Summary: Appropriate for July 4th Weekend, this sermon offers a brief glimpse into where freedom and celebration are perhaps lacking in the Christian life and how joy and freedom are ultimately to be found in Christ alone.
PBS once had an interesting program on fireworks – how they are made, how they work and so on. By way of contrast the newspaper was full of stories about communities and civic agencies canceling their fireworks shows on account of extreme fire hazard and fiscal concerns in a weak economy.
Maybe fireworks had their Independence Day origins when President John Adams, the second president of the U.S., said “Independence Day ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.” But sometimes the fireworks aren’t there. And there’s little to celebrate. But our lesson tells “What to do when the Fireworks Aren’t There.”
One could certainly list the things we aren’t celebrating this time around . . . a political campaign to become more volatile as the November election draws near, the sliding value of the Dollar worldwide, a war that is supposedly quieting down in one country only to be escalating in another and another, rising food and gasoline prices, a stock market slide. Terrible, catastrophic weather – floods, fires, and wind.
The nation of Israel to whom Zechariah is writing were like us in that they had less and less to celebrate. After their exile from Jerusalem to Babylon where they were captive for 70 years, the Jews finally returned to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. But they remained a province of Persia (now Iran) to the distant east and only a buffer zone away from the enemy Egypt. So far from the center of power, yet so close to the enemy, they were in a precarious position. They began to question their identity and faith. Was the God of a defeated nation like theirs a false god? Wasn’t loyalty to such a deity hard to defend? Was it worth the cost to remain Jewish?
But out of these questions came a new answer – the promise of the Messiah, the anointed one, a son of David. Through this promised one, God would be vindicated, and the glory of the nation would be restored. “Rejoice greatly O daughter Zion, Lo your king comes to you, triumphant and glorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey. And he shall command peace to the nations.” This Scripture reading represents a vision of the Messiah -- Hope and Celebration even when the fireworks weren’t there for Israel. Like many other prophecies, the Lord declared the event as though it were occurring as he spoke. The King would triumphantly enter the city to rule a vast empire in peace.
Yes, like the Jews in the time of the prophecy of Zechariah, we might be tempted to wallow in a national funk that drains our faith. The world is too dangerous. The economy is in a sinkhole. Our lives are chaotic and precarious. But this is a time to focus on God. He will save us, despite our troubles. This is the promise Zechariah gave to the people – and the promise God gives us now.
Oh yes, we could make a long list of why there aren’t any fireworks in our lives – why we aren’t celebrating. And yet there is always that glimmer of hope we have in Christ. The Christian life is a joyful life; a thankful life. Like a recent article in Time magazine that listed ten things you can like about $4.00 gasoline – for a few: Globalized jobs return home – it being too expensive to ship everything here. Urban sprawl ends – too far to commute; less traffic, less pollution, less obesity as people take to the streets on bikes and legs. Yes, there is always something good to be had in life, even when the fireworks aren’t there, because we have a good God.
The monk of an incredibly poor monastic order in a mountain wilderness was once asked if he’d ever felt despondent, weary, sorry for himself, odd man out, un-needed. How did he manage. He answered: “I have never found the time to give to self-pity. By the time I have thanked God for all He has given to the world and to me, it is time for me to get up from my knees and go about my business.” Will you also find time and reason to be thankful – to celebrate this time – not just from a patriotic standpoint, but a personal, spiritual one as well?
How? Well, Zechariah calls people who are down on their luck like Israel and us, “prisoners of hope.” Let’s take the first part of that phrase. There’s no denying that we’re prisoners and feel like it. After all, isn’t that what sinners are? Paul describes that kind of prison he felt in today’s second lesson when he says “the good that I would, I do not, and that which I would not, I do. Miserable man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?” Yes, sin makes us miserable, sin makes us prisoners in.