Sunday, November 18, 2018

Thanksgiving Sermon - Eucharist

You can listen to the audio of this sermon here.

            Thanksgiving.

It is the first of the social graces. We all teach our children to say, “thank you.” It is second nature to so many of us when we deal with each other, with strangers, with almost everyone. It ought to be second nature when we speak with God as well.

            Francis Frangipane said, “It does not matter what your circumstances are; the instant you begin to thank God, even though your situation has not changed, you begin to change. The key that unlocks the gates of heaven is a thankful heart.” [Frangipane, The Shelter of the Most High, 2008, https://francisfrangipanemessages.blogspot.com/2012/07/a-thankful-heart-part-1.html] Todd Stocker says that “thankfulness creates gratitude which creates contentment that causes peace.” [https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/thanksgiving]

I asked you to tell me some of the things for which you are thankful.  Here are some of your responses: Family; a warm house; my heavenly Father’s sovereignty, omniscience, and wisdom; friends; the strength given by the Holy Spirit; a new church home where the Holy Spirit meets, nourishes, and equips me; a place to serve God; many happy memories; those special people God places in our lives when we need them; the power of the Holy Spirit that has opened my eyes and led me to this new congregation and church; freedom; a country that gives us freedom to worship; God’s provision; a father devoted to his children; the gift of godly, loving daughters; forgiveness; a fulfilling and challenging life; that my children serve the Lord; opportunity; Dad and Mom and friends and of course my sisters and my cats; and dogs; God’s provision of manna for the day; health; for the Lord drawing me near to Him by guiding me on my walk.

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.” - Matthew 26:26-29

This is Thanksgiving week, and you may have been expecting a familiar sermon about harvest and provision and being thankful for the many blessings God bestows on us. I believe that, and you should be thankful.

You may have been surprised, and you may be wondering, why I just read the passage about the Last Supper on this Sunday before Thanksgiving. The story of the Last Supper is familiar. You hear Jim and me recite it or most of it whenever we share the Lord’s Supper together, just as you heard when we celebrated communion in our service today. You probably think you know it by heart.

            The Lord’s Supper is an ordinance in our church and in other like-minded congregations, and it is a sacrament in others, where the belief in the “miracle of the mass,” or transubstantiation, expresses the idea that the bread and the wine actually transform into the body and blood of Christ. For us, this bread is always bread, and this juice is always juice, but the symbolism is incredibly important. Jesus tells us that the bread is His body and the cup contains His blood. His order to us – what our ordinance requires – is to do this, as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, in remembrance of Him.

            What we call the Lord’s Supper has several names. The name “Lord’s Supper” conveys the important idea that this is the table of Jesus, that He is our host, that we have celebrated and followed this ordinance because of His command. It is called by some the Mass or the Divine Service, both of which suggest the idea of our being sent out to serve the Kingdom of God.  Some call it the Blessed Sacrament or the Breaking of Bread. The term “communion” focuses on what happens to us as a church body, and as fellow Christians, when we come together at the Lord’s table to share this symbolic meal. We are united in Christ’s death and resurrection. Communion is a rough translation of the Greek word in 1 Corinthians 10:16 that your Bible renders as “participation” or “sharing.” In the 19th Century, many American protestant churches referred to the event as the Christian Passover.

            There is another word for this ordinance, this communion. It is the word Eucharist. It is derived from the Greek word for thanksgiving, Eucharistia. We tend to think of “Eucharist” as a Catholic term, but that is not its origin. Early Christian writers like Justin Martyr and Ignatius of Antioch used the designation, and much of Christianity preferred that expression long after the Reformation.

            Have you ever thought about that, that this ordinance that we share bears the title of the Holiday coming up – Thanksgiving? Eucharist and “Thanksgiving” mean the same thing.

            That brings us to our scripture, you know the one you have memorized. What does it say? You know that it says that Jesus took the bread and broke it and said, “This is my body which is broken for you.” You know that he took the cup and said, “This is the new covenant in my blood, shared for you.”

            Right?

        But there is something else.  Before Jesus did those things, He gave thanks. In our Matthew passage as well as in Mark, the English Standard Version says He “blessed” the bread and gave thanks before pouring the wine.  In Luke, He “gave thanks” for both. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul explains it this way:
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when He was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also He took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. [1 Corinthians 11:23-26]

            You see, the term Eucharist comes not because we happen to have celebrated this ordinance during the week before Thanksgiving but because Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper by giving thanks.

            When we share the Lord’s Supper, we are engaging in Thanksgiving.

            That has been an eye-opening idea for me this week. I have always revered the Lord’s Supper as an important thing that we do in church. Gena and I took communion as a part of our wedding ceremony, because we wanted that to be the first thing we did as a married couple. I remember hearing a moving devotional when I was in college about what Paul means when he tells us not to take the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. It has always been important to me.

            But I had not thought about it as an act of Thanksgiving. I want to explore that with you today.

            First, we have to ask why Jesus gave thanks at the Last Supper. As with all prayers of Jesus, we must face the trinitarian mystery of why one person of the godhead prayed to another, and we recognize that the reason we call it a mystery is because the answer is not always clear to us. But we can say that Jesus was fully human, and His fully human side prayed to God the father, modeling prayer and thanksgiving for us all.

            But why this prayer? And why now?

       Well, perhaps it was just habit. Maybe we should conclude that Jesus was simply blessing the food, much as we do when we sit down as a family. We know that Jesus blessed food at the feedings of the five thousand and the four thousand. But other than those two miracles and at the Last Supper, when else do we have examples of Jesus giving thanks for a meal?  We know that when He ate with the two disciples He met on the road to Emmaus, he broke the bread and blessed it. Otherwise, the answer to the question of “where in scripture did Jesus bless the food” is “nowhere.” Jesus ate with the publicans and prostitutes at Matthew’s house, and there is no record of His saying a blessing. He walked through the grain fields on the Sabbath eating the grain, with not a blessing in sight. He did not say grace at the wedding feast at Cana, so far as we know. Right after He disappeared from the Emmaus disciples, He reappeared in the upper room and had fish with the apostles, and Luke says nothing about His thanking God for the food. After the resurrection, Jesus had breakfast with the apostles on the shore of the lake, and there is no mention of a prayer of thanks. My point is not a big one – He may well have said the blessing every time, but the only times the gospel writers find it important to point out are the moments when it was associated with a miracle – the great feedings and the post-resurrection Emmaus experience – and here, at the Last Supper.

            This tie to the miraculous may be something. Can you think of the only other time when we have an express thanksgiving from Jesus to the Father? It is in John 11, right before He raised Lazarus from the dead. Before big miracles, Jesus was seen giving thanks.

            Another reason we can offer for Jesus’s giving thanks is that He was a student of scripture, and the importance of Thanksgiving is a key theme of the Old Testament passages that He would have learned as a boy. The ancient Hebrews offered sacrifices of thanksgiving. [Leviticus 7:12-15] David appointed individuals to the specific task of thanksgiving to God. [1 Chronicles 16:7-8] After Solomon had completed the temple, it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to give thanks to God. [2 Chronicles 5:13] When Jeremiah prophesied the redemption from exile, he foresaw the cries of thanksgiving to God. [Jeremiah 30:19] Old Testament characters as diverse as Hezekiah, Ezra, Nehemiah, Amos, and Daniel modeled thanksgiving for us. And we have already heard the prophetic thanksgiving of Isaiah read aloud.

            Then, of course, we have the Psalms. Psalm 9:1 – "I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart." Psalm 28:7 - "The Lord is my strength and my shield; … my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to Him." Psalm 30:4 – "Sing praises to the Lord, o you saints, and give thanks to His holy name." Psalm 92:1 – "It is good to give thanks to the Lord." Psalm 100:4 – "Enter His gates with thanksgiving." And repeatedly, this refrain, as in Psalm 118:29 – "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever!"

            Jesus clearly had plenty of good religious training in thanksgiving, as do we.

            But this was not a great miracle event, and it was not a Sabbath worship service. This was the Last Supper, on a Thursday. Why did Jesus offer thanks here, now, this night?

            To answer that question, we need to examine the Bible a little to make sure we know the background. Our passage comes from Matthew’s gospel, and there, as in Mark, the story appears right after Jesus’s anointing at Bethany. He told the disciples to prepare the upper room, and then the verses jump to the blessing

        Luke gives us more detail, telling us that Jesus told His friends, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” [Luke 22:15] John does not mention the meal or the blessing at all, instead focusing on Jesus’s washing the disciples’ feet, instructing them to be servants, and giving them their new command to love one another. [John 13:1-34]

            For what was Jesus thankful that night?

         Well, I am going to respectfully disagree with those commentators who write that Jesus was thankful that He was heading to the cross, that His time on earth was ending, that He was given the opportunity to shed His blood for the sins of the world. Hear me well – Jesus went to the cross willingly, and He took the sins of the world on Himself on purpose. But I do not believe He did it happily or gratefully. He did it because He had to, because no one else would or could, because the atonement of the world depended on God’s sacrificing His Son – Himself in human flesh - for the remission of sins. He did it because He loves us. But Jesus prayed – in agony, sweat drops of blood falling from His brow, just hours before that walk up the Via Dolorosa – to be delivered from the trip, and His words on the cross were anything but grateful when He cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

            No, I do not believe that Jesus at the Last Supper was giving thanks for His upcoming death.

            Well, then, maybe He was giving thanks for the chance to be with His friends one last time. Yes, that is part of it. He had earnestly, eagerly desired to spend this time with them – even with one who would betray Him, another who would deny Him, eleven who would not stand at the foot of the cross with His mother, one who would hang himself as the others cowered in that same upper room for fear of the Romans. Yes, they were His friends, and yes, He loved them, in spite of themselves.

            And perhaps we are asking the wrong question. Perhaps Jesus was not thankful for anything but instead was thankful in the moment. When Paul wrote for us to give thanks in all circumstances. [1 Thessalonians 5:18], maybe he was thinking of Christ on the eve of His trial, offering thanks to God. Perhaps Jesus was not thankful for His circumstances but nonetheless thankful in His circumstances.

            Yes, there is something to that. Jesus had food, He had friends, He had a loving Father who, even in that moment, had His Son’s destiny close in His hands, and Jesus was thankful.

            So, we are putting some answers together. Jesus gave thanks at the Last Supper because He was modeling thanksgiving for us. He was blessing the food as was His grateful habit, because He was following the teachings of scripture, because He was sharing a special time with His closest friends, and because He was the very model of being thankful in all circumstances.

            But there is even more here. This Last Supper was unique, and Jesus’s words here were on purpose. Let’s turn back to Luke’s account:

And when the hour came, He reclined at table, and the apostles with Him. And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise, the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood…. You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom. [Luke 22:14-20, 28-29]

            And now we have come back full circle to how we have worshiped today, celebrating this Lord’s Supper, this holy communion, this Eucharist together. We have shared the bread and the cup, and we have shared the words of Christ. We have given thanks.

            For what?

            Jesus tells us, as often as we do this, to do it in remembrance of Him.

          What are we thankful for?  Yes, we are thankful for food and friends, for every good and perfect gift that comes down from the Father of heavenly lights. [James 1:17]

            But friends, we are thankful most basically, and most importantly, and I hope most enthusiastically for what happened on that cross. When Jesus says, “This is my body, broken for you,” He means that what happened on that cross was for us because we could not save ourselves, and doing it literally would  break Him.  When He tells us that the cup is the “new covenant in [His] blood,” he is not joking around. This is not kids’ stuff. He died on that cross. It literally would cost Him His blood.

            He was not thankful for it, but we certainly are.

          Here are some other answers you gave me about what you are thankful for: Jesus; my eternal destiny that God has promised through Jesus Christ; salvation; a lifetime relationship with the Lord; renewed hope; assurance of my home in heaven.

            Yes, we are thankful, and we remember. We must not come to the table unworthily, because in so doing we trivialize what is symbolized here. Jesus died. Jesus shed His blood.

            For you and for me. As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we do show the Lord’s death until He comes.

In remembrance of me, eat this bread.
In remembrance of me, drink this wine.
In remembrance of me, pray for the time when God’s own will is done.
In remembrance of me, heal the sick.
In remembrance of me, feed the poor.
In remembrance of me, open the door, and let your brother in.
Take, eat, and be comforted.
Drink, and remember too that this is my body and precious blood shed for you.
In remembrance of me search for truth.
In remembrance of me, always love.
In remembrance of me, don’t look above but in your heart for God.
Do this in remembrance of me.
[Ragan Courtney, “In Remembrance,” 1972]

            Jesus gave thanks because His time had come. He was not grateful for suffering. He was not longing for death. He desperately wanted the cup to be taken from Him. But he gave thanks that His children, His brothers, His apostles, His followers … you and I … were about to be saved and would finally begin to understand what it means to love. To feed the poor and search for truth. It was going to be done in remembrance of Him. He eagerly desired this last meal because He knew that this ragtag bunch of fisherman and tax collectors and zealots were on the cusp of launching the church, of sparking something that is still going strong, something built on the rock of that great confession that Jesus is the Christ, something against which the gates of hell shall not prevail.

            The gospels make a point of this thanksgiving of Jesus because the writers, looking back on this Supper as they write from the other side of the resurrection, see how everything was orchestrated. They finally understand what Jesus saw, where He was headed, what He knew was about to happen, what God was about to do. They are telling the story of salvation.

            Yes, Jesus gave thanks when a great miracle was in the offing. Feeding thousands, raising Lazarus, giving rise to the church. Thanksgiving, Eucharist, happens just before the miracle.

            Jesus gave thanks for food.  And He gave thanks for His friends. And He gave thanks for a God who was about to save the world. The greatest miracle of them all.  Thanks be to God.  Eucharistia.

            So now we approach Thanksgiving. Turkey and dressing and Cowboys and family.

     Today, we have already had Thanksgiving. We have celebrated Eucharistia, Thanksgiving, the holy communion of the saints gathered at the Lord’s Table.

        As you celebrate Thanksgiving this week, do not forget the Thanksgiving we have shared this afternoon. As you come to the family table on Thursday, do not forget what has happened today, as you came to this church family table. Do not forget Eucharist. Jesus gave thanks, and so did we. Keep an eye out for the miracle.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Sermon - Now What?

For the word of the Lord is upright, and all His work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LordBy the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host. He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap; Hputs the deeps in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lordlet all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him! For He spoke, and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm. The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lordthe people whom He has chosen as His heritage! The Lord looks down from heaven; He sees all the children of man; from where He sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds. The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great  strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue. Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His steadfast love. - Psalm 33:4-18

(You can hear the audio of this sermon here.)

On Wednesday morning this week, the New York Times’ editorial board’s opinion had this headline: “The Democrats Won the House. Now What?” [https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/07/ opinion/democrats-house-control-pelosi.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage]
The election is over. Upwards of $4 billion, more than the cost of making all 19 Marvel superhero movies combined, was spent on this non-presidential election. [https://www.marketwatch. com/story/why-spending-on-this-years-midterm-elections-should-shatter-records-2018-05-10] They are still counting ballots in Florida and Arizona. I don’t know if your favorite candidates won or lost. Not all of mine won. Not all of mine lost. About like normal.
            Now what?
            Today is November 11, Veterans’ Day, Armistice Day. At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, exactly 100 years ago, the First World War came to an end. At Compiėgne, the armistice was signed, ending fighting on land, at sea, and in the air and marking a victory for the Allies and a complete defeat for Germany. Between 9 and 11 million military deaths, including those of over 53,000 American soldiers, and another 8 million civilian deaths had resulted from this war. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I_ casualties] This “Great War” did not end conflict; a young corporal on the losing side would, within fifteen years, see his Nazi party rise to power, and the next world war would start within six years after that. We can certainly picture soldiers who had come home from the First World War asking, “Now what?”
            Now what?
            You may have noticed that, when we set up for worship here at Trinity River Church, we remove the American flag from directly behind me. I have no problem with an American flag in a sanctuary somewhere, but I have a real issue with its being placed in the center, as a focus of attention. We should not act as if we believe that God is an American, much less a Republican or a Democrat, and we don’t say the pledge of allegiance during our worship services. Our focus, our attention is elsewhere.
            Similarly, you will not hear me preach a rah-rah patriotic sermon. That does not mean that I am not a patriot. I have strong political and patriotic beliefs, but there is a time and a place. Whatever I believe about our nation, it is far behind the importance of God and worship and discipleship on our priority list. For this hour each week, we shut out the noise of the politics and we concentrate on the Father. I have been in so-called worship services where the emphasis was said to be “God and Country,” and in truth you could not tell where the worship of one stopped and the other began.
            That said, I do believe that there is a time – now that the election is over – to talk about our country and our politics and our military and the history of all those things from this pulpit. I am not going to preach my political view, but I do think it is time to say, as Christians in our nation, “Now what?”
            Like you, I have seen the various memes and ten-word sermonettes on social media that remind us that God is still on His throne, that nobody voted God out of office. I could focus this sermon on how we should rise above the public political squabbling and be nicer to one another.
            All of that has a place.
            But why, do you suppose, the election in particular and our political interplay in general cause such rancor? Why has what we all think we remember as a more genteel, reasoned debate of the past become the extremism of today, the “’you’re anti-American’ – ‘no, you’re a fascist’” discussion that overwhelms the airwaves and the internet?
            Well, in the first place, the political rhetoric of the past was not actually quite so genteel and polite as we like to think or pretend we remember. In 1800, a pro-Thomas Jefferson poster described the opposition as “hireling toads” who “want to enslave you [and] reduce your families to distress.” [https://i.pinimg.com/736x/fd/b7/21/fdb7219ecb118668e 0ee426cba0c2319.jpg] LBJ’s famous “Daisy” attack add from 54 years ago, showing exploding nuclear bombs reflected in the eye of a little girl picking flowers as she takes her last breath, is the stuff of legend. This is not new.
            In the second place, the bitterness and the ostentatious language hide something much more basic: worry, mistrust, a lack of faith. I am not talking about faith in one party or the other, or faith in a platform or a policy, or faith in America. I am talking about misplaced confidence, dependence on self and other people and what we human beings can do.
            The Bible says something different.
            Verse 12 in our scripture, right in the middle, is the one you have heard all your life: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” That verse gets misused a lot. Since it goes on to talk about the nation that God has chosen as His heritage, in context it is undoubtedly talking about the ancient chosen people, not the modern people of America. Its first, literal meaning is “Blessed is the nation whose God is Yahweh” or “Blessed is Israel.”
            What does such a scripture have to teach us about how we, as a nation today, relate to God?
            To start with, I am confident the Bible does not teach us specific policy. The Bible teaches us goals as followers of Christ. We should help the poor, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, and, so far as it is up to us, live at peace with all. We should do to others as we would have them do to us.
            C.S. Lewis said it this way:
Christianity has not, and does not profess to have, a detailed political program … that is not how Christianity works. When it tells you to feed the hungry, it does not give you a lesson in cookery. When it tells you to read the Scriptures, it does not give you lessons in Hebrew and Greek, or even in English grammar. It was never intended to replace or supersede the ordinary human arts and sciences; it is rather a director which will set them all to the right jobs, and a source of energy which will give them all new life, if only they will put themselves at its disposal. [Lewis, Mere Christianity, 1952, in The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics, (Harper One: 2002) at 74]

            If you believe there is only one set of policies that can help the poor, only one way to deal with our strangers, only one mindset that leads to peace, then you are missing the point of both politics and scripture. That a candidate believes that a certain prescription is not a good way to help the poor does not mean that he hates poor people; if a politician does not think a certain policy is the best way to handle illegal immigration, that does not make her in favor of open borders. Candidates who both love America and love Jesus can and often do have vastly different views on economic systems, military strategy, and spending policy. Furthermore, the Bible is not meant to be a political science playbook for how government should operate. Jesus does not get into the game of telling the government how to achieve these things; instead, He just keeps telling His own followers to obey Him, separate from and irrespective of what the government does. Paul does not suggest policy to the Romans but instead writes to the churches to honor the government even as they strive as disciples to follow Christ.
            So, if you are hoping I am coming today with a word on who is right or who is wrong, how the new Congress should address certain issues, or what I think of President Trump, you are going to be disappointed. I don’t think the Bible answers those questions.
A sixty-second aside for a personal word. I believe it is a good thing for Christians to be involved in politics, to run for office and serve, to vote their conscience, and to speak in the political arena; but I do not believe that that government is ever the proper arm for implementation of the gospel. Government works through law, through compulsory taxes and the power of the police and the courts to enforce majority rule and constitutional protection. I work in that system, and I believe in it, and I think it is absolutely the right way to run our political state. But that is not how God’s will is to be carried out. Separation of church and state does not mean that our faith cannot and should not influence the state – of course it should; but it does mean that no majority gets to force its religious views on the rest. We must not expect even Christians in government to pass laws just to make us happy on Sundays; if our Christian influence helps the law to be kinder and fairer and more protective, that is great, but we cannot expect lawmakers to take actions because the Bible or some preacher says so unless we are willing to have other lawmakers take action because the Koran or some Rabbi or some crystal tells them to. We Christians strive to implement God’s will – as we understand it based on scripture and prayer and the teachings of the church and the leadership of the Holy Spirit – ourselves, not relying on the government to make others do it for us. I am really tired of reading social media posts with titles like “you can’t love Jesus if you believe….” OK, enough of that. Back to the sermon: Now what?
In 2013, pop star Rihanna released a song asking the same question:
I've been ignoring this big lump in my throat. I shouldn't be crying. Tears were for the weaker days. I'm stronger now, or so I say, but something's missing. Whatever it is, it feels like it's laughing at me through the glass of a two-sided mirror. Whatever it is, it's just laughing at me, and I just wanna scream. What now? I just can't figure it out. What now? There's no one to call, 'cause I'm just playing games with them all; but the more I swear I'm happy, the more that I'm feeling alone, ‘cause I spend every hour just going through the motions. I can't even get the emotions to come out. Dry as a bone, but I just wanna shout: What now? [“What Now?,” Olivia Waithe, Parker Ighile, Nathan Cassells and Rihanna, 2013]

            The Bible indeed does speak to nations, and to how we as a collective should live our lives; it also speaks to us individually, to those of us with lumps in our throats who just want to scream because we are going through the motions, shouting, “What now?”. I know of no better place to begin than the 33rd Psalm.
Neither Psalm 33 nor the rest of scripture teaches us that blessing falls to certain nations and not to others as a matter of geography, ethnicity, or constitution. God’s favor falls or any nation, and on any peoples within that nation, because of things that have nothing to do with borders, language, or legislation. Instead of taking verse 12 out of context as a proof text, let’s dive in to the Psalm.
            Verses 4 and 5 - For the word of the Lord is upright, and all His work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.
            Our starting place is God. He is faithful, righteous, just, and loving. Politicians fail us. We fail ourselves. We fight a Great War and cannot maintain the peace for even two decades.
            We read the codes of Exodus and Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and we hear the word of the Lord say, “You shall not pervert justice.” [Deuteronomy 16:19] The blessing the Queen of Sheba offers Solomon is, “Because the Lord loved Israel forever, he has made you king, that you may execute justice and righteousness.” [1 Kings 10:9]
The prophets, the Psalms, and the Proverbs resound with descriptions of God as the upholder of righteousness and justice. It is Amos who pronounces judgment on the do-nothing so-called worshipers of Jehovah, announcing the word of the Lord: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” [Amos 5:24] And lest you think this is just an Old Testament idea, hear these tough words of Jesus: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” [Matthew 23:23]
God is upright. We know that righteousness and justice are his watchwords. We have allowed the political world to coopt those terms, so that some of you assume that anyone who preaches justice must be a liberal, and others assume that anyone who questions their righteousness must be a conservative. And of course preaching on righteousness and justice should not implicate any particular modern political stance; no one side owns righteousness and justice. We can and do disagree about whether certain specifics constitute righteousness and justice, and some will take those terms and turn them into slogans for their particular hobbyhorse of the moment, but we Christians know in our gut what righteousness and justice are. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” [Matthew 6:32] Those are the words of Jesus.
            But the Psalmist is doing more than extolling justice and righteousness. Look at verses 10-12: The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations.  Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!
            As the Yiddish proverb says, we plan, and God laughs. Thomas à Kempis said it in Latin, translated, “Man proposes, and God disposes.” [Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Book 1, Chapter 19] More to the point, we plan and counsel and scheme, and God is still in control. We run our campaigns and make our promises and plan our policies, and God will do what God is going to do. He brings our counsel to nothing.
When the kingdom of God is to be restored, when God will put all this foolishness to an end is not for us to know. The apostles peppered Jesus with these kinds of political questions right up to the end. Do not be hard on them; they had good reason. Living as Jews in the time of the Roman Empire makes anything we go through pale in comparison. Their little desert nation would be utterly destroyed by the Caesar within a few short decades. These questions were literally life and death to them, but Jesus demurs: “It is not for you to know.” [Acts 1:7] Instead, Jesus gave them directions to go be witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judaea and Samaria – and to the ends of the earth – with the power of the Holy Spirit. [Acts 1:8]
            You see, I am not discouraged by all the stuff we see and hear. Oh, I know that our culture has changed and will continue to change. I know that we hear our politicians speak and read their tweets and see and hear things that we would not have imagined just five years ago. Yes, our movies and our TV shows and the conversations of those around us – and if we are honest, some of our own thoughts and ideas and activities – would not have been acceptable to us not that long ago. Yet, the counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart will endure to all generations, bringing the counsel of men to nothing. When we confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, then He builds His church upon that truth, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I am not discouraged because they shall not prevail.
            I have read to the end of the book.  We are on the winning side.
            So what does that have to do with this sermon?  Well, it means that no election, no law, no Supreme Court decision, no war, no declaration, no constitutional amendment, no gay wedding, no cultural cataclysm can thwart the ultimate will of God Almighty. He cannot fail. He must prevail.
            That is why the nation whose God is the Lord is blessed. We are not blessed because signing up with the right team means we will somehow have successful legislation. No, the Psalmist is speaking so much more deeply here. The people whose God is the Lord are anchored firmly. The Psalmist is not saying the nation whose statutes sound like scripture, or whose policies pass the test of any group of preachers, or whose laws fit any formula. This Psalm is not about our representatives or our president – it is about us. We are the nation, and when our God is the Lord, then we are blessed, we are chosen, we are His heritage.
            Verses 13-15 – The Lord looks down from heaven; He sees all the children of man; from where He sits enthroned, He looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, He who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds.
God is never far away. He watching over us slumbers not nor sleeps. We cannot pull a fast one, nor can we be hidden from Him. I don’t care who gets elected. I don’t care who wins the war.
            The Bible is not ignorant, and neither am I. Of course, policy matters. Of course, it matters who wins the wars. I am not trying to suggest that the whole election we went through, much less a World War, was meaningless. But what I am saying is this: the results of
either cannot separate us from God, whose eyes are always on us, who always knows and always cares.
            But when our lives are consumed with worry, with the cares of what “ism” controls the day and who will hold what office, we are missing much of the point of scripture and the joy of following Jesus. Nowhere does the Bible tell us that these things are unimportant, and you will not hear me suggest that they are trivial. But, crucial though they may be, they are not what we are primarily about. We have a more important task, and we are fueled not by worry but by three things: faith, hope, and love.
            Faith – We trust in God. We believe in things unseen. That was much of the point of last week’s sermon. The political ads and robocalls and endless tirades have been about what is in front of you, what will happen if someone gets into office. They are based on the empirical, the testable… or at least what the person hollering at the moment is pitching as the provable truth. Faith is something else. We act and rest in the knowledge of the One who holds the future.
            Hope. We know who wins. We know where we are going. You too have read to the end of the book.
            Love. We are motivated not by the lust to conquer or the desire to impose on others, even when we are certain we are correct and what we have to suggest would be best for them and for the nation. We are motivated by love that keeps no record of wrongs, that does not insist on its own way, that bears all things. We do not need the compulsion of the tax code to oblige us to take care of the less fortunate, nor do we require the threat of a jail sentence to keep us searching for the good of our neighbor.
            Verses 16 and 17 speak to our political ambition, to our military might, to our elections and our wars and our vain hope for control: The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue.
            None of us Christians would admit to believing in salvation by army, but whether we admit it or not, there is a great natural comfort level in being the biggest and baddest on the planet. Mutually assured destruction is not nearly as cool as being the world’s only superpower.
            But our warhorses cannot rescue us. Only Jesus does that.
            Look, please do not misunderstand me. I am a political junkie. I stayed up into the wee hours Wednesday morning, long after the local and Texas races were called and with no national election on the docket, just to see what would happen in places like Montana and Arizona and Georgia. I have deep beliefs about military spending and foreign policy. I am not suggesting that any of these things is minor or inconsequential.
            But when they are the priority, when our worry about them consumes us, then we are missing the message of the Bible. And when the church is the one pushing that priority, then something is deeply wrong. “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” has nothing to do with what slogans we have on our currency or what lip service we give or what pin is on our lapels.
            What now?
            Verse 18, our concluding verse for today, says this: Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His steadfast love. This is not just a verse about what we say we believe, what box we check on a census form. This is about where we place our trust and how we live our lives.
            It is about how we answer the question “What now?”
            One hundred years ago, the world began licking its wounds and rebuilding with hopes of a League of Nations and a lasting peace.  Bells rang around the world to proclaim the wishes of everyone. Eleven years later, President Hoover, in his Memorial Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery, proclaimed:
These dead whom we have gathered here today to honor, these valiant and unselfish souls who gave life itself in service of their ideals, evoke from us the most solemn mood of consecration. They died that peace should be established. Our obligation is to see it maintained. [https: //www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/memorial-day-address-arlington-nati onal-cemetery]

            And yet, peace was not maintained. Despite the great speeches and the solemn resolve and the treaties signed by dozen of nations and the power of the United States of America, soon Europe, and then the world, would be at war again. Millions more would die.
            And again, the world would say, “Now what?”
            That’s a question that extends beyond elections, beyond wars. Whether you are a newspaper editorialist or a pop star or a soldier returning from war or a Christian facing a world that seems less and less like home every day, we ask it in so many different contexts.
            I don’t mean to be elementary. I am not trying to insult your religious intelligence. I know you have been in church all your life. But sometimes it helps to go back to the basics. The answer to the “now what?” question is found in Acts 1 and Matthew 6 and Psalm 33 and throughout the Bible. Regardless of who wins elections and who wins wars, the answer for those of us who call ourselves Christians is to be witnesses for Jesus, to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, to fear God and hope in His steadfast love.
            That is not a sexy answer. It does not have much rhythm or lend itself to a pop song. It will not keep people up into the wee hours of the night watching cable news.
            But let me ask you… how are you doing with it?
            “You shall receive power after the Holy Ghost comes upon you, and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.” How are you doing with that? Do you spend half as much time bearing witness to the greatness of God, to how Jesus Christ has saved you, to the incredible power that is ours through the Holy Spirit as you do discussing Cruz v. Beto, or President Trump, or what policy should be implemented?
            “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” How are you doing with that? Are you fretting over elections, or over what you will wear or what you will eat? Over the lumps in your throat as you try to figure out why you are unhappy? Do you consider the lilies of the field?
            “The eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, who hope in His steadfast love.” How are you doing with that? How much time are you standing in awe of the one who spoke the world into existence? How much energy are you putting into analysis of the warhorses of the world instead of the righteousness and justice of the one who brings the counsel of the nations to nothing. How are you doing with relying completely on, and giving your self completely to sharing, the steadfast, eternal, incredible love of God?
            The Great War ended a hundred years ago. The election is over.
            Now what?