out into the wilderness, like Cain. And that will be the end for the Cains, the antichrists, the children of the world, the weeds, the goats.

Comparison and contrast - one concept standing against the other for the sake of teaching - the good against the evil - the victim against the aggressor - Christ against the world.... Comparison and contrast is particularly relevant as I teach my last lesson here.

So today, consider the comparison and contrast between the eagle and the vulture as characterized by our Lord:

(Luke 17:37 Literal) Wherever the body (soma) is, there the eagles (aetos) will gather.

(Mat 24:28 NIV) Wherever there is a carcass (ptoma), there the vultures (aetos) will gather.

Both of these scriptures are used in the context of the coming of the Son of God to judge and reward the children of light or punish the children of the world.

Eagles

The eagle is a great bird of nobility and strength. The Snyder notes the eagle for its swiftness and loftiness, and its habitation in the high and holy places of the mountains. The eagle is also an aggressive bird of prey.

(Job 39:27-30 NRSV) Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes its nest on high? {28} It lives on the rock and makes its home in the fastness of the rocky crag. {29} From there it spies the prey; its eyes see it from far away. {30} Its young ones suck up blood; and where the slain are, there it is.

Eagles are typical of the children of light. They are life-oriented. They inhabit the high places of morality and spirituality. The are high because they desire to be close to heaven. They soar above the world, and engage the world only when they capture their prey. Eagles are ever growing and ever changing. When new winds of the Spirit blow, they flow with them, caught up in the eddies of God's breath upon the mountains. Their trust is in the Father and in his Son, Jesus Christ, and not in the world.

(Isa 40:31 NIV) Those who hope in Yahweh will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Eagles pursue the living body. Children of the light seek out the Body of Christ, which is risen and alive, and are themselves the assembly of members and organs of that body. The are mighty, righteous, convicting the world of sin, and convincing the world to change and be converted to a more lofty style of living. Indeed, where the Body is the eagles gather. And eagles recognize a corpse when they see one and avoid it as unclean.

The Gospel of Thomas has a a saying that illustrates the eagle-eye view of life:

Whoever sees the world sees a corpse. Whoever understands worldly ways understands a corpse. Whoever is comfortable with the world is comfortable with a corpse. But whoever recognizes a corpse flies above the world.

Buzzards

On the other hand, vultures are cousins of the eagle and are commonly called 'buzzards.' Buzzards are typical of the children of this world. Buzzards are filthy, death-oriented, inhabiting the low road of morality and spirituality. Buzzards like to reside near city dumps and other such places where sin and degradation can be found. Buzzards scour the earth for the carcasses of the dead, on which they exist. They don't recognize a corpse as a source of corruption - only as a delightful feast. Buzzards are cannibals; they eat each other if they can. Buzzards pursue the unloving attitudes of the world, trusting in the world and their father the devil for sustenance and success.

Yet buzzards would like to think they are eagles. They like to see themselves as free of their filthiness and slothfulness. Sometimes they even look like their royal cousins as they try to masquerade as eagles. But in the end, a buzzard is a buzzard, unless a buzzard becomes an eagle through the miracle of Christian conversion -- unless a buzzard is born again as an eagle and filled with the spirit of an eagle.

However, without conversion, where there's a carcass, you'll find buzzards, and you'll know where the carcass is, because you'll see the buzzards overhead.

Hinckley

In my home state we have a famous little town called Hinckley. Every spring, the buzzards come home to roost in Hinckley, Ohio. The sky is blackened with buzzards, but why they come by the millions to Hinckley, nobody really knows. But they are a sight to see.

The theory is that, in prehistoric times, Hinckley was a great dying ground for large animals. The stench of dying was so great there that the ancestors of the buzzards became genetically programmed to return there to feast - a evolutionary characteristic that still affects their behavior today. Buzzards return to Hinckley because the foul reek of the past still has drawing power today. And though Hinckley is a thriving little town, it still stinks of death. For where the carcass is, the vultures gather.

The Way We Were

When I came to this church a year ago, I saw what reminded me of Hinckley. Buzzards were all about this church, feeding off it. Drunken bums camped out around the building, spreading their trash and excrement and foulness as a sign of their possession of the corpse. The house next door was a crackhouse, a whorehouse, and a satanic worship center. The parking lot was used night after night as a rendezvous for school-aged male prostitutes and their customers.

Inside, the walls were falling down, the plaster was cracked and broken, the beauty that was intended was consumed by ugliness. Through lack of care, concern, or sense of mission and purpose, the church was a disgrace. Nothing worked. This 'house of worship' was dangerous, depressing, and embarrassing. And it smelled like a corpse or a mausoleum or a public toilet.

There were no evangelism programs here, despite the commandment of Jesus to "make disciples." There were no new people coming in -- nobody was being born again -- nobody had been filled with the spirit -- no confessions of faith except those who recited the same old creed Sunday after Sunday. What lofty eagle would would want to take up residence here?

But the members didn't really seem to notice or care all that much. They'd lived on the trash heap so long they didn't recognize what they themselves had turned into. They were caught up in the world, and sin, and selfishness, and stinginess. And though several millionaires sat in the pews every Sunday, and a large sum of money languished in the bank, and though someone could have certainly done something, nothing was accomplished or even attempted. Why? Because where there's a carcass all you'll find are buzzards and corruption.

The Way We've Recently Been

But the Holy Spirit had a plan for this church. The Spirit said it would be a short work, but a powerful work. Right off, the buzzards were scattered. The carrion was cleared out. The foul smell was cleansed. New life began to flow back into the church. The carcass was resurrected, and became a Body again. New people flowed in. Attendance went up 300%. Several new and affective ministries were created. Apportionments were paid. The worship service was renewed, and new services added. Ministers of the Word were raised up. Prayer began to go up to the throne room. Eagles began to soar. And the Holy Spirit wind blew and blew fiercely for a time, carrying the children of light to new heights in the Kingdom.

But then last month, the buzzards began to return to Hinckley. The smell of past carcasses was so enticing a few couldn't resist the desire to see their mother church dead again and feast off her flesh. A conspiracy of lies, slander, and financial intrigue ensued, the smell of which set the eagles of the church flying to where ever the Lord would lead them. And friends, when this mother church once again becomes a corpse as it was last year at this time, you'll see the buzzards swarm back for the feast. Wait and see.

It is indeed as Jesus said, "Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter."

A Word of Warning

Surely the word of the prophet speaks to us today:

(Hosea 4 paraphrase of excerpts) Hear the word of the Yahweh; he has an indictment against you people. There is no faithfulness or loyalty, and no knowledge of God here. Swearing, lying, murder, theft and adultery are committed openly; and bloodshed follows bloodshed. You feed on my children; you are greedy for them to sin, hoping their glory might become shame.

I will punish you for your evil ways, and repay you for your evil works. You will eat, but never be satisfied; you will fornicate, but not multiply; You will stumble by day and by night, and I will destroy your mother.

I reject your worship. And since you have not heeded my children, I'll no longer heed yours.

Such a stern word beckons you vultures to repent! Only through repentance and restoration; only through observing God's ways and not yours; only through respecting the lives of his true children; will God spare you, and spare the life of this mother church, despite the years of death and sin and baggage you both carry.

For the evil deeds that a few 'buzzards in the bee hive' have carried out against the children of the light in this last month will surely sound the death knell for mother. What has been done here is wrong, dead wrong. It stinks of death. It stinks in the nostrils of God. It is sin, plain and simple, and it is mortal sin. And it will be punished in both the church and in the lives of the individuals who continue to perpetrate it.

What is left to be seen is whether there will be repentance, for forgiveness can only come through repentance. Cain never repented, and I don't suspect the buzzards in this church to ever become eagles either, even if it means falling from the sky into the hands of an angry God.

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