Where are all the people? – April 12, 2015 – Matthew 28: 16 – 20

I know we were all so happy to see our pews filled last week. I pray, and I’m sure many of you pray, for our pews to be that full every Sunday. So, where are all those people who come on Easter? Where are all the people who were here last week? Some of them were family members who have their own church but came last week to be with family. Others are part of that C & E Christian group, those who only come on Christmas and Easter. Today, we are missing all those people who were here last week and others we haven’t seen in awhile.

The eleven disciples gathered on the mountain in Galilee know what it’s like to miss a friend in their fellowship. When the 11 disciples gathered, waiting for Jesus, they missed their friend Judas. I’m sure they all knew what Judas had done, but they still knew that their fellowship was not complete without him. I don’t want in any way to suggest that those often missing from our fellowship have betrayed Jesus, their faith, or the church. But, I know the disciples can relate to us in missing someone from our fellowship and knowing our fellowship is incomplete.

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The Kingdom of America

I am often challenged by questions members of my flock raise.  A few weeks ago, I was really challenged by a question.  I wish I had as many answers as I receive good questions; however, seminary taught me how to ask questions, not give answers.

I have been leading a Bible study on the book of Isaiah on Wednesday mornings.  We have learned a lot of important things.  We have great conversations about the Bible, prophets, geopolitical history, cultural wonders, and present day woes our families face.  You might say we study life as much as we study the Bible.

When studying Isaiah, it was important to look at the Kings to whom Isaiah is prophesying.  Of course, this requires a survey of Israel’s kings and their leadership qualities.  Some did what was good in the sight of the Lord and others did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.  One’s legacy ultimately came down to whether or not they strengthened the cultic devotion of Israel or allowed worship of idols on the high places.

The question raised was: Why did God let them be king if He knew they were going to do evil?  At first, I was stumped.  It is a good question.  Why does God let us do dumb things?  Why does God allow unfaithful leaders lead the people?  Does God lift up these people for leadership knowing they will fail?  It was a great question, especially as we were only a few days away from the election.

It wasn’t until I was fervently praying on election night that I found my answer, I think…

Whatever we believe about free will and predestiny and God’s will as it relates to the leadership of government officials, really about life in general, I think we can all agree that God gives us a chance.  God may know that we will do evil, but gives us a chance.  God may think the little things we do will be more important in the Kingdom of God than any historical legacy.  God may give us choices hoping we’ll make the right decision and ready to help when we make the wrong choices.

I had a good debate about God’s omnipotence and free will last night with the one whom posed the original question.  The answer is not easy and theologians throughout the ages have disagreed about how God works.  I hope we can all agree that God gives us a chance…we may not surprise God, but we may surprise ourselves.

Peace and Plowshares

Last week’s lectionary Gospel text reading was Mark 7: 24 – 37.  Jesus denies the Syro-Phoenician woman the healing of her daughter.  Even to the dogs, she reminds Him, is the Gospel meant for.  Her reference to herself as a dog leads one to ascertain that Gentiles may have been called dogs by the Jews.

“Dogs” seems to be a name used still 2000 years later to demean a group whose humanity has been devalued.  The image calls to my mind the statue of dogs in the Kelly Ingram park in Birmingham, AL across from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.  Many who were called dogs had dogs unleashed on them in that park.  Oh, the misery we cause when we prioritize the Gospel as being for some and not for others.

Isn’t that what war is about?  One group has deemed the lives and cause of another group of people as less valuable than their own.  It is to deny their God-createdness.  It is to assume that our way is the only valid, right, and intelligent way; while the other is ignorant.  And, the threat of them is so great we’re willing to go to war to protect our claim to being right…perhaps even to protect them for their own ignorance.

When will we ever be open-minded enough to resist the allure of war?

The prophets of the First Testament looked forward to the day when we would resolve our conflicts with wisdom instead of weapons.  Today’s Bible study text from Isaiah is one such prophecy.  Isaiah 2: 4 says “God will judge between the nations and settle disputes of mighty nations.  Then they will beat their swords into iron plows and their spears into pruning tools.  Nation will not take up sword against nation; they will no longer learn how to make war.”  Isaiah sees that one day is possible when we no longer need weapons or military strategy, perhaps only wisdom and compassion.  I would say that Isaiah not only looks forward to that blessed day, but he might also look back to the days of King Solomon and the wisdom with which he ruled.

MLK echoed the words of Isaiah in his speech about the Vietnam War at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA on April 16, 1967.  He said (http://www.afsc.net/PDFFiles/MLKonWarPeace.pdf), “with this faith, we will be able to speed up the day when all over the world we will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at Last, Free at Last, thank God, almighty, we’re free at last.’ With this faith we will sing it and we’re getting ready to sing it now. Men will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nations will not rise up against nations; neither shall they study war any more… I don’t now about you, but I ain’t gon’ study war, no more!”

Hopefully, someday soon there won’t be regular meetings in the Situation Room.