Rev. Jonathan V. Newton, Assistant Pastor Metropolitan AME Church
Sunday, April 21, 2013
Scripture: Psalm 23
Psalm 23: A Psalm of David
1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. 5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
The scripture sets the stage for the message for today: “When the Dots Don’t Connect.”
Church, we live in a world where we have a high expectation of “order.” We expect logical, predictable, progression that gives us a degree of comfort. We want things to follow regular patterns. People who go to church will tell you that God wants things in order. We expect cause and effect, with positive action leading to positive results. At school, we are told that if you study, and work hard, you’ll get good grades; if you get good grades, then you’ll get a good job; if you get a good job and work hard, you’ll get promoted; if you get promoted, you’ll make money; if you make money, you’ll live a comfortable life, you’ll get married, start a family, provide for your family, and become a contributing member of society.
We receive this indoctrination early in our lives; there is the same mantra: If you do you your best, if you work hard, everything will be alright. If people have failures, we conclude they didn’t follow the rules; they didn’t play the game right; they didn’t follow the pattern. If they failed miserably, it must be because they failed to connect the dots.
“Connecting the dots” means understanding the bigger relationship, being able to create that big picture. But all of our lives will be filled with epic failures, major setbacks, and even the best laid plans can run afoul. Society will still assert that “it’s your fault,” that “you didn’t have a clue,” that “you didn’t connect the dots.” Why am I not making partner? Why are so many meetings being held without me? Why are my bills so high? Why can’t I find a relationship, or why is my relationship failing? Why can’t I pass the exam, get admitted, drop this habit, lose this weight? Why why why why why?
Sometimes in life, despite all you do, things just don’t work out
Here’s a newsflash. You can tweet it, text it, post it on your Facebook page: the fact is that sometimes in life, dots just do not connect; sometimes in life, despite our best efforts, things just don’t work out. Added to that is that sometimes, it seems that life is just out to get you. Something is out to get you. Speed traps set up in areas where there is no school, no church, nothing but state troopers – gotcha! Tax codes justifying another way to say you owe money – gotcha! Job requirements constantly changing and increasing even if you have more credentials than the people you are working for – gotcha! Things we thought were healthy you find out later are killing you – gotcha! As soon as you find treatment for an incurable disease, prescription drug costs go through the roof – because some executive wants to fly a private jet to take them to their second boat to go on their third vacation of the month – gotcha!
What a week we’ve had: poison laced letters, explosive package bombs, and demented terrorists setting bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon! These peoples’ lives are so disconnected that they are trying to create disconnects in the lives of everyone else.
Where does a student turn when school disappoints? Where does a spouse turn when their mate walks out on them? Where does a patient turn? Where does a professional turn? At a time when tension and anxiety reach a fever pitch, we get these powerful words from David: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
Just because the dots don’t connect now doesn’t mean they won’t connect
Just because the dots do not connect doesn’t mean they won’t connect. Because we serve a God who sits high, and looks low. He protects us against our enemies. He makes us lie by the still waters; He restores our soul. The scripture proposes these calming acts in the midst of a storm…when the dots don’t connect.
The goal of terrorists is to create fear; to make you think the dots won’t connect. But God says: “I got this. Don’t worry about tomorrow; it has enough of its own. Be still and know that I am God.”
But even in that stillness, many of us found that what happened last week angered us. We don’t have to be afraid of that anger. In fact, we sometimes have to get angry – not the kind that makes you lash out but sometimes we need to have righteous, inspired, indignation, and passionate impatience with injustice that will make people stand up against a multitude of social ills that occur every day.
Richard Allen said even though he had a good master, slavery was a bitter pill. When he and other worshippers were pulled on their knees and prevented from worshipping in St. George’s Episcopal Church, he said “We’ll get up and trouble you no more.” But I don’t think they were walking out of the church praising the Lord. They probably used some words the history books don’t report. It’s okay to get inspired to stand up against injustice.
Sometimes, when the dots don’t connect, it’s because God wants to get our attention
There are some of us who think we can forget about the people that we overlook everyday. There are people in need, every day, and there are others out there buying and trading securities, buying and trading votes, trying to maintain their personal comfort, oblivious to the harm it causes. But then, all of a sudden, we get a reminder, a bomb, a storm, and all that “stuff” comes tumbling down; the dots no longer connect – we remember what is really important, and then we turn to the Lord, because the Lord is our shepherd. He wants us to do the right thing, He wants us to be a “Beloved Community” – not to sit back on our blessings, hoarding them for ourselves; He wants us to prop someone else up.
In this Psalm, David says: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” David was walking through the shadow, but where there is a shadow there is also light. The Lord will be right there to carry us through. All the enemy has is this shadow.
I don’t always preach from the Lectionary. The Lectionary is the book of the schedule of scripture readings from which every preacher across the world preaches. But I wondered if this reading plan could speak to the current situation that occurred this week. I looked at the Lectionary and the words: “The Lord is my shepherd” jumped out at me. In churches all over the country, as members file in after an emotionally draining week, they are hearing the same reassuring words that David uttered almost 3000 years ago. I can remember that, when the dots are not connected in our lives, the Lord is my shepherd.
When my plans are not going right, the Lord is my shepherd. When I can’t catch a break, the Lord is my shepherd. When my enemies seem to have the high ground, I am standing strong, knowing the Lord is my shepherd.
Steve Jobs of Apple Computers is one of the most successful people in the business world. He never completed college, but he gave the commencement address at Stanford University. He said: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward, only by looking back and making sense at all you are going through.” Jobs was fired from Apple, but he said that was the best thing that ever happened in his life, because he had to reinvent himself.
When I look back and connect the dots, I know about the goodness of God; I know He has led me on the path of righteousness, and beside the still waters.
I may not be a computer programmer, I don’t have an iPad or an iPhone invention; but when I see all I went through, I love the Lord.
When the dots don’t connect, remember: “The Lord I my shepherd, I shall not want.”
In the scripture text, the disciples of Jesus must have been experiencing what we call an “emotional melt down.” After all they had been through, one can reasonably understand how and why they would be on a sensory and emotional overload.
Gary Jones, the theologian, writes in his pastoral perspective of this text, “For the disciples, the general landscape of life over the last week of Jesus’ life had been overwhelming.” Look at it: It started with the thrill and excitement of the grand entrance into Jerusalem—tension filled and emotionally draining; then that totally out of character moment of Jesus in the temple—they had never seen Jesus like that before; followed by a passionate fellowship meal around the table with the twelve disciples. That same week, the disciples experienced a “when it rains, it pours” moment—just one thing after another; then the arrest in the garden; the brutal attack by Peter on the soldier; the betrayal and denial; the mock trial; the blood thirsty mob; the capital punishment of Jesus; and, to top it off, the empty tomb and the apparent resurrection of Jesus. All this “stuff” was enough to wipe the average, ordinary person completely out.
I am convinced that, when the everyday stuff of life begins to overwhelm us, and our sensory and emotional capacity becomes overloaded, a melt down is on the way; and most of us respond to meltdowns in different ways. Some stay a little longer than usual at the “Happy Hour.” Some require more intake of food. Some need more sleep – they just can’t get up and get moving. Some can become somewhat abusive and profane to those around them; while others are less tolerant of other’s short-comings and fly off the handle more quickly or become more self-assertive. Then, there is a tendency to retreat to a more familiar and safe place in life. Peter says to his compatriots, “Look brothers I am more comfortable on the water than any place I know…we’ve been walking with Jesus, now that’s over…I think better on the water… “I am going fishing.” And the group that had gathered went with him.
Before we dump too hard on this character in scripture whom we first encounter as Saul, it ought to be made clear that Saul was a fervent Jewish believer and an ardent defender of God—as he understood his ancient biblical faith. He had no other reference to God but what he had been taught and practiced all of his life. He has dedicated his life to defending what he believed and persecuting those who threaten its precepts and foundational principles. On every occasion, at every opportunity, everyday, Saul took the initiative to “breathe out threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” Here is a brother who had more than a lot to offer God and humanity. No doubt he did not have a clue as to how injurious he was to others and that his life was on the wrong path. Like Saul, too many times, our lives are on the wrong path, and we don’t even know it.
But there was more to Saul than just a defender of his faith. Clearly, Saul was out to make a name for himself. Apparently, he was blinded by his own ambition. He was an over-achiever, an “A” type personality—headstrong, stubborn, and self-centered – maybe I’m talking to myself here. If my wife were here, she’d be shaking her head in agreement. Saul became addicted to bringing down those he thought would get in his way. This was his life, and he probably did not know that, at the rate and pace he was going, he was headed for a sensory and emotional overload; possible melt down was on the way for Saul.
We may not recognize it or feel it, but everyday, our senses and emotions gear up to face the “stuff” of a brand new day. Whenever we embark on a new thing— a new day, a new job, a new position in life, a new event, a new crisis, a new encounter—our bodies and minds go on sensory and emotional alert. Alert alert alert! Get ready, get ready body! And from the time we wake up, get out the door, get behind the wheel, get to the metro station, get to and through the day, get back home and face whatever we are to face there, we are sensorily and emotionally geared up to face everyday “stuff.”
Have you ever thought about the “stuff” we live and contend with everyday of our lives? Have you ever considered the wonder of how you made it beyond an average, ordinary day—you spend less than desirable time spent behind the wheel of a car; dealing with a boss who cares nothing for you or anything other than getting to the next level; trying to parent in a mixed up and crazy society; a teen trying to find his/her place in an unwelcoming world; the person who was shot and or killed that you did not know; the bottom did not completely fall out; today was not the day that North Korea went totally crazy; and partisan politics did not bring us to a bitter end as it has the potential to. If you ever put everyday’s stuff into one package, at the end of the day, all you can do is look back and say “thank God I made it through one more day.”
This morning’s texts gave me some insights on what can help us as we live and cope with everyday stuff. Let me suggest that (1) when God puts his hand on our “everyday stuff” the course of direction for our lives becomes more discernable.Saul, like most of us, needed/need clear directions from God on the path of life we ought to be following. And most of us need periodic reaffirmation that we are on the right path.
Jesus had called the disciples to a new path and a new way of life, but they had retreated to their old ways and old, more comfortable life style: fishing. As Saul is proceeding in his everyday stuff, as the disciples have retreated to their ordinary ways and stuff, the very presence of God intervenes. God shows up and defines it for them: “Here’s new course Brethren; I have a new path for you.” Let me suggest, and you can take it or dismiss it, but if you spend some quality time with God, your path will become more and more discernable. If you spend some time reading the bible, in reflection, in public and private worship, God will tell you what you need to do, where you ought to be, what you ought to be doing, how you ought to live your life, how to live with all of the unanswered question of everyday stuff; if you spend some time with God, God will show you the path.
Sometimes, most of the time, we only think about God in terms of the “extra-ordinary. ” Remember the song “Mr. BigStuff” – that’s how we usually think of God—the God of the Red Sea, the God who walks in the fire, the God who brings down the walls of Jericho, the God who miraculously feeds over 5000 with two fish and 5 barley loaves of bread; the God who blinded Saul on the road to Damascus, the God who overloads the empty net with fish. But there is another aspect of God that we often overlook until we find ourselves on the verge of a sensory or emotional melt down.
Here is the second lesson to take from these two biblical texts. Yes, God is “Mr. BigStuff:” He says: “I am the God of the Universe, I created the heavens and the earth, I have all power in my hands! Where were you when I flung the stars into the heavens?” But there is another aspect of God: (2) More and more we ought to acknowledge God as a God of the routine and the ordinary.
When God puts his hand on the routine and ordinary stuff of everyday living, our fragmented and broken lives can find right paths for healing and wholeness. A whole lot of people are walking around broke – fragmented pieces, smiles on their faces but crying in the depths of their souls. But with God, the broken fragmented pieces come together.
Saul did not know that he was so broken, living a fragmented life—he was lost and didn’t even know it. The disciples had been through so many emotional changes; walking and living with Jesus for the last three years, and than having to go through what they had to go through in one week’s span – it must have been a mind-blowing, devastating, up and down, roller-coaster type experience. And if you haven’t ever experienced it, just keep on living, you’ll experience your own roller coaster ride.
But when God puts his hand on the routine and the ordinary—in this case, the act of fishing, there is a sense of wholeness and healing that emanates. Like Saul, God has a way of stepping in your life at the right time, and in some of the most ordinary and routine moments, and He brings with Him healing.
Coping with all of the stuff we are called to cope with, it is a wonder and a miracle that most of us don’t lose it and or just give up, or give in, or throw our hands up and say “to hell with everything!” Only the hand of God can help us pull the fragments together, pull all the broken and dismantled pieces together, and help us live full, whole, productive, and reasonably blessed lives.
It’s more than a song when we sing: “Because He lives…all fears are gone”…because He puts his hand on my getting up, my going out, and my coming in…because He puts His hand on my going to work…when I find myself about to lose it…on my children and my grandchildren…I can send them to school with a prayer on my lips and say – God watch other them. Because He puts his hand on ordinary stuff, life becomes worth living. Someone said – I don’t have any reason to live, it’s too complicated, it’s too hard; but when the God of the Universe puts His hand on your ordinary stuff, you can say: God if you go with me, I can go through anything!
Finally and here is the third lesson, (3) you will never be able to live a life of praise, honor, devotion, and service to the glory, dominion and power of God until you recognize the hand of God moving on your everyday stuff.
The scripture passage in Acts, verse 8 says, “Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing.” In the Gospel pericope, John discusses the miracles Jesus performed; how he healed the blind man, the crippled man, the woman with the issue of blood, and the periscope tells us that, “Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.” Not until they recognized Jesus; not until Saul recognized Jesus, were they able to live a life of praise, devotion and service to the glory, dominion and power of God.
I know we get up in the morning, say a little prayer; we pray at the table before a meal; but sometimes we only recognize God when there is a major event: “Lord, you brought me through this surgery, you spared my child, you left my house standing during the hurricane—sometimes we only recognize God when the “big stuff” comes. But how many times when we look back over what we went through that day do we go to our homes, close the door behind us, and say: Thank you God, you brought me through ONE MORE DAY. How many times do we get up in the morning and say: “Thank you God, you woke me up this morning; I’ve got my right mind; I’ve got food in my refrigerator; the utility bills have been paid.” It sounds small, but thank you God, for the “little stuff.” Thank you God – I got a job that I don’t like, but thank you God I still got it; thank you for blessing my life in so many strange ways. Thank you God for the small stuff, I can give you glory, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory.
It may not be a lot to YOU, what he’s done for ME, but it’s everything for me. Thank God for the hand of God; when He puts His hand on your everyday stuff, you can give Him the glory. It wasn’t you getting you through that stuff; it wasn’t you in that operating room; it was God, so give HIM the glory!
1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus.
Scripture: Jesus and the Miraculous Catch of Fish & John 21:1-8 (NIV Translation)
1 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. 5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered.
6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. 7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
As you know from hand dance ministry, I love dancing. I used to practice in front of a mirror when I was a child to make sure I got the dance moves right. Now I teach hand dancing here at the church on Tuesday evenings; and as a teacher, I’m much more aware of how people dance in a group versus when they are alone. When people are alone dancing – when nobody’s watching – you’re a whole lot freer. When nobody’s watching, you’re more daring, you can execute moves, you can get lost in the movement and not worry about what everyone is going to see. There are probably some great dance moves that got lost in the mirror, when no one was watching.
But somebody is always watching, evaluating, analyzing, critiquing – especially in the great dance of life. Someone is always making an effort at controlling. If people can define you, they can put you in a box and control you. And as long as you don’t pay attention to what other people think, you can dance like nobody’s watching.
The character Elaine on the long-running Seinfeld show wondered why people were mocking her. She had been to an office party where she “danced like no one was watching.” Her disjointed movements looked like somebody having a “full body dry-heave” to music. But the character Elaine was oblivious to what people thought, and her dance became a big hit on the streets of New York, because she danced like nobody was watching.
In the scripture text, after Jesus’ crucifixion and ascension into heaven, the disciples have entered a different phase of discipleship. This time, despite the threats and admonitions from the high priests, despite being persecuted and thrown in jail, the apostles have begun to “dance like no one is watching.” These aren’t the same disciples who denied knowing Jesus; these aren’t the same people who didn’t understand their purpose – these apostles have begun to walk and to stand tall in the word of the Lord, despite the costs. Because, Brothers and Sisters, there is a cost when you break through from what people say and think about you. There are going to be challenges even though you walked down that aisle and gave your life to the Lord. Obedience can get you into direct trouble. But if you believe in what you are doing for the Lord, then you can dance as if no one is watching.
In the scripture, the apostles had been sent to jail, but here they are, outside teaching, preaching, telling the good news – they have more important things to worry about than what the religious leaders are saying about them. Let’s look at what made them transform.
In this chapter, the Sanhedrin, who were the officers of the high priest of the Sadducees, went to the jail to get the apostles and found the jail securely locked; the apostles were gone and the guards were standing at the doors of the empty cells. The tables had been turned. The guards are confused, and the apostles are out teaching the word of God. God gave the apostles a vision that the religious leaders tried to stop. The lesson here is that God’s purpose for you is far more powerful than what the world has against you. The temple guards were afraid to interrupt the apostles! God can turn things completely around in your life; just when it seems like you are powerless, He will turn it all around; He’ll give you a peace that will make your enemies perplexed, a peace that will make your enemies your footstools.
The high priest and the Sadducees didn’t understand how this “vision” thing works. But we saw it in this church, just last week. Pastor Braxton had a vision of the Silent March to Stop the Pipeline to Prison and End Gun Violence. Everyone said no, it can’t be done; it’s Good Friday. Pastor said, this is what I see: People walking with crosses, in a silent march on Good Friday, from the church to Freedom Plaza. People said no, the church is in downtown DC; you’ll tie up all the traffic, you’ll bother people, Good Friday is not for politics; it can’t be done. But it was done, because we came to proclaim the Good News on Good Friday. Maybe it was a Marco Rubio moment. The message is: when you have a clear sense of where you are going and what God wants you to do, the obstacles before you MOVE.
Obstacles are all you see when you take you eyes off the goal. God wanted the disciples to keep their eyes focused on the goal. There was nothing the Sanhedrin could do to stop it. They said: “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this way!” But the apostles said: “We have to obey God, not men.” The New Revised South Bronx Hip Hop Translation of the scripture says: “Sometimes you gotta talk to the hand; sometimes, you just gotta say: ‘God has given me this word. God has paid the price for my life; you gotta talk to the hand.’” And this is the same “hand” that is raised in praise, adoration and prayer. When you have doubt and conflict, you gotta go to your hand, you gotta go to God in prayer, and the Lord will surely make a way.
These new disciples – these apostles – said: We are witnesses to these things, as is the Holy Spirit. As witnesses, they were saying: “We have seen it.” As a witness, many will deny the truth of who you are, but God has already done enough; you must look back over the things that He has done. He brought us off the slave ships; He brought us through reconstruction; through the civil rights era; He put roofs over our heads, food in our bellies. God has blessed us with more than enough, if you don’t do anything else, we thank you and we praise you Lord!
It’s a simple message: When you look at the doubt, the criticism, the obstacles in your life and you compare it to all that God has done and been for you, then there is no reason to worry about what the world says. We can press on and dance like nobody is watching.
Maya Angelou said:
“You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”
When you look over our history, our people danced like nobody was watching.
Nelson Mandela, Michael Jordan, Barack Obama, Richard Allen – they all rose up to overcome tremendous defeats, and they danced like nobody was watching. We rise because God has empowered us to do it. We can live by popular opinion, or we can live by what the Lord says. We can dance until we are the envy of all the all flowers around us!
The writer William W. Purkey wrote the words:
Sing like no one’s listening,
love like you’ve never been hurt,
dance like nobody’s watching,
and live like its heaven on earth.
If we look around at all God has done in our lives, we can dance like nobody’s watching. I have friends who love me, family who love me, people who love me, and the mercy and love of a God who has all power in his hands! With what we have right now we can stand, we can shout, we can wave our hands and dance like nobody’s watching. I’m gonna dance like nobody’s watching cause God gave me the power to do so! Amen! Amen! Amen!
Scripture: Acts 5: 23-33 (NIV Translations): 23 ”We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” 24 On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were puzzled, wondering what would come of this. 25 Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.” 26 At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them. 27 Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28 ”We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” 29 Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men! 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead–whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” 33 When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.
Scripture: Luke 24:1-12. Jesus Has Risen. 24 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” 8 Then they remembered his words. 9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
Let me commend to each of you the reading of the Resurrection story in all four gospels. What you will discover is that all four of them tell the story of that first Easter Resurrection morning from their own view and the way they first experienced, from others.
The women who were present and witnessed the entire events of the assault on the life of Jesus and stayed near the cross until the bitter end—Luke is clear that they were the first to experience Jesus raised from the dead. These women, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary “the mother of James” and Luke says, “the other women” were there with the others to remove the body of Jesus from the cross, gently wipe him off, wrap him in linen, and then bury him in the tomb. The plan was to wait until the Sabbath had ended and then return to the burial site and prepare the body in a proper way. Things needed to be done—proper cleansing, anointing with oil, suitable wrapping, and an appropriate burial.
But they did not have time to do the proper thing, because the sun would soon set, and all they had time to do was clean Jesus’ body up and hurry to the tomb. Maybe the men were just so stunned that they could not wrap their minds around what had happened and thought the details of a proper burial could wait until later on in the morning. Maybe the women were so anxious and keen on details like this that they could not sleep and, as soon as day broke and the Sabbath had ended, they decided amongst themselves to leave the men and go take care of the business at hand.
Let me suggest that all of them were possibly wiped out. All of them were downcast, sorrowful, broken, heart-wrenched and filled with unbearable grief. In times like that, you can find yourself just “doing stuff” and you don’t even know what you are doing or why you are doing it. These women are to become the first evangelists with the good news of resurrection. These women are the first to proclaim that Jesus lives. They are the first witnesses and the first bearers of the faith. They returned quickly to share it with the men. The Bible says, “The apostles didn’t believe a word of it, thought they were making it all up.” It is at that moment, that the focus is shifted to Peter.
We know Peter. We can all agree that Peter was the closest to Jesus. They were like what we use to call “Blood brothers” or best friends. I suspect that next to Mary, the mother of Jesus, Peter took the last few days of Jesus’ life the hardest. Peter had invested everything in Jesus. He had given up everything for Jesus; possibly Peter, more than the rest, had spiritually connected with Jesus. He was so close to Jesus, yet in the hour of Jesus’ greatest need he pushed back and denied his relationship with Jesus. All of them were in the dumps, down, distraught, completely wiped out and cast aside, maybe Peter more than the others. What had he done; what was left for him; where would he go; what would he do? If you ever get a taste of “better,” it is hard to return to what was.
I am not a big fan of the award shows—the Grammys, Emmy’s, Golden Globe, Oscars and the likes. (If it were up to me, the little girl [Quvenzhane Wallis] would have won the Oscar, or Django would have won the Oscar). Just before retiring for the night, I turned to the closing moments of the Oscars. Since they were wrapping up and about to name the big winners, I stayed tuned. I was intrigued by the comments of Ben Affleck in his acceptance speech. I did a little research on Affleck, only to discover that he could relate to what it means to be in the dumps, down, distraught, completely wiped out and cast aside. He was a product of what society calls, “A broken home.” His acting career went through some ebbs and flows. In 2001 he checked himself into an exclusive rehabilitation center to undergo treatment for alcohol abuse. Two marriage engagements ended before he got to the altar. For a time, his film career and personal life suffered a downward-spiraling twist. It was in Affleck’s acceptance speech, after receiving the Oscar for his award-winning picture “Argo,” that he declares, “Getting up is what counts in life.”
As bad off as Peter must have been feeling; as dejected, cast aside, feeling wiped out and down, in Luke’s account of the resurrection story, when Peter heard the report from the women, the other disciples didn’t believe the women, but the Bible says, “He [Peter] got up and ran to the tomb…” The Message Bible says, “He jumped to his feet and ran…” I want to suggest that from the very moment Peter got up, his life was never the same. Getting up is what counts. Peter could have doubted himself, doubted God, doubted Jesus; he could have just sat idly, passing the moments away; soaking in his disappointment, drowning in his frustration, pitty-pating his sorrow and grief. But the Bible says that he got up. Getting up is what counts.
1. Never stop anticipating the power of God to move in extreme and extra-ordinary ways in your life.
Let me lift three thoughts. The first is: (1) never stop anticipating the power of God to move in extreme and extra-ordinary ways in your life. Peter must have anticipated that God was about something extreme and extraordinary. He jumped up and ran to see what God was about. Nobody, none of the women or men were expecting or anticipating what they found at the tomb. God had moved in an extreme and extraordinary way. Let me back-track a minute. I would like to think that when Moses found himself and the people of God between a rock and a hard place – between Egypt and the Red Sea – he must have anticipated the power of God to move in an extreme and extraordinary way. Let me say it another way: When Queen Esther decided to go stand before the King on behalf of her people, she had to have anticipated the power of God to move in an extreme and extraordinary way.
Remember all of those people who were coming to Jesus for healing, new life and wholeness; they weren’t coming with doubt, with “I wonder can he do it,” they must have anticipated the power of God was going to move in extreme and extraordinary ways—the blind man, the cripple, the man at the pool of Bethesda, the woman with the issue of blood, the 10 lepers, the woman caught in adultery, the mother whose only son had died. Somebody in this church this morning can shout, “You can’t make me doubt him, I know too much about him!” Sometimes, some hard stuff will fall in your life, and if it hasn’t, just wait a little longer. The times may seem long and the rain may never seem to stop. I don’t know when, how He’s going to move, but I do know that you live everyday on the edge knowing, trusting, believing, anticipating the power of God to move in your life in extreme and extraordinary ways. Sometimes you will get knocked down and pushed aside. Sometimes some hard stuff will fall on your life. When the sun stops shining in your life, when the nights are long and dreary and the rain seemingly will never stop, just get up anyway!
2. It is easier to get up when you remember how God blessed your life the last time.
Here is the second lesson for today, (2) it is easier to get up when you remember how God blessed your life the last time. When the women saw the empty tomb, they became bewildered. Peter was even bewildered by what he saw or, rather, did not see. The women must have been moved to a greater low until they were reminded what was told to them by Jesus. When they remembered they got up and one text says that “they ran to tell the men.” It is easier to get up when you remember what happened the last time you were down and out. It is easier to get up when you start remembering how God brought you out and brought you through that last mess you found yourself in. It is easier to get up when you start remembering that you didn’t have enough money to pay your mortgage, but somehow God found a way; when the cupboard was a little bare and God put food on your table. It’s easier to get up when you start remember his promises to you: I will be with you…I will not leave you, nor forsake you…I am the bread of life…I am living water…I am your rock in a weary land…
Life tends to want to keep you down, head down, can’t get out of bed, won’t get up and go out to try to find a job, having a pity party to yourself, talking about “woe is me!” But I got news for you: it’s easier to get up when you remember him saying : I am the bread of life I am the living water I am your anchor in the time of storm. Then you’ll say: I gotta get up, I gotta get out of here, if it’s no more than getting up, coming to church, helping to fix the food basket for the homeless…I’m gonna get up!
3. In the Power of the resurrection, you can get up; you don’t ever have to stay down!
Here is the final lesson, (3) in the power of the resurrection you can get up; you don’t ever have to stay down. And getting up is what counts. The powers of this world thought that they had the best of Jesus. They thought they had him – a mock trial, stood him before the people, put a crown of thorns on his head, whipped him, hung him until he died, put him in a cave – we call it a tomb – then sealed the tomb so he couldn’t get out and we couldn’t get in. They though they had gotten the best of Jesus. That’s what they thought. When he got up, God power, resurrection power, was vested in his new life. I want to say that again: When he got up, POWER, God’s power, resurrected power, was vested in his new life.
If you live every day in God’s power resurrection power, you don’t have to stay down. You can get up. Even if you are crippled or sick, your spirit can get up; your will can get up; your determination can get up. You can get up! Tell somebody sitting next to you: “You ought to get up!” Don’t let the world keep you down, don’t let the devil keep you down, don’t let your situation keep you down. It may not look like you are getting anywhere, it may not look like you are going anywhere, but stop sitting down – GET UP. I don’t care how hard it is – how dark it is – how rough it is – GET UP. And when you get up, POWER, God’s power, resurrection power, will be vested in your life. Get up, open your mouth, say something, do something, but GET UP!
I’m so glad I didn’t let the projects keep me down; I’m do glad I came from a single mother; I didn’t make anything of my life in school, but one morning I got up, and God poured his power into my life. Young people get up; middle-aged people get up; old people GET UP!! Stop making excuses! Stop living for the Devil – GET UP!
Most of us can recognize that ours is a crazy, confused and mixed up world. I am believing that it is not only clear to we simple lay persons of the world, but that it must be equally clear to those who claim to be in charge of running the world—the Presidents, Prime Ministers, Kings, world leaders of every title.
For Christians, the irony is that sometimes we practice more hate than love
For us Christians, the irony is, we preach a gospel of love – love God, and love thy neighbor as thyself – yet we practice more hate than love. Leaders of most nations spend plenty of time talking about “world peace,” but our globe is torn apart because of wars and rumors of wars. We are called upon in most “Holy Doctrines” to be brotherly and sisterly to each other. But most of what we experience is intense and internal squabbling, bickering and fighting between governments and their people and the people of the world.
America is not an exception. Ours has become a world that is the very opposite of the gospel preached and given to us by Jesus. Far too many of us choose to hate our enemies and love only those who love us. We have become a people where only the strong survive, and the weak have to make it the best they can.
For most of us, we have become a people who have measured success not by what we can do to help others live better and decent lives, rather by what we can obtain, achieve and accomplish for ourselves and those who run in our circles.
In the midst of so much pain and trauma in the world…who will dare to stand up and speak up for God?
As Christians, when we look at the staggering society and world right at our front door; when we observe and witness the pain and trauma on the faces of so many who, for no acceptable reason, in the sight of God, have been abandoned and neglected; when we teach children whom we know will not escape the harshness and rawness of their community; when we see our young men and women waste their lives and eventually head off to prison cells never again to be the same; the question becomes:who will dare to stand up and speak up for God?
The major disappointment is that the government of the people and for the people has become the government just for a few of the people. To further complicate matters the Church has retreated to a gospel of health, wealth, and self.
Today, the text dares us to stand up and speak up for God.
1. In our everyday living, God challenges us to dare to stand up and speak up for “God causes.”
Here is a salient thought to live with, (1) in our everyday living, God challenges us to dare to stand up and speak up for (what I want to call) “God causes.”
In our places of employment – we ought to dare to speak up for the cause of God; on our recreational scenes – dare to stand up and speak up for God causes; in our families – God calls upon us to stand up, speak up; in the neighborhood, in our social and fraternal gatherings – even in our houses of worship, God challenges some of us to stand up and speak up for the causes of God, look at the trouble all around you – stand up; speak up.
Here in this text, such was the case with the scripture text and Isaiah. God had seen the wickedness of their society; God had become fed up with the hypocrisy of their religion; God was done with the silence and emptiness of their worship. Brothers and sisters, our praise and worship in here count doesn’t count for much unless we put it into practice out there on the streets where all of us live our everyday lives. Yes, God desires our praise; yes, God desires our worship; but it ought to be through our praise and worship that God challenges us to dare to stand up and speak up for God causes.
Isaiah finds himself in a season of worship. He does not consider himself much of a person. He is just a regular, ordinary human being, like the rest of everybody else, in the temple, worshipping God. In the text, he confesses that he is one who has been sucked into the present practices of his culture and the ways of his society, and the best that he could do is look the other way. Are we guilty like Isaiah, of being blessed by God, but the best we can do is look the other way? We come to pews and shout hallelujah, and then 600 homeless children in DC hospitals and all we can do is look the other way. Stand up somebody, against the guns, the violence in our community.
2. With God, our yesterdays and todays are but historical testimonies for our tomorrows.
In verse five, Isaiah confesses to God, “I’m lost…a man of unclean lips…I live among people of unclean lips…” Isaiah is clear that there is nothing to recommend him to accept the challenge to go stand up and speak up for God.
Herein lies the second great theme from this text, (2) With God, our past life and present day living are but transitional events and testimonies to the ever-changing will and purposes of God. Let me put it another way: our yesterdays and our todays are but historical testimonies for our tomorrows. Let me break it down a little more: Whatever our lives were like yesterday, last week, last month, last year; whatever I am today; all become but testimonies tomorrow, about the goodness of God moving and working in my life.
When I thank God for my last year, for my days at Booker T. Washington High School, that’s just a testimony. Look what He has done for me; He has brought me a mighty long way; He has put his hand on me; He has changed my whole life!
God has a way of taking insignificant lives and challenging them to dare to stand up and dare to speak up for him, “Whom shall I send, and who will go…” And you know what I’ve discovered? God does better with insignificant lives than those who bring a lot of “stuff” to the table.
Never think that you have no purpose…never think that you don’t have a part in God’s program…never think that you don’t have a role to play. Never think that God can’t use you. It bothers me when people come to church week after week and say: “I don’t have anything to do.” As long as you live, you have something to offer. You’ve got to be a witness, and it’s got to come out of more than your mouth. God can use you. And if you are not fit, God can fix you up to be used!
Before he became St. Augustine, the young lad Augustine was a drunk and a womanizer. Andrew Knowles, in his book, Augustine and His World, writes, “Without a school to attend, brimming with adolescent energy, he became part of a group of lads who ran wild in the town, proud of their exploits at drinking, theft and sex.” God came to him; God challenged Augustine to stand up! Speak up! And before his life ended, The Bishop of Hippo, St. Augustine, born in North Africa, became one of the great fathers and giants of the Christian Church. God can fix you up and use you!
Richard Allen, founder of the AME Church, was just a slave, born February 14, 1760 and owned by Benjamin Chew. In the scheme of things, although converted to the Christian faith ten years later, there was no way this little black slave boy Richard Allen had any good thing to offer American society. It was his newfound faith in the God that made him restless until he freed himself, his brother and his people. Here we are, one hundred and ninety seven years later, millions of AMEs, thousands of AME churches. When God decides to use you, dare to speak up; stand up.
3. If you dare to stand up and speak up for God’s causes, he will give you everything you need.
Let me make a final thought (3) if you dare stand up and speak up for God and the causes of God, God will equip you and provide for you everything you need.
Success is not the aim or the goal in your life: faithfulness to the call of God as he challenges you to keep on living for him. Faith is the key that will unlock doors that will stand in your way.
In the scripture, Isaiah had a great vision. You can envision him in church. What a wonderful thing; he was in church, all of a sudden there was a great epiphany. It’s a wonderful thing when God shows up in church. Isaiah came to church, and then he saw he was the only one in church.
While Isaiah was in church, angels started running around, and he looked up and he saw the throne of God and he caught hold of his train and he had a conversation with God, and God said “I want you to go for me I want you to stand up for me, I want you to tell the world of me.” Isaiah said “I’m not worthy, I’m in a fraternity, I’m in a sorority, I’m a steward in my church and we just don’t do that.” God said “Don’t worry, I’ll fix you up, I’ll dress you up, just go!”
Like Isaiah, God will call you and you might say I can’t, but God says: You can suffer a little while, then you’ll have new life, new vigor, new vitality! Somebody ought to stand up and speak up! Too many people are hurting, crying suffering. Church, stand up, speak up choir, ushers, Stewards, Trustees, stand up, speak up!
Tell young people: don’t worry about being successful – just be FAITHFUL. If you are faithful to God, all things are possible. God will give you everything you need.
Next week, we’re going to carry crosses to the White House about the problems in our communities. The church can no longer sit comfortably in their pews and be silent as our young men and women are being crucified by guns and crime and violence.
Dare to stand up speak up for God.
Watch the full worship service:
Scripture: Isaiah 6:1-8. Isaiah’s Commission 6 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
Or, “Worship and Word Can Change Your Whole Life” Rev. Dr. Ronald Eugene Braxton Sunday, February 3, 2013
Scripture: Nehemiah 8:1-10
Officially, Nehemiah was a trusted servant of King Artaxerxes, performing the vital role of tasting, making sure that neither the food nor drink were poisoned. His official title was that of “Cupbearer of the King.” One author noted that Nehemiah must have served the King with a pleasant and good disposition so that, on a particular occasion, the King noticed that Nehemiah’s countenance was marked with a look and spirit of depression. It’s never good to have a waiter or waitress who has a bad attitude; it just ruins the meal!
News had come to the cupbearer that his home and his people had fallen on hard times. The city was in ruins; the people were ravaged by major conflict and division; internal bickering and disputes were a major source of destruction in the areas of politics and church. King Artaxerxes granted Nehemiah permission to return home for the express purpose of rebuilding and restoring—rebuilding brick and mortar and restoring faith, people and lives.
Rick Nutt in his exegetical perspective defines how critical the times were when these two – priest and prophet, Nehemiah and Ezra, arrived at the collapsing gates of the once beautiful Jerusalem. Nutt says: “The future of the people is in serious doubt. Enemies attack from outside, but even more, internal disagreements threaten to undermine the community’s future…the question of whether or not the Jews can revivify life together and reclaim their identity as a worshiping people is an urgent matter of life and death.” In short, can the priest and the prophet aid, assist and help rebuild the city, and restore as well as reclaim the worshiping faith which had been their most notable claim to the life of their culture as a community?
In chapter 8, the work is done; much of the rebuilding of brick and mortar has been repaired and completed. Now, Nehemiah and Ezra move to restoring the faith and identity of the people.Sometimes, brothers and sisters, work can get in the way of worship, sometimes work can get in the way of the Word and the practice of our faith.
When the work was done, the two prophets called all of the people to assemble together for the express purpose – to worship, to hear and have explained to them the Word—in this case, Word is Torah. The two prophets were keenly aware that both worship and an understanding of Word were critical elements that needed to be re-emphasized and re-enforced as the very center and core of each individual, in order for them not just to survive but to live spiritually healthy lives. I would like to suggest that were it not for the Bible, and were it not for the church, which were at the core of slave, Negro, Black life, we would not be where we are today. With all of the modern stuff going on, one tends to think that the Word is obsolete. We can trash it or discard it if we want, but the words of the poet still ring true: “God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, Thou who has brought us thus far along the way, Thou who by Thy might…”
Let me suggest that as critical and vital as worship, hearing and understanding Word was in the minds and thoughts of Nehemiah and Ezra, the same is true for us today. Be very clear that Christianity is not a religion to be practiced by you, with you, and for you only. The greatest core value of Christianity is life lived in community with God and each other. Carter Lester appropriately tells us, “While private spiritual disciplines and practices are important, there is no substitute for God’s people gathering together to worship.” I commend private worship but there is nothing like coming together as a body of believers to worship and God and Word; we can’t help but turn to each other, and not on each other. In the scripture V. 6: “Then Ezra blessed the Lord, …and all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen’ lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and they worshiped the Lord…men, women and children who could understand. (All the people).” Nothing takes the place of worship.
I submit that there are at least 3 distinguishing features resulting from Worship, hearing and understanding Word. Note that I’m using the term deliberately: Word – not “the Word.”
1. When true worship takes place, and we hear and understand the Word of God, we become aware of our own shortfalls.
(1) When true worship takes place and we hear and understand the word of God, we become aware of our own shortfalls. Verse 9 tells us that the people cried and wept when they heard and understood Word of God. The suggestion is that hearing and understanding Word of God in the context of worship had a transforming and changing impact on us—the people clearly saw how far short they were and had become to the will and expectation of God. No longer could they point the accusing finger to others; rather the finger pointed to each of them as individuals and as a people called and set apart by God. As we come and worship God, the Word of God ought to convict us that we have as individuals enough business of our own to take care of, thus we need to leave other folk’s business to themselves and their God. I could not resist these words of Jesus found in Matthew 7:1-following, from the Message Bible: “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, and criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. (I’m reading from the Word.) That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. (I’m reading from the Word here). It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbors’ face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. (I’m reading from the Word here). Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted…(I’m reading from the Word here). It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off YOUR face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.”
Our only aim in worship ought to be to lift the God who condemns sin, and celebrate the same God who in love and compassion forgives and restores. All of us somewhere along the line ought to be able to cry: “He lifted me, with tender hands he lifted me, with tender hands, he lifted me, from sinking sands, he lifted me…” If you can’t cry that maybe you can cry: “I was sinking deep in sin far from the peaceful shores…when nothing else could help, love lifted me!” Somebody else is singing: I once was lost in sin and Jesus took me in…”
2. Hearing and understanding Word will empower community.
Here is the second transforming and changing impact that I saw in worship, hearing and understand Word, (2) It can (no, it will) empower community. In worship, and with a clear understanding of Word, in our individuality, we seek to be and become the Beloved Community. Throughout this text, at least eight times, the reference is made, “To all the people gathered—talking about the beloved community—men, women and children” who could understand. At the end, in verse 10, when the people are encouraged to celebrate, the Message Bible says, “Go home and prepare a feast, holiday food and drink.” It did not stop there; the text goes on to instruct, “Share it with those who don’t have anything.”
Worship, hearing and understanding Word will empower us to become our brother’s keeper, and our sister’s keeper. It will challenge us, in the words of Jesus to, “Do unto others as we would have them do unto us.” It will demand of us to go feed the hungry; clothe the naked; visit those who are imprisoned. We will become the teachers, aiders, workers and liberators of our community. We will accept the call of God to lift Jesus up and attend to the spiritual and material well-being of every man, woman and child!
As a commentator (Walter Rauschenbusch) put it, “Equally concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them…” “If I can help somebody…” with a word of something… Worship, word, is not just sitting up here on Sunday morning, patting our feet and doing the holy dance, singing in the choir; it requires us to roll up our sleeves, offer a cup to somebody, offer to pick up somebody’s child and help them along the way. Word, Worship, hearing and understanding empowers us to empower the least of us.
3. Worship and Word will evoke the power of God’s Spirit and give us new eyes to face the troubled world, and inspire us to live fresh and renewed lives everyday.
Finally, Worship and Word (3) will evoke the power of God’s Spirit, give us new eyes to face the troubled world, and inspire us to live fresh and renewed lives everyday. Have you ever heard the alarm clock go off and you felt – “no, not another day. I gotta go down to that job and that boss I hate, not another day.”
Anybody in here who has ever said: not today, not now, let me have a few more hours? Sickness got you down, and you just don’t feel like moving. But somehow if you spend a little time in worship, a familiar hymn might pull up in your spirit… Beams from Heaven…Blessed Assurance…Jesus keep me near the cross... Something About the Name Jesus…The Lord is My Light and My Salvation…The Lord is the Strength of My Life…The Lord is My Shepherd, I shall not want! You spend a little time in worship and Word, and you get on up and say – I’m ready to go out, no matter what’s out there. I don’t see the violence, I got my mind on the mountaintop – I see the crown!
And I’m not just talking about Sunday morning worship. Because if the only time you worship is when you come in here Sunday morning, you’re going to miss something on MondayTuesdayWednesdayThursday and Friday. Sometimes, all throughout the day, you ought to have a worship party, and the living Word of God ought to step in. I got news for you: it will change your life! It will make a difference in your life. It will open your eyes and give you a fresh look at the world around you.
We will face each day looking through a different set of lenses. Beyond the rough and rocky path, we will catch glimpses of the smoothed way Jesus has set out for us. In the dark hours, we will see the glimmer of light. In the valley, we will be able to behold the mountain tops. In the light of the crosses we bear, we won’t get stuck on the crosses, we will see crowns to be worn. In days of agony and defeat, we will see victory and triumph. And when we think that this life is doomed, we will see, hear and understand, Jesus’ words: “I have come [not so you will have a humdrum life] but that you might have life and have it more abundantly.”
Never, ever, ever underestimate the power of Worship and Word in your life!
Scripture: Nehemiah 8:1-10. Ezra and The Revelation. 1 By the time the seventh month arrived, the People of Israel were settled in their towns. Then all the people gathered as one person in the town square in front of the Water Gate and asked the scholar Ezra to bring the Book of The Revelation of Moses that God had commanded for Israel. 2-3 So Ezra the priest brought The Revelation to the congregation, which was made up of both men and women—everyone capable of understanding. It was the first day of the seventh month. He read it facing the town square at the Water Gate from early dawn until noon in the hearing of the men and women, all who could understand it. And all the people listened—they were all ears—to the Book of The Revelation. 4 The scholar Ezra stood on a wooden platform constructed for the occasion. He was flanked on the right by Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, and on the left by Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam. 5-6 Ezra opened the book. Every eye was on him (he was standing on the raised platform) and as he opened the book everyone stood. Then Ezra praised God, the great God, and all the people responded, “Oh Yes! Yes!” with hands raised high. And then they fell to their knees in worship of God, their faces to the ground. 7-8 Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, and Pelaiah, all Levites, explained The Revelation while people stood, listening respectfully. They translated the Book of The Revelation of God so the people could understand it and then explained the reading. 9 Nehemiah the governor, along with Ezra the priest and scholar and the Levites who were teaching the people, said to all the people, “This day is holy to God, your God. Don’t weep and carry on.” They said this because all the people were weeping as they heard the words of The Revelation. 10 He continued, “Go home and prepare a feast, holiday food and drink; and share it with those who don’t have anything: This day is holy to God. Don’t feel bad. The joy of God is your strength!” (Message Bible)
Rev. Dr. Ronald E. Braxton, Senior Pastor
Metropolitan AME Church
Sunday, January 20, 2013 http://www.metropolitanamec.org Scripture: Exodus 14:10-15, 26-30
The book of Exodus gives the reader a very elaborate, detailed and dramatic narrative of the Israelites’ journey to freedom from Egypt and the mighty hand of Pharaoh. Most of us are familiar with the secondary and primary characters of the narrative. Making up the brief listing of secondary characters are: Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt; Moses, the champion of God sent to lead the people (God always has God’s own champion to lead the people); there is Aaron, the brother and trusted right hand person at the side of Moses; and though not visible, I am sure she played behind the scenes a vital role, is the wife of Moses-Zipporah.
In whatever you undertake in life, make sure God has the leading role.
As the narrative unfolds it becomes clear to the reader that the principal character and star is God in God’s effort to move and perform major miracles on the part of humankind. This is an aside: never take God out of the equation; in whatever you undertake in life, make sure that God has the leading role. The God of Moses still moves on behalf of humankind, with miraculous powers.
The narrative moves through a series of strange and catastrophic events affecting Pharaoh surrendering to Moses and his God and mandating by executive order the releasing and freeing of the Israelites. In our text, this morning, the Israelites are on their way to freedom; the march out and forward was on the way; the people were filled with song, praise and laughter; in the air was a spirit of excitement, joy and exuberance. Then, bad news – at the peak of your most joyous moment, don’t be surprised when you get some bad news from somewhere or someone. Pharaoh had a change of heart, and some of his closest and most trusted men convinced him to make a last ditch effort to go after the Israelites.
In all things, seek the will of God, and when God finally gets through to you, obey Him.
Here is another aside, and trust me on this: in all things seek the will of God, and when God finally gets through to you, whatever you do, obey God.
1. Never allow obstacles or fear to blind you of the power, potential and possibilities that rest only in God.
Now, we move to a salient point to always hold on to and never forget. The Israelites have now come to a turning point in this whole saga. They arrive at the Sea of Reeds, or what is commonly called the Red Sea. Pharaoh had amassed a massive force behind them; they were not yet physically, emotionally or mentally suited to encounter the terrain and the forces on either side of them, so FORWARD was the only option. Music no longer filled the air; a major needle had punctured the bubble; anger, regret and terror filled the hearts of the people. Moses goes to God crying, and God says to Moses, “Why are you crying to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward.” Here is the point: (1) never allow obstacles or fear to blind you of the power, potential and possibilities that rest only in God.
H. L. Ellison writes, “We can easily understand the terror of the Israelites. They must have felt like so many modern ‘freedom fighters’, when suddenly faced by ranks of crack troops and a battalion of tanks. Nor should we be surprised that they turned on Moses. It was he who had been, as they saw it, the originator, sustainer and organizer…surely he should have foreseen such…in addition we know from experience that, however much we have experienced God’s power and care for us, an entirely new experience leaves us with the uncomfortable feeling, ‘can God really cope with this situation?’” Brothers and sisters, when forward is the only option, don’t let obstacles or fear blind you of the power, potential and possibilities that rest only in God.
When it came to the feeding of the massive crowd on the side of the mountain, the disciples were blinded to the power of and the potential and possibilities that rested in the hands of Jesus. On the other hand, Jesus, himself is a perfect example: when the horrors of a cross faced him and he knew that forward was the only option, he did not allow the cross, the beatings, the false accusations, or the entire Calvary experience to blind him of the power, potential and possibilities that rested only in the hands of God. I suspect and submit that Richard Allen in the early 1800s as he was trying to form a new denomination for freed and enslaved Africans, from friends and foes, had his share of Red Sea moments. I suspect and submit that Martin Luther King, Jr., from friends and foes, experienced more than his share of Red Sea moments. But neither allowed their crosses, obstacles and Red Seas to blind them of the power, potential and the possibilities that rested only in the hands of a loving and caring God.
2. When forward is the only option and no one, including you, can see clearly the way ahead, stand firm in your faith and expect to see the deliverance and salvation of the Lord.
Here is the second salient thought that this narrative provides for us as a lesson in life: (2) when forward is the only option and no one, including you, can see clearly the way ahead, stand firm in your faith and expect to see the deliverance and salvation of the Lord. Because you stand with God does not ensure that your tomorrows will be revealed to you when you think they ought to be. You can surround yourself with all human intelligence, experts and wise counsel and they have their place. You can prepare the best you can for forward movement, but be clear that only God knows tomorrow; only God knows what is down the road; only God knows what is around the corner.
In the gospel writing of Matthew, chapter 10, the Message Bible version, Jesus is preparing the seventy to go out and he gives them this charge, “Stay alert, this is hazardous work… you’re going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack…don’t be naïve…don’t be intimidated…don’t be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies. There is nothing they can do to your soul, your core being. Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life – body and soul – in his hand.” And later on, the promise of Jesus comes, “I am with you always, until, until, until…” When you can’t see it…when the way is not clear…when doubts arise, trust in the promise of Jesus; stand firm on your faith and expect to see the deliverance and salvation of the Lord.
I like the way this scripture narrative ends. It does not discount the human experience. With all of their fears, with all of their anxieties, with all of their inhibitions, Cecil B. DeMille (in the movie, The Ten Commandments) positions Moses on a rock with uplifted hands. The accompanying text (v. 29-31) says, “The Israelites walked right through the middle of the sea on dry ground, the water forming a wall to the right and to the left. God delivered Israel that day from the oppression of the Egyptians…and as Israel looked they realized the tremendous power that God brought…the people were in reverent awe before God.” Biblical scholarship tells us that they worshipped and praised God.
When forward is the only option, there is a Rock upon which to stand and worship. Through the eternal ages, humankind has come to know that there is a sure rock upon which we can stand and worship. When darkness veils…in every high and stormy gale, there is a rock upon which we can stand to worship and give praise…when all around seemingly is giving away, there is a rock to stand to praise and worship. WHEN FORWARD IS THE ONLY OPTION, ON CHRIST THE SOLID ROCK TAKE YOUR STAND AND IN AWE, PRAISE AND WORSHIP OF GOD MOVE, MARCH, FORGE ONWARD AND FORWARD IN THE POWER OF GOD.
Scripture: Exodus 14:10-15, 26-30 (Message Bible)
10-12 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up and saw them—Egyptians! Coming at them! They were totally afraid. They cried out in terror to God. They told Moses, “Weren’t the cemeteries large enough in Egypt so that you had to take us out here in the wilderness to die? What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt? Back in Egypt didn’t we tell you this would happen? Didn’t we tell you, ‘Leave us alone here in Egypt—we’re better off as slaves in Egypt than as corpses in the wilderness.’”13 Moses spoke to the people: “Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and watch God do his work of salvation for you today. Take a good look at the Egyptians today for you’re never going to see them again.14 God will fight the battle for you. And you? You keep your mouths shut!”15-16 God said to Moses: “Why cry out to me? Speak to the Israelites. Order them to get moving. Hold your staff high and stretch your hand out over the sea: Split the sea! The Israelites will walk through the sea on dry ground. 26 God said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea and the waters will come back over the Egyptians, over their chariots, over their horsemen.”27-28 Moses stretched his hand out over the sea: As the day broke and the Egyptians were running, the sea returned to its place as before. God dumped the Egyptians in the middle of the sea. The waters returned, drowning the chariots and riders of Pharaoh’s army that had chased after Israel into the sea. Not one of them survived.29-31 But the Israelites walked right through the middle of the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall to the right and to the left. God delivered Israel that day from the oppression of the Egyptians. And Israel looked at the Egyptian dead, washed up on the shore of the sea, and realized the tremendous power that God brought against the Egyptians. The people were in reverent awe before God and trusted in God and his servant Moses.
Watch Night Service 2012 Rev. Dr. Ronald E. Braxton, Senior Pastor Metropolitan AME Church www.metropolitanamec.org Joshua 6:1-10
Scripture: Joshua 6: 1-10 – New International Version (NIV). 6 Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in.
2 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. 3 March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. 4 Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. 5 When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.” 6 So Joshua son of Nun called the priests and said to them, “Take up the ark of the covenant of the Lord and have seven priests carry trumpets in front of it.” 7 And he ordered the army, “Advance! March around the city, with an armed guard going ahead of the ark of the Lord.” 8 When Joshua had spoken to the people, the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets before the Lord went forward, blowing their trumpets, and the ark of the Lord’s covenant followed them. 9 The armed guard marched ahead of the priests who blew the trumpets, and the rear guard followed the ark. All this time the trumpets were sounding. 10 But Joshua had commanded the army, “Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout!”
As we gather between these sacred walls this evening, we have been called to reflect on the life of our ancestors 150 years ago. Some were freed blacks, while most were slaves. They were all gathered in churches, in fields, in houses and barns wait to hear if President Lincoln had signed their freedom proclamation. Possibly, it was much like the Hebrew children on the night of the Passover, waiting for God to move. I want to suggest that slavery was a “Jericho event” in the life of Black people, and the Emancipation Proclamation was a “God moment” moving on Lincoln to sign. It brought some walls down.
In August, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington. Hundreds of thousands of Americans, mostly blacks, but Jews, Gentiles, Germans – came from all across this country to demand equal rights for all Americans. The guaranteed rights as proclaimed by the Bill of Rights were denied to those who were supposedly emancipated 100 years earlier. Achieving Civil Rights was like a “Jericho experience.” I suggest that President Lyndon Baines Johnson signing the Civil Rights Bill was another “God moment,” crushing walls in this country.
As I was driving along this afternoon and reflecting on a word for tonight, this text came into my spirit. I saw the Israelites, under the leadership of Joshua, heading towards the place that God had promised to the ancestors. They were moving at a steady pace. Sometimes all you can do is move at a steady pace. You might want things to move along a little faster, but sometimes the best you can do is move at a steady pace. If God has an assigned blessing for you, you will not get it or get there until its God’s time. Sometimes the pace might seem like it’s too slow, like you’ll never get there, like the you’ll never get the blessing you think you are going to get. But if you keep moving at a steady pace, you’ll get the blessing.
As I read through the scripture and reflected on Jericho… Joshua…the Israelites and their destiny, I thought about four things all of us should remember in 2013.
1. Expect some Jericho moments in your life…Some walls will show up in 2013…Something will present itself as an obstacle to impede forward movement in 2013. Don’t be surprised, don’t shocked. As a matter of fact, you can tell Jericho when it gets there: “I’ve been waiting on you; the preacher told me you were going to show up.” Something is going get in your way, but just tell Jericho I knew you were coming.
2. When Jericho shows up, remember to trust God. Go to chapter 1. God promised Joshua that he would see him to the Promised Land. In verse 5 of chapter 1, God told Joshua, “No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life…I will be with you…I will never leave you…nor forsake you… Joshua trusted God, even when it looked impossible. In all things, whatever it looks like, remember to trust God.
3. Remember to do you part. Do all that you can do. Don’t just sit back and sit down, talking about “I’m trusting God.” Get up and DO something. The text tells us that every morning the people of God got up and went out to march around the walls of Jericho; blew the horns. Do something, beyond trusting God. That job you are looking for is not going to drop out of heaven. You’ve got to get your resume together. You’ve got to go to the interview. Remember to do your part. I was talking to my wife, and we were reflecting on last year. We were in a major crisis, doing dialysis at home 5 days a week. We had to do OUR part. God had a plan, but we didn’t know how the plan was going to work. God is not usually going to tell you how the plan works. All you do is to do your part, keep on moving, keep in a steady pace doing your part, and just wait for God to do your part.
4. Finally I want you to get this picture. From the text (Message Bible), it says “look shocked.” We can see the priests dressed in their ceremonial regalia in position carrying the trumpets made of rams horns. You can see the army, dressed in their battle armor, leading the people around the wall. Then you can see the people, marching in formation, waiting to shout. Here is the final thing to remember: Until your walls come down, every morning, when you get up, do yourself up. Wash yourself, brush your teeth, comb your hair, put on some clean pressed clothes – I don’t care how dark it is, you don’t even have to go to the cleaners, wash them by hand and press them under your pillow like we used to do. And when you walk out the door, look like, act like, and talk like you belong to God. Don’t let anybody take you for granted in 2013. When you get up and go outside the door, you are a child of God. You belong to God, you are a child of God…Remember, remember – nobody has to know how dark it is in your life; put your head back, you are working for and living for God.
In 2013, the walls will come up, expect some Jericho’s. When it comes, do all that you can do; tell ‘em – I knew you were coming. I’m trusting in God. Do all you can, then look like, walk like, act like, you’re a child of God.
One of the most intriguing and fascinating narratives of all times is the original Christmas narrative as it is presented to us in Holy Scripture. There is the pre-narrative of Zachariah, his wife Elizabeth and the birth of their son, John who would become John the Baptist. There are the two different stories announcing that Mary is pregnant—the announcement to Mary and the announcement to Joseph. Then there is the taxation story and the tedious journey on the part of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. There is the birth story; the Wise Men (or Magi) story, the King Herod story and the story of the mass slaughter of innocent children.
For preaching purposes this morning, there is one of the stories in the narrative that I would like to highlight. Luke, in chapter two, tells the story of the Shepherds who were in a field watching over their flock under the cover of a dark night. Unlike the Wise Men or Magi, these Shepherds represent another class of people. They are not like the Wise Men bearing riches and jewels; the Shepherds represented the minority class who really were the majority of the people. They were the working class, the low income, the poor class and the “no class” of society. If we think that these times in which we live are tight financially, difficult and hard, this is nothing. For the people who lived during the time of the birth of Jesus, there was no “cliff “to fall off. Their entire existence was lived at the bottom of the cliff.
Sometimes, you just can’t worry about the stuff that is going on around you
It is interesting to me how, as hard as things were for them, the people in the bible just kept going about their tasks, living and doing the best they could do. They lived each day and didn’t worry so much about their tomorrows. Sometimes you just can’t worry about the “stuff” going on around you. This is not a point, maybe just an aside in this sermon. I told one of the other reverends in my office that I wondered what’s going to happen down the street tonight, in the Senate, in Congress; with this fiscal cliff situation. He said to me, “Pastor I’m just not tuned in to all that is going on down the street.” Sometimes, you just can’t worry about what’s going on “down the street,” because if you keep your mind on what is going on down the street, it will drive you crazy.
Your worst moment is not your darkest hour
Whatever presents itself as your worst moment in time, whatever presents itself as your darkest hour, trust and hold on to the assurance that God can and will in due-season cut through it all— cut through the silence, cut through the stillness, cut through the darkness. A whole lot of us are going to need this hope and this word this year…make up your mind now. Say to yourself: God is with me! How many of you really believe that God is with you. How many of you really believe that God cares about you, that He loves you, that He’ll take care of you, that He’ll open doors for you? How man of you really believe that when the doctors can’t find a solution, God will do for you the things that nobody else can do for you?
Sometimes, instead of worrying about what’s going on “down the street,” the best you can do is just give praise and thanks to God for what God has already done, and give thanks that at any given moment, things are not as bad as they could or can be. I got something to tell you: your worst day may seem like your worst day, but it’s not; your worst hour in life is not your worst hour; your worst day is not your worst day. Whatever happens, there is “tomorrow” on the other side of your darkest hour. The question for us is: how will we live through our darkest hour. But this isn’t the main point of the sermon – this is an aside that I want you to think about.
1. When the angels leave and go back to heaven, know that God is among us.
When I was working on this sermon, I was taking down the Christmas lights outside our home. While I taking the lights off of a rose bush, a thorn pierced my thumb, causing it to bleed. When I went back downstairs, I wrote these words: On tomorrow, the day after tomorrow or sometimes, next year, whatever thorns pierce your life; whatever breaks through and penetrates your heart or your soul and causes it to bleed; whatever anguish, disdain, bitterness or pain you must bear, take the assurance with you from this church today, that there is a God who walks among you. Don’t you know that God has not left you; God has not forgotten about you; God is aware of your plight. The first lesson from the scripture is that when the angels leave and go back to heaven, know that God is with you.
Can you image what it was like in Jesus’ time? Can you imagine what it was like to be poor, living from hand to mouth, struggling to make sure you and your children can survive? Then all of a sudden, under the darkness of night, light breaks through. What a moment that must have been. The lesson is that when the angels leave and go back to heaven, know that God is still with you.
2. When the angels leave and go back to heaven, make haste to find Jesus.
In the scripture, the angels cut through the dark and silent night. When they showed up, clearly it was a celebration moment in time and space. The lights seemingly came on. Night turned to day. There was singing and music in the air. The whole earthly environment changed and it was as if all of the Glory of God filled the atmosphere. Anyone in here (or out there) ever had a moment when God entered your personal space and filled you with His Glory and presence? Isiah said that it happened to him in the year that King Uzziah died and he saw angels coming and going. You may not have seen angels, smoke or fire but you had a moment when you knew that God was in your very midst and an unexplainable joy filled your being. That must have been what it was like for these shepherds.
I almost could not get beyond verse 15 when I read, “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven.” My world got kind of messed up at the thought that the angels left them and went back to heaven. At the thought of it, I saw the lights go out. At the thought of it, I saw night and darkness returned. At the thought of it, I heard the music stop playing and the singing hushed in silence. And I asked myself the question, “What happens in life, when the angels leave and go back to heaven?
The shepherds helped me out. This is a hard one. The shepherds came, but then they are called to go back to their fields of poverty, their suffering, their dark night; while watching their sheep, they are called to live their lives under the same conditions they lived in before, but this time, when they returned to the field, the bible says they returned praising and celebrating God!
What happens when the music stops playing and choir stops singing? What happens after Sunday; what happens when the darkness and the silence return. What happens after the Christmas tree comes down and the lights are turned off? What happens after the funeral is over and both family and friends go back to life as usual. What happens when you are the only caretaker who is around for a sick family member? What happens when the angels leave and go back to heaven?
In the scripture, when the angels leave and go back to heaven, the people rushed to Jesus. (2) The second lesson from the scripture is that when the angels leave and go back to heaven, make haste to find Jesus. I’m a witness that Jesus is the best thing that can ever happen in your life. When you know he is by your side, no matter how deep the valleys, how high the mountain; when you know Jesus is on your side, you can make it through any crisis. Say to yourself: If Jesus goes with me, I’ll go anywhere.
Later on in his life, Jesus is recorded bidding us to come unto him when the angels are gone from our lives. In the midst of whatever, he says come…come with your heavy hearts; come with your downcast spirits; come with your weeping eyes; come with your puzzled minds; come, “Come unto me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
When the angels leave you and go back to heaven, with all haste make your way to seek and find Jesus. Luke writes that when the shepherds found themselves once again in the dark of night, they left everything and went to find Jesus. In verse 15 they said, “Let us go now.” In verse 16, Luke records that they, “Went in haste.” The Message Bible renders verse 15 this way, “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can…” and verse 16 “They left, running …”
3. When the angels leave and go back to heaven, continue to praise God for the goodness He has already given to you.
Finally, when the angels leave you and go back to heaven, when the lights go out, (3) continue to celebrate the goodness of God’s presence and blessings of the given moment. When the angels left, after they had seen their blessing, the Bible tells us that the shepherds returned, “Glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.”
When the angels leave and you are struggling to make ends meet; when the angels leave and you are struggling to keep your job; the one thing that will make a difference in your life is if you celebrate God! This is the one thing that will get you though ANYthing in 2013: You face every day of your life praising and celebrating what God has already done in your life!! It may be the hardest moment you’ve ever faced; it may be the darkest moment you’ve ever faced; it may be the worst crisis you’ve ever encountered; but somehow, if you could just go back in your mind and say “God, I thank you for what you’ve already done; I thank you for what you’ve done right now.” God will see you through when the angels are gone, when the lights have been turned off, when the Christmas tree has come down, when family members have gone to take care of their own business, and there you are, when the angels have gone back to heaven. Jesus has promised never to leave you.
I want you to close your eyes; somebody is going to need this next year sometime. I want you to keep saying to yourself: “God is with me. Whatever comes, I know that God is with me.” Keep saying it to yourself. Keep saying that God is with me. Keep your eyes closed. How many of you believe it? Say: “I’m going to celebrate God, whatever comes.” Keep saying it to yourself. You might need this moment down the road somewhere. “God is with me, and I’m going to celebrate God, whatever comes.” Now look your neighbor in the eyes and tell them, “God is with YOU.”
Remember early on in the sermon, I had an aside, I said that it wasn’t a point? Just maybe it is a point. Sometimes you just can’t worry about stuff and how difficult or hard or bad times and things can be. Sometimes all you can do is just give praise and thanks to God for what God has already done in your life. Sometimes when the angels are gone, if nothing else, start to count your blessing; think on the goodness of God; be clear that all of your good days out weighs all of your bad days and then you can say, “Thank you Lord, God has been good to me…”
What is it you are going to remember? When the angels go back to heaven…God is with me. And thank God for the goodness that he has already bestowed on you. When the angels leave and go back to heaven, just say: “I’m going to still celebrate God.” Just come down to the altar and touch it and say praise God!
When you leave this place today, don’t leave God in this church. Take God with you, and celebrate the goodness of God in your life, not just today, but every day of your life, let the first thing you say Thank you Jesus! All throughout the day say Thank you Jesus! When you close the door at night and put on the latch, celebrate the goodness of God. Amen!
At times, the world scene appears to be somewhat calm, peaceful and settled. At other times, like now, it has the appearance of a powder keg about to explode at any moment. With the unrest and dangerous activities in Syria, what looks to be a pending war between Pakistan and Israel, as well as the Egyptian struggle, and the violence we see across the globe, there is a tremendous strain and stress on the people of the world. And those of us here in the land of the free and the home of the brave have our own brewing and budding share of unrest, struggles, and fighting. The other day, a preacher said to me that he thought that things would get better once the President was re-elected but that it seemed to him that, at this moment, things have become worse in this country, and on the world scene.
Zachariah and Elizabeth were “good people of God.”
Our text today is centered on the life of an elderly priest and his one unfulfilled desire coming to pass. All of his life, Zachariah was hopeful and prayerful that God would bless him with a son. He lived for a lifetime with this expectation. In his old age, the dream, the hope and the expectation waned until it became a dead issue in his life, as well as in the life of his wife Elizabeth.
In chapter 1:5-6 of the Gospel of Luke, William Barclay’s commentary gives his account of the life of these two faithful servants, Zachariah and Elizabeth: “Both of them were good people before God, for they walked blamelessly in all the commandments…They had no child because Elizabeth was barren and both were far advanced in years.” There is no reason or rationale given as to why God had not moved to bless “these good people before God.”
Here are some things we know about the culture and its family life during those times. Barclay writes, “The Jewish Rabbis said that seven people were excommunicated from God and the list began, ‘A Jew who has no wife, or a Jew who had a wife and who had no child.” I suspect that because childlessness was a ground for divorce and Zachariah made the decision to keep Elizabeth, it is understandable why one writer suggests that the elderly priest’s life (and I expect the life of his wife) both were lived in personal and domestic tragedy. Hope for them on this issue was dead, and I submit that there was a constant restlessness and tension in their lives.
Today’s advent theme is centered around “peace.” And I want to submit for your thinking this morning this thought: God has a way of helping us to live in a peaceful state. And that’s not the sermon subject. But whatever the crises on the global, national or personal front, God really does have a way of instilling a sense of steadiness, calm, and peace until His light breaks in on our condition. And here is a thought for this morning – and it’s a simple one – “Until Holy Light Breaks in on Our Condition.”
Having faith during difficult times is hard – even for “good people of God.”
I think most of us can testify that some times, it is hard keeping life in perspective. Some times it is hard making “heads and tails” of what is happening in the world around you and what is going on in your personal life. Don’t let anybody tell you that faith is easy, and that strength in difficult times is easily mustered – it is not as easy as it sounds – even for “The good people who walk before God.”
1. The more you surrender to God, and live in the power of God to do great things for you, the easier it is to live with a sense of peace.
It takes a lot to live, and it takes even more to live in a state of calmness and peace. Patiently waiting for divine intervention and holy light to break in on your condition is no easy task. Early on in the chapter, we are told that, eventually, God intervened and holy light broke in on Zachariah’s condition. God had come with an answer to a long-standing prayer. In the midst of dead hope, holy light broke in, but Zachariah did not believe and could not accept the miracle and the blessing. Because of his disbelief, the elderly priest was struck deaf and dumb. And here is a thought from the scripture: (1) The more of your life you surrender to God and come to believe that you are living in the power of God to do great things for you, the better you are able to daily live with a deep sense of peace.
Zachariah was living with dead hope. He did not believe that God could break through his condition. He did not believe that God would break through his condition. There is a peace in trusting and believing that, whatever the conditions, God is still in control of you; there is a peace in trusting and believing that God has the handle on your life. We don’t sing it anymore, and maybe it is because it’s outdated or because we doubt that, “He has the whole world in His hands.” There is a peace in knowing and believing that whatever is going on, whatever the conditions, whatever the circumstances, I am living in the power and in the hands of God.
2. With God in your life, no darkness or night is permanent.
Because light had not shone on the old priest’s condition, Zachariah thought that his present darkness was permanent. One of the profound lessons to be gleaned from this text is that (2) with God in your life, no darkness or night is permanent. Say it to your neighbor: With God in your life, no darkness, no night is permanent! The Holy power and the Holy light of God will eventually break in on your condition. Never submit to a false reality that the God of mercy will keep you in a permanent darkness and a never-ending night.
Upon the birth of Zachariah’s son, the elderly priest now proclaims that the mercies of God have broken through the darkness and the light shines on him and his people’s despair.
He’s a different preacher now the light has broken through in his life. Isn’t it strange how we can’t tell the story until God breaks through? How we can’t have a testimony until we actually received the blessing? You get sick, you find your life in trouble, you still have a testimony to tell.
Now that he has received his son, Zachariah is now the preacher of a God of deliverance; a God who has set the power of salvation in the center of their lives; a God of mercy who remembers to do what he said he would do; a God who forgives and who, with heartfelt mercy, breaks in upon them with shining light.
Brothers and sisters, no matter what we are going through, we have to live each day trusting and believing that the God we preach about, the God we sing about, the God we say we love and will serve, that our God is merciful and will, in His own style, in His own unique way and time, He will break through our darkness; He will break through our night. No darkness is permanent; no night is permanent; no despair is permanent; no valley of bitterness and hopelessness is permanent. I love the Message Bible when it says, “Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God’s Sunrise will break in upon us, Shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death…”
Maybe that is why some of us are partial to Psalm 27, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear…when the wicked advance against me…though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear…though war break out against me…one thing I ask from the Lord, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life…For in the day of trouble He will keep me safe…He will hide me in secret of his holy place and set my feet upon a rock.” Jesus is God’s own witness. When light broke in, He declared, “Father, into your hands do I place my all and everything.” Sometimes it seems dark and dreary, but I’m a witness that if you stay on your knees long enough, if you stay in the prayer closet long enough, at the mercies of God, no night and no darkness is permanent.
3. Until the Holy light of God breaks in on your life, fervently praise Him anyhow!
Here is the final thought for today (3) until the Holy light of God breaks in on our personal, local, national and global conditions, the Holy power and the Holy presence of God will direct us in the path of peace if we endlessly with reverent fervor and high praise bless our God.
In other words, until God shows up in your life with God’s answer and solution for your condition; until God’s light shines on your long-standing prayers; until the voice of God speaks and directs you, with fervor and high praise, bless God!
Don’t ever be found suffering from what I want to call, Zacharinitis (the spell-check said “no suggestions;” I made up this term). Zacharinitis, the elderly priest, served God; he went about his duties; he went about his affairs in the temple as he was called upon; he worshiped and obeyed the commandments and ordinances of God, as expected. But he suffered from Zacharinitis. Because we don’t read anywhere that any words of praise or blessing of God come out of his mouth until Holy light broke in on his condition.
Some of us are looking for a little blessing, some are looking for a big blessing. I got news: what may be little to you might be big for somebody else. And I’ve stopped trying to tell God how to bless me. I just ask Him to “bless me any way you want to. It’s alright with me, however you bless me.”
Don’t wait until your blessing comes – bless God in your darkness
Whatever your condition or circumstance might be, let praises and blessings of God ring loud in your soul and from your lips. Don’t wait until your blessing comes; don’t wait until the light shines, don’t wait until the night comes into light – bless the Lord in your darkness. Praise the Lord in your night.
When the boy child was born, Zachariah broke out in praise – “Blessed be the Lord…he came…he delivered…he fulfilled his promise…” But instead of waiting until your blessing comes, what if your posture is: Until He comes, I’ll praise him; until He delivers, I’ll lift up holy hands; until He fulfills his promise, until His light breaks in on my condition, I will bless the Lord at all times and His praises will continually be on my lips!
Somebody is on the sick bed today, somebody is dealing with a financial crisis, the whole country is worried about falling off the “fiscal cliff.” A whole lot of folk are suffering from Zacharinitis. But somebody somewhere ought to be praising Him. Somebody somewhere ought to have a testimony. Somebody somewhere ought to be able to bless the Lord and cry out:
“When peace like a river attendeth my way…whatever my lot Thou has taught me to say…though Satan shall buffet, though trials shall come….” Somebody ought to say, “It is well!” Somebody ought to say: “Whatever comes, I’m going to praise Him; whatever comes I’m going to shout His name; whatever comes, I’m going to keep my hands waving in the air; whatever comes, I’m gong to sing until He comes!”
It is well…it’s gonna be alright…
Somebody ought to shout “Thank you Jesus, glory to God, Hallelujah anyhow!”