Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sermon Starters (Memorial Day): Sanctifying Our Fights

Text: Exodus 14:10-14

  • Tomorrow is Memorial Day.
  • Some say we shouldn't celebrate secular or nationalistic American holidays in church (Mother's Day, July 4th, Memorial Day).
  • I've come to believe that God can "claim" cultural days like these. There's a highfalutin word for God claiming stuff. We say that God sanctifies them. And so God can claim Memorial Day for himself.
  • There are two important footnotes here. One is that everything is really already his. God is not like Thor or Zeus, who needs to fight to get what he wants. Yet somehow in the mystery of his will, he wants us to give him our stuff willingly, rather than forcing us to give it to him (for now).
  • One of the unique aspects to Christianity among the religions of the world (along with the other monotheistic faiths) is that we believe God created the world out of nothing. That means that everything belongs to him.
  • The other footnote is that if there are aspects to our attitudes, ideas, or practices that don't fit with him, then part of his claiming our stuff is the cleansing of it from the parts that don't fit with him. 
  • Thankfully, God didn't call me to preach today on how God wants to claim and/or cleanse Memorial Day. Perhaps Pastor Steve Deneff will be called to preach a series on God and Country. :-)
  • But I do want to look at a narrow topic that might be a strand within that broader subject. How does God lay claim to our "fightings." I'm not talking about war in general. I mean we as individual fight for and against things. God has a claim on all our fightings. And sometimes, we may need to be cleansed of some of them.
Here are four scenarios for how God might claim (or cleanse) our fightings:

1. Sometimes, God doesn't want us to fight because we're on the wrong side.
  • It's hard to believe, but sometimes we can be absolutely convinced that we are fighting for God when in fact we are fighting against God.
  • Paul is a great example of this. For the first part of his life, he was absolutely convinced he was on God's side in fighting the followers of Jesus.
  • Another contemporary example is a highly divided church, the one side calling for prayer, unity, and love toward each other. The side side calling for obedience to Scripture, following what Christians have believed for two thousand years, and following the articles of religion that have stood the test of time. Both sides clearly believe they know God's will. But someone has to be wrong about God's will. 
  • How can we figure out we are fighting against God? 
  • Some of us are fighters by nature (remember fight versus flight from psychology class). We especially need to check ourselves. Am I fighting for God or myself? Take a moment before you fight and ask, is this really God's fight? 
  • This was Judy (Huffman) Crossman's last Sunday on staff at College Wesleyan. Steve shared some of his stories of her impact. I remembered as well that there was a time in college (at SWU) when she asked me to pray for God to change my mind if I was wrong. I was convinced I was right about what God thought about something, but I prayed for him to show me if I was wrong. It took a year or two, but eventually I came to believe that I had misunderstood God's will.
  • The story of Ahab and Jehoshaphat at the end of 1 Kings is another example. Ahab was convinced they needed to fight. J had a gut feeling that it wasn't time to fight. Ahab died in the battle.
2. Sometimes, God agrees with us, but doesn't want us to fight. In fact, sometimes it is his will that we lose this battle.
  • This is the toughest one, when we're in the right, but God wants us to lose this time around.
  • But Jesus himself is the best example.
  • Mind you, when Jesus returns, he will come as a warrior. He will win.
  • But it was God's will when Jesus was on earth to let the Romans win, to let the high priest win. It was God's will for Jesus to lose on earth.
  • 1 Peter is about choosing to submit to unjust masters and unbelieving husbands. Some periods of history are 1 Peter times, when it is not God's will for us to fight. It is God's will for us to lose, for now.
3. Sometimes, God doesn't want us to fight but fights for us so that we win.
  • This is the best. We don't have to fight, but we win because God fights for us!
  • This is the situation of Exodus 14, read earlier in the service. Israel had no chance of beating the Egyptians in their own power. God did the fighting for them, and they never saw the Egyptians again.
  • Isn't it encouraging to know that God fights for us! I've never really been in a fight, but if I was in a situation where I could choose a champion, I think God would be a pretty good option.
  • I mentioned an episode where a weak person was able to pick a champion to find for him (of course the champion lost).
  • By the way, you could preach a different sermon on how Israel would have rather stayed in a miserable situation than trust in the miraculous delivery God had planned.
  • How do we know whether this is a time God is going to make us win or have us lose? We don't have to know. We just need to be faithful.
  • Hebrews 11 tells us of a whole cloud of witnesses who were faithful. God delivered some. Others lost in this world, but trusted in a better resurrection than being saved in this life.
4. Sometimes, God wants us to fight and fights with us.
  • Which brings us to the final option. Those times, perhaps the minority of cases, where God wants us to fight and he fights with us.
  • There are two situations especially in the Bible where God seems to want us to fight. The first is to help those who are powerless in the face of evil. Social justice in the prophets and Jesus did strive against evil but they strove for people rather than against ideas or law-breaking (most of the time). 
  • Two things that really ticked off the prophets: 1) idolatry and serving other gods and 2) oppression of widows, orphans, the poor, and the powerless.
  • So Jesus didn't go around telling people off because he liked to pick fights. He responded to oppression and exclusion from the kingdom.
  • So don't think yourself prophetic just because you like to tell off sinners. That's a misread of the prophets.
  • The second situation is when we strive with people because we are hoping they will be redeemed. Paul strove with the Corinthians because he wanted them to be in the kingdom.
  • Even the man sleeping with his father's wife in 1 Corinthians 5, God hands him over to Satan "that his spirit might be saved on the Day of the Lord."
  • We need to give everything to the Lord. He has a claim on it. That includes our fighting. And if there are aspects to our lives that don't fit with him, we need to let him cleanse them.
  • Tomorrow is Memorial Day. God can claim it. God can sanctify it. After all, Jesus says in John 15 that no greater love has a person but to lay down his life for his friends. Memorial Day remembers those who have laid down their lives for us.
  • We are about to have communion after prayer. How fitting, since Jesus laid down his life for the whole world! Part of the meaning of communion is remembering his sacrifice.


Keith Drury said...

A real practical sermon so well delivered yesterday! Thank you

WesleyanHQ said...

I like all your points, but something significant isn't discussed much, although I didn't watch the full video. How about when Nehemiah's people were defending themselves while working on the wall with "a sword in one hand?" Self-defense is sometimes OK? Even more dramatically, the nation of Israel was called upon to destroy Jericho, and other cities, when claiming their rest-land. Does this come under fighting idolatry? Is it included in your number 4?

One hopes there are no more Jericho commands. Did Jesus so change the rules of engagement that we feel confident that God will not make such a command again? If so, did God change? Or did the people of God change in their more complete understanding of Him? Was Joshua mistaken that God ordered everyone, even children, in Jericho to be slaughtered? Or did God have a purpose that incomprehensibly was more important than those lives and which He could not achieve without their sacrifice? Obviously we are not competent to judge God, or even Joshua. But it's hard to contend that God's nature aligns against fighting of this sort, unless we include it in the discussion.

Ken Schenck said...

I certainly didn't think I was being exhaustive. The fourth point was that there are times when it is God's will to fight and he fights with us. I didn't mean to limit it to examples I mentioned. I do believe that there can be God-sanctioned fights to eliminate evil. And I was not intending to eliminate self-defense (cf. here

Martin LaBar said...

I guess that when Jehoshaphat sent the choir out in front of the army, that was case 3. (2 Chronicles 20)

Thanks for the post.