Summary: Have we been given the two minute warning?
I started reading a book this week that has brought words to my feelings as I struggled with what I believe God wanted me to say today.
“Preacher pastors often hesitate before they speak. The stakes are high. For words “name worlds,” worlds that can bind or set free, worlds that can build up or tear down. Little wonder that preacher pastors pause before preaching.”
Preacher pastors feel this way because sometimes the words that must come out of their mouths are words not from him or her but from God. They are words that are designed to move people to decision and commitment to God. They are not easy words to speak. In speaking to you this day, I do so to set free and build up not bind and tear down.
I feel today like the prophet Jeremiah, who said in Jeremiah 20:9 “If I say I’ll never mention the LORD or speak his name, his word burns in my heart like a fire. It’s like a fire in my bones! I am weary of holding it in!”
Now I know what some of you are thinking, “Oh, boy, here it comes! One of those sermons! Pastor’s on the soap box again!” Let me say this, “I speak to no one person this morning, I speak to all of us this morning.” Do you understand what I am saying?
As I read through Romans 13 and 14, in preparation for this morning, I was again made aware of the tension of living, as I said last Sunday, between two worlds. A tension that many of us are feeling as we attempt to understand and accept the teachings of our faith in regard to those who do evil and the very understandable desire to do evil to them. In fact, if you read the newspaper this past week, you probably read of our congressman’s struggle with this issue as one who is trying to follow God in this matter.
On the one hand there are the opening verses of chapter 13 in which Paul urges the believers in Rome to obey, respect, and honor government. Now that is quite a statement to make in light of the treatment of Christians by Rome. To say, “Jesus is Lord” not “Caesar Is Lord” and mean it, could sentence one to prison or even death.
What are we to do with this segment of scripture? Christians, of varying political beliefs, have strong disagreements with our government. Some even wish there was no government. But, we have to assume that Paul was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit when he said, “Obey the government, for God is the one who put it there. All governments have been placed in power by God.”
On the other hand then, there is verse 17 in chapter 14 that says, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” What does this mean today? How are we to live for God in these moments of our history – not just our national history, but human history?
Jesus was challenged on this point of loyalty, as we read in Luke 20:22-25 “Now tell us-is it right to pay taxes to the Roman government or not? He saw through their trickery and said, “Show me a Roman coin. Whose picture and title is stamped on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. “Well them,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to him. But everything that belongs to God must be given to God.”
The events of these past two weeks are causing us to sift through our loyalties, our values and our priorities. People throughout our country are taking a long hard look at their lives. Some are changing jobs, some are change careers, and some are simply taking a long hard look at their lives.
I am reminded of the story of the discussion at church camp for children where one of the counselors was leading a discussion on the purpose of God has for all of his creation.
They began to find good reasons for the clouds and trees and rocks and rivers and animals and just about everything else in nature.
Finally, one of the children asked, “If God has a good purpose for everything, then why did He create poison ivy?” This made the discussion leader gulp and, as he struggled with the question, one of the other children piped up, “The reason God made poison ivy is that He wanted us to know that there are certain things we should keep our cotton-pickin’ hands off of!”
In light of the events that have and are taking place as a result of September 11, 2001 we must ask ourselves, “What do we have to take our cotton-pickin’ hands off of and what do we need to put them on so that we become the followers and children of God that Scripture commands us to be?”