sermon

When God Stands Back

 

Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.

November 12, 2017

Text: Mark 15:34,  O.T.: Job 23:1-9, 15-17; Job 38:1-7, 16-21,  N.T.: Revelation 22:8-16

 

I’m glad to see each of you this morning. Your presence today is a blessing, not just to me, but to each of you. Your investment of yourself in worship is a sign of your faith in Jesus Christ, particularly this morning.

I say this this morning because you have every reason to have stayed at home today. You could have been anonymous, safe within the sanctuary of your privacy – away from the vulnerability we accept every Lord’s Day when we leave our homes to come to this house of worship.

You came instead. Do not ignore what you are saying by your presence here. Do not minimize the importance of what you have done. You are here because you deeply believe that neither height, nor depth, nor powers or principalities, nor things present, nor things to come will ever separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.

Jesus loves you – every one of you – just like he loved every person in that sanctuary in Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church last Sunday. Jesus loves you, and He understands what you are doing by being here, and not staying home.

He knows you are taking a risk to join in worship. He knows your faith in Him that is willing to take the risk.   Your faith is precious to Him. That is why we worship Him.

That is why the Baptists of Sutherland Springs worshipped Him last week and continue to worship our precious Jesus today.

 

But that does not mean we don’t bring questions with us to worship – lots of questions. I met with several clergy of various communions on Thursday at the seminary. We talked about what we were going to preach today. Several said they couldn’t speak about what happened in Texas. They are emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually drained.

We’ve seen this before in Charleston, South Carolina, at the West Nickel Mines Elementary School, when Rachel Scott died confessing her faith in Jesus at Columbine High School to Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. That’s not including Sandy Hook, the Aurora Theater, Oklahoma City, the Boston Marathon, the Wisconsin Sikh Temple, San Bernandino, Orlando, and Fort Hood when it seemed Christians were not the target so much as the people of the United States.

The students, parents, and faculty at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville personally understand the emotional emptiness of having their sense of personal security, their sense of peace, their sense of confidence in American government, American prosperity, American freedom shaken.

Last Sunday, this got personal, again, for Christians. It appears Christians were targeted for their defenselessness. Christians in the act of learning about God’s blessings, Christians in the act of worshipping God, loose their lives to the evil that roams among us like a lion seeking someone to devour.

Yet, here you are, once again, with questions. Questions about what’s the meaning of living a life with all of the benefits the United States offers and yet it’s not enough for some people – many people – too many people who turn to the dark side to destroy the blessings of what we share together.

But beyond that question lies the deeper question – the unspoken question. Why does it seem God stands back and let’s evil roam the earth?

I’ve been thinking about your questions this week – if you let yourself go there, or not. I’ve been thinking about what it means to see FBI agents outside a Texas Church on a Sunday afternoon, talking with a heart-broken sheriff who has lost personal friends during a Christian worship service. Law and order did not prevail that Sunday, only injustice.

What did it mean for that sheriff, for that congregation to see almost an entire family lost they personally knew – three generations of the same family? What does it mean for one child to survive in that family? Questions.

Questions about who will gather in worship for that congregation this morning? Questions about God and evil, and Jesus. Questions, a myriad of questions – most unanswered.

But if you let yourself go there into the darkness of unanswered questions, you will find the first question that ignites a response among Christians. It isn’t our question – it’s Jesus’ question. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

There it is. The simple question that lies at the heart of every question asked by confused people when it seems God allows evil to roam free and take the lives of innocent men, women, and children, let alone men, women, and children who love Jesus enough to gather in worship on the Lord’s Day.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus knows the darkness of that unanswered question. He knows it lies buried deep within your heart, within the hearts of the Baptists in Sutherland Springs, that lies within the hearts of Christians all around the country.

Why does it seem that God stands back from the pain of the world? How do we worship Him? Where is the answer to that question? “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

What God is saying to us today is Christian worship is not immune to evil’s darkness penetrating it.   At the heart of Christian worship lies the essence of Sutherland Springs’ darkness, the essence of West Nickel Mine’s grief, the essence of sadness for Rachel Scott’s family, for the friends and family of every Christian who has ever died as a martyr in the act of worshipping God.

Worshipping God is not immune from evil’s presence or evil’s power. It is because we know evil is present that we, the followers of Jesus Christ, come together to worship God in spite of evil’s presence. It’s because evil possesses real power that we the followers of Jesus Christ love Him, are not intimidated by evil’s power, and so we worship Him.

There is real power of evil in suffering on the Cross. Evil compels us to question God at the most fundamental place in our soul and to wait for an answer we can’t see or understand. Worshipping God in the name of Jesus Christ begins with that question of Jesus from the Cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

We are here this morning because we believe that question lies at the heart of Christian worship. It was there before Devin Kelly entered that Texas sanctuary. And it is there are he left it. The answer to that question was answered by God once and for all on Easter Day.

 

 

The Baptists at Sutherland Springs were in church on the Lord’s Day because they believed that question was decisively answered for all humanity. They came unknowing what lay ahead, but having faith that despite the unknown darkness that was coming that is part of Christian worship, God had provided the answer to “Why have you forsaken me?”

I’m not sure that any of you will agree with this. For the pastor and parishioners of Sutherland Springs, it’s too early to find answers to their horrors.

But what happened last Sunday at Sutherland Springs was the living out of the glory of Jesus Christ in worship. At its best, Christian worship has not offered a defense in the face of death. At its best, Christian worship has shown the power of the resurrection by its fearlessness in the face of questions about God’s power over evil.

Christians are people who believe that God ultimately prevails over evil by giving Jesus’ followers the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. The greatest act of worship is to live, to serve, and to die for Jesus Christ.

The greatest commitment to God’s power over evil is the certainty of Jesus’ followers that they need not be afraid of evil’s power. God cheats evil of its power by raising the dead to eternal life. Evil can’t win the fight to live because God has won it with Jesus Christ.

This is what the earliest Christians taught us in their martyrdom. They were defenseless against evil, just as Jesus showed His defenseless on the Cross. They were willing to give up everything for Jesus because He made them victorious over the power of evil. They knew that because God raised His Son from the dead. Their martyrdom was their worship of God in Jesus Christ.

You are here this morning because you share that conviction with the martyrs, whether in Sutherland Springs, Texas, West Nickel Mines, Charleston, South Carolina, Columbine High School, or in ancient Jerusalem and Rome.

The stakes are no different today than they were when the Gospel of Mark was written. The stakes are no different today than when Job faced the challenge of Satan thousands of years ago. The stakes are no different today than they will be a thousand years from now.

Your life is the act of worship. Every step you make, every breath you take, every decision you make, every word you say, is a form of worshipping God. You are a living example of Jesus Christ’s fortitude, His faith, His courage, His love, His mercy when He asked why God was standing back from the Cross. Whether you’re here or home, on the street or work, you are the Body of Christ in worship.

Your daily joy, your daily optimism, your daily diligence in serving the Godly purposes of your vocation, your daily humility, your daily mercy, your daily faith, is your daily response to Jesus Christ’s victory over death.

God heard Jesus’ question from the Cross and loudly responded with resurrected life. God answered the questions we brought with us this morning that first Easter morning.

Christian worship can’t avoid the question of Jesus’ Cross any more than we can avoid death. That question of Jesus from the Cross is the beginning of Christian worship of God. It is only in dying as innocent lambs that we are raised with Jesus into the glory of His Kingdom.  It is only in rising with Jesus as humble servants that we give praise and thanks to God for our faith in Him.

Wherever we gather publicly in Jesus’ name, we’re showing the world we are not defeated by evil. We will not go silently into the night. Wherever we gather in Jesus’ name for the world to see, we’re showing the world Jesus didn’t go silently into the night.

He is risen and those who have died in Him are risen!

There are sanctuaries all around this country friends where people are showing God’s answer to Sutherland Springs. There are women, and men, mothers and fathers, children and babies who are back in their pews, back among their brothers and sisters of faith who are showing their resolution that evil will not win, it cannot win, it shall not win.

Jesus Christ is the winner – the ultimate winner! He is the victor and He has promised to vindicate we who suffer the inhumanity of evil. He is our Lord, our Savior, our friend.

Our precious Jesus brought us here this morning, once again.

Jesus is our hope and our inspiration. He is the power, and the glory.

Nothing can take from Him what His Father in Heaven has given Him – the power over death.

So, leave today from this moment of worship with confidence, and conviction that the resurrected Lord is with us. He knows the questions that you brought today inside your hearts for He has asked them of the Father Himself. He knows the challenges that exist in keeping the faith without yet seeing the answer of Easter morning.

But He persevered and so shall we by the power of the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Life – of Abundant Life. That Spirit is the force within the Christian heart that continues to give thanks to God each day in worship!

May you be uplifted by His Spirit to continue to give thanksgiving for the Light that shines from Him – Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen.

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