[Manuscript of sermon “God Is’]
It’s been a very strange couple of weeks for us. We went on a trip to celebrate our twenty-fifth anniversary. Two days later, the protests began. Some of the seniors in my Bible class accused me of timing our trip to get away during the trouble. I absolutely did that. We took this trip on our anniversary, remember. Twenty-five years ago, when Kim and I were deciding on the date of our wedding, we looked into the future and saw that this would be the time to get away. In fact, I was remembering that some friends of ours, Eric and Karen, asked if they could have our originally planned wedding date, April 3, and we swapped them for April 17. So when I mention up here that I’ve had people suggest I have the gift of prophecy, clearly this is what I mean. I foresaw that we would want to say “yes” to them and change our date for when we’d live in Nicaragua and this would happen. It’s actually pretty impressive, when you think about it.
It was odd being out of the country on this trip and trying to track with all that was going on. I know many of you experienced difficulty keeping informed on what was happening. Hearing all this news and reading updates and trying to figure out if we needed to make decisions, well, that definitely added another dimension to our trip.
Because of that, I feel a little out-of-step preaching this week. The 20th Century theologian Karl Barth said, “Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.” So as I was praying about what to say, this is what came to me. I hope you can apply everything you hear to our current situation.
God is real. God existed before we did. “IN the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1 God is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.
I had a fun talk with our host in Dublin. During the conversation, he said he thinks people have a right to their religious beliefs: “If they want to have an imaginary friend, that’s fine.” From my perspective, that’s kind of funny, but it’s also extremely sad. And it’s foolish.
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” Proverbs 9:10
God is real, God existed before we did, and knowledge of God is insight.
The fear of the Lord, proper awe of God Almighty, is where our wisdom begins. There are many voices, some of them are loud, some of them are urgent. Wisdom begins with God.
God is Good. Psalm 134:6 “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever.”
God is good and we experience God’s goodness:
God is a refuge.
A refuge is a place we go to be safe when we are in danger, a place of peace, and place of Shalom.
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
God himself is our refuge. If you think God is an imaginary friend, that isn’t going to work very well. But God is real, and this means that anywhere we are, no matter our circumstance, no matter what we’re experiencing, we can take refuge in God.
There is so much in this one.
God is our refuge. God is our strength. God is present. God is a very present help in trouble.
And Therefore, because of all those things, we will not fear. That doesn’t mean “shame on you if you fear,” but “God is bigger and more powerful than the things that frighten us, God is with us and he is our help.” So even if the earth should change, even if the mountains shake in the heart of the sea, even if—fill in your own blank here—God is right here, right now, with us, and He is our strength.
God is strong in our weakness. It isn’t a fifty-fifty thing, a matching grant where if you can pony up X amount of strength, God will match that. God is strong in our weakness. When we are weak, we are strong because God’s strength is in us. That sounds paradoxical, like how can those possibly work together. It’s experiential. It will never make sense in theory. In practice, it works. Have you experienced that?
God is just.
God is merciful.
God is forgiving.
All three of those are true. I don’t always understand God’s justice, but I believe in God’s justice.
I’m not focusing on what we’re supposed to do that much in this sermon. I’m starting with God because everything starts with “God is” and only after we learn who and what God is do we move to what we do, and who we become, in response.
But who is God, that this is what is he tells us is good and what he requires of us?
I could get focused on God’s justice, of course. You’ve heard that from me more than once. God’s justice matters so much to me because there is so much wrong with the world, and only if God is truly just can we have hope that all this will come out right in the end.
But Jesus asks this question: “And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
That’s a rhetorical question.
7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
God will bring about justice for his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night.
He will see that they get justice, and quickly!
I don’t know what “quickly” is. But I believe God that he will bring justice. I want justice. Mind you, I want a whole ton of grace for myself and I’m quicker to seek justice for others. That’s one of the biggest reasons I try to be all about grace, because I recognize my heart’s tendency to desire justice for others but grace for myself. But do to others as you would have them do to you I think also means seeking the same grace for others that I claim for myself.
I can’t figure out where the line is between grace and justice. But God can. Because God is just. And God is gracious. And the injustices we see, God’s children crying out to him day and night, we know god will answer. He will see that they get justice. So we pray. There may be other things we must do, but we know for sure that we pray for God’s justice.
“I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth.”
Now that question, I’m afraid, is not a rhetorical “of course he will.” But here is what I know of God. God is faithful.
That’s what grace means. Jesus wants us to have faith. Jesus asks, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith? He tells us that even if we have a mustard seed’s worth of faith, a tiny little dot, that will mean we can move mountains. Yet here is the message: If we are faithless, if we blow it, if we completely lack faith, he remains faithful to us. God is always faithful. He will not leave us or abandon us or give up on us. Ever. Even if our faith tanks. For he cannot deny himself. God’s very nature is to be faithful to us. That’s wild.
“Well, how do I know God won’t get weary of me and sick of forgiving me for the same sins over and over?” He remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself. God will not, wildly God cannot, go against his own nature. He will be faithful to us.
Now I want to step back and acknowledge: some horrible things have happened and more may happen. I’m not making light of any of it. I’m saying our trust must remain in God, in God’s nature, in God’s character, in God’s faithfulness.
What else is God?
Jesus said, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. What is the truth in our present situation? Jesus is the truth, always. If you want to know the truth, seek Jesus first. Then research what is going on.
God is our rock. God is our fortress. God is a strong tower in times of trouble.
Jesus said to his disciples, and so he says to us, his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
The disciples thought it was the end of the world. They thought it was the end of their world. They had good reason. They had seen Jesus die. They had seen him tortured to death. The ones who had the courage to stay close had watched him, apparently weak and helpless, mocked, spat upon. They saw him breathe his last.
But while on the cross, Jesus forgave his murderers. While on the cross, Jesus offered life to a thief being crucified. Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
Again, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid,” but he doesn’t just expect us to conquer fear on our own. He gives us his peace. Not the world’s peace. Not a false or empty or temporary peace. True peace. Therefore do not let your hearts be troubles and do not let them be afraid.
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Death has no power. Life is in Jesus Christ. If resurrection is true, if eternal life with God is real, and I believe it is, then as devastating as death is to us, death has no hold on us. Death has no final say.
I want to be really clear here: I am not speaking cliches, I am not saying nice-sounding empty phrases to give you false hope. Jesus defeats death. Every one of us here has some experience with death. Some of us have faced death. Every one of us here will die. We’re not trying to rush it, but it’s inevitable. By my understanding, over sixty people have died related to the protests. That is a tragedy. We must grieve and mourn and cry to God for justice day and not. But that is not the final word. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Paul writes:
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised;14and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.15We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised.17If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.18Then those also who have died in Christ have perished.19If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.20
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. 21For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.23But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.24Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power.25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.26The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. Whose enemy? God’s enemy. Death is God’s enemy, because death tries to destroy what God has created, death tries to steal what God has given. Jesus overcame death, he defeated death through his resurrection. In the end, God will destroy death. All the suffering, all the grief, my mourning over our son, the anguish over these murders, God overcomes all of this. Christ has been raised from the dead. There is hope. Our hope is in Jesus Christ. God has destroyed death.
Do you know what God destroys death with? Love. God’s love destroys death. God refuses to let our sin, our self-destruction, our hatred of him, separate us from him. God loves this world so much, God loves these students so much, God loves these protesters so much, God loves the police and the military so much, God loves us so much, that he gives himself in our place.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.7Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.8But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
God proves his love for us. God demonstrates and reveals and manifests his love for us. Do you know why? God is love. God himself is love. God isn’t merely loving, but God, in his very nature, is love.
7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Jesus didn’t only come into the world to die for us, Jesus came into the world so that we might live through him. This is the love that destroys death. We don’t wait until heaven to have life in God, we live in and through him now.
“And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” I John 5
This is what we remember and remind one another when riots start. This is what we hold to when we see injustice, when we suffer tragedy. We grieve, but not as those who have no hope. We have hope. Our God is the God of hope. I’m not saying this makes it all better or takes away all the pain. I’m saying this is the bedrock, this is the foundation that we stand on, because we have built our homes, we’ve built our lives, on rock, not on sand. That’s what Jesus promises.
31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.