The Father and Those who Persecute You
?The Father and Those who Persecute You? 6-21-15 Father?s Day- after the Charleston Church shooting at Emmanual AME where 9 were shot; Psalm 74:1-8, 18-23; Mt. 5:10-12
I was hoping to have a nice sermon for Father?s Day- but I changed my sermon three times- in light of the events that happened in our state Wednesday night. How do we jive that we have a heavenly Father who loves us and cares for us and then at the same time there is persecution of His children here. The simplistic solution would be to say, ?God is good, people are mean, but God will win.? The complexity is to get into how good is God or how mean are people and who is in control of what. I am not real certain that we absolutely have to understand all of that- at some point we have to have faith in the goodness and the ability for God to conquer our evil somehow. But what we do say as a cornerstone of our faith is the cross. It is in the central place in our sanctuary. The cross was the worst persecution- a totally innocent Jesus- killed be a very powerful Roman government and a very strict religious group. Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek and lived that out. The Romans were conquered by the Christians not by an army of bishops and laypeople- but by a steady conversion to a loving way. The persecution had to stop because there were so many. It was not an army or protests in the street that really conquered the Romans ? it was love. Jesus taught and lived that the persecution on the cross is not as final as we might think. The resurrection brings meaning to Jesus? persecution and to our own. The Father allowed the cross of His own Son. But the cross is not the end- and the death of these nine in Charleston is not the end either. Persecution has been upon the church from the beginning. I do not want to play down the racism and prejudice involved- a sermon on that terrible sin is coming later. What shocked me is that these brothers and sisters of ours were killed in a church in a Bible study that they welcomed this man into. I. THE REALITY OF PERSECUTION- Psalm 74 asks how long will the people of God continue to suffer. There are people who have said to me, persecution of Christians will never come to South Carolina. But it has. Not just last Wednesday but many times in our relatively short 240 year history. The British burned many churches- many of whom were Presbyterian. Presbyterian churches in Indiantown in Williamsburg County, Yemassee, Georgetown and York were burned. I actually saw an article by two Harvard professors in answer to a question as to whether the British burned churches- their answer was basically ?No? and they forgot and redefined their history. The ruins are still there- go to the Sheldon church in Beaufort County. ?When Sherman came to Columbia legend is that he was going to burn First Baptist but that a person outside pointed him to another church down the street- and they burned that one instead- Washington Street Methodist and Ebeneezer Lutheran, the rectory and education building of Trinity Episcopal at the time both blacks and whites worshiped in these places. He burned other churches too like the Episcopal churches in McPhersonville and Norway, SC. In the civil rights battles of the 60s there were bomb threats to the African American churches- the gathering place for blacks. Flint Hill Baptist in Rock Hill was burned. In 1996 eight African American churches were burned in SC. In 2000 Antioch Baptist (African American) in York County was burned. These are not African American churches only- they are the church of Jesus Christ- part of who we are- our brothers and sisters in Christ. A sanctuary is a holy refuge. It is a holy place that is being disrespected. It is not that we need more laws- it is against the law to murder in a church or harm a church. We need changed hearts. If people respected God, they would respect His churches. We need to repent. Our schools and churches are to be safe places. It is not just Muslim extremists who are attacking, but deranged racists, and nihilists who think there is no reason to live. It is hatred- evil- a lack of respect for human life and God?s law that says, ?Thou shalt not murder.? A murder in church is a horrible disrespecting of God. ???? There have been more Christians killed in the last 100 years than all the other centuries put together.?? Today Christians in the Middle East are facing genocide. It is basically a conspiracy by the Shiites, the radical Sunnis to eliminate Christianity from its birthplace. The population of Christians in the Middle East has shrunk from 20% at the beginning of the 20th century to 5% today. 700,000 Syrian Christians have left- many of their churches burned. Similarly about 700,000 Iraqi Christians have left that country in the last ten years (Newsweek 3/26/15). Our passage in Psalm 74 lifts up to God- that our places of worship have been destroyed. In this hundred degree heat, it is hard to live without air conditioning. Yet most of these middle class Christians were kicked out of their air conditioned homes with stoves and refrigerators to go live in the non-air conditioned desert in tents. ???? Why are people so mean to Christians? I think the root is a spiritual evil- part of the struggle and battle against evil in the world. I?m not just talking about the devil- though I am sure the devil smiled at the cross and the reality of personal evil becomes evident in persecution. Human evil- the poison in our hearts takes control and becomes violent action. Evil does not want to be told it is wrong. Racists don?t want to be told they are wrong. People who are proud or selfish don?t want to hear that they are proud or selfish. People who are apathetic to persecution don?t want to hear that they should care more. It has happened many times that the truth is turned on its head. So Christians are seen as ?haters? while people who love to hate good and the good people are seen as good. ???? Jesus said in this world you will have trouble. The word ?trouble? is tribulation and persecution and implies difficulty. But then He said the most encouraging words, ?But be of good cheer?I have overcome the world.?
- THE LIMITATION OF PERSECUTION- Persecution is always limited by God. God will put an end to it. This is why Jesus could say ?You will have trouble but be of good cheer.? He has overcome the world. The worst the world can do cannot take away your soul. Revenge is not ours- it is the Lord?s. God is the judge- not us. It is not that it doesn?t matter what you do. We do not have to take our defense in our own hands. It is not as if Jesus was saying, ?Crucify me, it doesn?t hurt. It doesn?t matter.? No, it hurts- it matters. But Jesus knew even the worst we do cannot stop God and the power of the resurrection. It is not all up to us- it is not up to our knowledge, our skill, our strength, our police, our laws, our barriers and locks, or the distance we are from trouble makers. Don?t get me wrong- I am for doing all we can to make us safe and better people. We are ultimately in God?s hands- He is our heavenly Father- and no one can take us out of His hands- who can separate us from the love of God- not death, devil, sorrow- or even the powerful Roman soldiers and law or the cross. In the end- God wins- and He cares a lot more than we do about the actions of humans. It amazes me we can look at ISIS beheading other Christians and look the other way and say, ?It?s not my bizness.? Or we can see famine for the Christians kicked out to the desert and mountains by ISIS and say, ?It?s not my bizness.? Or when a person loses a job simply because they are a Christian or want to keep the Sabbath. Or when a pastor and 9 congregant get shot- and we say, ?It?s a different denomination and a different church in a different city.? Do you hear? It?s like we are saying ?As long as it isn?t me- it?s ok.? No we cannot solve all the world?s problems- but we are called to at the very least pray for the problems we hear about. ?What can stir us out of our slumber to God and others? How much evil will it take before we wake up and say ? we need to repent? ???? Tertullian once said, ?The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.? One of the limitations of persecution is that in trying to snuff out the love of Christ it actually multiplies it. The Republic of China kicked the missionaries out in 1955 but instead of killing the church it grew from 1 million then to 100 million today. In the early church when people were led to the lions and they refused to recant- people would say to themselves- I would like something to die for and live for. III. THE HANDLING OF PERSECUTION- Our passage says to pray, rejoice, and bless 1. Pray for those who persecute you. Many prayers have been sent up asking God to change the soul of those who hate in our land. I cannot change them. But the Spirit can. Many prayed- victims? families prayed for the conversion of Dylann Roof. But we pray not just for their conversion, we pray that God would see and do something. Leave it in God?s hands- not yours. ? 2. Rejoice when you are persecuted- why? Why? For some, this world?s comfort is all there is and to rejoice in persecution makes absolutely no sense. Yesterday at the AME church in Chapin there was a prayer service. The pastor there said that evil is a live- but it will not keep me from praising God. Hatred would like to steal your soul and your song. 3. Our passage says to bless those who persecute you. People might expect to hear- defend yourself- strike back- curse those who persecute. But the One who said on the cross, ?Father forgive them for they know not what they do? invites us to bless the persecutors. At the same time- the cry for justice for the protection from those who mean it for evil goes up to our Lord. He particularly hears the blessing of the persecuted. Such blessing amplifies the cry into God?s ears. ???? There was a wonderful article in the Wall Street Journal about the relatives of those who were killed. They were blessing the shooter at the bond hearing. So the daughter of Ethel Lance said, ?I just wanted everybody to know, to you, I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you.? She asked that God have mercy on the shooter?s soul. A family member of Anthony Thompson said, ?I forgive you and my family forgives you.? Hatred did not win. Forgiveness keeps hatred from continuing. ???? The Witness of Emanuel AME has stood firm. It is a firm reliance on a heavenly Father who sees them through. The shooter said he almost didn?t do it because they were so nice. The state Senator who shared his desk with Senator Pinckney on the floor said that he was the most gentle of the 46 legislators.? One young man at the church jumped in front of a bullet meant for his aunt. Five families came forward during the weapons charge hearing saying they forgave the shooter or asked for God?s mercy for him. The love and grace that goes beyond human ability shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. The Father is not absent nor uncaring. He is raising up His people with love once more conquering hate.