Summary: At a church-sponsored rally for census involvement. Census taking may seem invasive, but the information leads toward justice; God is able to use the census for His purposes; and it reminds us of the vast task of redemption to which we are called.
When Rev. Gray asked me to preach, the answer was easy. I am just about always ready to preach! You know how it is with preachers, especially Baptists: we can come up with a Scripture to cover all occasions, we have an opinion about everything, and we believe that everybody is waiting to hear our deathless words! So I readily agreed to come this afternoon and share with you.
But after all of these years I should have known better. I should have known to ask first what direction my message is supposed to take. After all of these years of preaching, I should have known that John 3:16 and Psalm 23 do not necessarily cover all occasions. But I didn’t think. I said yes, and then I asked Rev. Gray what he needed me to do. Bad move! For when he said, “We want to focus on the year 2000 census and why it is important to be counted”, my first reaction was, “Man, I don’t know that I can say anything about that. What do I know about census-taking?” What was I going to do with this assignment? It puzzled me.
Now, Brother Gray, I think I stammered and stuttered a little while, sort of hoping that you would say, “Oh, just come and do a rerun. Just come and give us one of the sermons you’ve already preached at Takoma Park.” Brother Gray, I waited for you to say that, but you didn’t. You wanted something done on the census. The census!
Well, now, I did find out why Rev. Gray wanted me to come and speak on this topic. Let me tell you his secret. When it became clear that he was not going to budge and that I was going to have to preach on the year 2000 census, I said, “Well, two Scriptures come to mind.” I said, “I am thinking about the place in the Old Testament where King David takes a census and gets into trouble over it. And I am thinking about the census that Caesar ordered, and which got Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem in time for Jesus’ birth.” That’s when I found out why Rev. Gray wanted me to do this, because he said, “You thought of two passages? I only thought of one!” So, my friend, you needed to be rescued, didn’t you?!
But now, this became a learning experience. When I went to work on this topic, I found a whole lot more than I knew was there. When I went to my Bible and began to search, I found out that God has been in the numbering business for a long time. It began with His promise to Abraham that he would be the father of a nation greater than the stars in the sky or the grains of sand on the beach. Counting. It continued through the Biblical Book of Numbers, where the people are counted into families and tribes. More counting. It flowed through the history of the early church, where they counted that little band of a hundred and twenty believers after the death of Jesus and showed it expanding to five thousand after Pentecost. God is in the counting business! And, most of all, God’s census taking comes to a climax in the Book of Revelation, where there is an incredible picture of nations and peoples, counted before the throne. Listen to this, the ultimate census:
Your topic, Brother Gray, is not off-the-wall! There is something in the business of numbering people that matters. God has a stake in it.
Let me tell you, in a nutshell, what I found out. First, I found out that when a government takes a census, it might not always be popular, but the cause of justice can be served because of that unpopular thing.
Second, I found out that when people are counted, it may feel like oppression, but God is able to use even this for His purposes.
And, finally, I found out that when a census is taken, there is an opportunity for God’s people to build God’s Kingdom. And so my theme today is, “Stand and be counted.”
Stand and be counted. Let’s first think about census taking as an unpopular, unpleasant thing. Many people resent the idea of a census-taker asking nosy questions. Depending on whether you are just part of the regular count, or whether you are randomly selected for deeper study, you might be asked all sorts of questions by the census-taker. You might be asked your age – I just had a birthday, and I’m getting sensitive about that one. You might be asked your marital status, or how many children are in the house, or what your family income is, or even how many bathrooms there are. They might ask you how many years of school you have completed and what your religion is. That all seems nosy, doesn’t it? That seems like an invasion of privacy, and we don’t like it. We don’t like telling this to strangers, we don’t like the time it takes, we don’t know who else is going to see this information. Census taking is unpopular; it doesn’t sit well with many people.