I was fortunate enough to be asked to speak (a lay person can’t preach unless they are approved, licensed, and knighted by the Queen I guess) at Victory Chapel UMC in Jackson, Ohio. This is the sermon. As always, this is not as it was delivered, but serves as the base. I depart from the text to explain better, either through detail or story, what I mean.
Let me start with introducing myself….
And you have to start over. That’s what I did. I faced those times of doubt and cynicism, of fear, of hopelessness. I flirted with atheism, with attending Church only on the major holidays. But, God was not finished with my destroyed life — with all of the sin I had committed and the vileness done in his name. Rather, he took that and began to rebuild me and my family. He began to polish out the tarnish, made the crooked placed straight, and ordered my in ways I am still coming to understand.
So you see, in my own life, I came from the shattered remains of what I thought was Christianity, of what I thought was love, of what I thought was God. Each of us, or maybe we know someone, who came from a life so bogged down in sin that we may have thought it was impossible for God to save them, that it was impossible that God could work in such a situation. Scripture tells us of many instances of such things.
You and I know the story of Sodom well. Lot, seeing the wealth and ease of the land of Sodom and her children chose his way. Sodom was a land given to greed, horror, uncontrollable desire. The people of Sodom believed that everything was their’s, including visitors.
You and I know the story well. Sodom was a country unto itself. It had no need for God or the things of God. Ezekiel says it abused the the poor and themselves. Jude said they exchanged the message of God for sexual sins.
You and I know the story well. God sent several angels to see what had caused the great cry. Abraham begged the Lord to save Sodom if there was just enough righteousness, but God could not find even just enough. So, as the Psalmist says, the land was laid waste because of the wickedness.
While the sexual sin never occurred in our story, those saved committed their own acts. After the destruction of the cities of the plain, incest was committed and born unto Lot were the ancestors of Moab and Ammon, both sworn enemies to Israel. Yes, we know the story well.
Sin continued, unabated, calling God from His throne. He destroyed all of the cities around Sodom, saving what amounted to be 3 souls. These souls, then, carried the sin with them, to produce peoples that would plague Israel for the centuries to come.
But this sermon is not about sin or wrath of judgement. Rather, I want to preach tonight about hope and the joy that comes in the morning, especially after the destruction.
In Psalm 30, the Psalmists calls us to remember that while God may be angry for a moment, his Grace is eternal, and that in our darkest days, there is hope.
In Scripture, we are give examples of this time and time again. In the story of Noah, the world comes to an end when the flood of God’s wrath washes sin away from the face of the earth. In Genesis 5.29, the prophecy over Noah’s birth tells us that he was born to take away Adam’s curse of painful work. Who are we to judge how this occurred? God took Noah and his family and gave them a plan of escape. Here, we know that this wood becomes a symbol of the cross of Christ by which we are all saved. Out of the destruction comes not only a new world, but a world pointing more surely to Jesus Christ.
Jacob lost his youngest and most favored son to robbers. You and I know the truth. Joseph was sold by his brothers because of jealousy. Joseph was cast into prison, forgotten by everyone, except for his God. During a famine, when Egypt and the Canaan was suffering, it was Joseph the forgotten and thrown-away brother who saved not only the Egyptians but the family that had forsaken him. You and I know this story well. The story of Joseph and Israel in Egypt did not end there. Whereas God has placed Joseph well, it was not too long before darkness overtook the land and enslaved the Children of Israel.
In the second most powerful redemptive moment in Scripture, God took the Children of Israel out, destroying the Egyptian army, liberating the slaves, and defeating the Egyptian gods.
What was left behind was complete chaos and carnage. What Israel took with them was only what they could carry. The night was dim. They could not see what lay before them. But God was in the middle of the people. There, he took them and began to mold them into a people. He gave them a Law when chaos reigned. He gave them food and drink when the famine was high. He never left them in a place of desolation. During these time, when all seemed lost – what was really lost was the faith of the people in God. Imagine a place so destroyed you could not see God? Now, as yourselves: Is there ever a place God cannot move?
The prophet Jeremiah preached against king and country of the coming wrath of God. He was not listened to. They brought in false gods, did unspeakable things, and ignored their covenant with the only God of Israel. In Jeremiah 52.12-16, we read of the Babylonian king who destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple of the Lord to the ground. It was not enough to conquer the Israelites, but he had to wipe them off the face of the earth. He destroyed the walls of the city, the Temple, and kill all of those who could not escape. Those who did escaped to Egypt. The king of Babylon took the ornaments of the Temple with him, along with slaves, believing that he had defeated the people of God.
But you and I know the story well. Out of this destruction would come a new temple. The slaves in Babylon would go to preserve the Torah and one day return. A new Temple would be rebuilt and God would get back that which was taken from Him. And the community of Jews in Egypt would build an outpost for exiles and wondering that would one day be temporary home for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. What man saw as destruction and the end, God saw as only another step to fulfilling his plan. Everything that man did to destroy the people of God, God used to point to Christ.
St. Paul says in Romans 8.28, that all things work together for the good for those who love God and who are called according to his purpose. Yet, many of us do not care enough to let God’s plan work. We are offended on behalf of God. We are angry that something has happened in our world that we believe God either doesn’t know about or is too small to have seen coming. Where is our faith when we insist on retreating? We bull-dozed by the ebbs and flows of what many call history.
We are told to cower before history as if our God is in not control of it, as if — perhaps — it is a god in of itself. I’m not just talking about bad arguments, uses of logic, and silly displays of self-important knowledge by those who share our church. Rather, I am speaking about the entire argument that the Church must follow society or else it will cease to be relevant.
The day the Church becomes irrelevant is the day Christ says so, and not because we have stood for the truth of Jesus Christ.
Let me tell you of another story along these same lines.
You and I know the story well. At the dawn of this creation. God created a man and a woman. He gave this man one stipulation to the covenant. “Do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Yes, we know the story well. While our verses and our chapters end, the story does not. Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree. God gave them a curse, removed them from the Garden of Eden, and they died. Their descendants faced famine, war, murder, sin and destruction. It was not enough to simply be removed from a life of ease, but even in death they were tormented. Yes, the whole of the earth suffered ruin because of the act of this one man and this one woman.
We as Wesleyan Christians are not limited in our understanding of Grace. We believe that God is ever-present in the life of the person. This prevenient grace calls us, molds us, and pulls us to God. When we accept it, we are give justifying grace. It is here that the ruin of sin, the destruction of a life without God, is ended. But, it is under sanctifying grace that a new creation is began. This is our journey of rebuilding, when God is taking the ashes of our sin, the embers of our failure, and the barren landscape of a life without Him and making something new. This is our journey in Christ. This is when we are being saved.
John Wesley, in his sermon on Christian perfection, understood well the words of the Lord found in Ezekiel 36.25–36. He used this passage to speak well to the goal of grace, that of renewing of the ruined so that we may serve God. “Thus saith the Lord your God, In the day that I shall have cleansed you from all your iniquities,—the Heathen shall know that I the Lord build the ruined places;—I the Lord have spoken it, and I will do it.” Wesley’s theme of the restoration of ruin is a Godly one as is the theme that God’s grace is behind it, under it, over it, and through it all.
Sometimes, we have to wait. Sometimes, even in the darkest of times and places, God is still working out things towards our salvation.
When Adam and Eve fell, God gave them the hope of one who would bruise the head of the serpent, not merely in the here and now, but for all eternity. He made a sacrifice of blood and covered their sins, showing us more fully the needed sacrifice in Christ. As St. Paul says, as by one man, Death entered into all the world, so that by one life enters in. Adam was not destroyed and forgotten. Rather, God was working together all things for our good.
But, let me return where I started.
You and I know the story of Sodom and Gomorrah well. Even now, this is a byword for a place in need of a good cleansing. But, what we may forget is what the Rabbi learned a long time ago. When God went looking for the messiah, God went to Sodom.
Let me explain.
In the midst of all of this sin and corruption, there is the messianic promise of Jesus Christ.
In Genesis 18.22–32, Abraham negotiates with God. He asks that if 50 are found righteous, would God spare the place. God replies in 18.26, that yes, if God finds 50 righteous, he will forgive the whole of the cities. We know that Abraham finally ends the begging with but finding ten righteous. We can look at it in one way, that Abraham wants the 50 or the 40 and so on saved and is willing to save the rest, or we can take the words of God who says that if there is just enough righteousness in Sodom, then we will not only spare the city but forgive it.
By the way, this is not the only time God acts like this. In Jeremiah 5.1, God is willing to spare Jerusalem if the prophet can find but one person who is keeping the Torah.
But back to Sodom. The story does not end well. We know the cities are destroyed because of the sin of Sodom is so great. What escapes, eventually, is a group of 3 people… three sinful people. The daughters are incestious with their father and give us Moab and Ammon, both enemies of the people of God. The Ammonites are later wiped out. The Moabites are later required to always remain outside the land of Israel.
But, there is a book in our canon that tells us of the time when that did not happen. The book of Ruth tells us of a love so powerful that a Moabite princess leaves all she has to work as a servant for her mother-in-law. And yes, we know that story well.
But at the end of that book, we are told that her grandson is none other than King David. Where did King David come from? His story begins in Sodom.
In the midst of sickness and perversion, God was busy preserving a line that would give us Jesus Christ.
When you look at the world today, do not ignore the sin that is happening, but do not think that God has lost control. Job was right, that not one of us can make something clean from something that is unclean, but I believe you and I serve one who can touch the leper and say “Be clean.” I believe you and I serve one who can look at the unclean woman and say “be clean.” I believe you and I serve the on who can look at our lives and say “be clean.”
If you think this is the end, don’t.
Hear this then: When the world and our leaders tell us that this is not God’s plan, that this is beyond hope, or that we can do nothing but retreat… when they utter the words of Job rather than Jesus, remember… we serve a messiah that was NOT found in peace, or in wealth, or in a sinless world. We serve a messiah that has restored the ruins, made the unclean clean, made death into life, the sick whole, and he is still in control.