With no pastor now, several of us from our Lake Como Community of Hope have been taking turns leading worship, reading scripture, and presenting the sermon — or in my case, a “Bible Talk” — based on the scriptures from The Revised Common Lectionary for the Sunday assigned.
After reading and re-reading the biblical passages from several translations, I look for a theme that ties the readings from the Torah (aka “Old Testament”) with the Epistle (Letter) and the Gospel readings from the New Testament.
Sometimes a theme or topic is immediately apparent, sometimes not. This week, for example, the readings for September 30, 2018 kept bringing to mind a vital question: “Are we for God or against?”
Although I’ve been known to “tweak” (and even completely rewrite!) a Bible Talk before the Sunday it’s actually presented, I felt urged to go ahead and share this one with you. Before reading, however, you might want to check out the scriptures recommended for September 30, 2018: Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22, Psalm 124, James 5:13-20, Mark 9:38-50.
“For God – or against?”
In the day’s reading from Esther, we see prejudice and anti-Semitism at work. Haman didn’t just hate Mordecai though. He conspired to put him to death simply because Mordecai was an honest man – a Jewish man – who worshiped God. Haman’s jealousy and intolerance of one person made him hate-filled enough to maneuver the King into ordering the extermination of the entire Jewish populace!
That’s not exactly the justice meant to be found in the biblical law of an eye for an eye! It’s more like taking a whole city for one eye. It’s more like taking revenge instead of giving justice or mercy.
What Haman didn’t realize is that Queen Esther was a relative of Mordecai and also a Jew. More important, Haman didn’t realize that being against the people of God sets a person squarely against God Himself.
Anti-Semitism does that. Bigotry does that. It polarizes Christians against Christians, Jews against Jews, and Jews and Christians against one another. This also happens when one political party or one sex or one race turns against the other, even though both come from the same creator and worship the same God.
Regardless of why such things get to that point, we have to decide – as individuals and as a church Body of Christ: Are we FOR God or against? Are we strongly FOR or against ANY child in the Family of God – even if that child is our self – or someone totally unlike ourselves?
In the other Old Testament passage, we read Psalm 124, which, like many (but not all) of the Psalms, is attributed to King David. Political enemies had come up against David, but the king knew God was with him and with the people of God. By strongly standing FOR God, David had faith that God was FOR him. He showed this by humbly giving credit to God instead of taking credit for the victories and glory that followed.
David was FOR God. And, God was FOR David and the people of God.
Is that true for us too? If we are FOR God does that mean God is FOR us? Or do we think like an immature child might and fear that God is against us?
Here’s the truth according to God’s word: God is love. And, Love is FOR US. God is for us.
Even so, the Bible clearly shows, from Genesis to Revelation, that bad things can and do happen to God’s people. For example, in the New Testament message from the epistle of James, the writer of this letter acknowledges that some Christians suffer and others get sick. Does James complain or blame this on God? No! Amazingly, he tells US to DO SOMETHING about it!
Really? Like what? Well, as James goes on to say, if anyone among us is suffering in some way, we should pray for that person. We should take it upon ourselves to do that. But – if anyone among us is sick, THAT person should do something! The person who is ill should call the elders of the church and ask for prayer! Then, James instructs the elders of the church to anoint that sick person with oil in the Name of the Lord.
But there’s more to it! People don’t just get sick physically. They also get sick mentally and spiritually. So, if that’s the case, James reminds us to confess our sins, admit our wrongdoings, and own up to anything we’re ashamed of or wish we had not done. This act of confession alerts the group to pray for one another, so that we may be healed.
Once we’ve accepted God’s forgiveness, we have a clean slate again! Isn’t that a wonderful plan?! Then, when we’re right with God again, we’re once again righteous. And, as James says, the prayers of a righteous person are powerful and effective. Such potent prayers make a big difference in the life of the forgiven, in the life of the person who prays, and in the life of the whole church.
When we’re FOR God’s will as revealed in the Bible, God WILL work to bring good for us, no matter how things look at the time. The catch comes in knowing God’s will, knowing what God is like, and knowing God can always be trusted to do the good and right and loving thing – even if circumstances don’t seem to make that super clear at the moment.
Unfortunately, what we think we know about God might be our faulty first impressions or the rumors we heard early in life or the flawed teachings we received from people, who taught whatever sounded good to them, rather than checking to see if it were biblically and spiritually true.
For example, when you were a child, authority figures might have told you God is watching you or out to get you – not because they were mean, but because they believed “good behavior” would get you into heaven. So, that group or particular person might have presented God as the bogey man in order to make you behave and keep you in line!
In real life and in the spiritual realm, such a deity would be nitpicking and judgmental – not at all the loving, merciful, forgiving God the Bible introduces us to consistently, from beginning to end.
Remember, God is FOR us. And, as today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark lets us know, God EMPOWERS us to overcome evil. How? By believing in God’s goodness, rather than our own, and receiving the strength we’re given in the Name of Jesus, we can cast out demons and be at peace with one another. We can be at peace with God and ourselves because we KNOW: God is FOR us!
As we really, really believe the words of Jesus and embrace His Name, our job is to do whatever we can to maintain a close relationship with the Lord. This might mean giving up something that gets between us and God. Or it might mean taking a risk and praying for someone’s healing or asking someone to pray for you. The Lord likes this, for, as Jesus said: “Anyone who does a deed of power in My Name will not be quick to speak ill of Me.”
God LIKES to send His power through us in Jesus’ Name to minister prayers, forgiveness, love, and healing to other people – and to receive the same ourselves. Such opportunities build up our faith, strengthen the Body of Christ, and draw other people to Jesus.
Just think of it! What would our world be like if everyone we know began to believe that the Almighty GOD IS FOR US. What would our world be like – and how powerful and effective would our ministries be – if all of us, clearly and deliberately, made up our minds FOR GOOD, that, yes! WE are FOR God – and God is FOR US.
Dear Lord God, Heavenly Father, we thank and praise You for Your Totally Good Self and all Your good gifts to us. Lord, if there is anything – old or new – that’s standing between us, please bring it to light and help us to confess this and receive Your healing.
And, Lord, if we’ve been wavering between the certainty of Your word and Your promises or the doubt of wondering if You always mean what You say, please fill us with Your spirit, draw us to Your word, and set our minds at ease in the truth of You. Help us to give every part of our selves to You in Jesus’ blessed Name. Amen.