Monday, June 30, 2014

“The Birth of a Nation and the Faithfulness of God”

Preached on June 29, 2014
Scripture readings: Psalm 33; James 5:7-11
A little boy named Jimmy sat on a hilltop in a place where you could see the countryside for miles and miles. The weather was fair, and the wind blew, and the sky was blue and full of clouds. A feeling of wonder gave him goose bumps. He felt the presence of God.
Photos of the journey toward Desert Aire Washington:
June 2014
Jimmy said, “God I feel like you are so much bigger than I am. I love you God. Help me know how great you are.” And God said, “Well, Jimmy, to me a million dollars is like just a penny, and a million years is like just a minute.”
Jimmy said, “Gee, God, could I have one of your pennies?” And God said, “Sure Jimmy, wait just a minute.”
The Book of the Psalms is basically the prayer book, or the worship book, of the people of Israel. It is our prayer book too.
There are words and thoughts in the book of Psalms for anything in the human condition: anything you might feel that makes you confused, or afraid, or ashamed, or happy, or angry. The Psalms are God’s inspired invitation to tell him anything you are feeling.
This Book of Psalms, this book of prayer and worship, gives us a surprising freedom in how we pray. It allows us to be bold. It allows us to be scary. Think of the words that begin another Psalm; words of worship at the start of Psalm twenty-two: “My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?” These are God’s words.
These are God’s permission for you to say the very same words in your own prayer and worship. In some way the Psalms give you permission to say to God anything you want, just as long as you understand that God has the right to say anything he wants to you.
So, the Book of Psalms runs the spectrum of pretty much everything that you could ever need in order to live as an authentic worshiper of God, in this world. To be a true worshiper of God, with our roots deep in the prayers of the Psalms, is to be very bold and daring people indeed.
Have you ever thought how bold and daring a thing it is to say words like these words that we read in the Psalm this morning: “The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love?” (Psalm 33:5) These are bold and daring words. These are scary words.
My first thought was that this way of seeing things came from a special kind of faith; a high level of faith, an especially mature faith. But it doesn’t come from a special faith at all. It comes from basic, simple faith. The ability to say that the earth is full of the unfailing love of the Lord is simply what faith is.
My copy of the Jewish Study Bible tells me that Psalm 33 is a part of the opening prayers of worship in Jewish synagogues, in their regular Sabbath morning service. So these words define what worship is. They tell us what it means for us to live, in this world, as worshipers of God. We say: “The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of this unfailing love.”
These are the thoughts of a simple faith. But they are not necessarily the words of a simplistic faith. They are not the point of view of someone who hasn’t lived or paid attention to the way the world really is.
When did the people of Israel ever live through a time when they could possibly think that the world was not a complicated and dangerous place? No, it was always, for them, a bold and daring thing to say: “The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.”
When they lived in their own land, and lived by their own laws, in the days when these words were written, they were bold and daring words, because, often enough, God’s own people ignored the righteousness of the Lord. Their land was not full of justice. God’s own people were the worst possible examples of God’s unfailing love.
There is so much to think about here, but one point is that this bold and daring faith is one of the sources of the courage behind the American Revolution and the American Experiment. You would think that those who believed that the earth was already full of the Lord’s unfailing love would never have the drive or the gumption to do anything bold and daring. But enough of the citizens of the first colonies had this faith, that it led them to defend themselves against the taking away of their freedom to govern themselves, or the restriction of the rights they had enjoyed for more than a hundred years since their founding as British colonies. Faith gave them gumption and made them bold, and daring, and active, and scary.
Because the representatives of the colonies, at the Second Continental Congress, in July of 1776, believed that the Lord loves righteousness and justice, they approved the Declaration of Independence where it said that they were: “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the rectitude of our intentions.” They could make that appeal to God because they believed that God loves righteousness and justice.  And their declaration said that they were supporting their independence: “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.”
They relied on God’s protection because they believed that the earth was full of his unfailing love. And I have to say that they did much more than rely on God. They lived, and they worked, and they fought for what they believed in.
Their agenda was to practice, as a nation, what it was that God loved. It was their recipe for life, as individuals and as the nation that they hoped to become.
They didn’t know what would happen to them on account of their boldness and daring. They didn’t know if they would live to see their mission succeed.
They did believe that they loved righteousness and justice, and that they could do what they believed was right and just in a world that was full of the unfailing love of the Lord (even when that world seemed set against them). They would do what was right and just, even though they might die for it in a world full of the unfailing love of the Lord.
 Another bold and daring thing to believe, as worshiping people in this world, is the faith that says: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” (Psalm 33:12)
One of the major forms of entertainment in the colonies up to the time of the Revolution, and afterward, was the Sunday Sermon. Preachers of that time often compared their community, or their colony, to the stories about people of Israel in the Old Testament.
Preachers would compare the issues and temptations of their day with the wandering of Israel in the wilderness; or the temptation of Israel to worship false gods, or the temptation to ignore the needs of their neighbors or the vulnerable people in their land (namely poor, the widow, the orphan, and the alien). In the Old Testament Book of Zechariah it says, “Thus says the Lord of the angel armies, Carry out true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.” (Zechariah 7:9-10) The people of the revolution were used to hearing these words directed straight at them.
The people of the thirteen colonies often thought of themselves as Israel. They often thought of their successes and failures as the results faithfulness or unfaithfulness to a covenant with the Lord.
A covenant is like an alliance or a partnership. It is like a contract, but much, much more than a contract.
A covenant is more like a promise. There are some promises that are so crucial, and so central, to your identity (the core of who you are and what God created you to be), that, even when you do break that promise, the relationship based on that promise does not come to an end.
Probably the best way to think of a covenant with God is the covenant of adoption. It’s like a promise that is meant to be permanent.
It is possible, in a court of law, for any of the parties involved, including the child, to annul an adoption; although it can’t be done without a proven cause. And yet the fact that such a promise has been made runs so deep that it surely cannot be forgotten. In God’s court of law, God’s adoption of us runs deeper than the love of a mother for her child.
It says this in Isaiah. There God says, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you. See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands. Your walls are ever before me.” (Isaiah 49:15-16) God’s adoption has its share of successes and failures, joys and sufferings; but it never ends. God never forgets his people.
“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” is a covenant like that. Abraham and his descendants were adopted by a God who never let them go. They could un-choose their faithfulness to God, but they could not un-choose God’s faithfulness to them.
The Americans of the revolution knew that they could choose to be happy with God. They knew that they could choose to be unhappy with God. They knew that there were those who chose to live without God: but most Americans, in the beginning, knew that you couldn’t escape from the consequences of living in a world created by God, a world in which God loves righteousness and justice, and a world that is full of his unfailing love.
Was this a good thing for them? Yes it was very good: difficult but good!
The colonists disagreed on some important matters of faith; but most of them and their forbearers came to America to be free in following and living their faith. They came, and they lived, with an ambition to be the People of God in their own way. “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”
They believed that this would be good for them. They also believed that it could be difficult. They might make many mistakes and failures. And they might suffer for these. But that would be good, too, in the end, because: “the earth is full of his unfailing love.” Where, after all, in the Bible, is it ever smooth sailing when your God is the Lord? Ask Moses. Ask David. Ask Peter. Ask Paul. Ask God himself, who came in Jesus to give his life for the world.
We Christians, in America, seem to forget what it was like for the people of Israel and for the early Church to be the people whose God is the Lord. We forget the long story of the ups and downs of living in covenant with God.
When we forget this, we get impatient, and anxious, and fearful, and angry; and we go a little weird and wacko. That is why James counsels patience.
He uses farmers as an example. You seed and you harvest. You seed and you harvest. You seed and you harvest. You keep on trusting that the earth is full of the Lord’s unfailing love. And the special, successful discipline that comes from this is usually an antidote for weirdness and wackiness.
The faith expressed in the Psalms, and the patience in James, are the same discipline. As such, they are a cure for the weirdness and wackiness that get a hold of us when we get upset at the ups and downs of living with God by faith.
We live in a world and a culture of crisis, and fear, and anger, and pride, and hatred. And yet we believe bold and daring things like the earth being “full of the unfailing love of the Lord.” Do you believe that the world, as you see it is full of the unfailing love of the Lord? Can others see it?
There is a deep sanity and health in this. We forget that the American Revolution was a long, and bleak, destructive, and (often) almost hopeless war. There were far more defeats than there were victories. The state of war lasted from 1775 until the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783. In those long years our nation was held together most of all by those who held onto faith and patience.
The best thing that could happen in our country today would be for more people to become worshiping people who know the health and the sanity of living by faith and patience. But how can they, until they meet the God who became one of us in Jesus Christ, who lived, himself, by faith and patience? How can they live with the sanity and health of people who can live by faith and patience until they meet the God who showed his unfailing love for this world by dying for all of the sins and evils of this world on the cross? 
What does America hear Christians and our churches saying today? What do they see us doing? Does America hear the infinitely patient voice of the unfailing love of God? Can they see that we love righteousness and justice as God does? Can they see that we are daring and bold about it? Can they see any unfailing love in this?
Can they see the real reason for what we do? Can they see that our very reason for loving righteousness and justice is that we want to love this world and all the people in it as God loves it? Can others see the evidence that we want to be daring and bold about loving our world, and our neighbors, with God’s unfailing love?

Until Christians themselves show this God and speak with the voice of this God, until they show what it means to fill this world with the same unfailing love that God has for it; how can anyone else know what it means? Only then, perhaps, then, we can truly be the nation whose God is the Lord?


  1. Good to see that you have found a church!
    Faith and patience, I think God is speaking to me now through this post.

    In regards to prayer, this might sound silly, but watching "Fiddler On The Roof" as a young teenager helped me shape the way that I pray. Just speaking openly and honestly and straight from the heart to God, surely that is okay with God to learn that from a movie!
    Blessings to you in your new church.

  2. Kay, the silliness you mention is not silly at all. A lot of those communities were Hassidic communities, and the Hassidic Jews have an emphasis and gift for bold interaction with God. You can get a good glimpse of the in Elie Wiesel's "Sous on Fire", a highly readable book.