Sunday, January 17, 2010

God Has Not Forgotten You!

I purposely do not use the name of that multimillionaire evangelist blowhard because I do not want to give him the publicity, even with my limited reach. He deserves obsolescence.

Oh, and John Stewart as God's messenger to the people of Haiti? Hey, why not?

Isaiah 62:1-5

For Zion's sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch.
The nations shall see your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;

and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the LORD will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the LORD delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your builder marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.

This is the Word of the Lord.

The year was 538 BC. Under a blistering summer sun, the travel-weary caravan neared the crest of the last hill before their destination, Jerusalem.

It had been a long trip from Babylon, the travelers pushing on day after day in the excitement of their newfound freedom. The exile is over, and at last the Jewish people can go home. The Levites spoke in hushed tones about how to handle restoring worship on the Temple mount, others dreamed about establishing their homes and livelihoods in an all-but-abandoned city which many of them had never seen.

When they topped that last hill and looked across to Jerusalem, their hearts sank. It was worse than anyone could have imagined. Much of the city was rubble. Little remained of the city walls, and the Temple was completely destroyed. What excitement had survived the long journey now evaporated, and in the hearts of the weary travelers, the same old nagging questions began to whisper, “Has God forgotten us? Has God given up?”

Less than seven hundred miles off the Florida coast, the tiny nation of Haiti suffered a devastating earthquake this past week. Much of the country is in ruins, corpses are stacked in the streets of major cities like Port-au-Prince, food and water are in short supply, and time is running out for thousands of people still alive but trapped in the rubble.

One can look at Haiti and wonder how much more a nation can take. Since declaring its independence from France in 1804, the island nation has seen dictatorships, military juntas, foreign occupation and de-facto enslavement, astounding and blatant political corruption, and war upon war, in an almost continuous chronological line. In the past 206 years, the world's oldest black republic, and the second-oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere has seen less than seventy years of truly freely elected democratic rule. The current elected government, in power since 2006, depends on the help of peacekeeping troops to maintain order. The people are profoundly poor, with few options and little hope in the best of times. And now, this. One could forgive a now-homeless and bleeding Haitian, digging by hand in the rubble of her home to try and find her children, of accusing God of having given up. Of having forgotten Haiti.

And then there are the smaller, personal disasters. Common to everyone from time to time, whether financial, medical, emotional or spiritual, even committed Christians experience devastating upheavals in life. Times when our own world shatters and we view the rubble and wonder if God has forgotten us, if God has given up on us. And all too often, either because we don't want to appear to be weak in the faith or because we have been taught somewhere that speaking negatively is unspiritual, the questions, the doubts, the fears remain hidden in our hearts.

It is in these times – standing on that last hill, looking at the rubble-strewn Temple Mount in the distance, trying to understand... these times, looking at the images of impoverished human beings left utterly destitute by a natural disaster... these times, when our own life seems to be little more than smoldering ruins... that God has said and does say to each and every one of us, “The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her...”

I think, or at least hope, that it is not my style of preaching to do “feel good” sermons, all butterflies and rainbows and God's love for you means you should always be happy and content, there are no problems, only opportunities, you know, the kind of things the TV preachers are big on these days. Still and yet I find myself, over the past few weeks, returning to this concept, this breathtaking theme of God's grace, of God's unconditional love, of how each of us, individually, are precious to God.

Sometimes it's important to remind ourselves that God has not given up on us.

Sometimes it's more than just comforting, but vital, to be reminded that God has called us by name, that in life, in death, and in life beyond death we belong to God, to be reminded that this twilight means the dawn is certainly coming. In this season of Epiphany, perhaps the greatest thing we as followers of Christ need to discover, or rediscover, is the simple, yet profound truth that transcends theology, doctrine, denomination, race, or higher orthodoxy: God loves us, collectively and as individuals.

If I may paraphrase Max Lucado, “If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If [God] had a wallet, your photo would be in it. [God] sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning. Whenever you want to talk, [God will] listen. [God] can live anywhere in the universe, and... chose your heart. What about the Christmas gift [God] sent you in Bethlehem; not to mention that Friday at Calvary. Face it, friend. [God is] crazy about you.”

We need to remember this at those times when we are at our darkest, lowest points, when God seems far away, yes. God has not forgotten you. God has not given up on you.

God has engraved you on the palms of God's hands.

But like that first leper in the book of Mark, healed by Jesus and sternly ordered to keep it to himself, the knowledge that God is on our side is explosive. It's revolutionary. It cannot be kept silent!

The great good news of God's abundant grace, of God's unconditional love, cannot, and must not be, kept silent, and the events of this past week are a good example of it.

Following the earthquake in Haiti, a well known TV evangelist, a multimillionaire with his own TV network, blamed the earthquake on a supposed pact with the devil that nineteenth-century Haitian revolutionaries made in order to drive the French from their country. That this is simply not true is almost beside the point when you consider that this man took an opportunity to proclaim God's love, to pray for those devastated by the disaster, and to offer guidance in supporting relief operations, and squandered it by saying, in effect, that the Haitians deserved what they got.

But the fact that God's message of love – the assurance that God has not forgotten Haiti, that God has not given up on Haiti, cannot be silenced was demonstrated in a truly amazing way. Comedian John Stewart, host of “The Daily Show,” quoted on his show just three examples from Scripture of the promises God makes to all those who are suffering, all those who face disaster, devastation, and ruin:
Psalm 34:18, “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit,” the last part of Psalm 71:20, “from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up,” and finishing with Isaiah 54:10, “'Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,' says the LORD, who has compassion on you.”

And even though the Bible verses were quoted in the context of discrediting this particular TV evangelist, the message of those words calls out loud and clear. These are the things we need to be saying, and acting upon, whenever disaster strikes. The church must be in the forefront of relief and rebuilding efforts, and most vocal in reassuring the suffering that God indeed has not forgotten them, God has not given up!

And as individual believers, we must be at the forefront with support for relief efforts – if we can't go there, we must provide finances and material support in whatever way we can. You can even give to the Red Cross by text message these days! Our denomination's disaster relief program is in full swing in Haiti right now, and organizations like the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability can offer guidance toward other trustworthy Christian ministries offering relief in Haiti.

Further, though, and with regard to everything else in life, we must be proactive in our support of one another, and for everyone in all facets of our life. Here's one example: do you ever get the notion, out of the blue, to pray for someone? Do, it, and let them know. Twice this past week, a friend of mine in another state has sent me a simple text message, a message I got at exactly the right time: “I'm praying for you, brother.” Simple things like that shout the grace of God into the lives of those around you.

God loves you. God loves (fill in the blank). God has not forgotten you. God has not forgotten (fill in the blank). God has not given up on you, and God has not given up on (fill in the blank). You get the idea. Now rejoice in the idea, and share that idea!

Let us pray.


  1. Nice job, John! Your sermon reminds me there may be hope for me yet.

  2. I dunno, John. I'd say it's pretty "feel-good." :)

    At least, I liked it. And I'm all about butterflies and rainbows. :P

  3. John, trust me, you're not about butterflies and rainbows. You're more about Wagner and 'Kill The Wabbit, Kill The Wabbit, Kill The Wabbit".