Sunday, August 30, 2015

Flowing through the Canyons Ahead

from Steve's sermon this morning (Micah 1:8-16) 

"Some Christians say it’s time to fight, to try and recapture some of the ground we’ve lost. They say we should gear up and try to outstrategize and outmaneuver and outvote all the forces which have changed publicly morality and public justice into something distinctly and clearly no longer Christian. We need to “take back our cities” or our country for God, winning converts and building back up those church rolls. We should launch campaigns like the Southern Baptists said they would just last year, to send a limitless number of missionaries out into the world.

...But all that “let’s fight back” talk is not what I hear from Micah today. It’s not really what I hear from most of the prophets, nor from our Lord Jesus. The call we are called with is not a call to arms, or at least not a call to any ordinary sense of battle. It’s a call to faithfulness and following the Lord even when events and the culture around us drive us into holes in the ground.

...In the last verse of the text, 16, Micah calls for even more visible demonstrations of sorrow and remorse. Cutting off one’s hair was a graphic sign of being in mourning in his time. Being shaved and bald meant an experience of the greatest grief. Isaiah, Jeremiah and Amos also talk about the people cutting off their hair and shaving their beards in sorrow and repentance and mourning over what has happened because they sinned. So Micah asked his people for that same sign of grief, especially for their children, “they have gone from you into exile.”

Micah calls them “your pampered children.” He reminds us that we have been blessed, maybe too blessed in our own eyes. We’ve had everything we’ve needed and far more. Now times are changing and we may have much less, both materially and in terms of influence and power. It’s O.K. to be sad about that.

What should we do about it? I’ve already said that our call as God’s people is not to fight for our rights or to recover our old position in society. In our Gospel reading Jesus talked about focusing on what is inside us, on getting rid of the sins of the spirit, rather than washing hands or what we eat. Maybe that includes less concern about what people say about us, or about winning elections or about anything external to who we are as people of God and disciples of Jesus.

I know you could hear this message from Micah as a real downer, a pretty depressing lesson to take home from your pastor and your church this morning. But let me tell you what is encouraging about it. When God’s people end up in exile, when we lose all the props of and support of the society around us, we get better. We focus on the things which really matter to God and to His kingdom. That’s why the church of Jesus Christ is thriving in China and India and Africa and South America. Christians there know they are in exile.

The Colorado River rises in the Rocky Mountains and flows down from Colorado across the desert in Utah and on into the desert in Arizona. For a lot of that stretch, especially before Glen Canyon dam and the creation of Lake Powell, it was and still is a broad, warm, slow, muddy river, full of frogs and fish like suckers and chubs. It waters the land around it, but there isn’t anything very exciting about it.

But when the Colorado River begins to drop into what we call the Grand Canyon, it changes. As its course gets narrowed and constricted by shale and limestone and ancient schist and granite at the very bottom, something happens to the water. It flows deeper and faster and more clear. It stirs up in powerful rapids which make a boater’s heart race and which wash away any sediment or dirt in its path.

These are difficult times to be a Christian in America. It could get worse. But if we stay the course into the narrow and difficult places, into exile in the midst of a culture we used to think was our own, then we can be like the Colorado in the Grand Canyon. We can be deepened and cleansed and empowered by the restrictions placed on us. That’s what God wanted for His people in Micah’s time. It’s what He wants for us.

May God grant us the grace in Jesus to learn to flow through the canyons ahead. Let us grow deeper in faith and devotion and sacrifice and service, and so emerge on the other side challenged but chastened, stressed but stronger, frightened but faithful, until our stream runs down into the great and powerful flow which is the Kingdom of God. Amen.>

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