10 November 2008

The Unnecessary Christian: Sermon, 9th.November.2008

The Unnecessary Christian
text: “Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia…” (II Chronicles 36:23)
The Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – 9.November.2008
Lime Rock Baptist Church, Lincoln, RI – The Rev’d G. Travis Norvell

I have often heard the saying that the only hands God has in this world are mine and yours, that if we do not take up the work of reconciliation, righteousness, and love then the work of God does not get done. There is a biblical precedent for this when God calls Israel and the Church partner and cooperate to build his kingdom here on earth. We can come to view ourselves as quite necessary and vital. We can even think of leveraging our unique position with God. What if God said I do not need you? What if God basically said fine, if you are not going to do my work I’ll find someone who will? What if God was tired of being taken for granted?

Take the time period of the late 7th century BCE; the time of the prophet Jeremiah; specifically during the reign of king Josiah. The story goes…during the reign of king Josiah the book of Deuteronomy was found or re-discovered (Israel had drifted considerably from the Lord). Josiah read the book and was moved to initiate a grand program of religious reform. The nation swayed back in the direction of rightness and life looked pretty good, then Josiah died and his successors came into power: first Jehoiakim and his son Zedekiah. They had nothing to do with their father’s program of reform, so in a few years the nation was not only back where it used to be but was on the verge of annihilating its relationship with the Lord. The time was so bad God’s only choice was to send up the Chaldeans to serve a wrathful retribution.

In no time at all the pendulum swung from reform to debauchery. The sins of the time were so severe that all were affected: the priests were unfaithful, the temple was polluted, when God did try to intervene by sending forth prophets the people mocked them. The land too was affected, the sins were so severe that the promised land needed a break from Israel’s presence, the land needed a Sabbath of Sabbaths: a seventy year break to recover, to heal, and replenish itself!

God’s love includes elements of jealously, hurt, and wrath. We do not like to view or think of God this way but it is a part of the relationship. If we are honest with ourselves we will admit that our love for others also includes jealousy, hurt, and wrath. Who can cause God or us more hurt than those whom He and we love(s) and care(s) for? Through the stories in Genesis we have looked at over the past few weeks the potential of God’s wrath, jealously, and retribution. Take the flood for example: God’s full wrath released onto creation. I see in that story a God who afterwards is afraid of the degree of his anger, surprised by his own ability to be so wrathful. Could this answer why Noah’s act of worship moved Him so?

After Noah’s act of worship God vowed never again to destroy creation. I do not know if God properly thought this vow out, what were the limits to God’s vow? What was permissible on earth after this vow was made?

These questions were answered when armies from the north invaded Israel, burned the city and temple, and led the people out of the promise land to a foreign land in chains in an experience known as The Exile. The Exile caused Israel to grope and to ask why God? how could you let this happen? In the travail that followed prophets and theologians gave a brief and succinct answer: we caused this to happen.

God did promise never again to destroy creation and God did promise to make a nation out of Abram but God did not promise never to destroy Israel.

Israel as we knew it was destroyed the armies invaded and the people were brought to Babylon. True, remnants of Israel remained in the promised land, but not many. After 70 years of punishment, after 70 years of tenderization and absence God decided it was time for Israel to go back to the promised land when the grand proclamation was made:

Any of those among you who are of his people – may their God be with them! – are now permitted to go up to Jerusalem in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel.

Perhaps the promise made to Abram was still intact. Did you notice, however, who heralded the proclamation? It was not a prophet, priest, or king of Israel; it was King Cyrus of Persia: a pagan, foreign, and king of the people who destroyed the promised land and forced Israel into exile. This man was now the instrument to deliver the Word of the Lord.

God’s action to choose King Cyrus as the messenger of God delegates not only Israel but also the Church as unnecessary! God’s action of picking the enemy began a new chapter in the ever evolving relationship between God and humanity. A relationship which breaks all previous understanding of what should and should not happen.

As children of God, as disciples of Jesus Christ, as members of the new humanity we are constantly presented with choices and decisions: will the way of God prevail or not prevail in our lives. Will we again this day choose to seek to align our wills with God’s will.

Our lesson this morning reveals that God has an end point of history, an Omega point pulling all of history towards consummation whether we choose to jump on it or not. If we choose to we are more the better, if not God will tarry on. God will continue on with or without us. Regardless of how important we think we are, in reality we are unnecessary. Quite humbling.

Now then what to do? I want my life to matter in this world. I want the world to be a better place to inhabit for my children. I want to be on the right side of history. I want the arc of my life to bend towards justice, peace, and righteousness. I dare say all of us here this morning are here for those same purposes. We are here hoping to be infused with a glimpse of the kingdom of God, we are here for our souls to be healed and mended, for our minds to be transformed, and for our to beat in synchronization with God’s.

We do not want to be left aside as God continues to work here on this earth. May we take this time to commit and recommit ourselves to the way of God.

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