Within Protestantism (and more specifically Evangelicalism) there has been a tendency toward the abstractions of doctrinal confessions. Theology has most often tended toward bullet pointed statements of confession. While this has its place it fails to grapple with the revelation of God which we confess as such: the very form of the Scriptures. The nature of Scripture itself is not first and foremost abstract universal claims, but primarily story. Why is this? Should it affect the manner in which we reflect upon our theological confessions? How might it be reflected appropriately without simply becoming (like so many sermons) three points and a poem? (Even the “world” regards story as more important to communication than bullet-points).
The following were listed by David F. Ford* as reasons offered “for the attractiveness of narrative” in theological reflection (ironically enough offered in bullet-pointed fashion):
it is the main genre of the Bible
it is the underlying structure of the Christian creeds, baptism and eucharist
its concreteness and particularity deserve primacy in relation to the more abstract, generalizing approach of much doctrine and theology
it gives a proper prominence to people in interaction, to specific contexts and to actions and events, all of which tend to be marginalized or treated too generally and abstractly by traditional theological discourse
it provides a way into doctrine and ethics which is definite, imaginative and well-suited to the gospel while not claiming an exclusive or imperialistic universality
it is the basic, irreducible way to express human experience and identity
it enables a fresh approach to the relationship of historical fact to Christian truth
it provides a forum for encounter and discussion, not only between very different types of Christian theology, but also between various religions and cultures (all of which have their stories) and between theology and other disciplines (e.g. literary studies, history, psychology, anthropology).
The story of God is the story of redemption and life. It is the story we find ourselves caught up in and carrying various threads of the divine narrative toward their culmination in new creation. The story of Scripture is our story and the cosmos’ story. So let’s at least speak in ways that flows from God’s own self revelation in Scripture, in the Word made flesh, and in the Spirit within. Let us tell the old, old story as the new experience of the divine life…as reflecting Father, Son and Spirit.
* D. F. Ford, ‘Narrative Theology,’ pp.489-91 in R. J. Coggins and J. L. Houlden, eds, A Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation (London: SCM, 1990), pp.489, 490.
The following is a sermon I preached for chapel at Trinity Bible College & Graduate School on Tuesday, April 10, 2018.
“But it was the LORD’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the LORD’s good plan will prosper in his hands.” Isaiah 53:10 (NLT)
The following is a sermon I preached at Faith Assembly of God in Lisbon, ND on Sunday, March 25, 2018.
“Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry.
Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.” Matthew 21:18-19 (NIV)
From time to time I receive random questions from people I don’t even know. One from yesterday went as follows:
“Does Trinity Bible College hold the position that the four Gospels can or cannot be perfectly harmonized into one account?”
And my brief response (that I thought could be of interest to some who follow this blog) after letting the individual know that Trinity does not have any official position on this:
The four Gospel accounts can be harmonized with one another, but must also be allowed to remain distinct voices from one another. This has been the historic response to such ideas. Irenaeus in the second century contended for the necessity of the four distinct accounts that each in their own ways reveal Jesus as God’s self-revelation and belong being heard together (though as individual voices). Tatian (another second century Church father) attempted a harmony as the text of the Syriac Church (it was called the Diatessaron), but this was rightly rejected by the wider Church as failing to allow for the distinctions of each individual Gospel account. In other words, I would say that while we believe that the Gospels do not actually contradict one another they remain as differentiated testimonies to Jesus that should be honored as distinct witnesses.
Following the lectionary, I preached the Gospel portion from Mark 16.1-8 this morning. This may not seem strange to others, but for a Pentecostal preacher to end before the well known long ending of Mark is tantamount to heresy (not really, but it is a rare phenomenon that cuts against the grain). The Gospel of Mark ends quite abruptly in certain of the manuscript traditions (the one I believe better represents the earliest final form; on the variants and textual witnesses see the NET notes). The longer endings which most are familiar with offer appearances of Jesus, empowerment and calling to mission, and the successful engagement of the good news to the ends of the earth. But that is not where the Gospel ends in the most likely origin:
“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ” Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (Mark 16.1-8 NIV)
In this ending there are no angels. There is no earthquake. No appearance of Jesus to any of his disciples or the women. No commission to evangelize. There are only mourning women encountering a “young man” dressed in “white” who reminds them of the words of Jesus and informs them to tell Jesus’ “disciples and Peter” to head up to Galilee where Jesus has gone ahead of them. The passage ends with silence and fear. Talk about a heavy ending. What are we to do with such an ending? (Apparently enough folks believed something needed added thus lending itself to the multiple forms of the endings preserved).
We, likewise, are left with only the witness of others speaking the words of Jesus regarding his resurrection (and soon coming). We do not ourselves encounter the risen Christ directly. It is mediated to us. We find ourselves often confused in silence and fear. But the words return, “Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen!” And we also hear the “Go, tell…”. Our hearts tremble. Our minds quake.
But this story continues on in victory. It continues to be passed on and lived out. We only hear this account because those same trembling women did in fact testify to the words concerning the risen Christ. They were faithful! The task they had been entrusted in fear becomes the task we all bear: to share the words of others to us of the risen Lord. To tremble…then testify!
“…on earth as it is in heaven…” While we might consider this from the trajectory of the revelation of the God to Israel preceding Jesus’ statement (which would be a fitting approach), we might also consider this statement as embodied in the one leading the prayer: Jesus the Christ. Such a reflection (drawing from the New Testament) offers several hearings of this text leading to praying and doing.
We might understand by “heaven” not an ethereal disembodied sphere of existence “out there” or even “above here”, but as wherever the kingdom of God is present. Wherever God reigns is most properly to be regarded as “heaven”. While God’s reign is not fully experienced “on earth” it is coming to bear “on earth” even as it has from the beginning of creation and the planting of the garden.
Considering such a view of “heaven” we might define “on earth” as that sphere of existence wherein God’s reign is less fully yet being realized.
There is a strange movement that occurs here. It is never as if “earth” is not where God reigns, nor is “heaven” to be regarded as itself such bliss that nothing more could be added to it. No. The kingdom of God is yet more realized in both heaven and earth by the two becoming the kingdom of our God and His Christ. This is not to suggest something essential lacking to the reign “in heaven,” but to appeal to the grace of God towards, in, and for us in his self-giving love embodied in Christ Jesus.
Christ Jesus brings heaven to bear on earth. Or more properly first, the Holy Spirit brings heaven to bear on earth in the virgin Mary. This is “God with us”. God being toward us, heaven toward earth (even in the earth).
Christ Jesus bears heaven on earth as the light burdens being given in place of earth’s heavy burdens. He seeks and saves that which is lost as a light blazing in the darkness. Earth cannot be regarded as wholly other to heaven. Unclean spirits are cast out. Disease and even death itself is demonstrably overcome on earth as it is in heaven. And these are all laid to bear on the cross as one raised up from the earth and lifted up into heaven in shamefulness. Yet the Father sees fit to not leave his Son buried in the earth, but raises him up to ascend into heaven to His right hand as King Jesus. And from there the Father pours out Jesus’ Spirit upon all flesh to fill the hearts and mouths of the saints with heaven on earth until the earth should be filled with the fullness of the glory of God.
And heaven shall be opened and the Christ descend bearing heaven to the earth. At last the kingdom shall come in fullness as his reign continues without end. His throne (the throne of God and of the Lamb) established in His city now come down from heaven and established upon the new heavens and the new earth. It is here, in the two joining, that we are praying toward as Jesus taught us to. It is here, in the two joining, that we are working toward as the Spirit compels and empowers us to. It is here that we (and all of creation with us) are moving toward: the day when the Father in heaven’s name is holified, His kingdom come, and His will done “on earth as it is in heaven”.
For the director of music. With stringed instruments. Of David. Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the foe.
I long to dwell in your tent forever
and take refuge in the shelter of your wings For you, God, have heard my vows;
you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.
Increase the days of the king’s life,
his years for many generations.
May he be enthroned in God’s presence forever;
appoint your love and faithfulness to protect him.
Then I will ever sing in praise of your name
and fulfill my vows day after day.
This Psalm echoes some sort of unknown problem. We don’t actually know that there was a problem present, even though there’s a cry for help. It’s just a general cry for distress. But the psalmist knows the faithfulness of the God he calls on. He has experienced the sheltering presence of the LORD, the God of Israel. And as he makes his request for being hidden under the wings of this God, he knows that if he’s hidden there, he will be able to fulfill his vows, the king will be enthroned forever, and God’s reign will go on. And that’s good news.
Here’s the deal: in case you didn’t know it, your God has wings. This is not like a Marvel series. Your God has wings, and that’s something to be excited about. Your God has wings. “I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings” (Psalm 61:4).
Numbers 15 is a message from the LORD through Moses while the children of Israel are still in the desert.
The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel.You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the LORD your God.’” (Numbers 15:37-41)
Now this is a weird, obscure text, just like the idea of God having wings is weird. These are two things that seemingly aren’t related. Tassels at the four corners of clothes. If you travel to Israel, you’ll see a little fringe hanging outside of Jewish jackets. Orthodox Jews to this day still wear these four tassels.
Why? The sign of the covenant for Israel was circumcision. Since there is no way to appropriately check if people are circumcised, there is an outward testimony that one is a faithful covenant member of God’s people. It is four tassels that serve as a constant reminder, not only to that person, but to everyone who sees them, that this person belongs to the LORD.
Now what does this have to do with taking refuge in the shadow of the LORD’s wings? The Hebrew for wing (kanaf) can either be translated as wing or corner. It just depends on the context. And these texts collide because of this word. “Take refuge under the kanaf of the LORD.” “Wear on the kanaf of your clothes a testimony of your faithfulness to the LORD.” This is a super weird command. As we read the text, we just don’t understand why it’s here. In fact, just so you get the point, it gets repeated in another list of weird rules in Deuteronomy 22 about not blending your clothes, not boiling a goat in its mother’s milk, etc. It’s the kind of stuff you love in your daily devotional. It’s a command that gets repeated 40 years later as the people are about to go into the Promised Land: Don’t forget the tassels on the kanaf/corner of your garment as a testimony of your faithfulness; as a reminder of faithfulness.
Now we get this interesting story in the book of Ruth; Ruth, who is shockingly repeated as the Moabitess. According to Deuteronomy 24, anyone who marries a Moabitess excludes themselves and all of their generations up to ten generations, from ever entering the tabernacle or temple of the LORD. This is the word of the LORD. In the story of Ruth, several Israelites go down to Moab because there is famine for disobedience because it is the days of the judges when everyone does what is right in their own eyes. They go down to Moab, which is experiencing more fruitfulness than Israel. There they hook up with a couple ladies except all the men die, and one of the Moabitess’s, Ruth, remains with her mother-in-law, as they hear that the LORD has returned favor back to Israel. And when she goes back, she goes out into a field to work and get some food for herself and her mother-in-law. She just happens to run into a certain man named Boaz. And Boaz just happens to be the closest relative, and the closest relative was the one who could redeem back all the fields, houses (anything that had to be sold because of impoverishment).
Here, she receives a blessing. Ruth 2: she’s harvesting the field, and she meets Boaz because she wants to know who Boaz is. Ruth 2:11-12: “Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” In other words, you have found yourself hidden under the wings of the LORD. Because of your faithfulness, He will be faithful.
Now the story actually unfolds. I’m not sure if Naomi hatches this as a plot or not, but Naomi tells Ruth one night, “Here’s the deal. You should put on your finest dress. Then wait. Boaz is going to work hard all day, and at the end of the day, he’s going to have a feast and drink a lot. And when he’s had as much as he can eat and has drunk all he can, he’s going to feel really good. He’s going to take a nap. I want you to go in to him, and let him take care of what is supposed to happen next.”
As it turns out, he eats, drinks, passes out, and Ruth comes in, finds him, uncovers his feet, and lies down by him. In the middle of the night, he wakes up and sees her by his feet.
Chapter 3 verse 9: “Who are you?” he asked. “I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are the kinsman redeemer.”
He has spoken blessing, “May the LORD cover you for your faithfulness.” Now she says, “Cover me with your faithfulness.” Now we already know Boaz is a faithful follower of the LORD. So what does he have at the corner of his garments? Tassels. He is faithful to the core. And she says, “I see the symbol of your people. You are faithful to the covenant. Be faithful to keep your part of the deal. Be faithful to the LORD. What he has commanded do.”
So the story unfolds, and sadly, while this should be a story about women, it’s not. It ends with David, who is the great grandson of Ruth. Because of the faithfulness of Ruth and Boaz, the LORD is faithful to raise up for himself one who would be king in Israel. Reread Psalm 61
David does not become king. Saul becomes king and is not faithful. He tries, but he keeps messing up. He tries to kill David a few times even though David works for him. David runs for his life, and Saul uses the kingly resources to actually chase David down and kill him because he believes David is trying to replace him as king. He goes and he finds a cave to relieve himself, and it turns out in the course of the story that David and his men are hiding out in the back of the cave. David’s men think this is a great opportunity to kill King Saul. “The LORD has given him to us today. He’s going to fulfill the promise he made to make you king.”
1 Samuel 24:4: “The men said, “This is the day the Lord spoke of when he said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.’” Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.”
The corner was likely the tassel. If Saul is trying to be faithful, he has signs of faithfulness. David just makes a little snip, and takes the tassel. He has just challenged the faithfulness of Saul as a true Israelite. Saul leaves the cave, and he goes to look for David. David is suddenly conscience stricken. He comes out and tells Saul that he could have taken his life but didn’t, and shows him the proof. Then he is repentant and says that the LORD should be the judge. The LORD will be faithful. And he throws himself under the shelter of the wings of God. David does eventually become king. The LORD shows himself faithful to David.
Matthew 9. Jesus is on his way to raise a dead girl. Verse 12: “Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak.” (I’m not pretending the original translation of this uses the word kanaf, but the Hebrew translation done later does use kanaf.)
13-14: She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.” Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment.
This is a beautiful story. She’s trying to get a secret healing. She sneaks up through the crowd that she is making unclean by her contact. In fact, she will make Jesus impure by touching him. Unclean passes, but clean never does. You don’t get accidentally clean. He’s defiled. His faithfulness is challenged and questioned by her laying hold of it, and this testimony is exactly where she touches it. The same place David challenges Saul (the corner of his garment), the woman says, “I know he’s faithful, and if I could only lay hold of his faithfulness, I will be clean.”
She’s healed! She’s cleansed! 12 years, and the faithfulness of this Jew is what sets her free. And that’s not it. In Matthew 14:36, this becomes a trend. “All who touched it (the kanaf) were healed.” There’s nothing magical about his clothes, but at the corner of his clothes are four tassels because he is a faithful Jew. He fulfills everything that the LORD has commanded, and at the shadow of his wing, a woman is healed and others are healed. At the corner of his garment, the corner of his faithfulness begins to cover all the needs of those who reach out for it.
So what’s the point? Here’s the deal. Some of you have a better way of being faithful than others. But here’s the good news: your salvation never rested in your faithfulness to begin with. The fact of the matter is you can’t say enough prayers, cry enough tears, confess enough sins, do enough right, or be faithful enough. It doesn’t work that way. You experience the goodness of our God because his faithfulness covers over you, because you know where to run, hide, and put yourself. It is under His faithfulness, and not your own.
But some of you think it is your faithfulness that has somehow earned His faithfulness. Some of you think, almost as Ruth could get that notion that Boaz said it’s because I’m faithful. But what is Ruth? A Moabitess. Under no circumstances should she experience the faithfulness of the LORD, but she does, because it never depended on her faithfulness, but always on His. Some of you are carrying around this weight of perfectionism, because you think it will make you a better follower of Jesus. Some of you need to know the faithfulness of your God. He covers you not because of your faithfulness, but because of His. And like this woman and these others who get the idea, you seek Him and find yourself laying hold of His faithfulness. Let Him cover you with His wings.
I’m taking a number of Trinity students to the annual meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies (hosted in Cleveland, TN this year) in a few weeks. Every Thursday for the last several months we’ve met for about a half hour to talk about various aspects of the trip including topics/papers that will be a part of the gathering. One of the papers that I summarized today (and handed out a copy of) was from a dear friend (thanks Monte) who is engaging (in part) ways that the poor find their voice in the Pentecostal oral liturgy, all the while most of life mutes their voices.
Likely you may not think Pentecostals have “liturgy”. However, it is simply those practices which form such a gathering into the image of Christ. I was asking for examples of such and the students helpfully offered such things as praying in tongues, singing, prayers, and preaching. I should mention that each Thursday, just prior to our half hour gathering for particular trips, we are together as a full campus singing to the Lord, offering prayers and testimonies. During our corporate time today our Director of Student Ministries called for us to join in prayer for the mass shooting in a school in Parkland, Florida yesterday. As he mentioned this there were audible groans from several places in the chapel.
I pointed to those groans as a poignant example of Pentecostal oral liturgy. Those groans belong to the Spirit who also groans with creation for redemption. Such groans function to address the deep anguish of heart in the face of such darkness. It longs, it cries, for response. Inexpressible groans that long for the kingdom of our God to become the kingdom of this world. Groans for the King to return and set all things to right.
Moments like this remind me of the value of the integration of scholarship with practice, worship flowing into theological reflection and that theology answering back as further worshipful response to God in the midst of his people in the midst of the world.
Today I had a student that I am mentoring who mentioned something I said in one of my classes: “Grace is life”. I had said this as part of my response to a student’s sermon addressing grace, but never defining it in any sort of substantial sense. It seemed taken for granted. I had offered that the preaching student consider “Grace is life”. I only briefly added to this a few comments about that life being the life of God in and for us. Then I moved on with the class. This student in my office, however, wondered just what I meant by it.
Being a dad I’m good at giving far more than someone asks for. 🙂
I opened with clarifying that for me this statement flows from my readings and reflections on the work of Karl Barth. I walked the student through the basic idea of God’s freedom for, to, through, and in (and even against) us. This, for me, is grace. God remains always free in his own self-giving. We find ourselves taken up into this in God’s own self-giving in Jesus the Christ. Here is Man given freely to and for God and to and for creation. Here is God given freely to and for God and to and for creation. And always and forever this freely flowing life of God is given in God’s own love for God and our being taken up into that movement by the Spirit of Jesus.
And then tonight as I sat down to do some evening reading I happened upon this statement by Barth regarding election that seemed related to my discussion with my student:
… in the name and person of Jesus Christ we are called upon to recognize the word of God, the decree of God and the election of God at the beginning of all things, at the beginning of our own being and thinking, at the basis of our faith in the ways and works of God. (CD 2/2 p. 99)
For myself (and I pray for my students as well), I find tremendous help in these ideas for pastoral care and praxis. Grace becomes both the opportunity and possibility of life … and that life is in God’s own life. What do you think?
The following is a sermon I preached in Trinity chapel (Friday, January 12, 2018) that is offered as part of an interview on questions of social justice that I did for the Trinity Bible College Leadership Podcast. The audio of the sermon is included as a part of the podcast and I have also included the manuscript of the sermon for those interested (click the title below for the podcast).
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves…” (Prov. 31:8 NLT)
This text is brought into the canon of Israel’s scriptures and thus our own as the words of an unnamed woman giving wisdom to her son Lemuel. This text is from a message of King Lemuel’s mom to him concerning wisdom specifically to ruling as a wise king. He apparently was a Gentile king because his name is nowhere in the kings of Israel and Judah. One might suppose if he heeded these words of his mother he would be indeed a great and wise king. Now given such a beginning these words ring with truth even for those who are outside of Israel proper, but who speak with the wisdom of the God of Israel. This Gentile wisdom then becomes Israelite wisdom, by the addition of this proverb to the collection of the proverbs of Israel and then for us as Christian scripture through our incorporation into Christ Jesus. This is how we come to hear that a properly wise king must speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Such a king must not allow for those without a voice to be silenced or ignored. He must speak up and act justly towards everyone and particularly those who cannot speak for themselves. He must speak when they cannot, and having spoken up, he must act justly. Who exactly are these muted voices?
They are both those who are marginalized and those who are silenced. I will suggest to you by the marginalized, that they are the poor, the needy, and the homeless. I’m thinking here of widows and orphans … I’m thinking of children and the elderly. They stand outside of the mainstream as it was. I’m thinking here of minorities … I’m thinking here of foreigners living in a strange land. These are those marginalized of society. I’m also thinking not just of the marginalized, but the silenced. These are those who perhaps should or could have had a voice but no longer do, they have been disempowered for one reason or another. These are those who have been silenced by abuse. They feel as if their voice has been taken from them. And the wise king hears the words of his mother saying, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.”
They speak of the first silencing of a man at the hands of his own brother (Cain and Abel) even though his blood still cried out from the ground. They speak of Lamech seizing wives for himself in order to dominate others. They speak of the drowned out sufferings of the earth in the days of Noah resulting in the watery renovation of all of creation. They speak of the cries of the stranger suffering in the inhospitable hands of Sodom and her allies. They speak of the wailings of those under the whip “way down in Egypt land.” They speak of the oppressions of tribal Israel seeking a deliverer to save from the hands of her enemies. They speak of the later kings of Israel enslaving for their own for self-advancement. They speak of the needy downtrodden by the rich in Amos just to make houses of ivory for themselves. They speak of the exiles mocked to sing their happy songs of now desolate Zion. They speak of wives divorced and children abandoned in favor of property and titles. They speak of the voices silenced in blood by wicked powers … the silenced voices who spoke prophetically against those powers. And they speak still.
And I hear the voice of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor, who spoke up for those who became part of his family: the Jewish people, who actually entered into his family through marriage. And he worked for their redemption and salvation in the midst of Nazi Germany. He had his opportunity to not speak up, or speak up from a distance, but he chose to speak up in Germany and he paid with his life. And I hear the voice of Martin Luther King Jr. who had a dream for this land that still is not fulfilled. I hear his voice beckoning to a culture that would silence others … that would mute the voices of those who cry out for justice and equality. I still hear their voices.
And I even still hear the voices of the children I’ve held who climbed out of the sewers in the streets of Romania. I still hear the voices of the one destitute family searching for food in a garbage city in Mexico. I still hear the prostitutes selling their body on the streets of Brussels in an attempt to make a life for themselves. I still hear the voices of Somali war refugees begging for their bread in Northern Kenya. I still hear the voices of three Rwandan widows grappling with their survival of genocide as they told the story in my church. I still hear the voices of the homeless and the impoverished in the now silenced ghettos of Chicago. I still hear the voices of women abused by their husbands and molested in their workplaces with little to say today but “me too”. I still hear the voice of my black family and friends who fear a culture set against them. I still hear the voices of the North Dakota foster children that Jenn and I have welcome into our home who were abused and rejected by their drug addicted parents. I hear and I cannot be silent! I must speak up…
And I know from the Scriptures that such voices have made their way to heaven. And they are heard! And God is not silent! He sent such a voice crying in the wilderness on behalf of those who could not speak for themselves … a voice of preparatory repentance for the soon coming King … a voice to make the path of the Lord straight where it was crooked, to level every mountain, and fill every valley. And how can we not also cry out. God is not silent. His son our King speaks. Our righteous and wise King: He speaks. And He speaks up for the poor, and He speaks up for the children, and He speaks up for the widows, and He speaks up for the lepers, and He speaks up for the demonized, and the blind, and the mute. And He even speaks up for those like Lazarus who are too long silenced in their grave. This speaking up was taken up by His Church in her care for widows and orphans as the “true religion” of James…as the message of liberation for the nations in Paul’s writings … and even in the blood washed righteous robes of the Revelation.
How can we not also cry out with the saints gathered under the altar of God Almighty “How long, O Sovereign Lord…” We must speak up for justice in the earth! We must speak up for those whose cries for justice have not been heard, whose voices have been silenced. We must speak up!
But it is exactly at this point we find ourselves at a loss. The strength of our voices … they fail us. Our hearts are not even truly in it. We don’t even know well enough how to call out for our own justice let alone the justice of others. Our voices have been silenced in sin, marginalized in pride. We don’t know how to speak up to this Holy God. We feel the weight of our brokenness, indeed, the brokenness of the whole world and our feeble voices stammer to speak, but the words escape us and our own silence sets in.
Yet the silence does not have the last word. We praise the Lord who has heard these feeble cries and He has given His own thundering voice and it speaks for us. And we have been spoken up for by one who never ceases to speak up for us before the throne of God. Indeed, our King is not silent. We have an intercessor seated at the right hand of God who speaks up for us that we might have the justice due His goodness and mercy. He speaks up for us, even for the world. Our King speaks up. The lamb who was silent before the shearers … He has raised His voice as a lion roaring in these last days. And our King He has poured out His spirit who compels us to cry out to His Father, and now our Father knowing we have been heard and will be answered in righteousness. Our voices cannot help but speak with His voice: the voice of the son, the voice of the King of heaven and earth. We pray for ourselves. We also pray for those who do not yet know well enough to speak up to God for themselves. We speak up for the poor and the hungry, widows and orphans, homeless and foreigner. We speak up for those lost in darkness, for those abandoned and forgotten, for those whom the King Himself is not silent. Our voices joining His voice, joining their voices. We speak up and we cannot be silent. We speak up and are moved to action. The voice of righteousness finds the work of righteousness. And we hear and join our voices to the psalmist’s shout.
Honor the Lord, you sons of God;
honor the Lord for his glory and strength.
Honor the Lord for the glory of his name.
Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.
The voice of the Lord echoes above the sea.
The God of glory thunders.
The Lord thunders over the mighty sea.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is majestic.
The voice of the Lord splits the mighty cedars;
the Lord shatters the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon’s mountains skip like a calf;
he makes Mount Hermon leap like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord strikes
with bolts of lightning.
The voice of the Lord makes the barren wilderness quake;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord twists mighty oaks
and strips the forests bare.
In his Temple everyone shouts, “Glory!”
The Lord rules over the floodwaters.
The Lord reigns as king forever.
The Lord gives his people strength.
The Lord blesses them with peace. (Psalm 29, NLT)
He speaks and He cannot be silenced. He speaks and gives strength, and He blesses with peace. And we shout Glory! He speaks and is heard. And those in His house shout Glory! He speaks and righteousness reigns. He speaks and His people do right and everyone in His house shouts Glory! The wise and great King speaks, and who can but answer: Glory! Glory! Glory!
Let it be, King Jesus, let it be. Hear this call today, to not let your voice be silenced or marginalized. The King speaks on your behalf. Speak boldly therefore, let your feeble voice be raised to the one who hears and speaks up for you. Let your King work justice in and for you. And let your cheerful voice be raised in unison with others who need the King to work justice for them also. Let His Spirit speak in and through you that they might know and enjoy life … that they might also find the voice of the wise and great King who speaks up on their behalf.
Here I invite you if you’d stand with me and the worship team would come. This is a short message. I’m inviting you to call on Jesus who answers. I’m inviting you to raise your voice for those who have yet to call on Jesus: Jesus who answers. We cannot be silent. We cannot be silent. King Jesus speaks and we speak also. We cannot be silent. We must speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves because Jesus does.