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Sun, Aug 13, 2017

God is in Charge

Duration:15 mins 15 secs

Before we read our Second reading this morning, I need to confess to you, in light of the events in Charlottesville, VA this weekend, that you have not heard as clearly as necessary from me and from this pulpit that white nationalism, racism, and discrimination based on race, ethnic origin, nationality, or orientation has no place in the Gospel nor at Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church. I want that to be clear and without a doubt. Thus, this morning I am wearing a stole I received a long time ago after a conference that serves to remind me that we are all children created in the image of God and we all find ourselves on common ground at the foot of the cross in need of God’s amazing grace.

We can make such a declaration and a confession because we are the recipients of treasures of grace. We know that God is not finished with us, with this church, with this world yet, so we seek to live the Reformation. Last Sunday we began a series with that theme: “Treasures of Grace: Living the Reformation” with the idea that Scripture is the living Word of God to you and to me. Today we continue with another key Reformation question: “Who is in Charge?” And we hear the Word of God to us as recorded in the prophet Isaiah, chapter 40, verses 25-31.
25 To whom then will you compare me,
    or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
    Who created these?
He who brings out their host and numbers them,
    calling them all by name;
because he is great in strength,
    mighty in power,
    not one is missing.
27 Why do you say, O Jacob,
    and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
    and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
    and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
    and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
    they shall walk and not faint.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Today is my second Sunday back with you after about a ten day vacation to Boston and surrounding areas in Eastern Massachusetts. Our family had never been to this area of the country so we tried to see all the traditional tourist sites. It was a marvelous trip that we greatly enjoyed and as preachers often do, I managed to return with a few sermon illustrations.

The one I lift up for you today is a repeatable pattern we noticed in several stops. Beginning in the town of Salem we heard how a few young girls, began falsely accusing town residents of being witches. The local minister was always on the lookout for Sin so he fanned the flames. In the end, before the governor stepped in to stop it, 19 residents were hung and one gentleman, who was more than 80 years old, was pressed to death as more and more rocks were piled upon him in an attempt to make him confess to being a witch.

At the Boston Tea Party museum we participated in a reenactment of the famous event, even throwing a case or two of tea into the harbor (They had a rope on the boxes, so pulled them back up and handed them to the next person in line). Before boarding the ship, we gathered in a room designed to replicate the Old South Church to hear Samuel Adams rally the colonists with claims that there should be no taxation without representation and that a King and Parliament thousands of miles across the sea had no authority over the affairs of the colonies.

On the town green in Lexington, as the British regulars marched into town from Boston, the Captain of the local militia John Parker gave clear orders to his men, “Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.” No one on either side gave an order to fire and yet still the shot heard round the world rang out and a Revolution began.

Again and again throughout American history, as people found themselves in a moment of crisis, with lives in danger, the question seemed to be raised: who is in charge? Who has the right and the ability to make decisions? Is it the one with the loudest voice? Is it the one with the biggest weapons? Is it the one with the authority of the church? Is it the one elected by the people? Yes, who is in charge?

Here at Reid Memorial when we train a new class of elders and deacons in preparation for service, I always tell them there is one question that if they answer incorrectly, we will fail them on the final exam. The question is: “Who is the head of the church?” If they say, “Matt Rich” or even “the Session” they will fail. Because the head of the church is, always has been, and always will be “Jesus Christ.” The primary task of leaders in the church is to discern what Christ would have us do. Yes, Jesus Christ is in charge.

Now, that is fine thing to say in the abstract. Jesus Christ is in charge of Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church. It works well when there is no crisis, when no one’s life is at risk. Yes, then it is easy to say God is in charge.

And yet what happens when rhetoric threatens nuclear war, when those promoting hate descend upon your town, when the doctor’s diagnosis says there is not much time? What happens when colonists must choose a side at the time of the American Revolution, when Protestant Reformers in the 16th century stand trial for heresy before the church, when the disciples in a locked room on the second day after Jesus’ crucifixion see only death, when the people of Israel are in exile in Babylon far from home with the temple where God supposedly dwelt destroyed. Then the question becomes very real. For how do you say “God is in charge” when all the evidence appears contrary to that claim.

We need to hear once again the words the people of Israel heard as they waited more than eighty years in exile in Babylon. They had lost hope. They feared their Lord had abandoned them. They had forgotten God’s mighty acts of deliverance in the Exodus. And yet finally the word of the Lord comes, “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.”

Yes, God is in charge. But this is a very particular and peculiar God. This is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. Do you remember the story? This is the God who creates not be fiat or decree, but by granting permission. “The Spirit of God moved over the chaos and God said, “Let there be light;” and there was light.” Not – “Light exist!” or “If the light doesn’t appear there’s going to be trouble like you’ve never seen before.” No, God issues an invitation, God grants permission, “Let there be light.”

And when the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth issues an invitation with the Word, things happen. When God speaks a Word to describe a new reality, it comes into being. When God declares that there will be order in the midst of the chaos, order emerges. The God who created the heavens and the earth is in charge, no doubt about it. But that power is exercised not with thunder, lightning, armies, and destruction, but with a Word that invites a new reality into being; with a word that gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.

To the world that kind of authority, that kind of power, can look like weakness. It is paradoxical power. Presbyterian author Frederick Buechner puts it this way:

So the power of God stands in violent contrast with the power of [human beings.] It is not external like [human] power, but internal. By applying external pressure, I can make a person do what I want him to do. This is [human] power. But as for making him be what I want him to be, without at the same time destroying his freedom, only love can make this happen. And love makes it happen not coercively, but by creating a situation in which, of our own free will, we want to be what love wants us to be.

Yes, God is in charge, not by fiat, not by death and destruction, not by intimidation, but through love. Yes, God loves us so much that God chose to break the cycles of violence, to create a new reality of everlasting and abundant life, to bring hope to the hopeless, and to give strength to the weak, by giving his very life for us on the cross. With all evidence to the contrary, when it appears that empire and violence and death will have the last word, God speaks a final word, “It is finished” and on the third day God calls a new world into being.

If you and I truly trust that God is in charge, ruling not through fiat but through love, then with courage and faith we can wait for the Lord. Not a passive waiting, but an active waiting. As Isaiah encouraged the people in exile, “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall walk and not be weary, they shall run and not faint.” Yes, with the strength of the Lord we can persevere, we can stand for justice, we can work for peace.

So my friends, have courage. Even when all evidence points to the contrary, know that God is in charge. For in the words of Desmond Tutu: "Goodness is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate, light is stronger than darkness, life is stronger than death. Victory is ours through Him who loves us."\

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray:

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