Zephaniah 3:1-8; Galatians 1:6-9; 3:1-9
May 7, 2023
- We should be much more upset with what’s wrong in the world
This sermon may have been better next Sunday as it begins with my mother. I am not sure whether you want to thank her or question her, but a pretty big reason why I am up here today in front of you is her. You may have guessed that being able to speak in front of people is a fairly significant part of being a pulpit preacher. When I was little, she was the music director in our church and had me and other children up in front of the congregation with plays and songs. This is something that I carried my whole life having done at least 15 stage productions. She was also the church organist and I grew up sitting on the front row near where she played so that I could turn pages for her. There I became captivated by the idea of minister, and the Spirit began to work on me at a young age. She also directed me to ministry in more mundane ways. She offered to by me a car if I went into ministry. I am not sure what ever happened to that one. I should have gotten it in writing. She is also the one who made most of my stoles, including my very best ones. She is a big part of why I am up here today. I actually did not realize this myself until I was working on this sermon, so I thank you, mom, and I hope you get that reaction from others.
It is not always easy to go from someone sitting in the pews, the bleachers, or the seats to someone up at the pulpit, out on the field, or up on the stage. Something has to motivate you to get up and take that action.
On the other hand, while I always thoroughly enjoyed tennis and played it throughout my childhood, I never had the nerve to try out for a team. One of my friends with whom I played did it, but the thoughts scared me with the doubts already in my head. Now, I am nervous to get out there for fear of injury. Sorry, John, I know I need to get back out there.
The reason why this is on my mind is that when I was down in Guatemala on our mission trip, I was struck by how many people were chest deep working in the needs around them. There were plenty of needs everywhere we went. It was obvious, and everywhere we went there were also good and faithful and diligent people working hard to help with those needs. Sure, that was the reason for the trip – to see those ministries. We didn’t go to the places where no one was working to help, but there was just so many creative and hardworking and loving things going on to transform that people one life at a time. It left me wondering: do we not have needs in America, too? Do American Christians not have ministry opportunities, also? If you are in a faith community in Guatemala, it would be very easy to be physically engaged in a service to the community.
The Episcopal Mission that we visited was a monstrous 35 member church, but they were on fire helping ways that boggle my mind. Since Guatemala incarcerates babies and small children with their mothers and does not provide for the little ones, that is on the families or whoever will help. There is a scheme used by gangs and drug dealers to offer poor women money to open accounts in banks that the criminals then use to launder their money. The women get a very small portion of the illegal funds, but when the authorities find out, they go to prison. The Episcopal Church in Xela was giving these women the basic supplies for the care of their children. I think they said it was 125 women. And it was a 35 member church doing this.
Do we have real and serious needs here? This got me thinking. Is there anything going on that is shocking enough or personal enough or motiving enough to make the American church sit up and find the Kingdom of God in our midst?
One of the great challenges we face is that somehow our religious life got wrapped up in personal salvation. An outward looking expression of God’s heart got turned inward. The focus became keeping yourself in healthy faith and your relationship with God vibrant. If you have ever read the Book of James toward the end of the Bible, you might recall the answer to that deeply private faith. A faith without works is dead. A faith that does not care for others; a faith that wishes the poor and hungry and outcast well but does not raise a finger to help; a faith that is all about the vertical but ignorant of the horizontal is a pathetic reflection of God’s love.
Maybe in America we do not have needs that are crying out for help. Of course, between 18.7% and 23.6% of Prince Edward County lives at the poverty line or below.
Almost 3000 people died from drugs last year in VA.
According to the state department, there are around 100,000 identified victims of human trafficking every year and only 10,000 prosecutions for it and only half of those ending up in convictions. This is one we hardly hear about, and it is especially evil, especially for how common it is, but with the situation at the border, it may not be that hard to imagine.
There have been 18 school shootings this year, so far, and there were over fifty last year – the most on record.
One that I live with everyday is the state of public education. The older I get the more I see public education as the foundation and lynchpin to the future of our nation where anyone can receive an education, not just the privileged. And, yes, to have a good, supportive, loving family today is even a privilege.
So maybe there are needs out there. These just scratch the surface. I did not get into access to food, internet, affordable housing, healthcare, transportation, or jobs. Oh, yes, there are needs out there. And as churches, we should be angry about it.
Did you hear about the guy at work who was so upset with his boss that the higherups mandated that he go through anger management classes. “I don’t know what kind of good that’s going to do,” he replied. “I am already angry enough with the management as it is.” Do you get it? If I have to explain it, I guess I have already lost.
What if I told you that getting angry is actually part of the Christian’s job, though? You know there are gazillions of things people get angry about in the world, and we only have to lurk around in Facebook for a minute and a half to find something. There is a whole industry out there to get people upset by information (that is most likely false) just to get people riled up and to keep them reading. Or just go for a drive and try to park in a very congested area. There have even been deaths over parking spaces. We have all gotten angry over senseless things.
But that is not really the kind of getting angry that I am suggesting every Christian should have.
There is a holy anger that should be kindled when injustice becomes our version of justice, when falsehood becomes our version of truth, when greed becomes paramount to generosity, when division trumps compassion, and hate love. The prophets all point to this holy anger that erupts when the least, the vulnerable, the most at-risk, the ones out on the fringes of life are swept under the rug so that the world can keep its security and comfort. God’s holy anger burns with the church turns a blind eye to so much that is wrong with the world and assumes that is just the way it is there is nothing we can really do about it. Divine fury refuses to take the gospel of love, true sacrificial love, and exchange it for a gospel of anything else.
That is the reason Paul was so furious with the followers of Jesus in Galatia. This is the only letter in which Paul has nothing nice to say to them in the introduction. He is furious with them for taking all of the hard work and teaching and relationship he had cultivated with them and running after the teaching of others claiming to be apostles and spreading a gospel about going back to the old faith, the old religion, the old ways. “I don’t care if an angel comes down from heaven and gives you another gospel than what I told you,” he said. Do not abandon the truth.
The truth is that there is a lot of wrong in the world, a lot of things that need to be fixed, people who need to be helped, causes that need to be fought. There is a lot of Kingdom of God building that needs to happen. People need good and caring and loving community. Thanks be to God that there are also a whole lot people out there who should be able to help. The church is a pretty big group. I have made the point before that is everyone just made a transformative difference in one other person’s life, the world would be turned on its head.
To get there, though, we might need to get angry. We might need to find the brokenness in the world that gets us all up and in the game. If you feel helpless and too small to make a difference, then it is also our opportunity to find others to help. I’ll tell you those folk making a difference in Guatemala do not have all the advantages we do, either. We cannot let the world, our nation, our state, our community go by without working each and every day for something better.
Ordinarily, I would say my goal in a sermon is not to make people angry. Today is an exception. Even if you get angry at me, fine. So much of the world seems to be on fire. It is up to us to burn brighter in our own way. To God be the glory. Amen.