Text: Ezekiel 16:4-6
Rev. Gregory L. Fisher
Kampala Foursquare Church
I need to being my message today with a small confession. Small, but I think important to today’ s message. I need to confess to you that I am a member of the Mickey Mouse Club generation. Do you remember the Mickey Mouse Club? I mean in its FIRST incarnation in the late 1950’s?
We of the Mickey Mouse Club generation grew up with wonderful Walt Disney feeding us small droplets of hope that modern science would provide a wonderful future for us all. Actually, it wasn’t really science at all, but, rather it was POSITIVISM. You know that PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE that believes that MODERN SCIENCE coupled with HUMAN ENDEAVOR would cure all the world’s ills.
I remember as a small boy going to visit Disneyland; the HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH shouted the banner out front. If the lines are too long at Disneyland, suggested my father the minimalist, we could just toss our money over the fence and be done with the exercise.
Do you remember TOMORROWLAND? Sure you do! The first time I went there I saw this animated display program in a huge circular building. I can’t remember clearly if the stage moved around or if the audience moved, but I do remember that we moved from scene to scene. Each scene giving us a sneak preview of life in that far off and magical year 2000. That year held such promise!
** Cars would be replaced by some kind of hovercraft. Road accidents would be a thing of the past as the hovercraft car was to be guided along by computer controls and wires hidden under the roadway. All the while Dad and Mom and the two kids would sit in a kind of club car configuration.
Of course that display was wrong on two counts: (1.) That there would be hovercraft commercially available in 2000, and (2.) that the nuclear family would survive into the 21st century.
** Kitchens in the 21st century would be jammed with wonderful labor saving tools.
** Sickness and disease, when it occurred at all, would be quickly and effectively treated.
** Poverty and crime would be all but eliminated by improved educational opportunities.
** Life in that far off and distant year 2000 would be, in a word, UTOPIAN!
It was, in fact, the last gasp of a dying modernist view of the world and its positivism. The reality has been grim. The magical year 2000 came and went--did you notice it? What do we have as a reality?
** A world more deeply divided by wars than ever before.
** Racism is healthier than ever before thanks to that contribution of modernity and technology: The Internet.
** Diseases more deadly and more violent in their killing power than we could have ever imagined in 1959. Diseases like:
HIV-AIDS. Probably 10% of the adults in my congregation are HIV+.
MAD COW DISEASE: Recently Maggie and I traveled through London, having a serious conversation about buying a hamburger at McDonalds in London! No one had ever heard of Mad Cow Disease in 1959!
EBOLA VIRUS: Maggie and I were living in Uganda in 2001 when we lived through the largest outbreak of Ebola Virus in the history of the world.
** A deep alienation cuts through our world. The generations are so alienated that we have now produced the “whatever” generation. Where young people can go to school armed with weapons and take the lives of teachers and students.
It is difficult for me to imagine an alienation so deep that it both affects and breaks the bonds of mother and child. But listen to this story I found just recently:
“Police today are looking for the mother of a new born infant found abandoned in a vacant field just off Interstate 45. The child, the third abandoned new born found in Jefferson County this year, was left on a pile of garbage partially covered with a plastic bag containing the afterbirth.
“The new born infant was found by Mr. Jesu Rodriguez, a temporarily unemployed carpenter who was walking along the Interstate collecting scrap metal and aluminum cans. Mr. Rodriquez said that he was attracted to the garbage pile by the child’s cries and found the new born infant still covered with blood, struggling to live. According to Mr. Rodriquez he picked up the small infant and quickly carried the child to County Memorial Hospital in his aging Ford pickup truck.
“Mr. Rodriguez reportedly told hospital workers, “I was so scared. I just drove to the hospital as fast as I could. I kept saying over and over, PLEASE DON’T DIE. LIVE!”
Isn’t that a compelling story? It could be a metaphor for modern life. Many of us sitting here today have felt the brutal sting of rejection. Some of us here today personally know what it is like to be rejected by one or both of our parents. Some of us may know what it is like to experience the rejection that comes from having some kind of disease, or disability. Or, you may know what it is like to be rejected and despised simply because of the color of your skin or your language.
It was only about a month ago that I stood at the Genocide Memorial in Kigali, Rwanda. Rwanda, you may remember, is where about 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered over a 100 day period. I was speaking to one of our Rwandan congregations.
What hope could I offer to these survivors--and some participants--of the Rwandan genocide? In fact, what can we Born Again Christians say in the face of these things? What hope does the Word of God offer to us in these times?
First, God is a God Who Sees
Imagine a story like this one: A wealthy professional couple. He is the CEO of a vast corporate empire. She is the perfect, lovely, corporate trophy wife. Together they enjoy all the perks and privilege that success in life has to offer. But, life has cheated them in one regard. For some reason they are unable to have a child. Both the husband and the wife desperately want to have a child, and the wife--in total desperation--wants to resort to the the services of a surrogate mother. After interviewing a number of candidates she selects a bright and promising young woman, and presents the idea to her husband.
The husband agrees to the plan, and at first things go quite well. The surrogate mother conceives, and the couple are exceptionally happy. The young mother is invited to live with them in a guest room in the house and enjoy all the luxury and ease that success in life has to offer. But, then the young woman becomes difficult. It turns out that she is of a mixed race. She is carrying the child of this powerful man, the future heir to a vast fortune, and she wants MORE for her participation.
The wife, realizing that she has made a huge mistake, becomes an unbearable witch; and in her anger she alienates both her husband and the surrogate mother. Eventually the wife breaks the agreement and abandons both the surrogate mother and the child she is carrying.
I love the Holy Bible so much! It is so up-to-date! You may have already recognized that as the story of Abraham, Sarah, and--of course--the AFRICAN surrogate mother: Hagar. In Genesis chapter 16 we find Hagar, a lonely teenager, pregnant, alone, and wandering in the wilderness. There in the wilderness she finds God. And He is a God who sees! It is to the abandoned Hagar that God reveals an important name for Himself. You can find this in Genesis 16:13, “She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: ‘You are the LORD Who Sees Me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.’”
Do you see something my friend?
** In your darkest hour of rejection, there is a God who sees and knows!
** When you have been abandoned by your family, betrayed by your dearest friend, there is a God who sees and knows!
** When your body has been weakened by sickness and destroyed by disease, there is a God who sees and knows!
** And, He cares enough to come actively searching and seeking for you!
Secondly, God is a God that Actively Searches for you!
At my house in Kampala, early each morning, I wake up hearing the call to prayers from the mosque in my neighborhood. When I look from my house to the north, there--sitting on a high hill--is a Bahai Temple. At the back of my house is Rubaga Cathedral, the center of the Roman Catholic Church in Uganda. Near the church that I serve are two Hindu Temples as well as a seik meeting place. At the end of the street that I live on is the Lubiri Palace of the Kabaka, the king of the Buganda people. Around that palace are many traditional shrines and priests of various traditional gods. All of these religious expressions have something in common: They are all pathways for people seeking God. They are all expressions of man’s search for the divine. But, Jesus Christ alone came with a very surprising and shocking message. It was not a message about how to find God, but a message that God--the living God of heaven and of earth--is searching and seeking for us!
Do you remember the story I started with? The story I suggested could be a metaphor for life in our world? That was such a compelling story about the child abandoned in the field, and it seems so timely, doesn’t it? But, that story comes from the Bible as well. We can read it together in Ezekiel 16:4-6.
“And as for your birth, in the day you were born your navel was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you. And you were not salted, nor swaddled at all. No eye pitied you, to do any of these to you, to have compassion on you. But you were thrown out into the open field, because your life was despised in the day you were born. And when I passed by you and saw you struggling in your blood, I said to you in your blood, live! Yes, I said to you in your blood, live!”
You see my friend, on the worst day of your life God saw what was happening. He wasn’t like your friends and family, seeing but just turning their heads and walking on by. No! He consciously and deliberately is seeking you out. Seeking you with a message that needs very little explanation. A message that needs very little defense. It is a message of hope that consists of one word, and one word only: LIVE!
** In a world that can only prepare you to die with dignity, God is saying, “LIVE!”
** In a world that can only offer apologies, God is saying, “LIVE!”
** In the middle of the struggle with the unfairness of divorce, God is saying to you there is a possibility of living again.
** When you are fighting to break free from your addiction to drugs or alcohol or pornography, God is saying, “You can live free again!”
“But”, you may wonder,” how can I do that? How can I possibly do that?”
Our God Is A Redeeming God!
The Bible records these words in Galatians 4:3-5, “Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”
You see the word redeem is sometimes translated into our English Bibles from a greek word, exagorazo, “to purchase something out of the marketplace”. This word is talking about buying something for one’s own use, not to bring back to your neighborhood for resale.
When I lived in Ghana I remember hearing about a certain man. He lived in a village near Kumasi that is known for the production of kinte cloth. You know these Ghanaians dress very smartly in their kinte cloth. This particular man was very talented at cloth weaving, and designed and wove a very beautiful cloth which he intended to wear to his own wedding. But, somehow the man fell into some kind of financial problems and he had to sell his beautiful cloth in order to save his business.
After some time had passed, the man became a very successful cloth weaver, and he made a trip to Accra, the capital city. There, while walking among the shops near Jamestown he saw his beautiful cloth hanging up on display in the shop of a cloth seller. That man rushed in and paid the price to buy back his special cloth. People say that as he left the shop he was heard to say, “You are mine twice! I made you, and now I have paid the price for you!”
That is exactly what the Lord has done for us as well. He made us and he designed us for a wonderful purpose and destiny in life. A purpose for our lives that would be satisfying for us, and a place for us to live with Him eternally. Because of sin we were lost and came to be slaves of sin rather than sons of God. We had been sold under the dominion of Darkness. But, Jesus found us! And, he paid the price for us. Because of that we are His.
You see our problem is this: We were made to be free, but we continue to be under slavery to sin. One of the things that I see as a pastor as I counsel people over and over again is that they do not seem to be able to overcome sin. They say to me, “Pastor, I do not want to keep living like this, but I don’t know what else to do.”
I remember when I was serving a church in Oklahoma. I was called to the hospital to minister to one of our young married ladies. She was having serious emotional and physical problems as a result of sin. She even told me she knew it was the result of sin. You see, she had been--as we would say in Africa--playing an “away game” with one of her coworkers. The double life was about to destroy her. She cried as she said to me, “Pastor, I have broken up with this other man dozens of times, but I keep going back to him. Why?”
Why? Because Satan had placed her in the bondage of sin. She had become a slave to sin. And, being a slave to sin had put a deep shame into her life. It was a shame that made it difficult to trust her husband or anybody else. That shame drove her to become preoccupied with her sin. She was thinking about it. Trying to hide it. Trying to avoid it. Always hoping that nobody would discover it. But, that preoccupation with sin only opened the door to falling again and again into the same old patterns, which only brought more shame.
You may be like this sister today. Let me tell you there is One who knows and understands what you are experiencing. One who is passing by today, and He sees you by the way--struggling to live in your own blood. He can pick you up and cause you to LIVE. He can set you free from that deep shame, and give you a new life. A life free from preoccupation with sin. And, that One is called Jesus! Jesus paid the price, the price of His own death at calvary’s cross, that we might be redeemed from out of Satan’s slave market of sin.
Zanzibar is an old city in East Africa. A city with an unfortunate past. It is filled with ornate architecture, and it is the home of the Swahili Institute, the official guardians of the Kiswahili language. But, for nearly 300 years it was the home of something else. It was the home of one of East Africa’s largest slave markets.
But, something happened in Zanzibar. About 150 years ago a single man walked out of the interior of Africa with a message of liberation and a determination to announce that message to those who were bound by slavery. That man’s name was David Livingstone. Even today, the name of David Livingstone commands deep respect in East Africa.
Today, in Zanzibar, a Christian Church rises on the site of the former slave market, and the platform holding up the high altar of the church is the very same platform that for 300 years displayed slaves as they were being auctioned off to Arab slave traders.
This is a picture of how God wants to redeem your life. He will meet you at the very point of bondage in your life. He will meet you at your very point of shame, the very place where Darkness is holding you captive. And, He doesn’t hide in embarrassment! He will take that very place and turn it into the very place where His Grace is released into your life, and into your family, and into all your relationships.
Will you allow Him to redeem your life today?