Summary: Pentecost 22: Trials, persecutions, and the most difficult moments in life are used by God to deliver us from greater harm and to bless us.
A few nights ago I was sitting in the living room working on the computer. While checking my email, a pop-up ad for Classmates.com appeared. Classmates.com is an Internet company that stores graduation and reunion information for schools and military units. For some reason I decided to look up information about an overseas Navy unit at which I was stationed while in the Navy. To my surprise, the site contained the name of an old friend who was stationed there at the same time – Eddie Sensat.
Eddie and his family are great people. When we knew them in the late 1970’s, their kids and our kids were very, very young. Eddie and his wife Dee were originally from Louisiana – they were Cajun. Boy could old Eddie turn on the Cajun accent at the drop of a hat: “Howyamomma’an’em?” And the answer in classic Cajun, “Dey fine!” They were also devoted Christians. We went to chapel at the base and particularly enjoyed the Sunday evening worship. I remember one Sunday evening Eddie and Dee put on a puppet show for the kids. The puppet star was a character named Jacques – a Cajun lumberjack – complete with Cajun accent.
After just a bit of hunting on the Internet, I found Eddie’s telephone number. And so I called him and we had a really great conversation. It was wonderful. He shared that, like Sofi and me, he and Dee had become grandparents. And then another neat surprise - Eddie had been called into ministry! He had been a pastor of a fellowship in Arkansas / Memphis area. But, unfortunately, he had resigned the ministry of that church under some duress. He said, “Eloy, please pray for me. I have an interview at a prison tomorrow, where I’ve applied to work as a chaplain.”
Well, on Thursday I got an email from Eddie. Let me read you a part of what he wrote to me. He says: “Good news, I am now the chaplain at a prison here in Arkansas. A real miracle as the guy above me on the list turned it down. Why would someone go to all the trouble to apply & interview, then turn it down? I asked God for a miracle and he gave us one. So no one can tell me God still doesn’t perform miracles.”
Isn’t it incredible how God works? When the lions were making meals out of believers – didn’t it seem like Christianity would go extinct? How often have we said to ourselves, “Why do things happen the way that they do? Doesn’t God care?” How often have we doubted?
I would suppose that this kind of doubt and second-guessing have been around since the inception of the Church. The early Christians must have thought, "Who are we and how can we stand against everything thrown against us?": Caesar and his minions centuries ago; Barbarians in the Dark Ages; Moors in the Middle Ages; Fascists, Nazis, Communists and unbelieving theologians and pastors – how can we possibly stand against all of that? It would seem impossible that the church could survive.
Yes, beloved, – it would seem – it would seem. And yet here we are. And not just those of us in this room - but millions around the world. Our brothers and sisters are gathering in churches that range from cardboard shacks found in the colonias of Mexican border cities, to huge cathedrals in Europe. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ has not only survived - but scripture teaches that it will be triumphant! But why? - How can this be? Well, that’s easy - because the Almighty is our God.
In today’s Old Testament Text from Isaiah, we see how God works. You see, dark days were on the horizon for God’s people. During part of Isaiah’s life, Manasseh, one of Israel’s most wicked rulers was on the throne. He not only sanctioned and promoted idolatry of every kind, but also persecuted the true worshipers. But Isaiah was faithful. He condemned the idolatry and wickedness that the King promoted. And because of this, Isaiah suffered a martyr’s death. Jewish tradition says that Manasseh had Isaiah sawn in two.
And God noticed – He would not be mocked. He had a plan for the restoration of his straying people. You see, God had at his disposal all the nations and principalities of the heavens and the earth. At his bidding, nation after nation would respond and be his instruments to mete out justice.
The first to be called into service were the Assyrians. Eighteen years after Isaiah was commissioned to preach, they invaded Palestine. They carried off the 10 tribes of Israel into exile. But by paying tribute to the Assyrians, those who lived in Judah, along with the capital city of Jerusalem, escaped disaster.