Sunday, April 13, 2008

My Sermon for this Morning

I managed to block out the raging sound of children eating pancakes for 15 minutes Friday morning, just long enough to read 2 Chronicles 20. I’ve been quietly ploughing my way through the Old Testament on my own time. I highly recommend the Daily Bible Readings but if you’re like me, sometimes smaller bits take you farther. So I’m in the middle of Chronicles while all the rest of you read Leviticus. Turn with me there, to verse 12, chapter 20. Here is the end of the Prayer of Jehoshaphat and what takes place after he prays.

“’O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.’ Meanwhile, all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children. And the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel…And he said, ‘Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the Lord to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s. Tomorrow go down against them…You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled” says Jesus. Commandments are given for a reason. The reason you tell someone not to be afraid is because they are afraid, or do not be anxious, because they are anxious. It is not unusual for us people here on earth with our limited vision, understanding and capabilities to be stressed, anxious, worried, afraid of the things that lie before us. I know many of you are facing personal difficulties and that the future is troubling, some of you for health, some for people you love, some for addictions that are increasingly hard to bread, some for work. And I know also that many of you are concerned about our future as a church in this building. I share this anxiety. As I walk daily around the rectory, as I drive to this beloved building and mess and wreck my way through the office every week, I very often allow myself to fret and worry about what will happen next.

Don’t do that, says Jesus. Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for the day are its own worries. In other words, you can’t do anything about what will happen tomorrow, you can only do the work that is given to you today. (We often, helpfully, shorten this for ourselves by saying ‘one day at a time’.)

But part of believing and trusting in Jesus, I think, is taking a real course of action, and I was very comforted by the course of action laid out in 2 Chronicles 20. Observe carefully the order of things.

In the beginning of the chapter, Jehoshaphat hears that several armies are coming against him. If you read back further you find that he has been rebuked for going to war with the wicked King of Israel. The prophet, Jehu, tells Jehoshaphat that he is headed for trouble because he allowed himself to be involved and attached to a very wicked person. A few chapters earlier, you can read of King Asa (Jehoshaphat’s father) who, when similarly rebuked, dug his heals in and rejected God completely. It’s very easy, when shown to be wrong, to choose stubbornness and hardness and refuse God’s correction. But Jehoshaphat has learned the lesson of his own father and here, he doesn’t turn away from God. When finding that many armies are arrayed against him, he prays a long prayer in the midst of all the people. And the prayer ends in a place we all, eventually, find ourselves. He says to God ‘We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.’ (vs. 12).

This is the first step in dealing with the anxieties, troubles and worries the future inevitably holds. When you don’t know what to do next, tell God where you are and admit that you don’t know what to do next. Don’t jump to a solution yourself. Your solution, obviously, will have to be made with less than adequate knowledge. You don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow, so when you try to fix tomorrow, you won’t be able to. If you could fix it, you wouldn’t be anxious. So, don’t. Instead, tell God that you don’t know what to do. Are you having to make a difficult decision at work and don’t know which direction would be best? Tell God. Are you trying to help someone you love through a difficult space and don’t know what to do for them? Tell God. Are you trying to make good Godly decisions for your children but don’t know what will really be best for them? Tell God. Are you facing choices about treatments and don’t know what the outcomes or side effects will be? Tell God. And we, as a church, when we try to determine the best course of action in our current crisis and we don’t know what to do, what ought we to do? That’s right, Tell God.

Observe, then, what’s going on while Jehoshaphat is telling God he doesn’t know what to do. (vs. 13) “Meanwhile all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives and their children.” While we cry out to God and tell him we don’t know what to do, we come stand before him. I think this means, at its most basic point, that we don’t hide anything from God in our crying out. We don’t reserve back some measure of a solution for ourselves. We come stand honestly and forthrightly before him, and we bring everyone we can with us. For me that means brining my full and anxious arms of little ones into God’s presence. When they ask me questions about the future, I have to be honest that I don’t know and then direct them to seek God themselves. Men, if your wives are anxious, come into the presence of God with them (that means pray and come to church and sit with them and then talk about the sermon and worship together afterwards). If you have little ones, pray with them, bring them into the presence of God. If you have friends and relatives and people who need to be in God’s presence, bring them here. If they won’t come, go be with them and pray for them where they are. Don’t hold back or shield the people in your life neither from the presence of God (because that would be selfish) nor from the future (because that would be fearful). When the people were in the presence of God all together, from the littlest to the greatest, God told them what to do.

And that was (vs. 17) “You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem, Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.” When you go into the battle, when you face whatever it is you’re facing, you will not be doing the fighting. Because you have cried out to God and not held anything back from him, he will do the fighting for you. You have only to a. Stand Firm, b. Hold your position, c. see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf and d. do not be afraid the Lord is with you.

What do all of these things mean?

To Stand Firm means to not second guess yourself and God and everyone around you every step of the way. It means believing that God is bigger than you are and that therefore he can handle it. Standing Firm means never denying Jesus, never trusting in yourself over him, never making peace with the evil of the world.

Holding your position is very much the same. Don’t go wandering off in your mind or in life looking for a better solution. God is your solution. Hold the line. Don’t back off. Just stay where you are, your feet planted, your heart fixed, your hope sure.

Seeing the salvation of God on your behalf requires that you keep your eyes open. God is working all around you. Don’t shut your eyes from weariness and miss the amazing work that God is doing around you. Not only is God big enough to help you, he is close enough for you to see this help when it comes.

And do not be afraid. Just don’t do it.

After hearing from God that he is going to intervene to help you (even though he probably isn’t going to tell you what he is going to do, read the text) the fourth step, then, is to worship God and praise him. Having heard a word from the Lord, which you can do by reading the bible, the people fall on their faces in worship, and the priests stand and praise God.

Worship can happen in three easy ways. The second your eyes open in the morning, thank God for the first breath you draw. Second, seek his face in prayer and in scripture as the day goes on. With each breath, in and out, ask God to fill you, direct you, love you and forgive you. And third, go to church. As an act of obedience, go worship God in church. Worship in church is an action of your whole body—standing, kneeling, singing, listening, connecting, praying, drinking coffee, receiving the body and blood of Jesus—and when you go to church and put yourself into the posture and place of worship, your mind, will and heart will follow. God will meet you and speak to you. He has already accomplished your salvation, he will meet you and speak to you when you worship him.

The order of things is so important. While the people worshiped, while Jehoshaphat, their leader, brought them into the presence of God, God delivered them. Vs. 22

And when they had begun to sing and praise, the Lord set and ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, devoting them to destruction, and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, they all helped to destroy one another…When Jehoshaphat and his people came to take their spoil, they found among them, in great numbers, goods, clothing, and precious things, which they took for themselves until they could carry no more. They were three days in taking the spoil, it was so much. On the fourth day they assembled in the Valley of Beracah, for there they blessed the Lord.”

We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. We don’t know what plans God has laid down. But we do know something very very important. God will provide for us, for you. He will deliver you from evil, from the array of enemies round about you. He will prepare a place for you, for us, a place filled with rooms and enough. And he will lead you to that place. He says so, ‘I am the Way.’ He is the place we are going, ‘I am the Life’ he says. He is our hope, the rock upon which we Stand Firm, the Truth. He is the destination and the way of getting there. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Our Lord Jesus has everything in hand. We only have only to open our eyes and see the salvation he is working on our behalf. Amen.


Anonymous said...


TLF+ said...

Prayers going up for your family and parish right now.

Anonymous said...

First read this a week or two ago, when friends sent it. Read it again a few minutes ago, and wish again to say THANKS for your encouraging words! ---K. B.