Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Lord is Still on the Throne

A Sermon for Veteran's Day November 11, 2012, delivered to the congregation of St. Timothy Lutheran Church, Charleston, WV

I'd like to thank Pastor Allison for allowing me the opportunity to fill in for him on this first Sunday after the General Election ….Thanks a lot!

I've gotta be honest with you. This has been a very tough assignment for me. 
I rewrote this sermon three times trying to find the right message and tone before my wife urged me to do something I'm often reluctant to do – share my personal feelings with you in the hopes that this will help us to grapple with a basic question facing Christians: How do we relate to the secular government?

Like many of you, I followed the election results on Tuesday night fully expecting the race to be close, - maybe even recount close, but for my guy to win. I could hardly believe it when the results came in and I saw how the popular vote was close, but the electoral college vote was note close at all. In fact it looked more like a runaway victory for the other side. And it filled me with foreboding. Foreboding because it felt to me as if the things I have been praying about and working towards for the past 30 years were going down the tubes and that we had reached a tipping point in our culture, past which there is no going back.

Let me go back myself and tell you a little about where the Lord has brought me. Although I grew up in a Christian home, I rejected what I knew of the Christian message and became hostile to the Church and the God it represented. When I met my wife in college, one of the first things I told her was that I hated Christianity and detested Christians! I was militantly opposed to anyone telling me what I could do in my intimate life, what I could smoke or drink – and I was against anything that crimped my style, against any religion that demanded I put faith in something I couldn't see in hopes of getting something I didn't understand. And I was pretty well along the way towards becoming an alcoholic! I was in great shape!

By the mercies of God, and largely through the ministrations of Cindy – longsuffering and gracious woman that she is – God arrested me. He revealed Himself to me and revealed myself to me – helping me see just how bankrupt my life was and just how far away from his presence I had wandered. 
He converted my soul and gave me the ability to read and understand Scripture for the first time.

In those blessed pages I found words of life and wisdom for living. God's Spirit living inside me turned me around to such an extent that people took one look at me and knew instantly that I was different. In short, I went from being Me-centered to being Christ-centered. That meant submitting to God's will for me in every area of my life – which was not too difficult because I pretty quickly realized I didn't know how to live or what was really good for me.

As I began to become more knowledgeable about my faith, it became easy to submit my will to his – an actual joy in realizing what He had for me to do – namely to prepare for a ministry of Christ-centered counseling that would help others experience the Freedom I had come to know.

The Foundation of this Freedom is what our Creator has revealed to us in His Holy Word: That we are created in the Image of God, male and female, in order to Reflect God's Glory, to reproduce a godly heritage and to Exercise faithful stewardship over God's creation. But we are fallen as a result of the rebellion of our original parents and that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves without God's help. We need a savior to release us from Sin and to open the way back to living in harmony with God, Our neighbors, our environment and even ourselves.

This is the basic Gospel message. And it has resulted in freedom and blessing for millions upon millions. Wherever people come to know Christ, they experience being let out of the prison of their own making, being healed of their brokenness, and restored to fruitful and meaningful life patterns.

That pattern of healing typically involves worshiping God regularly, tithing our income as a sign of His lordship over our entire lives, restraining our lustful passions, working faithfully to support ourselves and offering voluntary service to others, giving what we have first received. Not really very complicated – but difficult to do without a personal and empowering relationship with our God through the Lord Jesus Christ.

When a group of people begins to live this out regularly, it results in stable relationships with others, the formation of safe and loving families, and broader communities that are also safe, stable, prosperous and beautiful places to live. This is a picture of a self-governing people – a people who have decided to live according to the instructions of the Creator God, not in order to kill their fun or restrict their freedom, but to enhance their enjoyment of life and create peaceful places to live.

What worries me today is that we seem to be going down a different path as a nation. I'm afraid that we as a people have abandoned the Lord and turned away to pursue our own selfish interests and passions. It now appears that a majority of our people are not influenced by the Christian Gospel. They don't understand that our freedom is based upon our virtue and capacity for self-governance – which in turn arise from recognizing the Lordship of Christ and submitting to His Guidance and conforming ourselves to Holy Scripture.

Instead it appears that a majority now wish to be free FROM religion and free from restraint – especially in sexual matters. We seem to have become a people who demand license to indulge our every whim, and then expect others to pay for our lifestyle choices.

The ironic thing about it is that as we demand more and more 'freedom' to do whatever we wish apart from consideration of God's will for us, the more we are willing to sacrifice our Individual Liberties to an increasingly powerful central government! This has worried me for many years, and I thought that God knew that my concerns could only be addressed through the obvious choice of one particular party!

My error was in forgetting that God made the heavens and the earth and that He alone is the just judge who rules in the affairs of the world – regardless of how it looks on the surface to me personally. The Good and Unchanging News is that God is still on the throne! Just like always.
So, on Wednesday, I had to repent and go back to the drawing board. I literally had to sit down with a pen and pad of paper and write down the things that I know to be true as a Christian. Looking at the Psalm for today was very helpful. 
The Psalmist exhorts us not to put our trust ... in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.(146:3)ESV

It is Christ who died and is risen! – Not any one on the electoral ballot!

It is He who saves us from ourselves and He who calls us to be co-laborers along with Him. His Mission is to be our Mission:
to make disciples of all nations....[to] give food to the hungry, to set the prisoners free, to open the eyes of the blind, to lift up those who are bowed down, to watch over the sojourners; and to uphold the widow and the fatherless...(Ps. 146 7-9;Is. 61:1; Lk 4: 18,19;Mt 28:18-20)
It is this mandate that has caused Christians down through the centuries to start hospitals, to shelter the homeless, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, protect the unborn – and even run for public office! When we do these things, we can truly be said to be doing the Lord's work.

The question is whether or not we do the Lord's work in our governing. 
You see, human government is not God's original idea. His original intention was for human beings to relate to him directly – without any need for human governing. But the rebellious choice of our first parents resulted in disruption to that original plan and got them - and us- kicked out of the garden!
Governance by force began when God placed the angel and a flaming sword at the entrance of the Garden of Eden – in order to limit our capacity for wrongdoing!
But even after having been tossed out, the Lord still desired for us to come to him directly and he expressed this desire in the making of covenants – the covenant with Noah never to destroy the world again through water. The covenant with Abraham to make him a great nation and to cause him to be a blessing to all the peoples on earth. The covenant with Israel in leading them out of slavery in Egypt: I will be your God and you will be my people. Finally there is a promise to us all that when the New Jerusalem comes down out of heaven, we will see him face to face and the government will be upon His shoulders (Is. 9:6). In that day there shall be no tears, but the Lord himself will wipe away every tear and give justice to every person, as co-heirs of the grace of life. (Rev. 21:14; 1 Pet. 3:7)

That's the big picture. It's where we're headed eventually. It's a glorious destination, but it's the end of the line and will never be realized fully here on earth. Our attempts to institute justice and fairness here will always be flawed by our sin nature, which causes us to act out of greed, stupidity and lust. That's why we need Government. To limit our sinful impulses so that we can live in safe and prosperous communities. 
What government cannot do for us is to set up heaven on earth. No human government can be our Source and Provider. No human Government can make the lion lay down with the lamb and bring us into the peaceable kingdom.
What government can do for us is to protect those who are most vulnerable, punish evil-doers and provide for our protection from the aggression of enemies. All that is good and ordained of God. (See Romans chapter 13).
And Christians are well-advised to be give their time and talent to the pursuit of a Good Government – even though governing is messy. Like the old saying goes, “Those who like sausage or law should avoid watching both being made!”

If we do get caught up in the messiness of lawmaking and party politics, it's easy to become discouraged or angry. That's why it's so important to do what Jesus told us to do: 'always pray and never give up' (Lk. 18:1) Prayer is the prerequisite for doing the Lord's business!
And because none of us can be God to one another or provide salvation to one another through political means, we must practice Humility. -

We must admit we don't know what's good for ourselves – much less our whole nation, or the world. We must grant God the permission to be in Charge, regardless of whether or not we understand it. And we must seek to do His will, not ours.

We must be 'Semper Fi” people – always faithful: Faithful to God, and exercising faith in God. And, like good soldiers, we must remain at our posts, faithfully doing the work that God has called us to do. These, I believe, are eternal verities – true regardless of whether or not my guy wins. I hope you agree and that you find this both comforting and challenging.

I'd like to end with this poem by Edgar A Guest, entitled “A Plea”
GOD grant me these: the strength to do
Some needed service here;
The wisdom to be brave and true;
The gift of vision clear,
That in each task that comes to me
Some purpose I may plainly see.
God teach me to believe that I
Am stationed at a post,
Although the humblest 'neath the sky,
Where I am needed most.
And that, at last, if I do well
My humble services will tell.
God grant me faith to stand on guard,
Uncheered, unspoke, alone,
And see behind such duty hard
My service to the throne.
Whate'er my task, this be my creed:
I am on earth to fill a need.

May God grant us the grace to do so. AMEN.

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