Summary: Sermon of the sovereignty of God over the nations.
The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
August 14, 2011 Proper 15 A
St. Andrew’s Church
The Rev. M. Anthony Seel, Jr.
Blessed to be a Blessing
On August 13, 1961, Berlin woke up to discover East German soldiers blocking off streets and erecting a wall of cemented paving stones topped with barbed wire. Over the years the wall that separated East and West Berlin and East Germany from West Germany grew in height and sophistication. The roughly 97 mile long wall was augmented with minefields and other obstacles. Soldiers were instructed to shoot to kill anyone who tried to defect to West Germany over that wall.
Over the years, an estimated 5,000 people tried to flee East Germany into West Berlin. ABC News recently reported the official number of 136 dead at the wall. Historians say that between 600 and 700 died there, and victims’ groups put the number even higher.
Yesterday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel laid a wreath at the Berlin Memorial Site in a ceremony that marked the 50th anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall.
Who foresaw the events of November 9th, 1989 when the wall was breached by sledgehammers, other hammers and chisels? Who believed on June 12, 1987, when President Ronald Reagan challenged General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” that less than three years later the wall would come down?
In the events that led up to the removal of the Berlin Wall, and more recent events like Arab Spring and the riots in London, a person of faith might wonder what role God plays in any of this. Bill Muehlenberg, who directs a ministry called Culture Watch, asks the question, “how do a sovereign God and morally-accountable human beings coexist.” Furthermore, “how do we understand the rise and fall of nations in light of God’s purposes and plans?” [http://www.billmuehlenberg.com/2010/06/26/god-and-the-nations/]
With the hostilities of Arab Spring continuing to rage in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria, Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Western Sahara, one might wonder whether God is involved at all.
We know in so many ways and at so many levels that we live in a dangerous world. Our plea as Christians and believers in a sovereign God is voiced by the psalmist.
v. 1 May God be merciful to us and bless us, and show us the light of his countenance and come to us.
We need the mercy of God because left to our own devices our self-destructive tendencies and the malevolence of others takes its toll. We need God’s favor and blessing. We need God’s pleasure and delight, because otherwise the despair of this world infects even people of hope like us.
Life without God cannot yield the answers that we seek for ourselves, our country and our world. Even in a less complicated time, the psalmist prays,
v. 2 Let your ways be known upon earth, your saving health among all nations.
God’s ways are not just for God’s people – those who believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are for the entire world.
We live in a society that believes that
-there is no universal story, only our personal stories,
- no universal truth, only personal truth (i.e. what works for me, and your truth – whatever
works for you).
- no universal purpose, only the purposes that we work out for ourselves.
Our world is divided, badly fragmented, and all too often highly violent. To all this, biblical Christians and Jews say, there is a universal story because there is a God who created the universe and continues to guide it. The God who created all things reveals truth that is absolute and universal. His truth is built right into the cosmos. There is universal purpose because in the design of the universe; God has implanted meaning.
Therefore, we are on a journey that is meaningful and with direction. The culmination of our journey is the fullest presence of God where we will be most fully who we were created to be. This is God’s desire not just for His people; it is His desire for all peoples and nations.
v. 3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
God desires that “every family, language, people, and nation,” come to Him (Rev. 5:9). God wants all people to know and praise Him. The prophet suggests this in our first lesson (Is. 56:1-7). The foreigner who genuinely comes to God will not be turned away.
As the Apostle Paul writes to Timothy, his protégé, God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4). This understanding was the basis of Paul’s ministry. As our second lesson says (Rom. 11:13-15,29-32), Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles. He was engaged in ministry for the “reconciliation of the world” (v. 15), Jews and non-Jews alike. As Paul says in his second letter to the church in Corinth, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19).