On Sunday, I was able to stay home and worship “42” through the magic of YouTube. I worshiped with the church I serve, FPC Sparta, and listened to a wonderfully faithful and thoughtful sermon from one of our members, Peter K. The following is the manuscript for that sermon, provided to you with Peter’s permission.
“WHAT DOES GOD REQUIRE IN TIMES LIKE THESE?”
Delivered by Peter K – 2020.06.14
Fifty years ago this month I graduated from high school. When my classmates and I accepted our diplomas in June 1970, the United States was still in turmoil over issues that had divided the country throughout the 1960s. Those issues included race, the conduct of those in authority, the role of protest and the desire for law and order. Sound familiar? In June 2020, a half-century later, our country is still divided and in turmoil over those same issues. In addition, the whole world is struggling to recover from an unprecedented global pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands, has destroyed jobs, has changed how we live our lives every day, including how we worship, and has created a level of uncertainty about our future that we have never experienced before.
We have a lot of questions for God about all of this. The question we are asking this morning is-what does God require from us in times like these? God answered this question about 2800 years ago, through the prophet Micah, during another time of division, turmoil and uncertainty. God’s answer to the question, “What does He require of us?”, is our call to worship today. God’s answer is simple and it applies for all time:
walk humbly with God.
It is hard to argue with this teaching, but how do we follow it in our lives day by day? As a congregation we proclaim that we are Christ-centered, Bible based and exemplifying God’s love. So let us, with love, open our Bibles and look to the life of Christ on earth, as recorded in the Gospels, to see how Christ did justice, how Christ loved kindness and how Christ walked humbly with His Father.
Jesus never picked a fight, but He also never backed away from acting and speaking in accordance with God’s truth, even in the face of authority.
For example, the day after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Christ drove the money changers and dove salesmen from the temple. As He did so, he quoted the prophet Jeremiah and declared that His Father’s house had become a “den of robbers”.
Christ also did justice by refusing to shut down His healing ministry on the Sabbath. An example of Christ healing on the Sabbath is part of our New Testament reading this morning. There are several other accounts in the Gospels of Christ healing on the Sabbath, including at least one where Christ heals on the Sabbath in a synagogue. Each time Christ healed on the Sabbath, Christ faced opposition from the religious leaders of the day. Each time Christ responded to that opposition with a statement about the truth of the Father’s love.
Finally, Christ did justice by calling out the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of the day. In a passage known as the Seven Woes, recorded in Matthew Chapter 23, Christ begins by telling his followers:
The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.Matthew 23:2-4
By the end of his speech, Christ is venting is full anger directly at the teachers of the law and Pharisees. He declares:
You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.Matthew 23: 33-36
Injustice mattered to Christ. As we look at Christ doing justice throughout his life on Earth, we need to ask ourselves-how do we declare God’s truth in what we do and what we say?
The same Christ that threw out the money changers and called out the Pharisees also is our Prince of Peace.
For example, He saved the life of an adulteress from the hands of a mob that was ready to stone her. He disbursed the mob, not with a show of force, but with a single disarming statement:
“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
In saving the life of the adulteress Christ did not excuse the sin, but he also did not condemn the sinner. After all, as Christ taught Nicodemas:
God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Christ also demonstrated his love of kindness, and defused another confrontation that threatened to turn violent, with His last recorded act of healing. It happened in the Garden, on the night that He was betrayed. Peter cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant in a misguided attempt to defend Christ. Christ rebuked Peter and saved the life of one of those who had come to arrest Christ and lead Him to a mockery of a trial, to a painful flogging and to a brutal crucifixion.
Twice during Christ’s ministry He quoted the prophet Hosea when he said: I desire mercy, and not sacrifice. In our own lives, how do we show our love of mercy and kindness?
Walking Humbly With God
Christ never denied who He was or the authority that He had. However, every time that Christ declared his identity and authority, he always pointed to the Father. In John Chapter 8 Christ says this about Himself:
-I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.
-I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge.
-If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me.
As we seek to walk humbly with God, how often do we do nothing on our own authority, but speak just as the Father taught us? How often do we forego seeking our own glory? How often do we remember that, if we glorify ourselves, our glory is nothing, that it is our Father who glorifies us?
Christ also showed us how to walk humbly with God by demonstrating his complete dependence on the Father throughout his ministry.
One way He did this was by storing up God’s word in his heart, that He might not sin against the Father. God’s word, what we now call the Old Testament, was on the tip of Christ’s tongue whenever He preached. Christ relied on scripture to rebuke each and every temptation that the enemy threw at Him during His forty days in the wilderness.
Throughout His earthly ministry Christ also made prayer time with the Father a top priority. Again and again the Gospels tell us that Christ withdrew from the crowds and his disciples to be alone with the Father, even as they clamored for more healing and more teaching. Even the Son of Man, fully God and fully human, needed regular prayer time in order to know and to accomplish God’s will in His life.
Because Christ humbly stayed close to the Father through scripture and prayer, Christ kept up-to-date day by day with the Father’s directions for his life. Christ moved when the Father wanted Him to move, and Christ stayed when the Father wanted Him to stay. Christ also changed the emphasis of his message when the Father called upon Him to do that.
The first part of Christ’s ministry was filled with miracles and popularity. As Christ got closer to the cross, the tone of His teaching changed. In John Chapter 6 we learn that, when Christ began to teach His followers that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood, many deserted Him. Christ’s shift in His message cost Him earthly popularity, but kept Him in the center of His Father’s will.
How much to we rely on reading the Bible and prayer time with God to keep us up-to-date on God’s plan for our own lives? How willing are we to do something different, because God tells us to?
As we transition to a new phase of responding to the pandemic, as we look ahead to a future that remains uncertain, we have two choices in our walk with God. We can focus on what we can’t do and where we can’t go, and ask God to return us back to normal as soon as possible. Or, we can increase our time in God’s word, increase our time in prayer, and ask God to reveal to us His plans for the future and how we fit in. We all struggle with these two choices. As we do, let’s remember that our God is always active, always creative, always ready to pour new wine into our lives. We need be like the new wineskins that Christ talked about, ready to receive the new thing that God wants to accomplish through us.
In our New Testament reading today and throughout the Bible we find the promise that the humble will be exalted and the exalted will be humbled. For example, Proverbs 3 says that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” This Proverb is quoted in the New Testament by both James and Peter. Of course, the ultimate example of humbly walking with God and then being exalted is Christ’s death, resurrection and return to the Father. Listen to Paul’s teaching on this from his letter to the Philippians:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.Philippians 2:3-11
Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God. How do we live out God’s requirements during these times of division, turmoil and uncertainty? We can learn a lot by studying the life of the only one who ever lived a perfect life-our Lord Jesus Christ.
Peter C. Kirschenbaum