14 Pentecost, Year A
14 Pentecost, Year A
Sermon by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Kay’s office was being downsized, and she was afraid she would soon lose her job. A friend offered to pray for her. “I know you are already praying for ten other people,” Kay told her. “Do you have room for one more?”
“Oh, yes,” her friend assured her, “three of them have died.” 1
Sometimes things happen in our lives when we question if God is on our side. Our doubts and our hardships may, at times, cause us to feel that God is not on our side. That is a horrible feeling, is it not? Who among us here really do not want God on our side? After all, is that not one reason why we come to church, to ensure ourselves that God is on our side? All of us surely want God on our side. How do we know for sure that God is on our side, anyways?
Well, one of many possible answers to that question is likely the experience of God protecting us or delivering and freeing us from danger and harm, as was the case in the following story.
Catherine had driven three days across the South in sweltering July heat to start her new life. After a painful divorce, she was taking her two young sons to a new house, a new job, and a new start. Yet, yesterday as she drove, all she could think about were her fears. What if things didn’t work out? She had no friends, no family. “I’m so vulnerable,” she thought. Ahead of her lay the desert. She had heard the horror stories of blowouts, overheated radiators, hours of no bathroom, no water, and no help.
“I’ve got to get some sleep,” Catherine thought, “but first I’m going to read my Bible.” That night, opening to Psalm 124, Catherine read: “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side.” Catherine stopped, those words seemed to be alive. “I’m not alone. My heavenly Father is already out there preparing a place for me.” She felt embraced. Her fear seemed to melt away. In a short time she was asleep.
Arising before daylight, Catherine remembered the 16 hour drive ahead and was grateful for the reassurance from the night before. “God is with me,” she thought with joy. Loading the children into her car, she was well on the way when the sun came up. She felt the heat of the sunlight on her windshield. “Thank you God for air-conditioning! Please keep my car going and take care of us,” she prayed.
Slowly she became aware that a shadow had fallen over her car. “No matter the bends or curves in the road, the shadow followed,” she said. “The sky was a vivid blue except for the one small cloud that covered my car.” After a few hours Catherine stopped for fuel. The cloud waited by the highway. As they headed on, the cloud went with them. Catherine laughed out loud. “God is with me!” She cried, and she delighted in the One who was taking care of her. As they reached civilization, the cloud disappeared. And Catherine was no longer afraid. 2
Maybe, if each one of us here today would take time to think about it, we too could share with each other similar stories as that of Catherine’s. At one time or another, all of us have felt a sense of danger or foreboding; every one of us have or will feel that we are in harm’s way. Some of us may even have had close brushes with death and felt, like Catherine in the story, that God was on our side; God was with us; our lives were spared; we were given a new, fresh beginning with new opportunities. Maybe some of us, out of surprise and sheer joy, responded to being delivered, freed or saved by expressing our heartfelt gratitude to the LORD.
In today’s psalm, which is another “Song of Ascent,” most likely sung by the Israelites while they made their pilgrimages to the Jerusalem temple for their holy festivals—in Psalm 124, we learn of how God acted to protect Israel from a life-threatening situation by delivering and freeing them from their enemies. This particular dangerous, life-threatening situation sounds like it might have been the Exodus event; whereby God held the flooding waters back for the Israelites so that they could make their escape from Pharaoh’s army, horses and chariots.
The psalmist also describes their deliverance and freedom as an escape from the enemy’s teeth and as a bird escaping from the fowlers’ snare. In other words, God, in the eyes of ancient Israel, was on the side of the underdog. God by protecting, delivering and freeing Israel from their slavery and from life-threatening dangers was on Israel’s side. Or, to put it another way, God is on the side of the underdog, the weak, and the poor of the world because nobody else is.
Maybe you too, have experienced a time in your life when you felt you were the underdog, the weak, and the poor of the world—seriously doubting that your situation would improve. Yet, wonder of wonders, God did act in your situation to change it for your betterment. God surprised you and everyone else, by choosing to act in some wonderful way at a time when you had all but given up. In the history of God’s people, that certainly happened more than once. For example, remember Abraham and Sarah? They were old and way past normal childbearing age when God told them that they’d have a child. Jonah, in spite of all his efforts to run away from God, and the task God had given him to deliver a message to the people of Nineveh; God used Jonah and that message he proclaimed to the people of Nineveh and they believed it, repented of their sin, and were given a new beginning with new opportunities—even though Jonah was a reluctant, sceptical messenger! God nonetheless utilized Jonah to fulfill God’s purposes. And you remember too how God utilized the disciples of Jesus, after his death. All of them but a few women had run away, had fled from Jesus and had likely given up all hope in him as their leader. In their grief, their failings, their utter despair, the resurrected Jesus comes to them and gives them a new beginning. Out of that new beginning, the Church was born and grew and spread to every race, every nation of the world. So, dear people of God, take heart, never underestimate what God can do for you, even if you feel like an underdog.
However, does that mean God IS NOT on the side of everybody else? I sincerely doubt it. After all, God has created all of us whether we’re: rich or poor, black, white, yellow, red, brown, orange or purple, whether we’re male or female, young or old—all of us are created by God, in God’s image. How can God NOT BE on someone’s side?
I wonder if we could see, as Jesus did, that God is on the side of even our enemy? If we could see our enemy as a friend, instead of demonizing them, maybe then they would no longer be our enemy. Is that not one way in which the major hot spots and conflicts in the Church and in the world today could be resolved and people of differing cultures, races, religions could come to live together in peace? According to Jesus, that is the way to a harmonious, peaceful lifestyle. Following Jesus’ train of thought, Lutheran pastor and World War II Nazi prison camp survivor, Martin Niemoeller, could say, on one occasion: “God is not the enemy of my enemies. God is not even the enemy of God’s enemies.” In other words, God is on everyone’s side. As we live our lives, following the example of Jesus, may we also be on God’s side.