Sermon: A STRONG TOWER
November 12th, 2017 Rev. Betsy Perkins
First Baptist Church, Delavan WI
Scripture passage: Proverbs 18:10-11; Philippians 4:4-7, John 14:1
Today, as we continue in our series on Living Generously, we focus on how our ability to live a life of generosity, a life fully committed to the discipleship of Jesus, is dependent on where we place our Trust. At some time in everyone’s life there comes a shaking, a time when we are tested and the ground under our feet seems to move. How many of you have experienced an earthquake?
During the recent small group meetings, I showed a short video David and I made about our work in the relief efforts following the Asian tsunami. That tsunami was caused by the third strongest earthquake ever recorded on a seismograph – 9.3, with the longest duration of shaking, 10 minutes. It even caused the entire planet to vibrate about 4/10th of an inch. The earthquake occurred on December 26th, 2004 and was centered just off the coast of Sumatra in Indonesia, close to the Andaman Islands of India. David and I were serving at a Christian International School in India at the time. It is a residential school, so when the earthquake struck on the day after Christmas most of the students were home with their parents rather than in the dormitories at school and many of them scattered in places much closer to the epicenter than we were. Ranjit, one of my middle school students, was with his family on the Andaman Islands. When he got back to school after New Years, he told us how the ground was shaking so hard that it was impossible to stay on your feet. He and his sister and parents were knocked to the floor and had to crawl their way out of their home, clinging to the ground on hands and knees as the earth bucked and buckled. Ranjit shared with the class, that in his 14 years he had never questioned the earth beneath him; it was always solid, safe, steady, reliable. He had taken that for granted. But now things had changed for him. “When even the ground under your feet is no longer sure, no longer firm, what is there in life that you can count on?” he asked. Ranjit came from a Muslim home, and in my classroom were students from Christian families, Hindu families, Buddhist families, and other Muslim families. It led to an interesting discussion!
There have been a whole slew of things which have shaken our world recently and lead us to question what we think is secure. The stock market has been rising in the past year, but previous crashes have led some to question the security of keeping their savings in the market. The flooding in Houston raised doubts about what is safe, dry ground. The hurricanes in Florida, Caribbean, Puerto Rico raised doubts about what is secure in gale force winds. For me, my health and strength had always been something I could count on, but the sudden and serious illness this summer left me wondering if I could still trust my own body. At some time everyone faces the experience of what seem like dependable, forever human relationships being taken away – a parent dies, a marriage shatters or death parts you – and we wonder if any human relationship is certain. The recent shootings in Las Vegas and just a week ago today at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland, Texas raise questions about what places are safe. We used to think a country western concert was a safe event; and certainly a small church in a small town – what safer place could there be?
We have been following the story of a man named Frank. This week Frank faces a crisis – his wife is seriously injured and in the hospital. The walls of protection Frank thought he had built to protect his family can do precious little – the walls of home security, the walls of financial security. His friend Re meets him at the hospital and they talk about where Frank has placed his trust. Let’s watch the video that reflects on his experience.
Video – #8 Teaching Moment, “Living Generously” RightNowMedia
Where do you turn when your world is shaken? What tower do you run to?
When I think of people whose lives were shaken and everything came crashing down, I think of Job in the Old Testament. Job had so much to put his trust in – great kids that all got along and partied together; lots of cattle and donkeys and camels (the bank accounts and business investments of his day); lots of employees, servants, slaves; a wife and friends. He had a great reputation in the community for wise advice and for settling disputes. He was a philanthropist, generous to all in need in ample proportion to his wealth.
Then one day he gets a ton of bad news all at once. Marauders have stolen all his oxen and donkeys and killed the servants who guarded them. A wildfire raced across the countryside and burned up his flocks of sheep and their shepherds. There was an attack on the camel herds and their herders. Hurricane force winds blew through and the house his children were all gathered in collapsed. There were no survivors. Job himself broke out with sores all over his body. His doctor took one look at him, shook his head and said that there was no cure for his dreadful disease. Job’s wife got dreadfully depressed, blamed it all on Job and told him to curse God and die (2:9). To top it all off, Job’s friends showed up, and after a week of being wonderfully, silently present with him (2:13), they became even more critical and condemning than his wife.
Job sees everything he thought was sure in his life, every tower that protected him, fall apart. He says, “Terrors overwhelm me; my dignity is driven away, my safety vanishes like a cloud; my life ebbs away, suffering grips me.” (30:15-16) But in fact, Job had not put his trust in those collapsing towers; he had not trusted in his good deeds or good reputation. He had not trusted in his riches. Jobs says, “If I have put my trust in gold or said to pure gold, ‘You are my security’; if I have rejoiced over my great wealth or the fortune my hands made, … then that misplaced trust would have been a sin to be judged. It would have been unfaithfulness to God on high.” (31:24-25,28)
Instead, Job runs to God. He does question God on why bad things have happened to him, but Job defends God’s character. And God then speaks to Job. God reminds him of the amazing universe God has created, of all that God sustains on the earth, of all the ways that God provides. God is in charge of the movement of mountains, the blooming of lotus flowers in the marshes, the massive whales in the ocean; nothing escapes God’s attention or care. Job concedes that God’s knowledge surpasses anything he could imagine, that the Lord can do all things, that no plan of God can be thwarted. The Lord is truly the only One to go to, the only One worthy of trust. The Lord is his strong tower. Job goes to God and though he suffers, he is safe.
When I think of others who saw their world crumble around them, I think of Jesus’ disciples. They were riding high on miracles and crowds and taking-back-the-Kingdom talk. They swallow their fears, try to ignore the death threats, and ride into Jerusalem to waving palms and shouts of hallelujah. Then as they gather to celebrate the great Passover feast, Jesus reminds them that he is going to die, soon. They gather in an upper room, their inner circle of 12: what seems like a loyal, tight-knit community, a safe tower. But Jesus reveals that one will betray him and another deny him. The disciples’ towers are collapsing and they are afraid. John’s gospel records Jesus’ talk with his disciples that night and the prayer he prays with them. But Jesus starts by saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” (John 14:1) Jesus reminds them that God will be their strong tower; if they to run to the Lord, they will be safe.
The most basic decision of faith is where to place our trust. Many Christians claim to put their trust in God, but then they hedge their bets by building additional towers, other walls to protect them. Like Job, we might build financial walls around ourselves and our families: a job, savings, investments. We might trust high-tech home security systems, locks and cameras and alarms. We might find reassurance in guns or other weapons. We depend on our health, our strength, on medications, on the ability to think quickly, our memory. In most cases, rather than reassuring us, these things simply raise our anxiety and our fears.
The United States is the most anxious nation in the world! This is despite our wealth, despite the network of hospitals and doctors, despite the strong system of emergency response, police, firefighters, despite the plethora of weapons and defenses, despite the legal protections. We are an anxious and fearful people. I believe that is because in our heart of hearts, we know that these towers can all come tumbling down. In a time of crisis, in the midst of a perfect storm, the economy can crash, jobs can be lost, weapons can be turned against us, health fails, aging happens.
The basis of the decision to be a follower of Jesus is the decision to put your trust in Jesus and in Him alone. You make the Lord your strong tower. He is the walls which truly protect, and tower that gives a higher perspective over the storm. We trust, so we can pray as Jesus taught us, “Give us this day our daily bread.” How does this fit with a study on stewardship? When we truly put our trust in God we don’t have to hold tightly to the things of this world, but can live freely, openly, generously. We don’t have to lock ourselves away, but can go to those in need to serve, enter places of conflict with a message of peace, and be the hands and feet of Jesus.
Some of you may be thinking, “Preacher, you are being naïve. Those Baptists worshiping in Sutherland trusted God and they are dead. Believers are killed for their faith, accidents happen, illness strikes, domestic violence spills out, hate and terror and greed and evil are present in this world like never before.” I am not trying to deny those realities. I am not saying we should be reckless. It is precisely because events in this world are so unpredictable that the issue of where we put our trust is so critical. Last Sunday, many of us arrived at the Helpers in Harmony concert devastated and distraught by the senseless loss of life of those worshipping at a Baptist church. Yet as we gathered together, believers from many denominations, and began to worship God together, our strength was renewed and our hearts were lifted.
You know, I just said that we should not be reckless, but I think I need to walk that back. The fact is that we worship a God who practices reckless love, reckless generosity, reckless mercy. So my prayer today is that our reckless God would help us to recklessly follow in His footsteps and obey His call. May we not fear those who can kill the body, but cannot destroy our souls (Mt.10:28). Instead may we hear the voice of the Lord telling us again and again: be courageous, be bold, do not be afraid, be anxious for nothing. Let us not hide our Light, but proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. Let us put our trust in the Lord, for then we are truly free – not shackled by fears, not stunted by dread, not clinging to flimsy walls that will not stand. The Lord is a strong tower; let us run into it and be saved.
Let us pray: Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, give I to you. Don’t let your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid (John 14:27).
Closing Song: “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus” #520