Monthly Archives: November 2015

Does God Care about Paris?

 Text: Exodus: 16: 2-15

 Theme: God Cares For us through human actions as well as God’s actions.

We are faced often with destructive events.   Some are man-made, such as terrorists attacks like the one in Paris this past Friday evening; mass shootings at schools and movie theatres and malls; shootings at the Baptist Church in Charleson, S.C. during a prayer meeting.   Some of the events are natural: such as tornadoes and hurricanes and earthquakes and tsunamis.   All are violent and lead to loss of life, pain and suffering for both the victims and those related to us.  

            The question that always emerges after any or all of these events occur is this one:   Does God Care?   They ask:   Why does God let such terrible things happen to his creation and to his creatures?   He is supposed to be a loving God, why does He let such things happen to people? Does God really care? (This question is often asked in an accusatory way that indicates—-“I don’t think so!”

            Human beings have been asking this question for a long time. In Old Testament times the man, Job, asked the same question of God. Job, who lost everything that he owned, and also his wife and children and Job laying in the dust, condemned by his fellow men as a great sinner, asked God the question in these words:   “I will say to God, Do not condemn me; let me know why you contend against me.   Does it seem good to you to oppress, to despise the work of your hands?”  (Job 10:3-4)

Do you care for me God? Job asks.

The same question was addressed to Jesus by his disciples in the 4th chapter of the gospel of Mark.   Jesus was in a boat with his disciples and a great storm came and the disciples feared for their lives.  Mark writes that Jesus was asleep in the boat on some cushions in the rear of the boat, where the tiller is that steers.   The disciples, in great fear, woke up Jesus with the words:   “Do you not care that we perish?” Jesus rebuked the wind and waves and an immediate calm came about—and he said to his disciples “Why are you afraid? Do you still not have faith?”   In other words—-don’t you know I am always with you?   Don’t you know that I care?   Why then be fearful?

 Does God Care?   That is essentially the question the grumbling Israelites asked Moses in the Wilderness as we read the text today from Exodus.

            The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.   The Israelites said to them:   If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger!

What they were saying was:   You claim that God cares for us and told you to deliver us from slavery in Egypt, but at least there we had enough to eat.   God doesn’t really care about us. We’d have been better off as slaves in Egypt, rather than starving in the wilderness. Where is your God now, Moses? Does God care for us?   Prove it!!

 In response, God told Moses that he was going to “rain bread from Heaven” upon the people and cause quail to land among them.   “At twilight you shall eat meat, says God, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.”

God shows God’s care through his actions.   Through sending food to the Israelites God shows he cares—-with a resounding YES.

            But the Israelites missed the point—-as we read in Numbers—-they soon craved and preferred the “slave food” of Egypt over the “soul food” of the wilderness—the manna.   Listen to their complaint:

            We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at!”

Far from finding spiritual sustenance, they complained about gastronomic boredom!! They weren’t satisfied with God’s provision.   They wanted more variety.   They wanted to shop around a bit for a better menu.  

And that has been the history of God’s people for all time.  When it comes to what God gives us we say:   what else is on the menu—is that all?  

You see—God has provisioned us also.   He has let us know that He cares in many ways.   He has provided us with “manna of divine nourishment”—-we call it prayer, meditation, the Bible, worship services, communion, tithing, fellowship with our brothers and sisters—AND YET WE CONSIDER THESE PROVISIONS OF GOD WITH A “TAKE-IT-OR- LEAVE-IT-ATTITUDE’.   We say:   “Is that all?   I want something better. I want better music! I want a better preacher.  I want someone else to do the praying because I’m busy.  “I”!   “I!   “ME”!   “ME”!

In our market-driven culture, a market driven church has emerged, as Eugene Peterson put it in his book “The Jesus Way”:

            “The great American innovation in congregations is to turn them into a consumer enterprise….If we have a nation of consumers, obviously the quickest and most effective way to get people into our congregations is to identify what they want and offer it to them, satisfy their fantasies, promise them the moon; and recast the gospel in consumer terms, i.e.:   Entertainment, satisfaction, excitement, adventure, problem solving, whatever….” (p.6)

What Peterson is saying is that people now want to be spiritual CONSUMERS instead of DISCIPLES.

They come to worship looking for something tasty and exciting and sensational.   And if they don’t get it, or the service is bad, they will reduce the tip or not tip at all.   And if the worship menu doesn’t get better, they’ll stop visiting this particular spiritual restaurant altogether and patronize another one where the food, the service, and the ambience are more to their liking!

            THE POINT I’M MAKING IS THAT GOD CARES—-IT IS THE PEOPLE WHO DON’T RESPOND TO GOD’S CARE!!!   We thumb our nose at God as the Israelites did, and say—-is this the best you can do for us God?   Just the same old manna and quail, day after day!!!   Just the same old scripture and worship services every Sunday?

 But we continue to ask the same question, Does God care?    We asked that question when the planes hit the Twin Trade Towers in 1001—-we asked the question when Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans and the Gulf Coast—-we asked the question when many were killed at a prayer meeting in Charleston, S.C.—-we asked the question when innocent children in a school were shot down like rabbits. We will hear the question asked again about the massacre in Paris last Friday. Does God care?   Why does God allow his people to suffer and die?    

            What we are saying is “if God cares God wouldn’t allow this to happen—but if we think rationally about that question, we know God doesn’t cause bad things to happen.   A loving God grieves with us, cries with us, and gives us strength to endure the bad things that happen—but never causes them.  

            God has created a world in which the laws of nature are so precise that we can fire a rocket and know that it will reach orbit and its destination at a specific time and place.   That’s how precise the so-called laws of nature are that God created.

            True, we know that God CAN intervene with nature.   Surely God has that power—the power of the Creator over his Creation. And yet, have you thought about what would happen if God granted each of our prayers and intervened with what we want in Creation? For example:Here is a farmer praying for rain so that his crop will grow, while two miles away another farmer is praying for dry weather to allow him to reap his crop.  Both, if they don’t get what they want question “Does God care about me and my problems?”

Perhaps the best answer to the question is that God allows evil to happen with its disastrous results just as God allows good to happen with its beautiful results. He does not control either. To do so would take away free will from his creation and we would be puppets pulled by God’s strings. God desires relationship with God’s creation and that can’t happen if God is pulling all the strings and we are just puppets jumping according  to his Will. God does not relate to us as puppets but as human beings he has created with free will in God’s image.    When human beings have free will, evil as well as good will result.  But God can take evil and use it for good, as the Bible points out in the story of Joseph.   God is in the world and with us at all times—-God is not some bearded and whitehaired being that is sitting on a throne in heaven, wherever that might be—-God is here—-with us.   Paul says:

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose….If God is for us, who can be against us?….Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?   (Note:   all of these the result of evil in the world) No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

THAT’S THE ANSWER:   God Cares for us. God loves us.   God is always with us.   Nothing can se[arate us from God.   God will provide.   God will be with us in Joys and in sorrows ; in times of Hope and times of Despair.   God is with us. Nothing can separate us from God —even the worst evils that befall human beings.  

God will not protect us from pain and suffering and death and destruction.   We will endure  pain and suffering because human beings have been created with free will—to do good, or to do evil.    When evil occurs God does not protect us from it but sends love and sustenance and his presence in our lives to help us endure what happens to us and our loved ones because of that evil in the world.      

God provides us with many sources of strength and comfort as we face the dangers of life on this earth. Let me name a few of them.

First, there are the scriptures that we can read and that can become a part of us so that they are food for our souls when we are in distress. For example:   Psalm 23: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff hey comfort me.”

As a pastor I have seen this many times as I walked through the valley with a dying patient—-saying this Psalm and seeing the patient’s lips speaking the words as I say them—-comfort!   God is there.   He cares.   His Word gives comfort to the dying and peace and comfort to heal the broken hearts of a family as they are reminded through the scriptures that their loved ones are not gone forever—that death is not “goodbye” as I like to say, but more like “see you later”. As Jesus said:   “In my father’s house are many rooms.   I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go, I will return again and take you to myself, that where I am you will be also.”

Yes God is with us through the Scriptures—-But we must read them and re-read them and make them a part of our lives.

Second. We find comfort and the care of God through the hymns that we sing each Sunday during worship services.   The old hymn “God Will Take Care of You” is an example—“be not dismayed, whate’er betide. God will take care of you.   Beneath his wings of love abide, God will take care of you”  “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.”   “Under His Wings, I am safely abiding. Tho’ the night deepens and tempests are wild.   Still, I can trust Him; I know He will keep me; He has redeemed me, and I am His Child”…But to find comfort in these hymns we must sing them in worship and let them become a vital part of our lives.   .   Here again, OUR RESPONSE to God’s comfort provided is vital.

And finally, we find comfort and care of God from other Christians.  Here is where WE fit into God’s plans.   Many is the time when I have been present at the visitation of one who has departed this life, when I see someone who has recently lost a loved one and knows the sorrow and pain the bereaved person is feeling—go up to that person and without a word, put their arms around them and cry with them.   And the grieving person is receiving God’s care and comfort through that person who holds them and cries with them.

 

One of the books I have read is titled “The Conspiracy of Compassion.”   Conspiracy means from the Latin “to breathe with”.   And Christian brothers and sisters as they show compassion are showing how God cares.   In hospice we called that “being present”.

God cares—God shows that care in many ways, including the three ways named above.    IT IS UP TO EACH OF US TO BE A PART OF THAT CARING AND TO RESPOND TO GOD.   As Jesus loved us and gave himself for us, so must we love one another and show the love to others that Jesus showed us was God’s love and care.

The Apostle John says it best:    Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action!” (I John 3)

 YES—GOD CARES!!   HOW ARE WE RESPONDING TO HIS LOVE AND CARE?   God has shown his care as he did with the Israelites in the wilderness—by God’s actions!! THE MANNA WAS HIS MESSAGE THAT HE CARED!

      For us:   the Bible, Prayer, Meditation, Communion Worship, and the ministrations of other fellow Christians to us—that is his Manna Message to us today that He cares for us. We must be open to receive the care that he sends us.   Amen.   

 

 

Milestones

Text:   Ruth 1:1-11

 Life is a Journey! That journey is described in very different ways.   For example, in Shakespeare’s play “King Lear”—-Lear defines the journey of life in this way:   “Life is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing!” Jesus, on the other hand, told his disciples that He came to bring life and to bring it abundantly to those who follow him.

            The journey of life contains many hardships to endure as well as joys to celebrate.       It contains achievements that reward us for our journey as well as failures that cause us pain. All of these joys, hardships, failures, and successes are milestones that we leave for those who come after us as we go on the journey of life—-they are Milestones —-markers to guide oncoming generations and help them avoid our failures and achieve our successes.   Milestones are the legacy that we leave for those who follow after us to guide their way.

            In this journey of life we are either nomads or pilgrims. What is the difference?   A nomad is a wanderer.   Nomads pay no attention to the milestones and have no goals for where they are going—-and so they wander aimlessly.   They say “I don’t know where I am going, but I’ll get there because I am an individual and no one is going to tell me how to live my life.    A pilgrim follows milestones left by generations before to avoid problems and live a more abundant life.   They take note of the milestones left behind by previous pilgrims.  

That brings us to the story of Ruth that we read as our scripture text today. It is the story of a journey.   The journey begins with a family of Israelites facing a time of famine, and making the decision to move away from the little town of Bethlehem and journey to Moab.   When you think of this famine, think of the Great Depression of the 1930’s and the Dust Bowl.   The mother in the family was named Naomi and she traveled with her husband and two sons to the land of Moab to survive the famine.   Naomi’s husband died soon after they arrived in Moab, and eventually the two sons married Moabite women—Orpah and Ruth.   After about ten years of marriage the two sons died, leaving Ruth with only her two daughters-in-law.   Since there was no way Naomi could take care of herself and them in Moab, she decided to move back to Bethlehem where she would have the support of her extended family.   She began the journey with Orpah and Ruth, but on further thought, decided that Orpah and Ruth would have the best chance to re-marry if they stayed in Moab, as the Jewish people were quite prejudiced against Moabites. “Go back to your mother’s house” Naomi urged, “May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me.”    Naomi knew that her relatives in Bethlehem had a negative view of Moabite immigrants—you know—-they don’t pay their taxes, they bleed the welfare system dry, they take jobs away from the Jews, and so on as deeply entrenched prejudice always holds—-even today.  

            Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye and returned to her family in Moab; but Ruth surprisingly clung to her mother-in-law and refused to go—-saying:   “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.   Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried……”

            To complete the story; God smiled on Ruth’s determination to movie in this new direction and in time Ruth met and married Boaz and they had a son named Obed.   Obed would become the father of Jesse who was the father of David, the greatest king Israel .   And David was the ancestor of the carpenter Joseph of Nazareth who took Mary as his wife and a son was born named Jesus—The Messiah— distantly related to Ruth.—-ALL OF THE ABOVE WERE MILESTONES USED BY GOD THAT POINTED TO JESUS THE CHRIST.!   THE LONG AWAITED MESSIAH!

            What we see in Ruth’s story were people on a journey.   Naomi and her family on a journey to Moab; Ruth on a journey with her mother-in-law to a place unknown to her called Bethlehem. All were milestones left along the way toward the destination of the coming of God to earth in the form of Jesus of Nazareth.

 What are milestones?   They are significant places and people through our journey through life who leave behind them a legacy of examples for us to live by.   The idea comes from the book of Joshua.   In the book of Joshua we read that when the entire Hebrew nation had crossed the Jordan River into the promised land, Joshua said:   “Select twelve men from the people, one from each tribe, and command them, “Take twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priest’s feet stood, carry them over with you, and lay them down in the place where you camp tonight.   …..When your children ask in time to come “What do those stones mean to you? “ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord when it passed over the Jordan. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever.” (Joshua 4) They were called “Milestones”.   And they marked a significant place in the history of the Jewish people’s journey from being slaves in Egypt, through the Wilderness; and finally to the Promised Land.

 On this All Saints Day we look back at the journeys of our loved ones that have departed the earth this past year.   Each of them, if we were to speak to their loved ones who remained behind have left milestones for us to follow.   They have left a legacy concerning how life should be lived.  And we, their loved ones have a share in that legacy and as we journey through life as pilgrims we also will leave milestones behind for those who follow after us. The legacy of a life well-lived.  

   I have only seen two of the legacies or milestones left for us in the person of Frances Campbell and Pop Warner, but all of those named today in our bulletin insert whom we remember in this service have left behind their milestones on their journey through life—their legacies , I am certain.   They are in the hearts and minds of their children, grandchildren, and fellow pilgrims trying to walk the way of Jesus.  

            And all of the saints who have gone before us at Christian and Congregational Church have left their milestones behind for us who follow in their footsteps.   Those who had a dream and founded this church.   Those saints that through the years supported this church and contributed to its impact on the community.   A long line of saints have gone before us in this church and we live today because of their contributions of their lives to their church which is now our church.  

The writer of the Book of Hebrews in the N.T. wrote about the legacy we are left by saints gone before us and the duty we have to follow in their steps:   “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith….”   (Heb. 12:1-2)

 An unknown poet points our duty as we follow the milestones of past saints in the present:

 Hold high the torch!

You did not light its glow—

‘Twas given you by other hands, you know.

‘Tis yours to keep it burning bright,

Yours to pass on when you no more need light

For there are other feet that we must guide,

And other forms go marching by our side;

Their eyes are watching every smile and tear

And efforts which we think are not worthwhile

Are sometimes just the very help  they need,

Actions to which their souls would give most heed;

So that in turn, they’ll hold it high

And say, “I watched someone else carry it this way.”

If brighter paths should beckon you to choose,

Would your small gain compare with all you’d lose?

 Hold high the torch!

You did not light its glow—-

‘Twas given you by other hands, you know.

I think it started down its pathway bright,

The day the Maker said: “Let there be light”

And He once said, who hung on Calvary’s tree—

You are the light of the world”…..Go!….. Shine for me!