When Times Get Tough – Sermon – 23 August 2020

WELCOME

Welcome to worship in the “dog days of August.” In any other year, these last few weeks before Labour day would be unique in their general overall “laziness.” Kingsville always seems to fall asleep in August, with the streets less busy and church services more intimate with a significantly reduced attendance.  But this isn’t any year. This is 2020, and in some ways the town has felt like late August since what was supposed to be the end of March Break.

And so, in a year like this it is all the more important that we keep up with the rhythms of our lives as best we can, even the long-anticipated restart of school signals the possibility of one more step in the long road to normal. Thank you for being with us this morning. The weekly reminder that God is on the throne and we are His children has never been more important!

Prayer (Adapted from 24/7 Prayer App)

Dear Lord,

We enter into worship of You this morning, pausing to be still. We pay attention to the rhythm of our breathing and give thanks for it as a gift from You. In the midst of our busyness and distraction, we re-centre our scattered senses upon Your presence.  Amen

Psalm 89

1 I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever;
    with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known
    through all generations.
2 I will declare that your love stands firm forever,
    that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself.

Song: 10,000 Reasons – Matt Redman

Today's Message - When Times Get Tough

Introduction

As anyone who pays any attention to the news these strange days will know, it is becoming increasingly clear that character matters. Whether we are electing politicians, or calling people to protect their neighbours by wearing masks in public, the moral character of individuals has never been more important, nor more exposed. Being willing to give up our rights for the sake of others is central to the moral teaching of Jesus; all the way from “Turn the other cheek,” in Matthew 5:39, to “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last, and the servant of all,” in Mark 9:35. Paul carried on that theme in Romans 12:3 when he wrote, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” The Kingdom of God is clearly NOT about fighting for your rights. Instead we are called to think of others in humility as we give our lives for the One who humbled Himself and gave His life for us!

We can see that strength of character in the very early days of the nation of Israel, illustrated in the passage we are about to read in the book of Exodus. This passage picks up where we left off last week. Joseph moved his family to Egypt to protect them from the devastating famine that threatened their lives, and set them up to grow in numbers and in prosperity in their new land.

Exodus 1:8-22  New International Version

Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt.  “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous  for us.  10  Come, we must deal shrewdly  with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”

11  So they put slave masters  over them to oppress them with forced labor,  and they built Pithom and Rameses  as store cities  for Pharaoh.  12  But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites  13  and worked them ruthlessly.  14  They made their lives bitter with harsh labor  in brick  and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.

15  The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives,  whose names were Shiphrah and Puah,  16  “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.”  17  The midwives, however, feared  God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do;  they let the boys live.  18  Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”

19  The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”

20  So God was kind to the midwives  and the people increased and became even more numerous.  21  And because the midwives feared  God, he gave them families  of their own.

22  Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile,  but let every girl live.”

This passage begins with a classic illustration of systemic racism. The previous strong relationship between Joseph and Pharaoh didn’t continue on with the next generation. Instead, the emerging Hebrew nation began to be seen as a threat to the Egyptians, even though there is nothing in this story that indicates a justification for their fear. The mere fact that they were different and were growing in size among them, caused the Egyptians to take action, and begin to put in place measures designed to keep the Hebrews down.

If you listen, you can hear the very same concerns of the new Pharaoh echoed in the racist dog whistles of our day: “They are taking our jobs;” “They are threatening our way of life;” “If we don’t do something they are going to take over;” “They are not REALLY Egyptians, they look different, talk different and come from a different place, and they will turn on us when they get a chance.”

The parallels are easy to spot, and they are sad. They are attitudes that have been repeated throughout the centuries all over the world; and they are attitudes that persist in our own country today. All of that said, what I want us to look at this morning is not just the racist response of the Egyptians to God’s chosen people, but the Hebrew response to the unfair treatment they received.

The scripture tells us that the people just went about their business. Even when the Egyptians did everything they could to keep them down, even to the point of the ugly practice of institutionalized infanticide; the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob kept working hard. They kept having children, they kept their faith in God.

And God heard their cries. He saw their plight, their oppression and sent them a leader in Moses, who would stand up to Pharaoh on their behalf in the name of God, and eventually lead them to freedom.  It’s hard to know all of the details of this story because it is described in such broad strokes, but clearly a costly and unwinnable civil war was avoided, because they were delivered by God.

What Do You Do When Life is Unfair to You?

What do you do when life seems to be stacked against you? When your plans don’t work anymore, and your labour seems to be unproductive. When even the systems in place that are supposed to make things fair – laws and government – seem to be working against you? What do you do? How do you respond?

This question is important, because what you do reveals a great deal about who you are, and who you believe that God is.

Who You Are:

Good Christian character is best defined by the presence of the fruit of the Spirit of Galatians 5:22-23; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. It isn’t something we can buy or get by reading a book; but something that needs to be built in us; block by block; through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Our natural tendency is to look out for ourselves first, to make sure we are taken care of, to ensure that our rights are respected at all costs. And certainly, justice is also an important theme throughout scripture. It’s just that when justice is referred to, it is almost always talking about justice for the vulnerable, for the outcast, for the foreigner, for the weak. It is never to come at the expense of someone else. That may be how the world works, but that isn’t the Kingdom of God.

The Israelites were clearly people of character, who were able to endure the injustice of the Egyptians without being destroyed by them. They didn’t take things into their own hands in rebellion, but waited on God to be their Saviour. Even though generations would come and go, they didn’t lose hope. Instead they grew as a people, and in their faith in God; becoming increasingly prepared for the extraordinary events of the Exodus – a deliverance that would finally come after 400 years of captivity!

Somehow, for all that time, the Hebrew nation refused to believe that their suffering would be the last word.

Who God Is

In order for the Hebrew nation to keep up their hope for all those centuries, they needed an unwavering trust in the justice of God – the belief that He would do what is right. Yet the evidence was that things were getting worse, not better!

 We can see that trust in the attitudes and actions of the Hebrew midwives of verses 20-21, who were willing to defy the orders of the mighty Pharaoh. All evidence would have pointed to Pharaoh being far more powerful than the God of the enslaved Hebrews. But even in the face of that perception, they held to their “no matter what” faith in God! They are presented here as defiant and unafraid, because God was on their side. They weren’t provoking a fight, but their actions showed that they were not willing to give in to fear!

Application

This is a time to have a faith like that. A time to have a “no matter what” kind of faith in God. Because our circumstances are difficult – uncertain at best, and it is a lot more than just the virus. There is political, financial and spiritual instability all around us – in Essex County, in Canada, and all around the world! No one knows what will happen two months, or even two weeks from now. Elections, schools re-opening, a possible surge of infection, and on and on and on. Even when this crisis is over and the fog lifts, we will be left with many countries devastated economically, politically and socially; crippled for years to come. We think of our friends in Bolivia where the medical system is overrun and treatment is not available for all who need it.

And yet, we believe God is with us, even in Bolivia. When we feel like we are being called to the impossible task of making more bricks, God hears our cries. The One who loves the whole world has not abandoned us. We have been here before.

Think about the state of the world in the early 40’s as war raged on in Europe and hope was dwindling; think of WW1 just a generation before that – a horrible war that was capped off with a pandemic worse than the one we are in the middle of. Can you imagine how strong the temptation was to just give up?

Wars and famines and disasters have always plagued humanity, but we have persevered. God has never abandoned us, and He isn’t going to abandon us now.

So, my message for this week is really a simple one: don’t give up. God has proven Himself trustworthy through the ages. God hasn’t given up on us.  No matter how dark it may seem, God is here. He knows our pain, and He will walk through it with us.

As we prepare to close, I want to read a passage from the book of Habakkuk; written during a time of great suffering, not long before the Babylonian siege and final fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.

Habakkuk 3:17-19 New International Version

17   Though the fig tree does not bud
            and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
            and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
            and no cattle in the stalls,
18   yet I will rejoice in the   Lord,
            I will be joyful in God my Savior.

19   The Sovereign   Lord   is my strength;
            he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
            he enables me to tread on the heights.

PRAYER

Dear Lord, help us to hold close to you.

We confess that we are sometimes afraid and feel overwhelmed, instead of putting our trust in You.

We confess that we are sometimes defiant, seeking to make sure our rights and comfort come before the rights and comfort of others.

We confess that we are sometimes impatient, lacking in grace.

We confess that we find ourselves seeking escape from this world, rather than facing it with You.

We confess that we are sometimes selfish and miserly, rather than generous and willing to share.

Lord, help us to be seekers of Your heart in the midst of our uncertain lives. Help us to choose love and forgiveness and humility; even when we don’t want to.

Come alongside of those who are suffering, who grieve, who are hopeless, who are afraid.

Take our hands, and lead us to Your light. Amen.

Song – It Is Well with My Soul – Audrey Assad

Benediction

Psalm 89:14-18  New International Version

14    Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;
                love and faithfulness go before you.
15    Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, 
                who walk in the light of your presence, Lord.
16    They rejoice in your name all day long;
                they celebrate your righteousness.