January 26, 2014 Sermon: Being Church at Such a Time as This

Being Church at Such a Time as This
Texts: 2Cor. 5:7; Esther 4: 14-16  

For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2Corinthians 5:7).

I hope you have noticed the relationship there is between living in faith and risk-taking.  So let me restate it once more: The life of faith is a life of risk for the sake of obeying God.

Today I want to close this series with a call on us to move forward in faith, embracing risks for the sake of doing what we believe God wants us to do.

Someone described walking as the “avoidance of falling forward on our face”, which we transformed into a useful mechanism to go from one place to another, of our choice.  If that is the case, when a child learns to walk he or she realizes that the trick there is to arrest a fall is by putting one foot ahead of the other and use it to go where Mom or Dad, with extended hands forward, is calling him/her.

Imagine what would go into the mind of parents if their child prefers the safety of their lap or of sitting on the floor because he wants to avoid the risk of falling down.  The baby never gets a bump on the head or a sore bottom because he safely stays in his parents’ arms or on the floor.  There he plays with his toys and when he gets tired he cries to be picked up.  That child will not only have his parents worried and delay his gross motor skills development but might also grow fearful of exploring and enjoying life to its fullest.

Fortunately, in every baby there is a natural, an inborn desire to develop and to grow.  Healthy babies begin by squiggling and then by rolling over their stomach; they begin to crawl, then to stand and letting go of their hold.  Finally they begin by taking one step at a time, unaware or even knowingly that they might fall.  And before long, they begin to walk unaided, all because they dared to take the risk of falling but overcame both their fear and falling.

Learning to walk or talk is only the first of a list of challenges children undertake and overcome.  And they not only overcome it, but they continue to dream of bigger things in life.  Children continue to dream until we adult begin to tell them they cannot either dream or achieve their dreams.  And then they settle into adult life, “secure” but dreamless.

The church is a living organism.  And what makes the church alive is not only because the people who make up the church are still breathing in and out, but because God is breathing life into it.  God is alive and active.  However, if the church fails to realize and live out that reality, it can become a petrified artifact that resembles life—just like mounted art work of a taxidermist.

But the church is neither a fossil nor an artwork of life-like appearance.  It is the dwelling place of the Spirit of the living God and it is the visible and incarnate witness of God in the world.  The church is the living evidence that God is present in the neighborhood where you and I live and where are gathered.

This is what Mark Lamberton writes about the amercian church:

The painful reality, of course, is that often the Church can be one of the least risk-taking communities. We cultivate a sub-culture that is often about avoiding risk, not embracing it, with the justification that Jesus has taken the risk, spared us the danger, and we now live in the shelter of God’s love. This way of framing a Christian identity in the world has all been part of the “promise land” mentality of the American church and is radically different from the understanding and experience of the Persecuted Church all around the world.  It leads to a view of the Church which often stands for conservatism that resists real risk. The church can frequently become a culture that has fenced in its relations towards one another as well as towards their neighborhood or towards the wider culture and world[1].

Paul speaking about life beyond the present and earthly life, states in a nutshell the truth about living in faith when he writes: “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2Corinthians 5:7).

Sometimes faith refuses to follow logic.  Sometime faith breaks away from following written rules.  Sometimes faith defies human and earthly wisdom.

Let me give you two examples of people who defied the rule of law and human logic for the sake of something greater than themselves.  These two persons, a woman and a man, risked everything, in fact their own lives for the sake of doing what they believed God wanted them to do.

The first example is that of Daniel.  King Nebuchadnezzar wanted only the best to serve in his court, so he chose some young men from his kingdom and from the recently arrived exiles of Jerusalem.  Daniel and his three friends were among those chosen by the king.

Nebuchadnezzar gave explicit instruction about the kind of training these young men should undergo as well as the diet they should be served.

Most naturally, if it were me, I’d say, Hooray!!   We will eat like kings!  But not Daniel.  He preferred to eat only salads and to drink water.  He rejected the logic that eating like a king will make him wiser, stronger and healthier.  He feared God and did not want to violate his conscience by eating from the king’s table.

And in the end we see how God rewarded his faithfulness even when risking his calling and putting at risk the life of his overseer.

God made of Daniel a powerful man within the kingdom.  Yes, Daniel became an example of what a God-fearing man can do and undergo.  God proved he chose Daniel by revealing secrets only God knows when he revealed the king’s dreams.  God used Daniel to give witness to one of the world’s greatest king, pagan king nonetheless, that Yahweh is the Sovereign God of the whole earth.  Through Daniel God made known to Nebuchadnezzar that God is Judge of the earth and who condemns human pride and exalts the lowly.  Thus Nebuchadnezzar was moved to confess:  Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are truth, and his ways are justice; and he is able to bring low those who walk in pride (Daniel 4:37).

It took only one man to risk it all in the name of his God to bring conviction into the heart of the greatest king of the world.

The second example is that of Esther.  In the book of Esther we have a story in which a foreigner, a common and orphaned young woman rose to the post of queen in the vast kingdom of Persia and Media.  Esther was a Jewish young girl who was raised by her uncle Mordecai.  And one day because her uncle refused to give the proper honors to Haman, King Ahasuerus’ closest counselor, all the Jews were condemned to die.

In chapter 4, when Mordecai got a copy of the king’s edict, designed and instigate by Haman, Mordecai went to the palace’s gate in great distress, wailing and dress in sackcloth.  When Esther, the queen and Mordecai’s niece, saw what her uncle was doing and how he was dressed, she sent her servants to warn Mordecai of his actions and the inappropriateness of his attire.  Mordecai revealed to Esther the reason of his grief and garments.  He pleaded her to do something.  And in chapter 4 and verses 14-16, we read: For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” Then Esther said in reply to Mordecai, “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.”

Upon Esther’s shoulder was placed the great task to do something unimaginable—to save her people from imminent death.  For if you keep silent; for if you remain inactive “at such a time as this” God will do what he needs to do, but you might not live to see it, Mordecai said to Esther.

The phrase “At such a time as this”, spoken twice by Mordecai denotes how critical the moment was and the urgency action was needed.

In chapter 5, when fasting and pleading for God’s mercies had been done, Esther went into the king’s court.  Esther was determined to see the king and to plead her case before him.  She knew very well that no one should approach the king unless has been invited to do so. And there were no exceptions to the rule.   But she defied the rule and committed herself to save the life of her people.

Esther stood up and put her life in the line for the sake of every mother and father, every child, every young men and young women and for the elderly.  Esther realized that continuation of her peoples’ history, legacy, but above all, their faith in Yahweh the Lord their God was facing extermination if she did not act at such a time as this.

And so after all prayers and intercessions were done, Esther was invested with boldness from on high and everything around including her very life became relatively small compared to the gains and worthiness of her cause.

Her action went clearly against the law; but at such a time as this, the life of her people outweighed abiding by the rules.  “If I perish, I perish”, Esther said.   She risked it all to gain it all.  Not her dignity, not her life, not her comfort living, nor the rule of law forbade her from acting at such a time as this.

Dear church, it is of great importance that we notice something in this fascinating story of Esther.  The Esther story in contrast to the Daniel story, God is not mentioned one single time.  God does not speak nor reveal himself at all.  At this critical moment in the life of this Jewish community in a foreign land, the presence, the providence and favor of God needs be read “between the lines”.  What is also a tell-tale about God’s seeming absence in this book is stated in the very name of the book—Esther.  The name Esther: “STR” can be read Satar, which in Hebrew means “I hide” or “I will hide”.  Therefore to the question, where is God when all things seem to be going wrong?  The answer might be “I hide” or “I will hide” myself and let you move in faith.

As a congregation we are “at such a time as this”.  As a congregation we constantly live in a critical moment, a moment in which urgent action is always required of us.  There is a lot that needs to be done.  We have various needs.  And while more than 90 percent of the time I have emphasized the spiritual aspect of church life, today allow me to speak of mundane things.  And just as deciding on which foods to eat or not to as in the case of Daniel is a mundane thing, we have many mundane things to consider, which are part of who we are and reveals what we believe.  Just as ironic it was for the Jewish community to experience an apparent absence of God in a life and death situation and be forced to act regardless, we too are confronted with such a situation.

Dear church, let me talk to you about some of the mundane things we need to act upon: our church building.  We need to repaint and repair our buildings.  We need to replace various things.  We need to make this place inviting to anyone who comes to us.  And let me give you good news: if you go to the fellowship hall and flick the lights on, you will see clearly, and not need a flashlight as someone jokingly commented.  But there are far more things we need to take care of.  And we do not need to do it all this year, but we should sure start this year.

Logic will tell us be careful with how you spend your limited resources.  But let me tell, Esther did not hear the voice of God telling her she must organize fasting and prayers and risk her life, but she did it.  The moment was critical and demanded action.  And Esther acted on faith.  In the end they rejoiced for what she did and the Jewish people in the world celebrate the “Day of Purim” even today in memory of what Esther did.

We also might not hear the voice of God telling us to use some of what we have to take care of the urgent needs we have for too long, but let us act in faith that this is the right thing to do.

My brothers and sisters, God is faithful and will not let us down if we only walk in faithfulness too.  Let us put logic aside.  Paul says: “whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (Romans 9:33).

Church leaders, God might be calling us to lay aside logic when it comes to do what we need to do.  Let us act.  Maybe our fasting will be in the way of personal sacrifices in giving to this causes we have at hand.  Maybe our bold action in defying the rule is by stop playing by safe rules of economics that tells us if you do not have enough cushions in reserve the fall will be very painful or a bone crushing fall.  We can sit safely as the baby who wants to avoid the risk falling.  But we will lose the joy and experience of walking in faith.  We will miss to experience the faithfulness of God who can bring salvation, yet maybe for others, as Mordecai told Esther.

Being a Church at such a time as this requires walking by faith, not by sight.  Amen!

Pastor Romero

[1] Risk and the Formation of the People of God.  Micah Group e-reader, November 2013