2 Kings 17:1-23; Acts 7:51-53
November 14, 2021
- Times of Significant Change in God’s Provision
How long do you want to live? That is a strange question to Presbyterians, though not for the reason you might assume. Historically, we tend to live longer than other folk, even folk who simply follow a different path by faith. We live longer than just about any other denomination, except for maybe Episcopalians. And it is also true that people who attend worship regularly also live longer. I wonder what all of this says about this congregation with more years of life between us than I can imagine. And yet, as long as we might live, as long as anything might live, there is an end to everything. What’s important is what we do with all of this while we have it.
It seems a little strange to me to come back to our series after a couple of weeks off, but I am coming right back to the story of the nation of Israel that we left a couple of weeks ago. The nation was falling apart and had split into two nations, the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. They had their own set of kings and did not get along very well. The Northern Kingdom was somewhat worse off with their leadership and practice of faith, but God sent prophets to both of them to try to get them to change and come back to better ways of living, but do you think that was very effective?
Sadly, no. It somewhat makes you wonder what good the prophets were, anyway, since the people so rarely listened. The only time in the Old Testament that I can think of that a prophet was met with certain success was when Jonah went to Nineveh which was not even in the Jewish people. It was a pagan city. You could argue just as much for the wise men in Matthew’s Gospel who were the only ones in that story to notice the birth of Jesus, and they were not part of the people, either, but foreigners. Maybe when we are so consumed by living the way we are and carrying on with life as we know it, it is impossible to realize at the time that we are standing on the edge of disaster.
No great nation in the history of the world has survived much more than a couple of hundred years. They have all changed, fallen apart, or been reformed into something new. If you think about things this way, the great American democratic experiment is coming up to borrowed time. We have arrived to what would be normally our life expectancy. This is in large part due to the brilliance to the founders. Their system of checks and balances has provided a way for us to endure. Knowing the way people operate, they counted on self-interest and tried to build safeguards to curb bad actors from wreaking havoc, but we have also witnessed more than our fair share of havoc. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the founding of our nation, and yes, I do think there is still a future out there for us, even with the bad actors.
In Israel, the situation was far worse, however. You heard how the peoples had devolved in their worship to include all kinds of pagan practices, including (in case you didn’t catch it) child sacrifice. They gave away their values and commitments and virtues and everything that distinguished them as God’s covenant people. Both of those nations were the same original family of people who had gathered around Mt. Sinai with Moses and accepted the Law of God’s Covenant. They are the same original family of people who had renewed the Covenant with Joshua when they entered the Land of Promise. They are the same people who as one had been brought together under Saul and David and Solomon. Just about couple hundred of years later, Israel was taken off to Assyria to never be seen, again. And just about a couple of hundred years after that, the Southern Kingdom of Judah was conquered by the Babylonians and was hauled off into captivity. The people were devastated by a failure they had never known – that changed the entire story of Israel.
We know it did not end there. The brokenness that plagued the Israelites and ended a nation continued through the centuries. The passage in Acts testifies to this. When God gives us a word of challenge, a word of change, a word of hope, we tend to take the other word. When we are offered door #1, we look to door #2. We hear what we want to hear. We hear what is easier to hear. We hear what is less demanding to hear.
I am a living testament to this. We all are. We all struggle to come to the reality of just how much we need God’s help, how much we continue to need God’s help. Every Sunday, we have our Prayer of Confession that addresses this very need, but how much does that prayer really speak to your soul? How much does it draw out your desperate need for God’s redeeming grace? Or is it really just a matter of routine and habit?
We are all struggling in this world everyday to be the real people of Christ that we are called to be. No one is good enough; no one is righteous enough; no one is loving enough as we are. That is the bottom line that never changes in this world. We need Jesus’ help in all of the ways that matter. No follower of Jesus should ever be smug enough to believe otherwise. You have heard it said that if you cannot stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen, but it is so tempting for people in this world to forget the kitchen is even there. Who needs the heat at all? Who wants the heat? Who wants to believe they need to change? That is the prophet’s cross to bear.
America is a troubled nation and Americans a troubled people. We have made it easier and easier to stir up trouble, to share trouble, to repeat trouble, and to believe the trouble. We have forgotten the greater truth. Love is the life of God. Love is God. If we are doing anything that is not love, then it is not of God. If we are saying things, sharing things, or doing things that do not reflect love, they do not reflect God. Since this life is not about you or me, our concern is really you AND me. Life is about all of us. Life is about how we can share in God’s love together.
You may or may not really be aware that the whole idea of personal or individual salvation does not really exist in Scripture. God’s focus has always been on the people, on all of us. For God so loved…THE WORLD. Sure, individual people experience the lifechanging power of God’s grace, but the love of God is love. Love is never just about you. The two greatest commandments cannot be separated: love God with everything you have AND your neighbor as yourself. Instead, our focus tends to be just on ourselves and people like us.
There are so many more ways that we are not living up to God’s standard. To which we turn away or stick our heads in the sand rather than acknowledge and turn to Jesus. Instead, we just try to get along and do the best we think we can and mind our own business, but that is not God’s way or God’s purpose. Love is for the family of God, for the children of God, for the people of God, and for the household of God. Love is for neighbors, strangers, and even our enemies – especially our enemies. Imagine living in such a way that we actively seek out their good.
The people way back then did not listen to God’s message for them. They were lost in their faithlessness. They were alone without the comfort of their spiritual home. I wonder if that is the point of God’s path taking us away in those difficult places and times. I have found myself in a lonely spot from time to time, more often than I would like to admit. It is easy to feel cut off from love of God when your heart and mind are pressed by this world, but God will never leave us or forsake us, even when we fail God, especially when we fail God, when we need God the most.
There is always good news for God’s people. The prophets brought hope, even when they brought judgment. Obviously, no one knows what the future has in store for our culture or our nation, let alone our community or even our church. For now, we need to listen to God’s leading and lead in God’s loving. That is our only hope of finding a way into a stronger day. Whatever happens, though, God is with us and for us. Since nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus, we can be confident that there will always be a home for us to come back to. Even when we feel off and out, there is always a path home. Coming home will be our Advent theme this year. It seems like an important thing to remember in these changing, divided days. We have a home in Christ Jesus, a home given to us in God through the Holy Spirit. We have a home for us even to the end. To God be the glory. Amen.